I accidentally swore in front of my class yesterday. I intended to say 종이 똑같다, but I got the consonants shuffled around, and the students went wild. I was doing this thing I do where I keep a score for myself in addition to for their teams (awarding myself outrageous bonuses if, for example, no student gets a correct answer), so I went ahead and recorded a −20 in my column, which placated them.

I did something else new: Often, when a student is struggling with a problem, a smart one will try to “help” them by just translating the whole thing or telling them the answer straightaway. But yesterday, I saw one of my students taking great patience and care in assisting another, guiding him with strategic hints but never revealing the full solution—thinking, in other words, like a teacher. I used our school messaging app to write a memo to his homeroom teacher, letting her know it was cool to see his initiative, and she thanked me for noticing.

While there’s only so much I can do overnight to correct my awkward mannerisms and sheepish demeanor around the office (I am the least experienced!), written communication seems like a good way to maintain a sense of connection with the faculty and compensate for my frequent mistakes.

This level of investment.

Although I still play things rather selfishly about my office hours and study time, and although I often advise overworked friends to cultivate a sense of detachment from their work, I notice myself caring more and more about this job. Every time my patience is worn thin by a tough class and I start to acquiesce to the thought that teaching must just not be for people like me, something beautiful happens, my heart melts a little, and I get excited for the next day again.

  • Concept: What am I hesitating about, if I already know I’m happy?
  • Concept: What if (as Pete Buttigieg likes to say) this is a local minimum?
  • Concept: It’s too early to tell.

Yes, I Get the Irony


My brilliant idea of the day is a paper airplane contest, slated for eighth period today, in which the students learn some vaguely useful vocab about cutting and folding, make a bunch of airplanes, and then compete for distance and flight time.

Why? Because I accidentally printed sixty copies of Henri Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time, and Everyday Life.

I intended to read this work of urban geography on the recommendation of one of the Fulbright research scholars who presented at our spring conference a few weeks back. Her suspicion of the traditional critical approach—interrogation, diagnosis, contextualization; the text as adversary—sat nicely with my feelings about how things tend to analogize things,™ and in an email she suggested I check out this Lefebvre guy, so I found a PDF of his book online, hit print, and left the office for an hour to go teach.

What I’m saying is, the print wizard was still set to sixty, the number of handouts I normally make for my students.

I returned to the office to find our vice principal gesturing at the overheating printer. He’d already had to put in one fresh stack of paper. Now 800 pages were piled up in the output tray, and he wanted to know how long this darn document is, we’re running low on toner.


I can’t print again on the other side of the paper, because all 800 pages were double-sided. So, paper airplanes it is.


The most mindless of my class ideas tend to go the best. Flying paper planes in the parking lot, we drew an audience of kids from the high school next door’s PE class, the ones who’d been eliminated early in whatever sports bracket they were doing. The science teacher brought her class outside too, apparently just to have a chat in the sunshine, and it occured to me that this was the first evidence anyone other than my students and coteacher had seen of my teaching activities. Is a paper airplane class admissible?

The winner, in both the distance and flight time contests, succeeded by crumpling his paper into a very dense sphere and throwing as hard as he could.