Something I’ve been struggling with since I’ve arrived in Korea, is what exactly my role is as a Native English Speaking Teacher. I feel like many times we’re asked to be, or we assume the role of the fun fun NEST who plays games and acts as a stress relief, but am I okay with being just that? I didn’t realize until a few days ago that I’ve finally decided.
I’ve been staying at the office really late these past few weeks. It used to be because I would study for Korean for one or two hours, but these days I simply don’t have the time. I get most of my Korean studying done between 10 and 11 pm at home. Most of the time I’ve been staying late it’s because I’ve been meeting with students for various things, or preparing stuff for my lessons.
This week we had a national holiday on Wednesday, and exams on Thursday, so I knew that I needed to get all of my stuff done on Tuesday unless I wanted to come in on Thursday (which I did anyway for separate student stuff, but that’s beside the point) but I kept getting sidetracked by various teacher favors, and student letters that I had to edit, so by the time it was 5 pm I was still at school. At this point, a non-English teacher with relatively good English conversation skills who will remain unnamed walks over to me and asks what I’m doing.
Anonymous Teacher: “Emily! What are you still doing at school?”
Me: ”Oh I’m normally here at this time. Today I’m creating materials for my new lesson.”
AT: Looks at my materials “Oh wow, you create all of your lessons?”
ME: “… Yeah I do. Powerpoints too.”
AT: “You have powerpoints for all of your lessons?! I never create a powerpoint, I just use the textbook.”
ME: “I don’t have a textbook, and I create my own curriculum and lessons, so I’m rather free. See, this week I will teach noun suffixes.”
ME: I briefly explain what a suffix is, and then show the suffixes that I’m planning on teaching. “Because our students are high level, and they must learn many different words in order to do well on reading comprehension tests, I try to teach them patterns that can work as shortcuts in vocabulary acquisition. For example, this suffix,” I point to ‘ness’ “is used in over 3,000 English words. It changes adjectives of quality or state to nouns. If they know what “ness” means, and they can guess the word attached to it, then they can guess the meaning of the whole word.”
AT: “I think that the students will not like this. I think they just want to play with you.”
ME: “… Well, we’re only learning 9 suffixes, and I also created a game that they will play after we learn all nine. It’s based off of Connect 4.” I explain Connect 4, and show her the connect 4 game board, and the Connect 4 game pieces that I have to cut out.
AT: “Don’t you think that’s a little childish?”
ME: Clouds start to cross my face and my eyes start to narrow.
AT: “I mean it’s a great idea, but maybe… well have a good day!”
I am so sick of this. I am sick of being told (by non-English teachers, and by people who aren’t my students – I tend not have a problem with the other English teachers or the students that I teach, mind you) that my purpose is to “play” with students and entertain. My school pays a fair amount for me to be here and to be an English resource. I may not have a set curriculum, and I may not have give out tests or homework, or grade, but my purpose is to teach to the best of my ability. Do I have culture-based classes? Sure, once in a blue moon, tied to some form of critical content whether it be a grammar point or vocabulary practice. Do we have classes based solely on games? Sure, very rarely, normally when there’s some sort of technological failure or right before or after a major exam. Do we watch music videos? We’ve only watched one this semester, and it was to practice similes and metaphors – they had to do a lyrics fill in, and all of the blanks were the nouns in the similes. Now am I ragging on teachers who do these things? Of course not, but it’s just not my style.
On the other hand, games or activities are useful. You can’t just lecture at a class, especially if you have no grading power, and want it to stick. Having a game, or a craft, or some other activity gets them to see how this grammatical construct, or vocabulary, can be used in proper context, and they can also have fun with it. Does creating games take a lot of work? Yes. Is it worth it? Generally, yes. Even if a game appears to be “childish” the fact of the matter is, for a EFL learner, the simpler the rules of the game the better. The less time is spent explaining rules, the more time can be spent actually playing the game. And Connect 4 is by no means a childish game.
Today due to weird scheduling the past few weeks, I did my suffixes lesson for the first time. I greatly underestimated the amount of time needed to go over the part of speech change (or lack thereof), meaning, and examples of all of the roots, so we didn’t have time to play the game, which made it a very dry class for the students. I explained to my two classes, 2.5 and 2.10, both of whom are normally incredibly energetic and do great with tactile but terribly with listening or writing-based lessons, that today there would be a lot of writing. I explained that as Korean students who have to memorize vocab lists every other day, learning shortcuts like these, tricks, will make it easier to not only learn new vocab, but also guess the meaning of vocab that they have never seen before, that if they combine this lesson with my Latin roots lesson, and if try hard to remember this, they’ll start to be able to recognize these patterns. You know what? Even though there was no game, even though they will not be tested on this, and I don’t give grades, these classes focused, and did a really great job. Of their own free will when I would write a suffix up on the board they would brainstorm and call out examples of nouns that had these suffixes, and thus started to interact with and apply the concepts. One of my students thought of “intimacy“ for “acy” (changing an adjective “intimate” into a noun of quality) and another student remembered “antidisestablishmentarianism“ from my lesson hook, and used it as an example of “ism” (a philosophy, ideology, or doctrine).
At the end of 2.5′s class I praised them and told them that I knew that it was boring, but they did a great job focusing and thank you, and then they agreed that it was a little boring, and then applauded. They also booed when I told them I wouldn’t be teaching them next week, due to YDAC.
The thing is, my students are not idiots. Nor, really, are any Korean high schoolers (“er” is another suffix that I taught them – there are roughly 2,311 words suffixed with “er” according to Wikitionary). They are not children. They are not people that would appreciate me spending all of my class time “playing with” them. They are teenagers who are driven to succeed, otherwise they wouldn’t be at my school. Is it important that my class is stress free? Heck yes, there’s no denying that a lot of this behavior is not fully healthy. However, these students want to learn, and I’m going to do my best to continue to teach them – by teaching them valuable, useful things, and by practicing it whenever possible through games.