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Unhappy Campers

First week of camp went swimmingly, I thought – students were having fun, learning goofy lessons centered around spells from the Harry Potter universe (naturally I hewed these lessons as close to canon as possible, consummate nerd that I am). I guess I’d had grandiose visions of the students sincerely loving the camp and declaring my camp “the most fun ever,” especially when I’d seen what previous teachers had done. Boring worksheets, wordsearches, the old standby of Mr. Bean, United States citizenship tests (seriously, I cannot get over that, wtf), ho hum. I hate to say it but I did put a bit of effort into this camp. Even though a lot of the resources were available to me (courtesy of and such), I had to heavily adapt pre-existing materials to suit the level and interests of my students, and create lessons from scratch as well. If I’d had an unlimited budget, it would be much easier to make a supremely fun camp. I would have had dry ice, velvet curtains, proper wizard robes for everyone, hell, I would have found a way to have REAL magic somehow if I’d had my druthers. As it is, though, my school doesn’t even have the budget to replace the broken chairs in my classroom, so I had to make do on a shoestring budget.

At any rate, this was all going quite well until the last day, which was today. Before the camp had started, my co-teacher told me that the students who signed up for camp and attended every day would be receiving vouchers good for up to 5,000 – 10,000 won in cash, spendable anywhere in town (about $5 – $10). Apparently in the past, there had been problems with students immediately losing vouchers and asking for new ones, and so to avoid this, my co-teacher thought it would be a better idea to wait until the spring semester begins to give the students their vouchers. All righty then.

Well, nobody thought to tell the students this beforehand, so it fell to me to give them the news today that they would be going home empty-handed*. In retrospect maybe I should have seen it coming – that many middle school-aged boys wouldn’t voluntarily sign up for “extra school,” fun or no, during precious vacation time, if there wasn’t some more tangible prize. And I should have realized that kids that age are still grappling with the concept of “delayed gratification” – they want their marshmallow now, goddammit! At any rate, you can see where this is going. Instead of leaving camp in a cheery mood and declaring me “best English teacher EVER,” the students were pissed as all hell about not getting their coupons, and in one kid’s final Owl Post (journal entries about each day), he simply wrote “teacher very bad dragon!” (Well, at least his diss fit the camp theme?)

I plan to take the winning house, Slytherin, out to lunch next week. Happily for me, the house with the fewest students (and the highest level!) won, and these are among my favorite students anyway. I apologized to one of the Slytherin girls about the voucher fiasco, and she responded that “but we get it when school opens – that’s okay!” Neither she, nor the only other girl in the camp, her fellow Slytherin, minded at all about the delay with the voucher.

Snape = hotness in ambiguously evil, greaseball form.
Snape = hotness in ambiguously evil, greaseball form.

Then it suddenly dawned on me – why did so many more boys than girls sign up for my camp? Because the boys want to get vouchers to use at the PC Bang. (For those not familiar with Korean culture, PC Bangs are basically big computer parlors where kids hang out and play Starcraft all day, as well as other games. For a thorough description of Starcraft and PC Bangs, read here). Of course the boys would want these vouchers sooner, to use during their winter vacation, rather than wait until school starts up again and they’ll have less free time.

So many boys signed up, in fact, that I worry this might have deterred girls from joining up with my camp. One girl dropped out after the first day, because none of the other girls from her homeroom were enrolled, and she had spent half the day stuck on a team with boys before I took mercy and allowed her to move.

Ultimately, I know this sounds idealistic, but I’m not happy with the idea of bribing kids to come to my class. Yes, I know that hardly anyone would show up if it weren’t for the bribes…but I still feel like the Slytherin girls (as I will hereby call them from now on, though they’re really quite sweet and nothing at all like Pansy Parkinson) would come, as well as maybe a handful of others. For one thing, we do provide them with food. For another, I’d rather have students who are naturally inclined to be cooperative, vs. mercenaries sulking in my class, biding their time for a paycheck. Maybe if I were a better teacher I would actually relish the prospect of converting kids who don’t want to be there, into kids who do, through nothing but the power of my super-duper-awesome teaching ability (ha!). But the fact remains that I can do so many more interesting lessons with the kids who are receptive. Of course this is every teacher’s lament. How exactly is this job supposed to be rewarding, again?

My non-Slytherins aren’t always horrible, unempathetic bastards though. Last night, I hardly got any sleep at all, due to a sore throat I’ve been nursing since Christmas. It’s been getting better, but for some reason last night it was really bothering me, and I kept coughing so much I couldn’t get to sleep until 2 a.m.! Went to school early as usual, to stand by my classroom door and quiz the students on the password of the day (the class had made the mistake of letting a Slytherin girl choose the password, and she chose the words “Crystal Quaffle”). One of my mercenaries looked at me and said, “teacher sit down!”

“Why?” I asked, thinking he was trying to spare his classmates from being quizzed on the difficult password.

“Look tired,” he said. “Sit down please!” Awful sweet of him, even though I could take it as a snark on my dreadful appearance that day, I’ll interpret it as concern for another person, particularly an adult. That’s a lot to ask of a middle school boy!

* – They did go home today with a Hogwarts certificate. Featuring half of their names misspelled, cause I can’t transliterate Korean names worth shit. Did any of their previous English teachers bother to learn their Korean names? Does the fact that I even try make any difference to these little blockheads? Don’t answer that last one.

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  1. […] I’m midway through my second week of teaching winter camp. Overall, this will be the sixth camp I’ve taught. When I first started out last winter, I was kind of baffled by the whole concept of “camp” here in Korea. It’s not an overnight trip to some woodsy location with a cabin and some bonfires like it is back home; it’s…extra classes, in the same old school building. If my mom had suggested to me that I go back to school, over summer vacation, for extra schoolin’? During my rebellious (and, admittedly, slightly pathetic) wanna-be grunge Wicca Hot Topic phase? Unless that camp had been hosted at the local mall witch store, there’s no way I would have gone willingly. Oh, man. I think I'm gonna have to offer a "Craft" themed camp next go around! Thanks to the intrepid souls over at, and to channeling my own depths of dorkery, I was able to get through last winter okay. I did finish exhausted, however, and thrilled not to see that batch of students again for another month. […]

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