A room of one’s own


Photos from last month before the English Zone was completed

Don’t ya just love the message over the door???

To encourage a more studious environment, the window shades have been printed with various Ivy League schools.  Korea is OBSESSED with Ivy League schools.  OBSESSED.

It’s kind of bittersweet for me, since that’s a photo of Yale in the middle – my almost alma-mater.  Oh, you don’t know my Yale story?

The Yale Story

Ten years after I graduated, with two kids and on welfare, I enrolled in college.  Five years later, after working half time, going to school full time and raising two children, working round the clock too many all-nighters to mention, I got accepted to Yale’s Master of Architecture Program.  It was such a huge personal accomplishment.  Despite being estranged from my family for over 17 years, and despite foundations paying for everything financial aid did not, Yale’s admission required my parents to fill out a statement about their finances.

The financial aid form came on a CD which was delivered to my slumlord house.  Only it was dropped on the porch in a derelict portion of the house that was never used, so my generous time frame to fill it out was cut short because I discovered its whereabouts so late.

I called my parents asking them for the information in writing, and my parents said that would take some research on their part.  Meanwhile, the clock was ticking.  I called again asking them for the information, and they made some excuses that they would have to contact their accountant.  My mother cried, “Why don’t you just go to a public school like the other children did?”  (Oh – you mean your real children who you helped pay for their tuition???) and then she added, “You just want to take away our retirement.”  (what the?)  Finally, after much pleading and explaining that nobody at Yale was going to take their money, my parents agreed to send me the information.  Over a week passed and then I received an envelope.  In it, written in pencil, on a piece of scrap paper, was an approximation of what they might make in a year.  I had specifically told them all the DETAILED information Yale required on this financial statement, and what they sent me was totally worthless.  This is from a man who had a graduate degree.  This was from people who had been filling out financial aid applications for their two sons for eight years or more.    The time had run out.  I had to write Yale a letter explaining why I could not attend their school.

Why Yale?  Was I obsessed with an Ivy League education and the networking it would supply me with?  No.  Only later in the workplace did I realize what solid gold it would have been.  I wanted to go to Yale because there was an existentialist philosophy instructor there, and I wanted to write a Master’s thesis combining existentialism, phenomenology, and the Japanese concept of space-time, ma.  I wanted to go to Yale because they had a program where architecture students actually built a house from the ground up.  I wanted to go to Yale because they had housing programs with the outlying area’s most needy residents.  One of my instructors wrote that I was the hope and future of the profession, one of the most creative students she’d ever had.  I ended up, instead, eschewing the narcissism, politics, and competition, and fed my kids with drafting grunt work instead.

Aren’t the opportunities being adopted wonderful?  Sorry, but I’m quite rightfully bitter about this one.  In fact, it’s the one thing I can say I’m bitter about.  That was MY OWN WORK and my own accomplishment, and they destroyed it. The other stuff?  That I can make allowances for, try and find some empathy or sympathy or understanding for their self-centeredness, or how I was used. But not Yale.  Not ever. No person should ever crush someone’s hopes, dreams, and future like that.

The following year I applied at my local public university.  They wouldn’t accept me because they were taking those who went on to the masters program uninterrupted and there was a budget crunch so preference was given to international students with their higher tuitions.

Okay.  So now I get to sit next to an image of Yale every day.  Sigh.

Anyway, I rearranged the chairs and tables like this (my drafting skills are good for something, after all:

(I asked for rectangular tables, btw!)  Anyway, I’ve set up this system of moving the kids around the room.  I’m sure the co-teachers thought I was insane at first, but now that they’ve seen it in action, I think they get it.  Each table has a letter and a number designation taped to it.  Every two tables share the same color.  So I’ve got 14 letter groups, 14 number groups, and 7 color groups.  Every student has a name tag with a color, letter and number assigned to them.

On the first day of class, I let the kids sit wherever they wanted and then I made sure to give each student in one of those naturally forming groups a different color.   So the conversation cliques were instantly outed by the students and  I easily broke them up.  Also, we did a lot of drills where I made them stand up, practice the classic “hello.  how are you?  I’m fine, thank you” dialogue, and then move to the right on cue.

Then, I show them a little video on  how that dialogue is wrong, wrong, wrong, and to never use that dialogue again.  And then I go through all the natural ways Americans greet each other at various degrees of formality, and then I play the “Wassup!” video for some levity.

If there’s time I also present a power point I made showing different types of people and asking the students how they would greet them.  And then I introduce them to the different kind of polite ways to address people:  old people, your boss, a fellow student, an officer, a teacher, the president, etc.  I show them that there are respect levels in America too, and explain how they are falling out of use, but are still important to know for certain formal situations.

Surprisingly, class 1-1 did really well in the new environment.  I guess that’s what 6 weeks of dictation does for you.  Class 1-3 did horrible.  I might have to send them back to the regular classroom for some more medicine if they don’t shape up.  The girls, as always, did amazing.

I must say that the huge touch screen monitor is very very cool.  And it’s also great to no longer have to travel from classroom to classroom.  It might not be so bad if I had a traditional subject, but to teach conversation in spaces so over-crowded the children have trouble moving their chairs enough to stand up is really difficult.  The only problem seems to be acoustics – the sounds  bounce off of everything and the room is painfully loud.

Kind of sad to leave what I’m building here. But I figure there will be more great and awful kids and new and different and equally rewarding challenges at the next place.

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