A collection of Facebook status updates narrating my daily life in Seoul, working as a high school EFL teacher

Part 1 [2010]

October 15
Explaining complicated words and phrases with other complicated words and phrases.

November 26
Today, one of my students asked if I had a cold. I said yes. She said she liked the way my voice sounded. I said thanks.

December 1
Spent a fair amount of time this morning explaining the difference between ‘That’s bomb,’ and ‘That bombed,’ to my co-teacher. Such intellectual, American expressions to clarify.

December 2
My favorite ‘descriptions’ given by a group of students during today’s speaking game: 1. Hotel=’Motel’s friend!’ 2. Train=’Subway’s friend!’ Garbage=’Trash’s friend!’ Beautiful=’Pretty’s friend!’

December 5
Mentally preparing for my professional development day tomorrow: early morning, 2 hours of desk warming, 2 hour bus ride (my school rented 2 buses to hold all 100+ teachers), lunch, jump rope contest, hula hoop contest, dodgeball tournament, dinner, 2 hour bus ride home.

December 31
One of my students just came to (optional winter camp) class with a neck brace on. Apparently, she fell on the ice yesterday.


whoopi in sister act
What Sister Mary Clarence Taught Me About Being a Magical Teacher (or “This Is No Longer a Bird Course. The Bird Has Flown”: The Importance of Coming Out from Behind the Teaching Pulpit)

This week, for the first time in my five-year teaching career, I came out to my students as a gay man.

One of my goals for the year was to model for my students what it means to live a readerly and writerly life. Writing a blog accomplishes the latter. Writing with my students does the same. So as we began writing personal narratives on “overcoming adversity,” I did the same activities they did to come up with one of my own.

“Pencils up!” I said. We were poised for the freewriting challenge.

“…and begin!” I used my freshly sharpened Ticonderoga No. 2, to begin the journey. And suddenly, I stopped. I had forgotten to turn off the LCD projector. My writing was displayed for the whole world—the middle school classroom in which I teach—to see.

“Mr. Shinn! Keep writing!” a student yelled from the corner of the classroom.

So I wrote. And at some point during my freewriting challenge the words coming out came out.


greatblueheronNinety-five percent of those who read this poem
will experience a sense of wonder.  The other
five percent are wondering how to arrive
at this statistic.  For evidence is what is needed.

Otherwise the poem will never gain accreditation,
and no one will want to attend.  We could ask
for a show of hands, but some of the readers are related
to the poet, and nothing surprises them anymore.

If the poem is read aloud, carefully trained monitors
could be placed in the audience to count
the number of mouths agape in stupefaction
or in slumber.  How many persons are leaning

forward, eager for the next word?  This is an angle
our monitors can quietly measure, pulling
from their back pockets a gathering hush
of collapsible wooden protractors.


If I was to steal Officer Gene’s parking security golf cart and hit highway 32, how far could I get?

Take your time working through your 11:48 dump in the faculty restroom next door, Mrs. Zimmerman. You left your salmon on defrost in the microwave for sixteen minutes.

I need thirty-five seconds to heat up two slices of cold pizza.

Did I humiliate Melisa with that sarcastic comment this morning?

You aren’t supposed to be in the teacher’s lounge, Kyle. It’s my friggin’ twenty-minute lunch “hour” and your dead dog story is harshing my turkey-cheddar buzz and, well, I can’t concentrate on my Hawaii Blast Capri Sun when you’re in here.

Is everyone else in here just pretending they’re great at this?


James Pencil
Every quarter, I swear that I’m going to quit teaching the personal essay.

Every quarter I teach it again.

I’m an adjunct college instructor not just at a community college—“junior” colleges, they used to call them: colleges designed for high-school dropouts, single parents, out-of-work mechanics and millworkers and refugees of all kinds, all this mixed together with four or five bright-eyed, motivated, Running Start high-school-students (they show up having actually bought the books, the idiots, and they actually lean forward in their seats ready to learn, charmingly unaware that they’re about to get a real education, through their classmates, in what life looks like when you don’t get an education)—but at an extension site of the community college. Our extension-site campus is so small—tucked here in the inner corner of the wet, forested Olympic Peninsula—that it’s just one building, and not even a full building. The top floor stands empty; the basement was a former morgue. We utilize the four rooms on the ground floor, plus an eight-person computer lab, and an office where Maggie sits. She’s the friendly registrar / office manager / janitor / computer technician / car mechanic / maintenance worker. She also fills in as an instructor when a faculty member is sick.

We offer four classes: English composition, English literature, basic math, and political science. We used to offer history, I’m told, but it was cut for budgetary reasons. So was biology, physics, advanced math, philosophy, sociology, accounting, chemistry, and environmental science. All the tenured faculty were moved to the main campus, and the top floor was shuttered. I’m told the floor is haunted by the ghosts of people from around the turn of the century, but whenever I heard chairs being dragged around up there, or desks being moved, I know it’s merely the ghosts of the former professors, and the ghostly hopes of a lost generation of students, vanished into ghostly budgets.

But I digress.


standing on desks.png
What Ron Clark Taught Me about Being a Magical Teacher (or “Make It Happen: The Importance of Making Memories”)

The Essential 55.

It was the first teaching book I ever bought and was written by him. The American Teacher Awards Teacher of the Year, Ron Clark.

Yes, I watch the American Teacher Awards.

Yes, I was only a junior in high school.

I’ve known since I was little I wanted to be a teacher. When I was seven, I made my own whiteboard out of a white lap-desk and Crayola markers I got for Christmas. It didn’t take long before I was lecturing my stuffed animals on the importance of learning. (My teddy bear was the most out of control student.)

In fourth grade I got a real whiteboard and never looked back.


james fist on desk
I look at him and he looks at me. His shirt says, “F–k the Police” next to a picture of a gun. Literally. The u, the c, they’re dashes on the shirt. And it’s funny because I read the shirt as if I didn’t know that “–” stood for those letters. F and K the Police I hear in my mind.

He stands in front of me with a smirk. The assignment sits on the desk in front of me, and he seems proud.

“The gun on your shirt… not so appropriate for school,” I say in front of him and his friends.

“It’s not like I’m gonna rip it off and start shooting people. It’s a gun on a shirt, bro. Don’t worry about it.”


kolby white whale
Ahab had his white whale; I have Melissa.

Melissa is seventeen, headed (probably) to the University of Texas and is, by all accounts, wonderful. She wears jeans with stitched designs and cardigans with little woven flourishes. She’s on the executive committee of the Service Club. She makes straight A’s and takes AP tests.

But she can’t write.



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