8000 Jake Hollingsworth

Monday, May 13, 2013

Kolkata | Unfinished Tales no.2


If ever you should find yourself in the back seat of an Ambassador Grand, that iconic yellow automobile clogging the streets of cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Calcutta, you would do well to remember three things. First, Indian taxi drivers are encouraged, quite strongly, to make use of their horns. The migraine inducing symphony of beeps and honks is as much a part of the culture as curry, the Taj Mahal, and the dream of one day relocating to the US to operate a 7-11. The streets of Calcutta are awash with signage, both planted in the pavement and painted in festive hues of yellow, orange, and lime green on the fronts of large cargo trucks. These city-wide emblems proclaim the virtues of leaving one’s thumb planted squarely on the horn for minutes at a time.

        Look twice. Save a life. Children are everywhere. Use your horn!

        A brighter future for India! Use your horn!

        Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Use Your Horn!

Second, taxi operators in India consider traffic rules as more of an annoyance than anything else. My turbaned driver bolted out of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport and into the frenzied streets of Calcutta, West Bengal. He looked neither left nor right. He barely hesitated at a deteriorating stop sign, hanging loosely by a rusted bolt. I am not even certain that there was a center line, formally dividing the tr 519e affic barreling forth in either direction. We dodged a man laboring over his rickety wooden cart laden with bananas. Women, wrapped in dirty but colorful saris, marched purposefully in every direction, keeping a watchful eye to the road. A young boy balanced a basket of fabrics effortlessly on his head, alert to his surroundings as if his life depended on it. (And if you’re walking on a street in India, your life surely does depend on it.) I squeezed the blood from my thighs as we hurtled and braked through the morning traffic. No one stayed in their imaginary lane. People and cattle scampered side by side among the cars and trucks, sharing the road in a much unorganized way. Several times my chauffer opted for the other lane, the one containing oncoming lunatic traffic. He never broke a sweat. And at the moment of impending doom, when I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that I would momentarily meet my Maker in a puddle of antifreeze and curry, he would jerk the car back into the proper lane, and carried on as if nothing was amiss.
        
Third, and finally, pay no attention to that hole in the floor of the car and the pavement zipping by at 70 mph between your feet. It’s just part of the experience.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Seoul | Unfinished Tales no.1


I began retracing the Seonggwak, the old stone wall that once surrounded Hanyang (now Seoul), this past winter. But, as is often the case, Life happens. And when it happens it usually gets in the way, disrupts plans, and changes things. So my story will be forever unfinished. Below is a small offering of what I was working on. Enjoy. 

Dongdaemun seemed as good a place as any to begin. My train glided seamlessly into the underground station, slowing until it was aligned to near perfection with the queue of new passengers. They waited in temporary order to board. My intended stop was announced first in Korean, then English, and finally in a nasally, robotic Chinese, which always sounds a bit creepy in my opinion. Happy for the prospect of fresh air, I cut a path through the morning commuter crowd to the sliding door. In the unmistakable fashion of Seoul city dwellers, the waiting subway patrons allowed but a brief nano-second for disembarking passengers to vacate before they wedged themselves into the limited slivers of space available. It’s moments like these that I regret never having had the discipline to follow through with my Korean language studies. Just as Beijing employs those friendly folks who get a running start, drop their shoulder, and violently muscle you into the packed subway car so that the doors are allowed to shut, so also Seoul would be doing itself a favor by hiring a pack of shifty old ladies to shout directions when the doors open. There’s nothing like an old Ajumma to whip a crowd into shape. But my dream of a common-sense approach to passenger logistics was lost, and a little old man poked me in the shin with his cane as we simultaneously occupied the doorway. He wanted in. I wanted out. A quick spin-move later, I found myself on the station platform. I took a well-deserved deep breath, and contented myself with the knowledge that in the elbowing and jostling of the morning ritual that is City Life, I had contorted myself in such a fashion that my sphincter muscles were relaxed just long enough for a fart to slip out inside the train car. I had been graciously holding it for the past half hour. I smiled as the closing hydraulic doors sealed it in. Not my problem anymore.

Topping the stairs that rose out of Dongdaemun Station, I surfaced into a small but crowded plaza. Dongdaemun itself, the old eastern gate in the fortress wall that at one time encapsulated the capital city, loomed to my right. It was an impressive stone structure. Having withstood most every test of time, the original gate was constructed in 1398 according to the wishes of King Taejo of the Joseon dynasty. It was renovated in 1453, and finally rebuilt in 1869. What I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall of time, to see what had unfolded in the many years since the grand, old gate first stood watch over the eastern boundary of Seoul. Originally there were eight gates to the city, connecting joints in a labyrinth of stone protecting the Korean people of old. Only six remain, with Dongdaemun being the largest.

          Dongdaemun is a testament to history, and its surroundings a testament to progress. Where as the immovable structure once prohibited foreigners from entering the capital city of the racially pure hermit kingdom, the open-air plaza now surrounding it is a hodgepodge of foreign and domestic merchants peddling their wares side by side in a competitive kind of harmony. Meandering between the weather-worn tarps and tents of the market is a claustrophobic’s nightmare. Above the awning of the Dongdaemun Hotel fifteen international flags fluttered about in the breeze. Raised to prominence in the middle were Korea, the US, and Japan. The hotel looked properly seedy and well worn, as did the women out front. I shuffled along with the slow but steady tide. At one table I spotted cigarette lighters and soju flasks. Beside that were large stuffed animals. Children ran little fingers through the soft fur. Parents yanked them along. Make-up. Watches. Coloring books. Toys. Underwear. Socks. Cooking utensils. Every piece of merchandise had clearly been retrieved from a time capsule buried in 1985. I could turn nowhere without seeing the ugliest, most gaudy sweaters ever made. On this table I could have for the low, low price of 5,000 KRW a puke green knit pullover. But directly across the way I could purchase vomit from the same drunk person stitched into an intertwined pink and purple cardigan. Tough decision. I mean really, who buys this crap? I kept moving, trying to keep pace with the throngs of people lest I lose my footing and be forever trampled into the dirty pavement.

At the end of the first row of salesmen hawking their goods through whiny loudspeakers, I barreled directly into a group of middle age men. They were gathered tightly around a vender’s booth of what appeared to be magazines. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was a stack of early 80’s Playboy calendars. On one cover, prominently displayed to snag the attention of the Ajeossis, was a topless woman. Her skin was blindingly white. She sported a tightly crinkled perm, bangs teased two inches above her forehead, and a high-waisted royal blue thong. The fashion scene of the 1980’s was clearly thought up over a glass or two of hard liquor and hallucinogenic drugs. Every one gathered was reaching for something in his pants pocket. Possibly there was a contagious rash making its rounds, plaguing all those infected with an itchy inner thigh. Whatever it was, I wasn’t certain that my immunization record was up to date, so I quickly scuttled away.

My plan was to walk south, retracing the old fortress wall of Seoul. The gate of Dongdaemun is encompassed on three sides by 6 lanes of heavy traffic, and the fourth by the open plaza of ragged tarps and merchants. The wall that once extended from this stone entranceway is nowhere to be seen. With my back to the massive gate, I squinted my eyes and looked south, hoping to see where the existing wall continued. I saw nothing but shoes, people, and cheap clothes. There were several restaurants. Taco Chili Chili. Bob’s Lunch Box. A halfway constructed Dunkin’ Donuts. Towering above it all was a high rise full of more shopping. Call me a sucker for nostalgia, but I just didn’t have the stomach to go inside and see the gaudy price being paid to become modern and western. The directory outside listed several options. Glittering City. Wow Kids. Hot Club. Working Girl. I had bigger fish to fry. There was a wall to be found.

I pushed along, holding a straight line due south. The wall had once extended from Dongdaemun in this direction and I hoped it would quickly resurface in a greener, more breathable patch of city space. The throngs of people milling aimlessly about the shopping markets were suffocating. Clouds of steam billowed into the cold from food stalls. The air had a fried, unhealthy smell. I could not determine what kind of food the vendors were pulling from their deep fryers. It all looked exactly the same: breaded, greasy, and poised to lodge itself into an artery at a moment’s notice. One makeshift menu, hung by a rickety clothes pin, advertised ‘potato hotdogs’ and ‘fried chicky’. A picture displayed a corndog with small cubes of potatoes fried to the outside. I pressed on, propelled by visions of fat Americans. Trotting along at 6 ½ feet tall, I could see up ahead what looked like an impregnated Millennium Falcon. A cross walk caught my eye and as politely as possible I elbowed a family of four and cut through the oncoming foot traffic. Across the street the large construction was shiny, silver, and aerodynamic. It was incomplete and fenced off with a mesh construction netting. It did not appear that any progress had occurred since the first time I saw the site three years before. According to my trusty guide book, the ambitious design should have been completed and opened to the public in 2010. It was now 2013. It’s a little behind schedule.

I was in luck, however, as the half formed spaceship had landed on the grounds of the Dongdaemun History and Culture Park, which itself is fixed on the sight of the former Dongdaemun Stadium. And to top it all off (I mean, really, who gets this lucky?), the former stadium grounds had given way in 2008 to tinkering archaeologists as they uncovered the continuation of my wall. On a slight slope, two stone arches were now plainly visible and open for public inspection. I stumbled down a grassy hill and stood in the shadow of Ogansumun and Igansumun. The two ancient openings in the wall were designed to allow water to flow freely down Namsan Mountain and out of the city. I noticed a disheveled cat eying me with a demented look in his one good eye. Half of his right ear was missing, and I reckoned that he would just as soon scratch my eyes out as meow. It was a little unnerving, so I followed the uncovered wall across the inner city park. The open space was surrounded on all sides by tall office buildings and shopping centers. At the southern boundary of the city lawn I turned to look back. In the near distance was Dongdaemun and the wall I was following. It seemed a shame that history, both the ancient fortress wall and Dongdaemun stadium, had been bulldozed to make room for someone’s version of progress. The stadium, for example, was built in 1925 by the occupying Japanese colonial government, but became a place of nationalistic pride for the Korean people. The Japanese, who exercised their supposedly heaven-ordained right to someone else’s homeland in the early 1900’s, constructed the athletic complex which served as a gathering place for all sorts of events. In 1930 the second annual Seoul-Pyongyang Derby Match was held on the grounds. The occupying army did not expect a huge turnout. However, the more than 20,000 Korean spectators on hand gave the colonial authorities quite a fright. Numerous records and high profile matches have taken place here, including a friendly soccer game pitting the Korean National Team against Mr. Futbol himself, Brazil’s Pele. In 2000 Dongdaemun Stadium held its final professional soccer match. In 2003 the main field was converted into a parking lot. In 2004 the Dongdaemun Folk Flea Market was opened, and in 2013 you can purchase vomit-inspired sweaters from around the world and as much dated pornography as you so desire. It was cold so I chose an Americano and moved on.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

5 Qualities of an Effective Teacher


No.4 -- An Effective Teacher is Tireless

In the teaching world, the days are long. They’re exhausting. It seems that there is often no end in sight. Weekends. Free periods. Break time. It’s never long enough.

And it never will be.

As my Grandmother so lovingly says, “Welcome to the real world (darlin’).”

But here’s the kicker: our students, our precious little bundles of joy and appreciation…they don’t care. They don’t care that we arrive at school before they wake up and leave long after their soccer practices finish. They don’t care that it takes us hours to plan lessons, grade tests, or create report cards.

A good teacher understands this. A good teacher doesn't care either. “I got into education because I liked 4 day weekends, lots of money, and well-deserved gift baskets from deeply appreciative students,” said no one ever.

A good teacher is tireless. How many hours does a good teacher work each week? As many as it takes.

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English for Life

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

5 Essential Qualities of an Effective Teacher


No.3 -- An Effective Teacher is Adaptable

As teachers, lesson plans are an integral part of our job. We base our entire class periods on them. We rely on our plan. We trust our plan to work. We feel safe with our plan. Our lesson plans put our week on secure footing.

With a good, well thought out lesson plan we can accurately anticipate what will happen in our class periods. We can also rule out what will not happen. Why? Because it's not in the plan.

But the problem comes in when Real Life strikes. When students get sick. When students don't understand as quickly as we thought they would. When our boss or principal calls an impromptu school assembly, or adds some apparently urgent piece of curriculum at the last moment. When our students are moody and emotional. Life throws one curve ball after the other and for the most part there's nothing we can do about it. It's difficult, but it is what it is: Reality.

Usually, behavior is predictable. But we must be prepared for when it's not. We must be prepared for any and every obstacle that comes our way. And how do we prepare?

          We can't. We can only adapt.

There's no way to determine what will happen today. There's no way to know if an emergency will arise. There's no way to know if our brightest student just can't wrap her brain around the lesson. Even the best teachers run into unexpected dilemmas for which there is no practice run. If there were an easy solution, it just wouldn't be life.

May the force be with us.

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Read more from Jake

5 Essential Qualities of an Effective Teacher | pt. 1 | pt. 2


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English for Life
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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Entry Level

Ponder this for a moment...

The lowest paid and least respected person in a bank is the bank teller. The lowest paid and least respected person at McDonald's is that sloppy teenager operating a cash register. The lowest paid and least respected person at a giant retailer is the floor associate.

Yet, the most important job in any bank is not the manager, but the teller. The most important job in a McDonald's is not the manager, but the cashier. The most important job in a giant retail chain is not the manager, district manager, or CEO. It's the lowly floor associate.

Entry level positions in every company have one thing in common. As the first person, usually the only person, you and I come in contact with, they lay a foundation. The entry level employee personifies the company, and thus determines whether or not I do business with them in the long-term.

The bank teller, not the manager, is the one I hand my money over to and trust to deposit it into my account. The sloppy teenager is on the front lines, the first face I see, the brand ambassador. He IS McDonald's. The retail floor associate represents not only his boss and his local store location, but also the company in general. It seems a bit backwards, but the lowest paid and least respected person in a company is the one who makes it or breaks it for you and I. That low level, underpaid employee chooses the fate of his company and his customer. 

Classroom teachers are no different. The 'company' we represent is Life, and the customer we make it or break it for is our student. In the world of education, we are the entry level employees. We're not the principals. We're not the administration. We're not the district personnel. We're not the boss.

What you are, and what I am, is a classroom teacher. We are the front line. We are the ones who get down in the dirt. We are the brand ambassadors. We represent the idea of learning and personal development. We determine whether or not our students continue to mature for the long-term. Like the teller, the cashier, and the retail floor associate, teachers are the underpaid, under respected, and underestimated foundation layers.  

A good teacher understands this idea. A good teacher embraces the opportunities in his classroom, where he works with his students face to face. A good teacher isn't comfortable behind an administration office desk. Rather, a good teacher prefers the adventure of molding little minds. 

Do we get paid what we're worth? 
Of course not. 

But that's not why we got into this business...


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English for Life
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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

5 Essential Qualities of an Effective Teacher

No.2 -- An Effective Teacher is Determined

Today they complain. Today they cry and moan. Today they glare at you for making them do verb exercises that are difficult. Today they mutter under their breath when you make them write sentences. Today they swear they'll never come back to your class when you make corrections in their workbooks. Today they refuse to speak.

Your students don't like you. Today.

But a good teacher understands that today will be soon gone. A good teacher is determined to conduct her lessons with tomorrow in mind, because today is quickly disappearing. Tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow will have the foundation of today. A good teacher builds, and builds, and builds, knowing that every tomorrow holds the promise of standing a step higher. A good teacher is determined to push through today.

Indeed, today, your students struggle, but tomorrow they'll shine. 

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English for Life
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Monday, March 11, 2013

5 Essential Qualities of an Effective Teacher

No.1 -- An Effective Teacher is Patient

The popular notions of patience are wrong.

A patient man is commonly regarded as passive, quiet, and resigned. Synonyms include forbearing, uncomplaining, stoic, and indulgent. To be patient is to sit, to wait, to allow offense without retaliation.

       Bulls#!&.

Patience is a verb. It is by no means passive. Patience is the act of restraining impatience. Patience is the act of firmly holding our natural tendencies and reactions at bay, not allowing our more violent, aggressive, and  less attractive qualities to show.

Patience does not come naturally. Patience does not stand at attention, ready to receive orders and deploy at a moments notice. A patient man does not sit idly or passively. He is not stoic. He is not indulgent. He does not forebear.

No, my friend, patience is indeed a different animal altogether. Patience must be hunted. It must be fought for. It must be won. For a man to truly become patient, he must do battle. Blood must be drawn, and natural tendencies put to death. Literally. Seriously.

Patience is serious business, and a good teacher understands that. A good teacher prepares his or herself daily for students who test them. A good teacher does not take for granted that reserves of patience will come running when she needs them most. A good teacher is strong and active and ready to fight the battle of restraining impatience at any given moment. A good teacher is alert, scanning his classroom for opportunities requiring a strong, patient hand.

No, patience is not passive. It’s exhausting.


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English for Life

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Stop Trying

You can't change the world. So stop trying. You can't dream big enough, work hard enough, or care passionately enough to make a difference. At least not the difference that most people think about. You can't change your school's grading policies. You can't change your boss's attitude. You can't change your co-teacher's lack of common sense. You can't change the political climate. You can't stop world hunger. You can't even change the textbook in your classroom. Stop wasting your time.

Your circle of influence is small. 
The people who will actually listen to you are few. 

Start there.

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English for Life
This blog post was sponsored by English For Life Academy
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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Following the rules


When we assume the title of teacher, we automatically make a promise to our students, both present and future, that we will take their education seriously. That we will act in their best interest. That we will adapt our plans to accommodate them and their learning styles.

We don’t need permission to do what’s best for our students. We don’t need permission to be creative. We don’t need permission to care, to help, to be kind. We don’t need permission to alter our lesson plans. We don’t need permission to spend an extra day or two on a lesson to ensure that our students really understand.

Sure, standards must be met. Rules must be followed. Criteria must be adhered to. Schedules must be kept. But our obligation is not to our principal. It’s not to any educational board, or superintendent, or boss.

We’re obligated to our students. They’re trusting us to break all the rules.

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English for Life

This blog post sponsored by English For Life Academy
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Monday, March 4, 2013

Learning from the pros

Fluent English speakers have at least 3 things in common:

1. When they were young children, they heard the same words over and over. They listened to the same sounds and pronunciation again and again. Appropriate vocabulary for any given scenario, the changing of verb tenses, proper syllable accent. This was all drilled mercilessly into their minds. There was no textbook. No test. No study guides and no homework. There was repetition. Boring, mindless, and never ending repetition.

2. When they were learning to speak, to listen, to discern English words and meanings, there was no test run. There was no simulation. Fluent speakers were thrown into the gauntlet of Real Life. They learned to communicate with grocery store clerks, restaurant wait staff, friends and family. There was no textbook. No test. No study guides and no homework. There was only real life, sensible scenarios where English was the only logical choice of speaking.

3. When their minds were learning to accept this new means of listening, speaking, reading, and writing, there were simply no other options. Grandma didn't speak German. Dad didn't speak Chinese. Their friends didn't speak Portuguese. English was it. Either they could adapt or they could accept the notion that they would never, ever be able to verbalize anything. ANYTHING. It was English or nothing.

Extreme? Most likely.
Insensitive? Maybe.
Confusing for students who don't speak the language? Absolutely. But that's where we come in.

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English for Life

This blog post is sponsored by English For Life Academy
Teach. Travel. Transform Your World!
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