Archive for the ‘teaching’ Category

SNOW! …and teaching issues

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010
    It’s snowing in Yesan! Finally! When I say “snow” I mean tiny white things that could scarcely be qualified as snow have been falling from the sky for the last half hour and dissolving on impact with the ground [EDIT: as of 12:00 pm it started snowing really hard and now there's snow stuck to the ground! I explained to my afternoon class that if it snows like this in Virginia we cancel school and they looked at me like I had sprouted tentacles]. Some of the students (my more rambunctious low-level 1st grade girls) tackled me yelling “SNOWSNOWSNOW” but other than that the students are going abut their business in an everyday fashion.I felt like such a grinch of a teacher when it started snowing during my class. Ever since the 수능 (the big test all the 3rd grade students took to get into college) finished I’ve been teaching the advanced 3rd grade class (my host sister’s class). They have no more tests and grades don’t matter so I was worried they wouldn’t pay attention but so far they’ve been great. It started snowing during that class and the students freaked out, and asked if they could go outside. As I am a new and temporary teacher, as much as I want to go outside too, I had to say no for fear that the principal would see me and freak out. Very sad.
    Teaching has it’s ups and downs, you’ve heard this all before, this is not a new fact. I’ve experienced a lot of ups and some downs, but I experienced my first major down yesterday. The students are studying for their finals so they’ve been harder to motivate recently (I am not supposed to give grades or homework in my class, and their English final contains nothing from my class). This particular class has always been difficult for me, in that I have students in there that flat-out don’t respect me. To further the problem, yesterday my co-teacher did not come to class. I teach a lot of classes without a co-teacher, it’s normally not an issue, but the combination of low-level tired students, final exam stress, and a lack of general respect led to an awful class. I had scrapped the actual lesson I was going to do last minute and pulled out my emergency super-fun pronunciation lesson (that has never bombed before) because I knew this would be a difficult class, but still it was bad.I demand absolute silence in my classroom. This is difficult to do with a class of 40 but luckily my classes are 30 or less so I can do it. In a smaller class it’s disruptive if 2 people are whispering, so in general I refuse to let anyone talk. This class had 15 people, and everyone was constantly talking or sleeping. If people weren’t doing either they were doing homework for other classes or blantantly spaced out. Some students were apologetic when I called them out on it, and others disrespectful. I make kids stand with their hands over their heads in the back of the classroom if they sleep too much (so it’ll keep them awake) or if they talk too much (so they’re not close to anyone to talk to) and when I told one kid to stand up he refused and put his head back down. So I got up in his face and loudly started counting down. Since I didn’t have a co-teacher and I wasn’t going to reward the class for misbehaving by leaving them alone for 2 minutes while I ran and found an authority figure I wasn’t sure what to do if this didn’t work. Thank goodness the class started counting down with me and because of peer pressure he stood up. The rest of class though whenever I would shake him to wake him up he would violently jerk and look at me like I was diseased and brush off his shoulder.

    The lesson consisted of tongue twisters, modeling and practicing R & L pronunciation, rap battling, and a slap game where the students are in 2 or 3 teams and they sit at their desks and scream a word (RICE! RICE) and one student from each team is facing the chalkboard and they have to look on the board for teh right words and slap it first to receive a point, the trick being that every word has a rhyming alternate (Rice:Lice; Right:Light; Road:Load) which makes it difficult. Not only were they blantantly disrespectful during the lesson but they cheated during the game – peeking at my word cards, spelling out words instead of yelling them, shoving and tackling each other. At that point I had had enough.

    I ended the lesson 5 minutes early and sat them down and read them a long lecture in highly simplified English, then as soon as class ended I ran to the bathroom and sobbed for a good 5 minutes. I have had a lot of difficulties in Korea, both with teaching duties and with adjusting to living in Korea/Yesan. This is the only time I can think of that I wholeheartedly wanted to board a plane right then and there and go back to the United States.

    An amazing class later that afternoon, last-minute meet-up with Joelle that night, and some distance has helped me gain some perspective. Not everyone in that class is bad, and many of them seemed truly sorry that they had upset me. Some of them are definitely rotten eggs but they’re also 15/16 year old boys… I am definitely not the same person that I was when I was 16. As a teacher my job is not only to teach English but to teach them about life in general – and that includes basic respect. Whether this is putting too much pressure on myself I’m not sure, but I will not give up on this class and I will demand and in return receive that respect without the help of an authority figure if at all possible. However, if I cannot I will not be afraid to turn to an authority figure, as that is what they are there for. I could also have it worse… I know some schools have major issues with bullying, others have a lot of swearing, or physical violence, or even drugs. Sapgyo for the most part is very sweet and my badly-behaved boys are an oddity, and comparitively not even that badly-behaved, it’s just that I expect more of them and by the end of my contract I will receive it.

    My most difficult class initially was not in fact this class, but the all-girls low-level first grade class. They’re known throughout the school as being really difficult. They smoke, and swear, and hit each other, and are super loud, and are always talking. I had a really difficult time with them because I didn’t know how to be strict but also have fun. They are now one of my favorite classes, because I have learned what works and what doesn’t – they are still loud, and still talk, and still shout out answers or non-sequitors but they also care about me and respect me, and always scream my name really loudly whenever/wherever they see me, whether that’s in class or on the streets of Yesan after school. If my least favorite class can become my favorite class over the span of one semester, then by the end of next year I will force these kids to respect me. So wow Em, this is really personal stuff, why are you putting it online where everyone (even spambots from as far out as Ukraine) can read it? Because this is a reminder to myself. Sometimes life sucks, sometimes life is hard. Sometimes you will cry in the bathroom at school. You will not get cute little notes from your students everyday. Eventually you have to leave the bathroom and go teach agan.

Thanksgiving

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Taught a cultural lesson on Thanksgiving last week and part of this week. Here are  my favorite answers in response to questions (in terms of humor, not student retention):

“Okay class, 500 dollar jeopardy question. So what food do you put INSIDE the turkey?”
“*Frantic whispering* PIE!”

*point at the TV screen where I’m showing snippets of the Macy’s Day Parade* “You see the people riding on top of the turkey? Who are they?” (note: they were pilgrims)
“OBAMA!”
“nooooooo”
“EMILY TEACHER!”

“Okay class, what are you thankful for? I am thankful BECAUSE of my friends. What about you?”
“I am thankful because of me.”

“What is one of Korea’s MAIN EXPORTS” ($500 jeopardy question in the “random” column for my advanced students)
“Kimchi?”

Exit Slips

Monday, November 8th, 2010

One of the things I’m struggling with the most as a teacher is checking for comprehension. It is very difficult to know whether or not students understand what I’m teaching when only a few of them want to talk (and the vocal ones are not always the ones that know the most English). If I only pay attention to who is shouting things out in class I get a skewed idea of the students reading, writing, and even speaking levels.

My students are low level. So low level that they don’t understand the 5 finger rule (I say “show me your fingers:” if they understand everything they put up 5, if they understand nothing they don’t put up any fingers, if they understand some they put up 3, etc), and some of them don’t understand the question “do you understand?”. Those that do understand almost invariably say “yes.”

What I’ve been doing is checking for comprehension during class, as we go, by making individual students accountable for answering questions. I introduce the material then during the review I throw a soft ball at students and if they catch it they have to answer. Of course this means many students duck, and as my aim is pretty bad I can’t pull a Josh Brown and chuck it at their heads (though believe me, I really want to – I tried once and hit a different kid in the face… whoops), so what I’ve been doing is walking up to the students who refuse to catch it and lightly tossing it at them, making the ball fall in their lap. However many times the students either can’t or refuse to answer the questions still, even though I’ve introduced the material. Many times it’s because they’re not paying attention.  Thus I’m also trying to balance student accountability (i.e. the students expect to be called on so they pay attention) and the idea of “losing face” (a student is not able to answer so becomes incredibly embarrassed in front of his or her peers – the peer mentality is very strong here) and I still don’t know where to draw the line.

I would also really like to develop a system for checking comprehension at the end of the class. Many people have been doing “Exit Slips” i.e. having the students take 5 minutes at the end of class to answer a question or reflect on a topic, and then they collect this slip. I would love to do something like this, and it would definitely work for almost of of the members of 4 of my classes and maybe some of my other higher-level or more motivated students in the remaining 8 classes, but the rest are so low level that I don’t know if this would work. Many of them cannot write well (or at all) and at least 3 of my students can’t read. Doing an exit slip I feel might just continue to isolate the really low level kids. How then do I make the exit slip concept work in my classroom? Do I scrap the concept completely and try to come up with another method for checking comprehension at the end of the lesson? If anyone has any ideas or advice I would greatly appreciate it.

My Everyday Life

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

So people have been a-clamoring to know what my daily life is like. Sorry, I suck at blogging. Without further ado, here is the super long blog post that will probably go into more detail than you care about:

I live in a homestay, i.e. I live with a family, and they’re all really nice!  The father is the Ethics teacher
at Sapgyo High School and drives me to work every morning (we leave at 7:30 am, ugh). The mother is a a piano teacher at an academy, and she has started giving me piano lessons! Last but certainly not least, I have two homestay sisters who are honestly probbaly the best thing about my placement. Their names are 밀림 (Mil-lim) and 영림 (Young-lim), and they are in 3rd and 1st grade at Sapgyo High school. Cultural note: middle schools in Korea are 3 years long, so high schools in Korea are only 3 years.  So a first grader is roughly equivalent to a sophmore and so on. Currently Mil-lim is finishing up studying for the University Entrance Exam (more on this in a later blog post), which is a big test that all of the high schoolers who want to go to college have to take, similar to our SAT but much more intense and important. As they are high schoolers I don’t see them very often, but when I do we have a lot of fun. My homestay parents speak very little english, so either I speak Korean, or my sisters translate. I try to speak Korean as much as I can because I want to learn and also because I feel guilty having my sisters have to translate.

On my first day at school (a Saturday when I was getting to know the school and not actually teaching) they asked me to give a speech in Korean to the entire student body. That was nerve wracking. It was super simple, along the lines of  “Hello everyone it is nice to meet you.  My name is Emily.  I am from America, from Virginia which is below Washington.  I am an English teacher.  Thank you!”  However the entire student body burst into applause after I said “hello” so I think I made a good impression ^_^. I’m the first native teacher Sapgyo HS has ever had, so I get a lot of what was referred to in Orientation as “rockstar status” – 9 weeks later students still yell at me, run down the hall just to say “hi,” make hearts with their hands, etc. More on this later.

The Korean school system is intense!  There are classes M – F from 8 am – 5 pm and then on two Saturdays every month. Luckily I only teach on weekdays. On Monday – Friday most of the students (at least the college-bound ones) do self-study after school until 10 pm or midnight (including my two adorable host siblings, and then they go to school on Sunday and self-study from 8 am – 5 pm as well.   I teach 12 classes total: 2 advanced, 2 high beginner, 8 beginner, 2 low beginner. The beginner classes are a bit of a challenge, as they don’t always understand what I’m saying, but I’m trying to do my best to teach them.  To put things in perspective:

  • Taught my advanced class a lesson on protests and made them make up protest chants. Very extensive vocabulary, and good grammar, however don’t know how to use it all the time.
  • I teach my high beginners a harder version of my beginner lessons
  • Beginners get taught mostly grammar and vocab. Recent lessons have been “comparative and superlative adjectives” (thanks Josh! – you’re rad), “government words,” “singular vs plural” etc.
  • Low Beginners get a much easier version of the Beginner lesson. Some of my kids can’t read English, and two of my kids are completely illiterate (can’t read Korean). My most difficult (and thus my most rewarding) class is grade 1 class 6… it’s my lowest level and there are only 10 students in the class. When I come into class most days they’re asleep, but generally they’re really pumped up by the time I leave and they try SO hard.

Average class size is about 20, with my largest class at 30 and my smallest class at 10. I absolutely LOVE having smaller classes – it makes discipline much easier and I can give students individual attention.

I leave school between 3 and 4 everyday. I’m allowed to leave at 3, however depending on my teaching schedule and whether or not I miss the one bus that comes every 20 minutes, I leave at differen times everyday. That’s right, there’s one bus. I LITERALLY could not get lost going home unless I a) was on the wrong side of the street or b) got off the bus way too early. Bus takes about 30 minutes, and then every day M – F I have hapkido from 5:30 – 6:30. Hapkido is a “is a dynamic and eclectic Korean martial art. It is a form of self-defense that employs joint locks, techniques of other martial arts, as well as common primitive attacks. There is also the use of traditional weapons, including a sword, rope, nunchaku, cane, short stick, and staff (gun, bō) which vary in emphasis depending on the particular tradition examined.” It’s freaking awesome, I feel like Mulan. I am by no means great at it, but it’s a lot of fun and I have my yellow belt test on the 29th!

That’s generally my life right now. Sorry about the delay in updates.