Category Archives: devan teacher

Let’s wrap this up?

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I’ve been a neglectful mother to my blog that I began nurturing back in late 2011. Writing is like a good workout for me. I think about it daily. I put it off and make excuses because IT’S HARD. Yet, I crave the satisfaction of walking away from the computer upon hitting the blue ‘Publish’ button after writing a time consuming and well-crafted post. Coming home has been fantastic, yet I feel as though I’m walking around constantly missing something. Did I forget my make-up? Do I have pants on? I am no longer an expat or a teacher in Korea and on top of that I have lost my ‘Travel Blogger’ title. Don’t get me wrong, I am ecstatic for what is next and I know I am ready for it, but I also know it is going to take some time and I miss having the blog platform to go to late at night or when I’m feeling creative.

photo5I may complain about not having a full-time job at the moment, but I know in a few weeks (fingers crossed) I will be missing mid-week beach visits like this one.

I arrived stateside about a month ago and it’s been a crazy yet wonderful return home to New England. Mere hours after landing in Boston and still battling jet-lag, my family descended upon Schenectady, NY for my brother’s graduation from Union College. After a weekend of reminiscing and lamenting to my parents as we passed early morning kegger remnants and sleepy-eyed students that, “Oh, those were the days…” we packed up my brother’s life and headed home. In the back of my mind I was thankful I was currently post-expat and not simply post-grad. Looking at the newly diploma-ed youngsters did bring me back to memories of late nights full of you-won’t-believe-it stories, but I also recognized that although I was job-less and living with my parents like many graduates would be for the summer of 2013, I had 17 months of Korea under my belt and in some mysterious way I knew the adventure was going to guide me to what was next.

photo2Portsmouth, NH, oh how I missed you!

I’ve spent the past month catching-up with friends and family, enjoying New Hampshire’s beach-lined coast, and missing Korea, and all the friends I left there. Oh, and when I’m not stuffing my face with hummus, making small-talk with (English speaking!) strangers in Starbucks and Trader Joe’s, loving the salty air and familiar landscapes of my beloved Martha’s Vineyard (Where I WILL own a house someday.), and sweating it out at my dearly missed Bikram yoga classes, I’ve been learning the art of NETWORKING, because really people, THIS IS HOW YOU GET A JOB.

photo1Early morning lessons and networking with Stonyfield Social Media experts!

I won’t bore you with all the details, but finding a full-time job is a full-time job and as hectic as it’s been it’s also been kind of fun. I’ve entered rooms full of strangers and forced myself to mingle. I’ve woken up at 6am to eat bagels and sip coffee with other ‘Social Media Enthusiasts’ at the #PortsBkfstClub. I’ve reached out to company owners and New Hampshire leaders through LinkedIn and friends of friends of friends. I’ve answered questions about my past and done so honestly and I’ve gotten fantastic responses to my answer, “I was teaching and living in Korea and I just got home and now I am job searching…” Korea gave me Psy socks, a new appreciation for barbecue, and life-long friends, but it also gave me a sense of confidence and the assurance that everything is going to work out. I’ll have to revisit Korea someday and thank the old jimjilbang ajummas and my Korean students, because if you can survive a naked scrub-down from an old woman and manage to control a room full of horse-dancing Korean speaking children all in one week, you can do anything.

photo3Catching up with old friends is hectic. We couldn’t stop chatting to take a photo!

I’ve come to the realization that while living and teaching in Korea may stand out on a resume timeline, it definitely brightens the page rather than tarnishing it. I’ve had to formulate some creative answers to show people how my time in Korea prepared me for my future career in marketing and communications, but it’s been a good exercise for me to find multiple ways to tell a story. And isn’t that exactly what I was doing in Korea? Staring back at adorably clueless Korean faces after explaining a lesson in English forced me to find a different way of expressing myself. I want to continue to create stories and find clever ways of telling them and luckily I’m re-entering the world of communications where content marketing is “about continuous storytelling. It’s about a steady stream of storytelling innovations—large and small—delivered as an ongoing pulse. A drumbeat.” (Read more from Jake Sorofman’s blog post here.)

photo4You can travel around the world, but nothing beats a familiar summer sunset from your porch.

It is encouraging to see that people are still using this blog as a tool for living the ‘Expat life in Korea’ and I hope to remain a resource for those of you who have questions or comments. As my job search continues I am also working on creating a new blog for my new adventure. Who knows, ‘The Expat Comes Home’…and FINDS A JOB? Or perhaps overdoses on hummus? You’ll have to stay tuned. So, I guess this isn’t about wrapping it up, it’s just the beginning!

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How to Stay Sane Until Spring (Korean Winter, we’re through.)

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I wrote recently about finding a summer-ish oasis hidden on a side street in my Korean city. Writing that post made me ponder a few other remedies that have helped me cope with winter in Korea. Because, like I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of you, winter. I didn’t even really realize I was in a winter funk until a week or so ago when I was walking to work and caught a whiff of that Spring smell. I think it’s made of one part melting snow and two parts bright sunshine. Oh, and there were birds singing, I swear. Although snow did fall a few days later, this morning commute added a bounce to my step and placed not-too-distant and pleasant visions of biking along the Han River and wearing cute skirts in my head. So, if you’re like me and need that final push to blast through the rest of Winter into Spring, here are 10 things I am doing or plan to do asap:

1) YOGA

I wrote about my love of yoga awhile back. Then my membership expired and I neglected to go back to my studio to pay for 3 more months. I told myself I would do yoga at home but I missed the hot studio, the disciplined yet nurturing instructor, the sense of class camaraderie and most importantly the elated and endorphin filled walk home after each class. I plan to return to my studio later this week and get back to improving my Triangle Pose.

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2) EAT HEALTHY

Just like your mom always told you: Winter is all about staying healthy! Go stock up on fresh veggies and fruits at the supermarket. I like to shop at Homeplus in the evening after work because I usually find discounted produce (for smoothies!) at that time of day. Also, if you haven’t already checked out iHerb you should. I like to order my favorite gluten free breakfast bars and coconut water from this website. The prices are reasonable and the products arrive 1 or 2 days later.

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3) SEOUL TOWER

Although it made for a cold afternoon, I recommend checking out Seoul Tower in the winter. With less foliage you can see for miles and the view is amazing.

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photo credit: my awesome friend James

4) GET ACTIVE OUTSIDE

Sometimes you just need to get outside and be active. Bundle up and go for a walk. I promise you will feel better upon your return.

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5) SOCIALIZE

Your apartment may seem tempting for a night-in, but get out and be social with friends. Find a favorite coffee shop or bar and enjoy each other. *bring playing cards*

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6) MUSEUMS

Winter is a great time to check out the many museums Seoul has to offer. In the past month I visited the MOCA, the National War Memorial and Museum and the Anish Kapoor Seoul Exhibition at the Leeum Samsung Museum. 2 of the 3 were free and the exhibits were fabulous.

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 7) COFFEE SHOPS

Spend a cold day in a coffee shop and study up on your Korean.

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8) STUDENTS

The winter months don’t seem to bother my students one bit. They burst into class each day excited to tell me about their time at school. They are always happy and so full of energy. They make me smile and laugh at the smallest things and just that can turn around a day.

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9) PLAN FOR SUMMER

Start planning that awesome summer trip now. Although Mud Fest is a few months away who says you can’t start taking notes for an epic trip. I also love outdoor music festivals, so I can get lost on the Internet searching for the summer line-up of acts coming to Korea.

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10) WINTER FASHION

When all else fails, throw on a cute fluffy animal hat and count how many strangers smile at you as you walk around feeling warm and fashionable.

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photo credit

How do you deal with Winter? Or maybe Winter is your best friend, and in that case, please let him know I’m ready to break-up.

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My 2012: While you were busy Googling ‘What is a Gangnam?’…

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Any worries I had about ‘losing touch’ during my year abroad in Southeast Asia were quickly shattered one July night while I lay in a hostel bunk-bed in Taiwan. I opened my iPad to find an adorable yet slightly chubby Korean man decked out in hip glasses, a funky suit and an irresistible smirk busy bombarding every one of my bookmarked websites. That moment and many more in the following days and months reassured me that my move to Korea would not hinder my mission to stay relevantly informed about all things social. I could in fact keep in touch with friends, family and my growing passion (slight obsession) with social media creation and strategy. Gangnam Style gave me a slight home-court advantage. While most Americans were busy Googling: ‘What the heck is a Gangnam?’, ‘Where did K-Pop come from?’ and ‘Who is Psy and is that his real name?’ I had time to catch up on my backlogged and favorited Tweets from Mashable, Gawker, Social Media Examiner and more.

At first my fellow teacher friends in Seoul eagerly posted the horse-dance video, just for kicks, to all available social wall space. Then, when the YouTube view count refused to plateau, I casually mentioned the video in Skype conversation with a friend who was enjoying the summer in New England. She giggled at the elevator dance scene and commented, “Wow Devan, Korea looks like a fun time.” A week later a second reply was digitally served, “So, you know that video you showed me? It’s here. It’s everywhere. It’s blowing up.” And although I scoffed at my real-life and Twitter friends who continued to miserably misspell ‘Gangnam’ in posts and had never been out clubbing in the song’s swanky section of Seoul, I was proud of Psy and the small yet fiercely determined, extremely successful, technologically advanced and warmhearted country that I chose to call home in 2012.

As I prepare to return home to NH in the next few months and further my career in social media strategy and communications, many details are uncertain. Job searching is a job in itself, but throw in 7,000 miles and a 14 hour time difference between you and your target professional setting  and it becomes almost as challenging as mastering the horse-dance while fumbling through a few Korean lyrics about “a girl with that kind of twist”.

I know some may question why I up and left a marketing job in Boston to move to Korea to teach ESL and eat kimchi at every meal. I don’t think I will be able to answer this question fully for another few years, but I can say I am happier now than I was a year ago and I spent 2012 in close proximity to one of the year’s biggest social media stories. My time in Korea will always and forever be smack dab in the middle of ‘The Year of Gangnam Style’. Or maybe I have that mixed up: Psy’s year of fame just happened to occur during ‘Devan’s Korea Quest.’ Please, just for now, let me believe the latter to be true.

meandpsybest

photo credit

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“Call Me Maybe, Teacher?” -Phone Teaching with Korean Students-

Tonight I skipped out of work with a smile plastered across my face. I stayed an extra hour and missed my 9pm yoga class because I needed to call a long list of students and administer Phone Teaching. I call all of my students once a month and have a mini conversation with them while their proud parents listen (hopefully) in the background and come away from the call impressed (hopefully) with their child’s English skills. I practice for the monthly calls at the beginning of each class. The students groan when I pick up my fake phone, I usually use the projector remote, and dial ‘their number’ with a series of animated beep sounds and exaggerated button pushing actions. All of my students have mastered the standard conversation greeting and can convey how they are feeling. Common responses include, “I am very good today.” or “I am super happy.” Most will remember to politely ask the same of Teacher (me) and I praise them for doing so. Those who sit silently with blank stares after answering my first question are quickly reminded when I paint a disappointed look on my face. “And you, Teacher?” They quickly stumble to correct their mistake.

The rest of the conversation casually moves past the greeting to simple questions about today’s date, weather, birthdays, lunch time delicacies, favorite movies and seasons, daily fashion (“What are you wearing today?”) or lesson related questions. We chat for about 3 minutes or until I have completely stumped the child and I can sense his or her anxiety through the phone line.

I’ve never been a great phone person. I couldn’t understand the girls in middle school who could chat for hours on the phone. I am always stumbling over my words and talking too fast when I should be listening. I prefer to text about a plan and then meet and talk in person. Or Skype. During my first few months in Korea I dreaded the teaching calls. First there were the dreaded parent answers and immediate hang-ups. The parents would answer in Korean and I would quickly mention my name and school and ask to speak to their ‘Justin’ or ‘Amy’. Some parents wouldn’t recognize their child’s given English name or would be confused by my new foreign voice and I would hear the dial tone before I reached a student. When I did hear a child’s quiet “Hello…” on the other line sometimes the conversation would do downhill from there and I would be left to ask and answer my own questions while the student nervously listened.

Most students are eager to say their goodbyes and get back to whatever I interrupted them from in the first place, but some have come to gain confidence as the conversation proceeds and I have trouble finding the appropriate place to squeeze in my closing, “Great job, I will see you in class tomorrow!” Tonight one student warned me, as soon as he found his way to the phone, that our call would not follow standard procedure. The boy’s heavy breathing told me he had raced from his room to the family phone. Before I could jump in and guide the conversation he loudly interrupted my thoughts, “Hello Devan Teacher. How are you today?” I was speechless and immensely proud all at the same moment. He caught me off guard and I let him lead the conversation for a minute or so before I took back the reigns, although it wasn’t before he told me, “Devan Teacher, I have much time tonight for talk.” 8 minutes later I managed to say goodbye.

The monthly phone conversations have become a fantastic tool for measuring the increasing levels of confidence and understanding in my classroom. Many of my 7-year-olds are far from mastering English and my Korean is pathetic, but we have come to understand each other. I sometimes still hear the occasional annoyed sigh from a student as a parent hands her the phone, but for the most part my students know the routine. They know what I will ask and more importantly they know me. They know my personality on the phone. They understand my silence when I am waiting for them to expand their answer. They gladly accept my clues and helpful jump-starts (“The weather today is…”) when they are stumped. And most importantly, together we have mastered the most critical phone skill: having a sense of humor. My students have picked up on my sarcastic tendencies in the classroom and many have learned to laugh during our monthly calls. I left work tonight smiling  not because a student aced a phone call with perfect English, but because he outright failed to tell me his birthday day and month. The call had started like all the others. He mastered the greeting, told me about the rainy, cold and cloudy day that we had experienced and informed me of his kimchi (surprise!), rice (surprise!) and soup intake at lunchtime. Everything was moving along as expected until I asked the 4th question. “Can you tell me when your birthday is?” I asked routinely. “TEACHERRRRRR. YOU KNOW IT.  IT’S ON THE BIRTHDAY BOARD!” There was a moment of silence and then he broke into a fit of laughter and I did the same. “That is true,” I answered when my giggles had subsided. “Let’s move on.”

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wish you were here – snail mail love

When was the last time your mailbox actually had a letter in it: handwritten and addressed to you from a real live person you know? The newest J Crew catalog does not count, although I know how exciting its arrival can be.

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 I have really come to love snail mail in Korea – receiving and sending mail – it is my new favorite thing. During my first few weeks in Korea as I unpacked and settled into my new life of teaching and finding my way around a foreign country, I stayed in touch with friends and family through Facebook, Skype and email, but it was when I received a postcard from my aunt that I got emotional (in a good way, of course). I think I startled the Koreans who work at my school. I have my mail sent directly to my school, so if I get any mail I am greeted with it when I walk into the Chungdahm building at the beginning of my work day. One day I stopped by the front desk to greet the staff and they curiously handed me 3 postcards from my aunt. I giggled loudly like a child and skipped off to my classroom only after proudly showing my Korean friends the postcard pictures. I don’t know what it is about getting personal mail sent to you…it is just wonderful. Maybe it is the thought, time and effort that you know the person on the sending end went through to get the mail to you. Who even knows anyone’s mailing address anymore? I can barely remember my new Korean cell phone number…

postcards in classroom

 My friends and family have continued to send postcards and odd pieces of mail and each delivery to my school has made my day. My aunt continues to send me postcards weekly and my students eagerly await each new snapshot of life in the United States. Postcards from Washington D.C., New Hampshire, Colorado, Florida and New York have helped to spark many classroom conversations and curiosities. Another aunt who lives in Florida sent me a dozen or so postcards of animals who reside in the southern state. It is fantastic to be able to point to a postcard picture of a dolphin while I am teaching a lesson on ‘Animal Communication’, or refer to the postcards depicting the White House when my students ask questions about Obama and the United States. Each postcard includes a small note on the back that gives me a peek into family life that I am missing during my year abroad and the picture on the front is enjoyed by all of my students.

Snail mail seems to make its way into your life when you need it most. One rainy and gloomy Monday morning I was tickled to open a letter from my cousins. They had enclosed a take-out menu from one of our favorite pizza places in New Hampshire. On Memorial Day, when I was picturing all my friends at home celebrating the start of summer with cold beers, hot dogs and bonfires, I was handed a card from a close college friend – the cover: “ME? MISS YOU? the inside: “ONLY ALL THE TIME.”

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The unspoken rule of snail mail is that you must send if you receive. I reciprocate the communication with postcards and cute Korean stationery that I enjoy picking out each time I visit the streets of Seoul or my favorite store, Artbox. I look forward to keeping the lines of communication from Uijeongbu to my friends and family back home in the US open and active. I recommend snail mailing it when you can, I promise it beats a Facebook ‘LIKE’ any day.

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I was going to write a ‘Top 10 List’ & then this happened.

I found myself wallowing in a bout of homesickness last week. Rather than sulk in my apartment and dream of lounging dock-side on Martha’s Vineyard sipping a Blue Moon and hogging the guacamole bowl, I sat down and scribbled all the things I am loving at the moment about my present situation. If you’re interested, here it is, feel free to add to my list. Cheers! *shot of soju in hand*

I love…

1) soju.

2) the huge H&M and Forever 21 stores in Seoul.

3) surprising the older Koreans on the subway when I give up my seat for them.

4) bars that never close,  interesting bar snacks and learning how to play darts.

5) being inspired by Korean fashion.

6) when my takeout pizza is presented as a gift.

7) how my students love me.

8) not having to remember a key for my apartment because I have a keypad instead.

9) outdoor restaurant seating that magically appears in good weather.

10) paying bills within seconds at the ATM.

11) cooking my own meat at Korean BBQ. It’s the real deal: hot coals, marinated meat and scrumptious sides.

12) learning about Buddha and Buddhism.

13) public transportation. The subway is English friendly, fast, cheap and clean.

14) the 7 Eleven steps from my apartment.

15) not having to be at work until 1pm.

16) being the token foreigner at my yoga studio.

17) my small apartment, sometimes I complain, but it is cozy and easy to clean.

18) the free exercise stations everywhere.

19) Ssamjang (쌈장 ) sauce at Korean BBQ. Yes, it deserves it’s own spot on this list and it deserves a place in American cuisine. (Ssamjang is a thick, spicy paste used with food wrapped in a leaf in Korean cuisine. The sauce is made of doenjang, gochujang, sesame oil, onion, garlic, green onions, and optionally brown sugar. -Wikipedia)

20) that just about everything is cuter in Korea: coffee cups, bus cards, stationary, trucks, etc. #cuterinkorea

21) the moving ramps for grocery carts at Homeplus.

22) the walking/running/biking path along the river near my apartment.

23) not having to obey an open container law.

24) the service button at restaurants.

25) kimchi, yeah it’s growing on me.

26) cheap underground shopping.

27) receiving mail from friends and family.

28) meeting foreigners and bonding instantly.

29) the adorable coffee shops. I also appreciate being able to visit my first love, Starbucks, when I need a fix.

30) Korean kindness and hospitality.

31) not having to remember to pay rent each month – it’s on my school.

32) bowing instead of shaking hands to say hello – my palms get sweaty.

33) cheap travel to exotic locations. I can’t wait for Taiwan in July!

34) staying in touch with friends & family back home via snail mail, email, Facebook, Skype, Kakao Talk, FourSquare, Pinterest, Spotify and Instagram. Sometimes it feels like I never left.

35) creating a place for myself on Twitter and in the expat and travel blogging community.

36) fantastic conversations with new friends about the future – inspiring!

37) drinks on a necklace. Yup.

38) freebies with every purchase. I have enough travel samples for at least 5 vacations. A free sun hat with a new bottle of perfume – why not?

39) Casablanca in Haebangcheon: Best. Sandwich. Ever.

40) the new Shinsegae department store in Uijeongbu.

41) Temple Stay experiences.

42) kimbap’s deliciousness.

43) my rooftop.

44) the small plastic bag holders for wet umbrellas outside every store when it’s raining. Genius.

45) jjimjibangs.

46) free phone charging stations.

47) street food after a crazy night out.

48) norebang. Can you say ‘Call Me Maybe’?

49) my acupuncture doctor.

50) free festivals. My love began at the Lantern Festival celebrating Buddha’s birthday.

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“You know this boogie is for real.” – a Children’s Day extravaganza

I start most of my classes with an introduction to the day: What day is it today? What day was it yesterday? How is the weather today?…you get the idea. So when I flipped the classroom calendar to May my kids were quick to fill me in on the most important day of the month. Children’s Day (어린이날)  is celebrated every May 5 and became a public holiday in 1975. The day is meant to “esteem the personalities of children and plan for their happiness” (Wikipedia), although what I gathered from my students was: presents, presents and more presents. Parents and grandparents give gifts to their children and spend time with them either at home or on an excursion of sorts (zoo, museum, movies, mall, etc).

This year Children’s Day fell on a Saturday, so sadly there was no day off to enjoy, but we still found time to celebrate in school. My principal informed us we were to have a “special day” and left the teachers to party plan. Because we have two different groups of students, some come M/W/F and others T/TH, we had one party on Thursday and one on Friday. I decided that Musical Chairs would be an active (Please don’t get too loud, too rowdy or hurt!), competitive (Don’t cry if you get out first and please don’t cheat!)  and overall fun (Please dance! Please dance! Please dance?) game…and it was… after a few “practice” rounds. We also played a calm game of ‘Simon Says’ to throw in some English conversation and let the kids calm down after dancing around a room of chairs. Lastly, each student was gifted a cute program t-shirt and a gigantic bowl of snacks and a juice box. Solid party.

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Secretary Clinton’s Message on Republic of Korea’s Children’s Day (2010)
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

Washington, DC
May 4, 2010

On behalf of President Obama and the American people, I offer warm wishes to all the boys and girls of Korea on Children’s Day. On this holiday, Korean families celebrate the joys of childhood and family life. This is also an opportunity to reaffirm the strong commitment that both our countries share to promoting childhood health, safety and education, and to ensuring that every child has the opportunity to live up to his or her full God-given potential.

Many thousands of American children from military families have lived in Korea over the last six decades, and thousands of Korean children have attended school in the United States. Our two countries are stronger and closer because of the cultural understanding and unique perspectives that these children will always carry with them. (seoul.usembassy.gov)

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 Most other academic days are highly structured and filled with reading, writing and speaking English, so it was nice to let loose and experience my students enjoying the party. I struggle with the fact that Korean children have little time to be kids. They are up each morning for school and then shuffle from one Hagwon (private academy – I work at one) to another (sometimes until 10pm) and then head home to finish homework and sleep before the next day. Although I wish my students had more time to play with imaginary friends and be “bored”, I wouldn’t be here teaching in a Hagwon if this was the case. I do feel for my kids when they answer my “How are you today?” with a “I’m tired teacher.” but all I can do is acknowledge their creative answer (anything other than “I’m fine thanks and you?” is considered praiseworthy), move on, try to keep the class animated and make sure no eyelids droop.

It was a pretty successful Children’s Day: the sweaty and exhausted kiddos headed home with gifts and thoughts of more  to come on Saturday, and I was left with the memory of some of the funniest/cutest kids I know showing off their dance moves to Jamiroquai’s ‘Canned Heat’ – priceless. 🙂

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