Has It Really Been That Long…?

Time sure flies… I took some time off because I really had nothing to talk about or reflect upon.  Finding happy stories are, not to say few and far between, but, I’ve just been so darned busy preparing for the new school year that I spent all my free time unwinding and not really interested in having to “write more darn stuff” on the computer.  I just haven’t been motivated to blog.  Even now, I’m only doing this because I really need to, not because I want to.  If I wait any longer, I’ll just forget all the anecdotes I have to share… (I’ve already forgotten too many) .  So here goes:

It’s a new year (Korea’s school year begins in March, not September) and my partner teacher has been paroled, or a more accurate description would be to say that she has been transferred to another institution.  Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE) has a policy whereby teachers spend five years at a school then must transfer to another.  They are given a list of schools they can transfer to, then decide which school to go to.  We lost two English teachers at the school to this policy and only gained one in return.  I was talking to Katharina and she’s not even teaching English because they already had enough English teachers! In a funny twist of fate, our school only got one in return and no one wants to teach English leaving us short on English teachers and surplused at the other… Also, the Head English Teacher from last year was “demoted” (apparently, we finished as the lowest ranked school in the district in English scores; the grade sixes finished twenty-second of thirty-six schools, so we did our part in the short amount of time I was here… although, I’m not really sure how much credit goes to us).  So the new teacher we acquired is now the Head English Teacher, we are short an English teacher, and my workload grew accordingly because she is so busy with all the administrative duties required.  I do all the planning and most of the teaching, and the new teacher helps the students with translating the instructions and ensuring I have enough fun activities for the students.  School is supposed to be fun? Since when? :-)

Anyhow, things are going well.  My new co-teacher thinks it’s funny watching me walk down the hall and enter the cafeteria.  She said I’m like a rock star the way the kids all run over to see me and high five me, etc.  It’s cute, to be sure.  We have instituted some new ideas in the classroom.  Instead of group points (the kids are arranged in groups/pods of four to facilitate group learning, co-operation, collaboration, and mentoring), we have class points whereby after attaining a certain level, they are given a class to watch a movie or play board games.  (This is where it gets a little silly, but I was just beside myself last year with kids coming to class unprepared and fooling around.) The kids get three points if everyone comes to class with their textbooks and notebooks, three points for having a pencil/pen, and three points for having their nametags.  They lose a point for every student that is missing any of those things.  This is my way to help ensure they are coming to class prepared.  We are then also given the latitude to take away points should they become unruly in class (and peer pressure becomes an ally in this battle as they help to police themselves. Bonus!!) I am also trying to improve their confidence by talking to one student per group each class and awarding points for answering, “How’s it going?”/”How are you?”.  I have given them crib sheets to help them with responses other than their auto response “Fine, thank you. And you?”.  I was talking to Claire today about that and she related a funny story of a Korean in North America that got hit by a car and when asked, “How are you?”, he auto-responded, “Fine, thank-you. And you?”  So, I’m trying everything in my power to get the students to think of different responses.  I have also instituted a more thorough unit quiz.  Last year, we gave the students a ten word spelling quiz on the key words for that unit.  I have now added open-ended questions, matching, and fill-in-the-blanks, as well.  Hopefully, this will help prepare them for the final standardized English test.  Finally, also of note, we have instituted a password door.  The students are required to say the particular sentence in order to be able to exit the class.  I have noticed a massive improvement in their speaking skills already.  They are not given an oral test until the end of the year, and the weaker students are not prone to participate in verbal dictation exercises during class, so at least we are forcing them to talk at least once during class… I have also been helping the weaker students with their exams.  I know from my practicum days that reading skills are not indicative of one’s true abilities (I try to put as much of the instructions on the quiz in Korean as possible, but also leave simpler instructions in English to get them to read instructions in English– it’s a delicate balancing act to say the least…), so I give them as much help as I can.  It’s a quiz, not a final, be all, end all test.  The Socratic Method of Test-taking is how I refer to it.  I had one boy tell me that he loves me (I think/hope it’s because I helped him with his test).  I want the kids to experience success, especially the low proficiency students.  The last thing I want, and I”ve been seeing it, is learned-helplessness with the students that don’t really understand English.  They sit there, avoid eye-contact and wait for you to go away/move on to someone else.  The class points is really helping in this regard, too.  The kids are pretty good about helping each other, but I noticed that if they didn’t like each other, they would not talk to each other.  Last year (and this is also a societal thing, as well), the students would not ask each other for help very often (it’s hard to get a Korean to admit they don’t understand, ask for help, or to say, “No.”).  This year, it seems like it occurs more often.  Hopefully, helping each other keeps up.  On that note, not that I intentionally made the quiz easy since I got it from the teacher’s textbook handbook, but only seven students in the five Grade Six classes failed the quiz outright (I added a bonus question for five marks to help the strong students to distinguish themselves and the weaker students to experience success).  I also gave the students an additional opportunity to earn points: ten points if everyone passes and one less point for each student that didn’t pass. I can’t speak for the other teachers: I suspect that they can be negative at times because in the beginning, I found the students to be afraid of me and avoided me whenever possible because I believe they thought themselves to be “dumb” (I have been walking down the hallway and have heard a teacher berating a student (at least I thought it sounded like it…) on a couple of occasions.  Now, to be fair, it is merely a snapshot in time (another one of my favourite sayings), and not indicative of regular classroom environment).  Anyhow, back to the original train of thought, as I’m fond of saying, and I shared this with them (and noticed significant improvement in their attitude: their English will always be better than my Korean.  I’m also assuming their attitude and confidence improved because, duh, by me being positive, enthusiastic, and celebrating even small victories has paid huge dividends already as reflected by the improvement of the low proficiency students.  We have also instituted an afterschool program for the students to get extra instruction taught by myself and Korean co-teacher.  Don’t get me started on last year’s afterschool program… All I need to say is: would you have an English story writing class for students in Grade One… taught by a French teacher without a translator?  (Their second language proficiency is such that it would be a paralell scenario for us, except for my sister-in-law, Sandy, of course).  That’s another story, but you (hopefully) understand what I’m getting at… Yep, this year is shaping up up so much better than the previous. 

Here’s to their continued success. 

One more thing: apparently, they do not have noise by-laws here! Our landlady neglected to tell us that she was renovating her shop on the main floor.  We have been woken up at 6:45 a.m. the last two days to the calming and soothing sound of a @!%*& jackhammer and the likewise relaxing noise of a hammer striking a steel i-beam.  Ohm! (yoga chant, fyi…)

Talk to you later…

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1 comment
  1. Carol Stirrat said:

    I am so glad that things are going better. Your experience last year has helped you make progress as a teacher. I especially like what you said about celebrating successes no matter how small. Love you. Mom.

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