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Inch'on, South Korea

"When you're finished," I was instructing my class of fourth-graders as they scribbled semi-coherent lines into their diaries, "bring your diary up front to me. " To illustrate the point, I mimicked shutting a spiral notebook and setting it down on the table that serves as my desk near the white board, patting the fictitious diary twice on its nonexistent cover for emphasis. As I've said, I am now a Black Belt in charades. Then I did the customary check for understanding that follows my every statement. "Got it?"

Tommy--one of my favorite students, whose name has morphed from Unicorn to Mike Wyzowski to finally his current, more tame monicker--looked up from his desk and grinned. "Okeydokey," he said, turning back to his work.

It was the greatest thing that happened to me all day. A little background: in my line of work, I can't exactly speak around my charges as I do my friends. Especially for an English teacher, diction becomes a responsibility, and God knows, if you accidentally screw up you'll hear about it for days, even weeks. (This was proven to me when the guidance counselor at my former school accidentally referred to the 12-year-old boy we were discussing as a "douchebag" in said child's presence. In such instances, the validity of the term is disregarded, and we both noticed a special note about language and professionalism at the next staff meeting.)

As such, I've developed a special Teacher Lexicon of approved phrases. After the Douchebag Incident, I was reminded to err on the side of caution, which I think overall is for the best, especially for a student teacher, for whom the entire process is essentially a painfully drawn-out semester-long interview. It wouldn't do for me to reprimand a whining student with "Listen, Karl, it's time for you to stop being a [insert 4-5 letter word of your choice] and get to work on that expository essay." No, no. Instead, I decided to bring back some old classics, words and phrases that are disappearing in America, that fulfill my purpose nicely. Example: "Enough of this namby-pamby nonsense, Karl." Now Karl's face twists, because he's trying to both look sullen and not laugh at the same time. He grumbles that I sound like his grandma, but picks up his pencil again. Victory.

Another favorite: "Miss OOOOOOOOO," the girls would wail when I informed them that yet another word was being added to the Graveyard--they would no longer be allowed use of 'awesome' in essays--"that's so MEAN, and it's like totally unFAIR! What are we going to say when something is really really really AWEsome?!" I pointed to the thesauri shelf. "UGH! There are no words! You're killing them ALL!"

"Oh, hush," I would say. "Quit being such a Negative Nancy."
"Oh my God, Miss O, that's so totally lame."
"So are the Jonas Brothers."
"Oh my God no they're not. They're awes--I mean, they're...stupendous."

Etc. Other stand-bys in the Teacher Lexicon include Holy Moley, Jeez Louise, Holy Smokes, That's Balogna, Whippersnappers, and Chilluns. I'm working on integrating Land Sakes!, but I can't quite do it without laughing yet. And of course, Okeydokey. I say that so much that I don't even know it's campy anymore. Anyway, the Korea kicker is this: these kids don't know how uncool my teacher speak is. Some of them don't even know how to write their name yet, and I am literally the only foreigner they know. Most of them are still at the blessed age where they don't question their teachers, and consequently, I am raising a small cluster of Korean children to speak like characters from an Archie comic strip. I am secretly hoping that they will spread these phrases among their friends and repopularize them, so that when this Asia trend inevitably spreads to America, old people words will be cool again. Tommy and his Okeydokey is evidence that my influence is spreading. Which is why tomorrow I'll be introducing, "Dadgummet!"

Such are the things that amuse me these days as I try and avoid the slump of oncoming winter. The two weeks til Tom comes can't fly fast enough...except he comes the same day as I take the GRE, so maybe time should actually slow itself down. Hmm. Thus is the time paradox of Korea. I want it to be done, but then I have to do something else...Gee Willikers, there just ain't no satisfying me.

permalink written by  alli_ockinga on October 11, 2009 from Inch'on, South Korea
from the travel blog: I go Korea!
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what's a GRE?

permalink written by  denny and judi on October 12, 2009

That's the Graduate Record Exam. It's like the SAT for grad school, but worse.

permalink written by  alli_ockinga on October 14, 2009

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Hey everyone! In February 2009 I left the Pac Northwest for South Korea to teach English for a year. This is what I'm up to! Keep in touch!

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