Archive for the ‘teaching difficulties’ Category

My Role

Friday, June 8th, 2012

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.”
AT: “Suf-fix?”
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.


Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

It is lovely outside, and lovely inside my second grade classrooms with my kids, but not so sunshiney inside the first grade classrooms. It doesn’t help that I decided to wear a low(er) cut sweater to work today (you can see about two inches below my collarbone, heavens to betsy) AND a scarf to mask the top, while not realizing that in the classrooms you get all the glorious sunshine of spring with none of the ventilation, and I end up suffocating in my own modesty. Also, my hair is now slightly-awkward mullet length, which means that I’ve taken to wearing headbands, which inevitably give me a headache by the end of the day.

My second graders either clap, or greet me when I walk in… now I don’t ask for that, or expect that from my first graders, but I expect recognition. I expect students to see me walk into the classroom and get ready for class. Today when I walked into my first grade girls class they acted like nothing had happened. They went on chatting, and studying while I began my intro, then I stopped and stared.  They kept on chatting. I then called their attention to the front, and the captain half-heartedly had the students stand up and insa me, in Korean, after which they got right back to talking.

If there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s chatting. While I dislike when students study for other classes or sleep, I understand why they do it. They’re at a demanding, academic high school, and don’t sleep nearly enough. Also, they’re tested constantly, and I don’t give grades. However, when students are chatting, OPENLY chatting, faces turned away from me and talking to their partners in Korean, about mundane unrelated subjects, I get really, really upset. Because obviously the students are awake enough to focus, but they don’t deem me important enough. Now, this is not the same as when students ask their peers for clarification on a point I’ve made – of course I’m okay with that, but this is chatting.

I stopped the class, put on my ice-glare, didn’t name names but stared at people as I explained that it was English class time, and we needed to be quiet. I then confiscated an advertisement for school uniforms that a student was holding up in front of her face reading while I was saying this.

The rest of class was fairly uneventful, with a few bursts of chatting here and there, and at the end of class I explained that since I only saw them for fifty minutes once every two weeks, I wanted to make the most of our time but I couldn’t today. I then explained that I was disappointed with their actions. I then wrote “DISSAPOINTED” on the board for further emphasis, and realized after the fact that I had spelled it wrong.

I really hope the students realize that the takeaway from all of this is my message of disappointment, not that their English teacher can’t spell.

This morning I…

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Rushed to put files on my flashdrive, but due to my computer deciding to run a surprise virus scan without prompting, I had to restart my computer three times because it kept freezing and

After twenty minutes of trying managed to put what I thought was files for the 2nd grade pronunciation lesson on the flashdrive before

Heading to class 2.8 to find out that the computer was MISSING. I

Find this out by having students wait until I lean down to plug in my flashdrive, then look back up in shock as they yell out


Taught an emergency lesson of Bowls of Nouns instead before

Rushing back to the office to turn on my computer and write my teacher reflections before my office computer doesn’t work and it’s time to

Go to my 2nd period class (1.1) to teach my 1st grade pronunciation lesson and in the middle of class I

Get a nosebleed and have to run out and hang out in the faculty bathroom for a bit before coming back in and then

After class still don’t have time to reflect because the computer is being crappy and it’s time for

3rd period and 2nd grade boys again and this time the computer is there but

The files that I had put on my flashdrive weren’t, so I taught my lesson

Without powerpoint.

I get a two period break and then I teach one more class of first grade boys. If one more thing goes wrong today, I might just punch my office computer which has finally decided to work.


Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

I know I haven’t written in awhile… and I’m currently in the process of writing a nice long write-up about the epicness of my school’s Sports Day, but I have to break that for one of the nicest comments I’ve received from a student.

Thursdays are my horrible days. I have my two worst classes back-to-back first and second period. In most of my classes my students are fairly low level but I don’t mind… while it does make certain aspects of classes difficult, it also makes me feel more needed and like I’m making more of an impact. However if a student can’t understand anything that I’m saying, that means that they really have to try and focus. There’s only so much I can teach, if my class is sleeping, constantly chatting, throwing socks, making paper airplanes, getting into fights and throwing each other into headlocks, or having screaming tantrums (this has all happened). I can deal with low levels, and I can deal with behavior problems, the issue is when students have both and also don’t respect me as a teacher.

This morning I went to my first class (who seem to alternate from week to week between comatose and pixie-stick-injesting kindergarteners) to find that not only were they incredibly active today but the computer was missing. That’s right, not broken, but missing. I’m still not sure where it went and if I’ll ever get it back. Good thing my lesson was mostly tech-free this week…

After that super special class I was on my way to my other difficult class which normally consists of 25 hyper-active  first-grade boys (today they were practically catatonic, very strange. Also the computer was broken. Not missing, just broken) when I ran into one the “I miss you so much(e)” boy, who is one of my favorite students (I mean what? I don’t have favorites, hrum hrum hrum) and the class captain for my advanced second-grade class.

I Miss You So Much(e) Boy: “Hi teacher!”
Emily Teacher: “Hi!”
IMYSM(e): “I miss you so much(e)! I have not seen you for a long-long time”
ET: “I know! It is sad. However I will teach your class tomorrow!”
IMYSM(e): “Yes I know. I am inspire by your class. I wish we have your class everyday.”
ET: “You know what? I wish I had your class everyday too. Thank you, I needed that.”
IMYSM(e): “Bye teacher!”
ET: “Bye! Have a good day!”

Language Exchange and How it Leads to Acupuncture and a Career in Rapping

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

That may be the longest blog post title I have ever written, but it’s fairly accurate.

Let’s start with the acupuncture, shall we?

In Korea oriental medicine is fairly popular, especially in the countryside and among older people, but many people outside of that demographic use it. Everytime I get sick my host mother suggests I visit the 한의사 (의사 is doctor, and 한 comes from 한국 which means Korea… so basically the Korean, or oriental medicine, doctor) because she knows I dislike hospitals, and oriental medicine is a lot cheaper. I’ve never really felt the need to go because I am incredibly stubborn when it comes to disease in general and have always been of the mindset that rest and water cures everything, and also because I am fairly skeptical about the efficacy of oriental medicine. The main thing that would prompt me to go to an oriental medicine doctor would be curiosity.

During CLEA I had hurt my wrist and while it is much better (I can move it!) it is still not completely healed. I found this out the hard way while attempting to do push-ups at hapkido which, in hindsight, was rather stupid. It’s very frustrating that 2 1/2 months after I hurt my wrist it still isn’t completely healed, so when a fellow hapkido-goer (an adult who’s relatively new to the academy and loves to practice her English with me) exclaimed that she was a nurse and her husband was an oriental medicine doctor and they could look at my wrist for me, I said sure why not. I didn’t realize it’d be immediately after my 8 – 9 pm hapkido class.

So there I am, in a car with a woman I don’t know very well, about to go to an oriental medicine doctor. Also, what do oriental medicine doctors normally do to hurt body-parts? Stick them through with needles. That’s right, I had unexpected acupuncture.

Acupuncture in itself is surprisingly painless. The doctor explained to me (mind you it was in Korean, so I only got the basic gist) that the idea of acupuncture is that your “chi” (energy flow, life force, however you want to paraphrase it) is blocked, and so to release the pressure and to create a road for the chi to smoothly flow you strategically place needles both in the blockage and where you want the chi to go. He put four needles right where my wrist meets the base of my hand on the side opposite to my palm, and one in the crook of my elbow. The only painful part of acupuncture is that you have to sit still for ten or fifteen minutes, which means that every time you reflexively move (like when the doctor’s adorable 18 month-old daughter decides to throw a book at you), the needles move. Ouch.

I couldn’t help thinking as I sat in this strange apartment at 9:30 with needles in my arm that this wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t an English teacher with some knowledge of Korean. Life as a Native English Teacher can be very strange sometime. I’m apparently going again tonight and I’ll try to get pictures this time.

So I have tried to make my advanced students rap, and I have officially decided to call this lesson a failure. Hey it’s a learning experience for me too, right? I had taught my most advanced class how to rhyme, and taught them how to make couplets (my personal favorite: “there is a snake in this cake”) which they proclaimed was “teacher! easy!” so I decided that next week they could handle rapping, especially as we had successfully rapped with a pronunciation lesson last semester. So the next week (2 weeks ago) we listened to Eminem, practiced rapping, then I told them they were going to create their own raps, by writing four couplets in groups of four on a subject I assigned, and then battle. They freaked out. We worked all period on the raps (I let them use electronic dictionaries and an online rhyme dictionary) and then I told them they could have more time the next week.

The next week I wasn’t there because of the Jeju conference.

So the next next week, which would be today, they brought their raps and I told them that I would give them more time, however I had a surprise prepared for them that would hopefully raise morale. First, I reminded them of my class rules:
1) Respect the teacher and other students
2) Do not be afraid to make mistakes
3) Do your best
4) Have fun!

and stated that numbers 1 and 2 were the most important of the rules. I then told them that I knew last week’s lesson was difficult (cue groans of agreement) and keeping that in mind, I also wrote a rap following the same rhyme scheme I made them use. In Korean. I then told them that it was really bad and not to make fun of me… and here it goes:

저는 영어 선생님인데
한국 말 조금 밖에 못해
2 학년
1 반 공부를 잘하고
재미있는 학급이에요 요 요!
이 학생들 대박!
매일  반짝 반짝!
Well, I think that my rap got the point across that I wasn’t expecting them to be 2Pac. However, they really enjoyed it, and though “rapping in Korean” isn’t in my job description and was something I never even imagined I’d do… I think it showed them it was okay to be silly. We did some of the raps today, and will finish the rest next week.

No but really who am I kidding, I’m obviously meant to quit my job and pursue my dream of rapping. Sign me up with JYP as I am obviously a Korean rap legend-in-the-making.

Peace out homies,
Em Teach-izzle

Realizing that some of my readers can’t read Korean, I just plugged my rap into Google Translate (which would be my first instict upon seeing a foreign-language rap) and got a very… um… interesting translation, so I’ll provide the translation here so you can see how incredibly basic my rap is. I promise for those of you that can’t read hangul that in Korean it rhymes:

I am an English teacher
I can only speak a little Korean
Grade 2
Class 1 are good at studying and
They are a fun class yo yo [Note: 요 is a very common verb ending, and it actually sounds like "yo" so I had fun with that]
These students are awesome!
Everyday they are bling bling.

Billy Collins

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

This does not have a lot to do with Korea, other than the fact that I rediscovered my love of Billy Collins while at school one day, but I really love the poem “On Turning Ten”

On Turning Ten

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

Recently I’ve been feeling like an old grumpy teacher. Believe me, dear blog readers, I know for a fact that I am not old and I am in the prime of my life… it’s just a feeling, quite like Billy Collins’ narrator at 10. I feel that I’m not quite as relaxed and fun as last semester, and instead I’m channeling an old, grumpy tenured teacher. You know, the one who complains about “students and their baggy pants these days” and shakes her ruler at them as they gallop down the halls, except for me it’s their crazy perms and eye-tape (in Korea many girls put double-sided tape on their eyelids to create the appearance of double-eyelids… I don’t think it works particularly well as it just looks like their new double-eyelids are encased in cellphane. And yes when I say “perms” I’m talking about girls AND guys). Even though it’s only a half year later, these new students just seem so much younger!

There are days that are awesome and teaching just flows and the “teaching persona” (how I present myself as a teacher) I have works really well, but for the new classes I’m having issues finding a persona that works. If I’m too nice they sleep/take advantage of my niceness, but if I’m too hardball they don’t want to participate. This isn’t always an issue, just with certain classes and generally on Thursdays. So please forgive me just for today for being old in my mind, if not in my body. 

Darn teenagers.

Korean Language Fail

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

In Korean the words for “raise” and “cut off” apparently are similar. Guess what I mistakenly said in class today when asking my students to “raise their hands?”

School Again

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Well, I just smacked a kid in the face with a nerf ball because he didn’t understand the command “catch.”

Some background: In my class, if I don’t have a volunteer I throw a nerfball, well gently toss in theory, and whoever catches the nerfball has to speak. This led to students diving out of the way, even under tables or behind their friends to dodge the dreaded ball, so I made it a rule that whoever I THREW the ball to, or whoever’s desk or body it bounced off of, had to answer.

This was one of my male students in my advanced class so I assumed he could understand the command, or at the very least when he saw me throwing put up his hands to block the ball, but you know what they say about “assuming…” it makes you hit kids in the face with nerfballs. Of COURSE I should have explained “catch” or at the very least lightly thrown the ball to him before just chucking it at his face. Instead, I reasoned with myself, “the kid sees that I have a ball. He should be able to catch it.” Well, just because we have hands does not mean that we can all catch.  

Apparently I didn’t learn my lesson last time when on week three I hit my student Kirk Cobain in the face. At the very least I learned not to use a real tennis ball this time around.

To use a cliche (but this one is especially apt as I’m a teacher so it’s okay right?) a new school year is a blank slate and/or chalkboard. Any behavioral problems I had, or policies I set that I wished I could go back and change, I now can because not only is it a new academic year for old students who have all moved up a grade and now are lofty 2nd or 3rd graders, but I also have completely new students. However with this new blank slate comes new blank students that need to be pre-taught my expressions in order for them to be able to react accordingly. English is not their native language, and though they have been studying it for awhile they have never been taught a class fully in English. In order for them to know that they must respond to my “hello” with a “hello” in return I must teach it to them. In order for them to understand the phrase “repeat after me” I must teach it to them, and in order for me to know their actual English level I must gain their trust so that they’ll speak to me. It’s been such a long time since I’ve had new students that I forgot what it was like in the Fall, when I despaired that my students would ever want to talk to me.

This was my mistake, not the students. His inability to catch the nerfball this time around doesn’t mean he’s stupid, doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to catch, and maybe it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t understand the phrase “catch,” it just means that he’s unfamiliar with me and the classroom, and isn’t really expecting nerf balls to come flying at this face, ESPECIALLY in a Korean high school.
It’s my job to make him and all of my other new and old students used to me, and to pre-teach these concepts before he has to put them into practice

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.

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.