Posts Tagged 'teaching'

Frustrations in Korean Education

Most of the time here in Korea, I am not exactly happy, but not really actively hateful; grouchy is a good term.  I even have some happy days.  But, I do have what I call “hate Korea” days an awful lot.  Today was one of those, and I’m so glad my school let me go early, because I was seriously stressing out while fuming at my desk, and my shoulders were quickly turning into bricks.  

You see, Koreans often have trouble with the process of planning ahead.  They don’t do it.  They also are not the world’s most logical thinkers, especially when it comes to critical thinking.  It’s not their fault, it’s just a product of their education system, and, to a degree, the culture.

Public schools in Korea typically offer winter camps and summer camps for students who want to work on a particular subject.  English is popular (though the kids usually are there only because their parents make them), and so most of us ESL teachers get roped into teaching said camps during the holidays.  That, in itself, is not a problem.

What bugs me is when my school waits until TWO WEEKS before the winter holidays start to begin preliminary planning for said camps.  They don’t even know when exactly they are going to happen, or how many kids there will be, etc.  Not only that, but everyone is in the middle of exams right now, so teachers are busy with all that, instead of being able to plan for these camps, because nothing was done beforehand.

What this means for me is that this afternoon, my co-teacher/minder came to my desk and told me that I have to make 20 hours of lesson plans by Monday morning.  Not only that, but the lesson plans all should ideally be along a theme, and they should all be of such a sort that will work well consecutively, since I am seeing the same students every day for four hours.  Yes, you read that right, they expect that middle school students will be able to pay attention in a foreign language class for four hours.  Even in the immigrant classes I taught in the US, our longest classes were 3 hours, and even with those, which were comprised of adults who really, honestly, enthusiastically wanted to learn the language, by about the 2.5 hour mark, keeping their attention and energy level up was a constant battle.

I have tried to explain this to my co-teacher, and have requested that rather than one class of, say, 30, they will get far, far better results with two classes of 15, even if each class has me for half the time they would have otherwise gotten.  Koreans tend to have difficulty with the concepts of quality vs. quantity and of diminishing returns, and this is truly a prime example.  Argue as I might, she wouldn’t give in, and insisted that forcing 30 kids to try and pay attention for 4 hours is far, far better than giving 15 kids more personal attention for 2 hours.

I miss my friends back home, and my boyfriend Marc, but the times that I really think about coming home are the days like today.  I miss folks dearly, but if I were ever to “pull a runner” (leave in the middle of the night), it would not be (primarily) because I want to go back home, it will be because this country has finally driven me to my breaking point.

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A Glimpse at my Week

My life has definitely calmed down now that I am only teaching at 3 schools instead of 7 and have been able to thus develop a routine.  I was told by many, many people that after the first 3-4 months, which seem interminably slow, that time really speeds up.  I was skeptical about this, due to the snail’s pace at which my life seemed to crawl for awhile there, but it is definitely proving to be true.  It feels like I go from Monday to Friday in about 3 days, which is good, because right now I’m just counting the days until I go back to the states for my month+ long winter vacation.  For those curious, here’s how I generally look at my work-week:

Monday:  My first two classes of the day are also my worst-behaved of the week.  So, if I can make it through those two without getting too angry, things are good.  Plus, at that school (which I will call GS), the teacher has decided that she doesn’t like my lessons, and so I’m basically a pronunciation monkey for her.  Makes my life easy, so I don’t complain.  Mondays I teach 4-5 classes, and I am usually done teaching by 2 or 3, and my remaining hours (until 5) are spent anxiously awaiting someone to upload the week’s new episode of True Blood, and then downloading it.  That evening, I go home and treat myself to one of my Belgian or German beers that I hoard when I find them.

Tuesday:  On Tuesday I am at my favourite school (which I will call US), and the students there love me and come to my desk to try and practice their English with me, which 90% of the time is cute, and nottoo annoying the other 10% of the time.  The students there are generally actually interested in learning English, and their pronunciation is the best on the island, in my opinion, so my job there is relatively easy.  Plus, the teachers there are generally happy, so the environment is nice.  The best part about Tuesdays, though, is that by 1:00 or so (and I only teach 2-3 classes), I get to head home, because that school is sane and releases me after I’m finished teaching, rather than making me sit uselessly at my desk until 5.  Tuesday evenings I spend either in front of my computer or out walking, or both.

Wednesday:  Wednesday I am back at GS, which is rarely pleasant as the teachers always seem very angry and stressed.  The students are my worst-behaved and their English is the worst, so my job there can be relatively stressful sometimes.  But, my afternoons I have no classes, so I spend that time working on my various websites, or on editing photos, etc.  Plus, after that day is done, I only have two days left in the week.  I theoretically have a workshop for the middle school teachers that day in the afternoon, but it only happens about half the time.  I teach 3-4 classes on Wednesday, plus the occasional workshop.  Wednesdays are cooking days, so my evening is usually a mix of cooking and cleaning.

Thursday:  Thursdays I am at GN, which is a decent school.  I love my co-teacher there, and like US, the teachers and students are generally in a pretty positive mood, so it’s a comfortable environment.  Some of my students there are good, some are bad, though the ones that are good are really good, so that’s nice.  I usually teach 3-4 classes on Thursday, and they’re almost aways all in a row, which can be hard, but I’m usually done by 2:30 at the latest, and then I go home.  I teach a workshop for elementary school teachers at 4pm at another school, and so I go home and surf un-censored internet for an hour or two before I have to head out again.  The teachers in that workshop are pretty low-level, which is a challenge, but all my previous experience has been with teaching adults, and the teachers are nice, so it’s usually fun.  Thursdays I almost invariably eat at the street-stand sandwich place in town, where they know me so well they start making my sandwich as I walk up to the counter.

Friday:  Friday is, well, Friday, so it’s almost always a good day.  Fridays I am back at US, and I usually only teach 2 classes, so I’m done by 11:30.  I usually stick around until lunch at 12:30, as a free meal is welcomed, and US has the best food of the three schools, but if I need to head out earlier to catch a bus or something, I can.  Because I am finished so early, and my days at US are so easy, Fridays almost don’t feel like a work day, which results in my weekends feeling almost like a three day weekend.

So, in short, Monday sucks, but then Tuesday goes by like a bullet train, Wednesdays suck but then Thursdays are okay and I spend them looking forward to Friday, then Friday is almost a non-workday.  So, really, it makes things go by rather quickly.  I have mostly been sticking around on the weekends, though I was going to head up to the province north of here to check out the foliage this weekend, until the weather called for rain and clouds there.  Maybe next weekend.  Sometime in November I need to make a trip up to Seoul to hit the expat store and an expat bar or two (I now have a ring I wear to fiddle with in class, and if I go to a bar by myself, I just switch which finger it’s on and the men mostly leave me alone – haha), but in general, I’m trying to stick around town more, since with the economy the way it is, I need to save my money.  I am still going to do the Trans-Siberian on the way home, but I may cut my time in Europe a little shorter than I originally planned, unless the economy rebounds.

Anyway, this entry is long enough, so I’ll stop now.

Linguistic Paranoia

Now, I know for a fact that two of my three schools absolutely love me, but the third…I am not sure.  Sometimes they are friendly, sometimes apathetic, sometimes I think I hear my name mentioned in an angry-sounding conversation.  It makes me paranoid.

This particular school has a rather negative feel, in general.  All the teachers hate the new principal, and everybody seems unhappy and angry.  This trickles down to the students, who end up disliking the stressed teachers, and this sometimes results in them having anger-management problems.

They have group discussions here in the office every day, and they never sound happy.  They always sound angry, or though there occasional moments of neutral-ness.  I always worry that they are talking about me, even though I don’t really have anything to worry about.  It’s hard to get teachers for rural areas like this, and 2 of my 3 schools like me, so the opinion of this one, even though it’s the one that pays me, would get overridden.  The fact that there’s a Korean word that sounds similar to my name (they say my name “Kelshee” and there’s a word that sounds like “Kayshee”) doesn’t exactly help with my paranoia.

Bleh.  Most of the time the language barrier doesn’t really bother me, but this is definitely one time that it does.  I hate not knowing if people are talking about me or not, and if they are, what about.  One of the schools I used to teach at used to talk about me all the time (though they tried to hide it by referring to me as “the American”, because they didn’t realize I know that word), and it drove me insane, because when I would ask what they were saying, they’d deny it.  Very frustrating, and just a little bit immature.

School Attire

Some of you have asked what I wear at school, when teaching. So, for a week or two I’m going to take a shot while I’m at school, to show you.

Here’s last Friday’s:

School Attire - Sept. 5th

The only thing inaccurate (in terms of being atypical) in this shot is my shoes. Generally I wear a pair of indoor-only flats that I carry around in my storage compartment on my bike, as in Korea, you don’t wear “outside shoes” when you’re in a school/non-western restaurant/house. However, that day I had forgotten them, and all the “loaner” sandals that were even remotely my size had been already taken, so I was allowed to wear my own shoes for the day.

#@#$(*& Students!

So, I just had to discipline AN ENTIRE CLASS. Ironic that the first time I’ve actually had to punish a student (I had to isolate one last week, but it wasn’t what I, and the Korean system, consider punishment) I actually had to punish an entire class.

They didn’t like my lesson, so they were being silent. So, I asked them if it was too difficult. Silence. I told them that if it was, I would do an easier activity. Silence. I had my Korean co-teacher translate. Still silence. After 10 minutes of trying to get them to say something, anything, I told them that if they were going to be silent, they were going to do so uncomfortably. I made them all stand up from their desks and stand with their arms outstretched. Silent. For the entire period. Believe me, after 15 minutes, it starts to hurt.

I’m vaguely worried about retribution, however. Last week a teacher punished a few students, and they broke 7 windows in the teachers office in response. I told my co-teacher that in America, those students would be expelled, or at least suspended. These were the 8th graders, who apparently are a reasonably violent and vengeful bunch, so I do have to be careful about what I do with them. After the bell, I asked them “Did you enjoy that?” “No…” “Will you speak when I ask you a question, in the future?” “Yes…”.

Apparently they think I should only play games with them. I told them that I would play a game with them the last week of every month, but if I *only* play games with them, they will not learn anything from me, and they will never get off the island, that they will not get into university (a halfway decent knowledge of English is generally required), and that they will end up as farmers (and the Korean word for farmer is the same word for “peasant”). Harsh, yes, but they really pissed me off. They were completely disrespectful to both me and the co-teacher, and the other Korean teacher who was brought in to help. They were disrespectful by American standards, and *extremely* disrespectful by Korean standards.

It’s early in the year, and I do *not* want to start off the year seeming like a pushover. I really hope this has some effect. As a friend of mine says, if I continue with the same, all I will do is achieve compliance through force, which is not a productive form of classroom management.

School Stuff

Wednesday I head up to 해남 (Haenam) to take my driving classes.  It’s offered in English once a week there, and while I was annoyed at first at having to take the class, it would be nice to actually understand what the various Korean traffic signs mean, and understand what the rules are in terms of bikes.

My lesson this morning crashed and burned in the first 5 minutes.  They were even more rowdy than I had anticipated.  I ended up making a tally of how many people did which activities over the holidays, and then asked them questions based on their answers (like “Where did you swim?”, “What TV show did you watch?”, etc).  After that, I asked them to give me suggestions of some topics they would like me to cover in class this semester.  Korean students have essentially no control over their schooling, and I wanted to put a little power in their hands, for once.  They seemed baffled that I was asking *them* what they wanted to learn, but eventually they figured it out.  So, now I have some ideas of what units I should touch on first.  I ended with about 10 minutes to spare, and so we played hangman with the category being sports that were in the Olympics.  They enjoyed that, and it gave them a positive note to end on.

Tomorrow I go to 섴교, my least favourite school.  My co-teacher there corrects me in front of the class (and 95% of the time he’s wrong), and often will try to change my lesson as I’m teaching it.  I have talked with him about this before, but he’s an older teacher, and most older teachers tend to view younger teachers as below them, and thus have no problem with overstepping that classroom boundary.  It’s irritating, but there’s little I can do about it.

*Edit:  Oops, I was wrong, I’m going to 지산, the school I work at that doesn’t have indoor plumbing.  Nice kids, horrendous facilities.

Stuff.

Having the new bike is really helping with my mood, in general.  I hadn’t realized how much it was bothering me to have my travel restricted to the (very limited) bus service here.  I’ve been driving it around parts of the island I hadn’t even previously realized existed, and coming across people who I’m quite sure have never seen a Real Live Foreigner™ before, from their reactions.  It’s been enjoyable, and I’ve been getting some good shots.

That said, with the recommencing of school duties today, I found myself rather depressed this morning, for some reason.  In general, I do pretty well here – I’m not really sad, or lonely.  But, sometimes it does hit me broadsides.  I miss having Marc next to me when I wake up, I miss the forests of both Massachusetts and Virginia, and I miss being able to feel laid back.  The communication barrier adds a general level of stress to my life here, and while it is low level, it is constant, and that can begin to wear on me.  I’m hoping to go up to Seoul for Chuseok so I can attend Quaker Meeting again, as I think it will help.  I have found that attending Meeting really does wonders for my mood here, as it provides a reasonable amount of familiarity, something I sorely lack here most of the time.

Without further ado, here’s two photos from yesterday’s drive:

 

Seaweed Farmers in Paengmok

Seaweed Farmers in Paengmok

and

My bike at sunset in the most rural part of the island.

My bike at sunset in the most rural part of the island.

 

Classes start for me today at about 11am.  Since it’s the first week for the kids, I’m giving them an easy day.  I’m going to have them each tell the class three things about their vacations, and then I’m going to call on random kids and have them try to remember what other students did.  Simple, easy for me (I’m a little tired after spending 4 nights sleeping on someone’s floor), relatively easy for the students, and will help to ease them back into the idea of being in school again.  That’s this week’s basic lesson plan.


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