So I took a sick day on Wednesday, and got up quite early on Thursday because I had to get to my primary school and recover my textbooks before I went to my Thursday-Friday school. I got to my second school and was sent home as soon as I walked into the office. Turns out it was school picnic day. Surprise! You know, even though I felt like shit on Tuesday and Wednesday, I might have toughed it out had I known that I'd have no school on Thursday, and that 75% of my students would be in Jeju on Friday. My coteacher's daughter goes to my Thursday-Friday school, and I guess she's aware that kid is in Jeju this week, I dunno. Still, reflects kinda poorly on me for taking a busy day off when I would have two easy ones ahead.
Anyway, I'm sitting on a few longer posts, but I don't have the energy to get into them right now. I'm up to here (motions with hand) in lesson planning, and it's quite a challenge to keep these kids in line sometimes, and that's something I still don't think Korean teachers quite get. I feel like a dumbass when one class is the best in the world, and the next is used as evidence for why foreigners should be sent back to Cuba. But I've spent an inordinate amount of time lately thinking about teachers' workshops, these weekly "duties" of mine in which I have to occupy the teachers' time. Like I said before, they're really not into it. They no-show a lot, they cancel whenever it suits them, they don't talk, and they make little effort to show behavior befitting an English teacher. Whatever, I've decided to get into a little more chalk-and-talk and a little less indulging their silence, so I've been thinking of things to do in class.
I took some time last week to talk about trying to, like, take English seriously, and I talked a little about stereotypes held of foreigners and foreign teachers. I'm in a streak of no-shows and cancellations right now, but I'm going to pick up on that theme a little the next time I see them. They aren't at all interested in what goes on in my classes, but I'd like to try and harness some of their influence in order to get to work in some stuff that's a little more useful. In spite of intensive grammar classes, for example, the students have no idea what a verb does, or how adjectives work, or how to build a sentence, or how to transform a question into a complete-sentence answer. It kills me that the teachers aren't taking any time to address these deficiencies, especially with six hours to my one, and so I've had to take time out of my classes to hit on some grammar basics. And you can imagine how well the students like that! I just don't get how so much teaching can take place with so little learning.
Here's an excellent example of that from last week. The chapter was on jobs, and one of the target dialogues was "What does your (father / mother / uncle / etc.) do?" and "S/he is a ______________." That was the theme of one of the chapter's dialogues, one of its speaking activities, and its reading and writing portions. The Korean teachers, in their seven classes devoted to the chapter, went through and translated the dialogue:
"Look at this picture"
"Who is this?"
"This is my father."
"What does your father do?"
"He is an engineer."
"Who is this?"
"Oh, this is my uncle."
And translated the reading, and had the kids listen and repeat, listen and repeat, listenandrepeatandlistenandrepeat to the drills a bunch of times. The teachers translated the reading into Korean, dissected the grammar, gave the students a bunch of substitution drills, worksheets, puzzles, vocabulary lists, and writing homework. So for my class I planned to have them write down what each family member does, and then interview their partner.
Now, when things go terribly wrong in class, it's not necessarily for a lack of preparation. See, when I envision something will be tricky for my students, I spend some time thinking of easy ways to explain or demonstrate the task, and I come equipped with lots of back-up ideas in case my original one is too difficult. No, when things go terribly wrong, it's usually because something I think should take 5 minutes ends up being the hardest thing in the world, and ends up killing any sort of flow or momentum I imagined having.
If only I were that effective.
In this particular class, I figured it'd take them a few minutes to write down each occupation, then they'd interview their partners for five minutes, then we'd move onto something else. Well, in spite of having taught this chapter over seven different class periods, the Korean teachers *slams face against desk* didn't teach the students the names of their own family members' occupations and didn't bother plugging these into the role plays. They used farmer, and engineer, and doctor, and college student in the dialogues, because those were the terms in the dialogues. So what should have been a simple exercise turned into a clusterfuck of students trying to go through dictionaries, asking me questions, and leaving the worksheet blank. If the sheet wasn't blank, they ended up writing things like "My father is a mart" or "My mother is a employee."
And because I had five minutes to kill at the end of class, since the students couldn't interview each other, I went through one of the dialogues the students did with their Korean teacher. Hahahahahahaha. Well, I should say they listened to the CD-Rom with their Korean teacher. It involved saying "This is my friend ________, s/he is from ________." So they went through all the examples, Marco from Rome, Sophia from Paris, whatever, but when I asked them to introduce their neighbor, they struggled. "This is my friend Minsu. He is from Korea." Didn't occur to the Korean teacher to teach them that.
Now, I know I'm a shitty teacher most of the time, so I'll admit some fault. I should have been prepared for such a catastrophe, and should have had a worksheet ready to give students who didn't know their family members' profession. As silly as it sounds, I also shouldn't have assumed the slightest bit of preexisting knowledge, because my students are remarkably indifferent toward English. It's also tough for teachers because most students' parents don't have sexy jobs like fireman, astronaut, or pilot. Nearly every family member in class was an office worker, a public servant, or a housewife. And some of the job titles translate awkwardly, and present many opportunities for misspelling, mispronunciation, and confusion. Didn't help that my colleagues told my students to use "salaryman" instead of businessman, but whatever. Maybe I shouldn't have even touched on their family members' jobs, and just stuck to the sexy ones, but since it was one of the chapter's targets, it seemed like a natural activity.
And, I know it reads insensitive and arrogant of me to complain about what goes on in somebody else's class. A way to cover up my own deficiencies, some would say. My point isn't to complain to no end, but to highlight some really huge differences across the Korean teacher - English teacher divide, and to call attention to something that might deserve . . . attention later. I konw it definitely gives me something to think and talk about.
But, anyway, why on earth would teachers pass up such an easy opportunity to make English real for their students? If they have to memorize something on pain of beating, why not make it something pertinent to their own lives? Why spend class time on substitution drills with different occupations---drills that explicitly say "What does your uncle do? / He is a farmer"---without bringing in their own students' experiences? Jesus Tapdancing Christ, who the fuck does that?
Just represents a radically different way of viewing language education. When I go through a textbook during my lesson planning, I'm looking for something, anything that I can make remotely useful. Normally that means choosing a particular sentence pattern and hitting it from a bunch of different angles in the hopes that it will stick (never does). That's an alien view to some, I know, and the idea that language ability is measured in production is one not shared by all. But I really have no idea what most of my colleagues see in a book. It's hilarious when they ask me questions about an obscure grammatical point that appears as an afterthought in one of the stories. Can't even build the smallest sentence, so why are you worrying about complementizers? Haha, one teacher brought up that, on the CD-ROM, one of the characters says aCAdemic rather than acaDEMic and that students might get confused. I was gonna say "the students might get confused when the character uses the word academic, yes," but I didn't think of it until now.
Like I said, I know I suck as a teacher, but I do feel a little better when I consider what some of my colleagues are doing. I attend a free "intermediate" Korean class once in a while downtown, run by local Korean English teachers. One the first day of our intermediate class we learned hangeul for an hour, and then learned simple words based on simple consonant-vowel combinations. So we'd learn ㄱ, then practice 가구 and 고기. For example, here's a rough transcript of a few seconds of class. "가구. Do you know 가구? Furniture. Like a desk, chair, table. All 가구." Should point out that this transpired in English. "고기. 고기 is meat. Fish is 고기, pork is 고기, beef is 고기." The next class was time for some reading, but every few syllables I'd do the teacher would stop me to harp on my pronunciation. Now, my Korean sucks, but my proununciation is pretty good for a white man. More frustrating than being berated by an English teacher who can't pronounce "th" or "f," is to have a teacher so tuned out to our needs as learners. When one of my classmates suggested free talking after we finished the half-assed grammar section, the teacher diagrammed Korea and started talking, in Korean, about regionalism in politics and the rivalries between Seoul, Jeolla, and Gyeongnam. Jesus Tapdancing Christ. I can barely talk about my weekend plans.
Anyway, was reminded of all this when I saw this post from the Marmot's Hole, "Seoul to Train Foreign Teachers." Has to be an April Fools' Joke. An excerpt of the KT article:
University professors and supervisors in charge of English education, as well as other excellent Korean English teachers, will lead the teacher training programs. “Although some of the selected foreign teachers have English teaching certificates, they need to learn about the Korean education environment for better cooperation with teachers,” he added.
Very true that foreigners have to adapt to Korea. So much so that I wonder how useful qualifications like certificates and advanced degrees even are. I'm