Monday, March 11, 2013

School Starts

In America, for many decades at least, the school year began on the Tuesday after Labor Day. Nowadays, it varies from district to district, school to school. I'm sure it will change some day, but for now, the Korean school year begins on the day after Sam-il (3-1), which is Korean Independence Day. This year, 3-2 fell on a Saturday, so the first day of school was Monday, March 4th.

This was my fifth "first day of school" in Korea, and I was expecting not to teach, but instead to have a short faculty meeting, hopefully get a copy of my schedule, and perhaps the school calendar. I was not disappointed. More than that, on Tuesday my co-teacher messaged me that we would not actually teach classes all week!

I had scoped out the first few chapters of my textbooks while "desk-warming" in January, created/edited/stole the extension activities for them as I did last semester. Then, at lunch on Friday, my co-teacher said: "I think you should always stand in front of the class."

I said, "I like to get near the students so I can hear them well, and so they can hear me. Students are more attentive when teachers interact with them closely."

"But they lose attention to you."

"I don't think so, I have noticed good results when I can physically interact with them. I have been teaching for twenty-five years. Studies show that ..."

"Korean students do not pay attention if you are not in front of the class," she says.

Team player that I am, I say, "Well, okay. We'll try it."

Pause. THEN, she says: "I don't think we should do things like we did before. You had better lead the chapter in the book, and make the students speak English much more than they did last time."

WTF. Moreso than usual, this request is out-of-the-blue. Fine. I agree.

"Yes," I say. "I think students should speak English more than they do! I would like to do that." You are admitting your system doesn't work, right? So don't go telling me where to stand, okay? (On the inside.) Last semester, both my regular co-teachers operated the DVD program that goes with the text--it's totally and exclusively in KOREAN--so I didn't do much if anything with it, mostly doing the second twenty minutes of additional material. Well, on Friday after lunch, I spent a good part of the afternoon learning what the buttons in the DVD series mean, how to navigate it, and most importantly, how to skip past the annoying and useless "chant" segment.

I'm ready.

So it comes down to today--the first day of English classes of the new year, more or less. Fifth grade. Three classes. In the old scheme (her method), we invariably begin with the textbook. Nope. After the introduction, I ask some questions, then go to a powerpoint with review questions from last year's material. A few teams miss a question, but it's mostly successful, and a good review. Then I lead them into the textbook,and sequentially go through the textbook materials: as I "wander" around the classroom pumping the students from a few feet away (which is my usual method), she stands at the computer clicking buttons when I say stuff like, "Okay, let's Look and Listen" or "Now it's time for Listen and Speak."

But we both know I can click the buttons. I'm even holding the SmartBoard pen, for the first time ever. It's now my class. Same thing, two more times. Maybe she notices she's been relegated to an assistant role, I'm not sure. I'm getting quite specific in recounting this event, not to be petty, but because it encapsulates, IMO, so much about the Korean educational system.

It's not that I have ten years' experience on her--I think a teacher with ten or fifteen years is plenty experienced--it's that she didn't want to hear about research (look up the personal regard strand, and the physical proximity strand) from overseas because "Korean students are different."

Bull. I've been with them for about five years now--they're not. You (Korean teachers) might treat them differently, but that's not the same thing. Certainly, there are cultural issues, but the brain is a homo sapiens phenomenon, and Koreans have the same one that I do.

To end this version of the story, co-teacher and I go to lunch together. She turns to me and says, "Do you the expression 잘했어요 (jal-hae-sseo-yo)?" Well, I think I might, but I'm not sure.

Apparently, it means "Good job!"

1 comment:

JIW said...

Oh those I miss them?