Friday, April 2, 2010

An Assessment, Part 2

I would not describe myself as someone who believes in luck, but I must say I have been very fortunate in my experience in Korea. It was purely the "luck of the draw" that I found myself in a great school with a contingent of very dedicated and professional English teachers. I hasten to add that I'm not trying to indicate that other schools in Seoul suck by any means. Still, there must be some reason my school was just chosen as SMOE's model school for English.

My co-teachers are all involved and engaged in class--and I understand from other teachers this is quite frequently not the case--and we seem to get along well. We go out for dinner and/or drinks regularly, thus keeping the lines of communication open and any grievances aired out.

I am repeatedly told by the administrators what a great job I am doing, how well the students respond to me, etc. Now, this is still pretty tricky, because the work culture here is different in some ways. Things are going along quite swimmingly, it's true, BUT: it takes only one negative to erase a lot of positives in the mind of a Korean boss.

At this point, after three full semesters (and three camps) of trying, discarding, improving, simplifying, I have built up a pretty solid repertoire of lessons that I think are effective, interesting, and enjoyable. I am the first to admit that in many cases I am not their unique creator--I borrow from any source I can, and am always on the lookout for ideas. I have a director friend from my theatre days who once told me, "I never saw a play so bad I couldn't steal something from it!"

The boys at my school are mostly quite good at reading English, but only fair at listening, so I have to constantly remind myself to slow down. What they are worst at, of course, is speaking. That, after all, is why SMOE has hired me, and hundreds of others like me, to come here.

The number one key to improving their speaking is to improve their confidence--or at least lower the bar of success far enough that they don't fear failure. Effective ways to get students to speak, I have found, involve giving them a reason. Provide lots of examples, give them a template, model what you want--then give them a reason: I will use your ideas to make the class rules, I am curious about you, your team is competing against the other tables, or even class is not finished until everyone has shared a sentence.

It's also a good idea to appeal to their other skills and interests--Koreans love music, so hardly a week goes by without a song or two in the lesson. Math and logic are interesting to many Young-il boys, so the occasional puzzler or math problem draws them into the lesson.

Atmosphere matters, too--while I am relatively older, and look a bit severe and stuffy, I don't mind being goofy and having a laugh. Just this week we listened and moved along to "YMCA" by the Village People. Humor is useful to me, but it is a two-edged sword--good classroom managers know how to be silly or funny, then redirect the class back to the subject at hand quickly and with no fuss. Students readily learn when they are expected to look at me vs. when they need to do some activity. I won't say they're perfect, but they're pretty good.

My classroom is practically brand new, and I like to keep it clean; I have some plants to make it "mine", and they look quite pretty right now, along the window ledge with the sun shining through the leaves. It's a bright, welcoming environment, which matters even to high school boys, I think.

My biggest complaints in this area have to do with my overall effectiveness--I meet classes once a week at best, and I have 36 or more in a class (typical for SMOE, I understand). Typical or not, it is difficult to get to know students, except for the few high speakers in a class, or the class clowns; it is difficult to objectively evaluate your impact, too.

I'll finish this up in Part 3.


SuperDrew said...

Hey, 36 per class ain't so bad. My first year students are 44 a class...very nice, since my BRAND NEW ENGLISH CLASSROOM ONLY HAS 40 CHAIRS IN IT!!!!

Tuttle said...

Heh. I thought it was silly that I have a first grade class with 41, and two others with 38--and I also only have 40 desks.

SuperDrew said...

I don't know about in first grade, but I know in second grade that the classes have different numbers of students because they are split up by field.

Why not just have students swap classes during the day, US style, rather than force every student to take the same exact classes?

Mo said...

When I head over in June/July, I'm gonna try to go for a hagwon, see how that works out. I'm looking forward to not having to deal with 35-45 kids per class. That would be kinda crazy as a new teacher. Thanks for all your tips and everything!