So this is the technical high school where I work, with a total student body of 300.
It actually has a much larger footprint than the last school, where I had 600 grade 1 students, (10th graders) so that was six times as many students on less property.
As you can see, it has a brand new astro-turf playing field. The school’s soccer team is a major contender in Korea’s intramural sports program, as is their rowing team. The students here hope they can enter the Olympics one day. The last school didn’t have any intramural sports or any social activities for their students: only lots and lots of test prep classes. A new gymnasium is currently under construction behind the school as well. And, I guess, the school does very well in a national Architecture competition at the end of April every year. (though design is not taught here – maybe it is a 3D rendering competition)
There are only 2 Korean English teachers here, my co-teachers, Miss Lee and Miss Yu.
One thing I never get used to is the English [romanization] spelling of Korean — especially names. Many names, especially the last/surname/family name, are spelled with the older romanization system, and most common words and many first names are spelled with the newer romanization system. So I never know which one to use.
I asked for the names of all the students, and it was given to me in an excel spreadsheet. So, for each class I had to figure out which students were in each class by having them all write their name on a card. Then, I had to check their names against the spreadsheet, and for practice I wrote each name out in hanguel and for my own benefit, I romanized them. But names kept popping up that would look wrong when I romanized them, and later conversations with the students trying to find their names on my list confirmed that. It seems all the kids’ spell their given (first) names with the new system. But their last names are spelled with the old system! So confusing…
For example, my co-teachers: Miss Lee. Her name is spelled 이 which is pronounced like a long ‘e’, and spelled phonetically in Korean as it’s pronounced. But Romanized, it’s Lee. Where the hell did the ‘L’ come from? And the typical name Park. It’s spelled ㅂㅏㄱ (bak) The “b” is often pronounced somewhere in-between a “b” and a “p” sound, but where the hell did the ‘r’ come from?
My name is Suh, Yung Sook. That’s under the old system. Under the new system, is would be spelled Seo, Yeong Sook. But if I had a student with the same name, it might be spelled Suh, Yeong Sook. See how confusing it is? I guess it just doesn’t matter to Koreans, because in hanguel, it’s always the same! ha ha ha!
I think there were 13 Korean English teachers at the last school.
My two new co-teachers both warned me that the students didn’t care about English and were often rude. Actually, I find the students absolutely delightful. They all shout out “HI!!!!!” or “Hello!!!!” as they pass. They’re very open and friendly. And really very attentive, considering their English level is very low. I keep commenting on how great they are, and the two teachers look at me in amazement and say, “really???” One has only taught two years and the other has only taught one year, and it’s only been at this school, so this is all they’ve known professionally. The class sizes here run from 8 to 32, so having 10 less students in their largest class makes a HUGE difference in classroom management. HUGE. They are going to be soooo appalled when they get to an urban school……………
I had already decided that I’d establish my authority (wherever I ended up) from day one, and so prepared a system for assigning seats should I need it, as well as a behavior contract that all the students must sign, which I keep on file for the parents, along with an explanation of my expectations and rules. I also told them that they all have B’s if they participate, and that the grade will work on a demerit system. And A’s are for anyone who demonstrates progress. (it’s sooo wonderful to be able to grade) My co-teacher failed to mention that the school already has a policy about cell phones, so I probably looked like an ass over that. (there was no policy at the last school and students were texting any old time they wanted to, which was all the time)
Then, I gave my lecture about why they should learn English to all the students, after which I had to figure out how to create a different curriculum for each grade. So I made up three different lessons, and after teaching a grade 2 class, I was taken aside and criticized for making the lesson too difficult. So I taught another grade 2 class, and the lesson was clearly accessible by all the students. After a week of these critiques by Miss Yu, I got really frustrated and asked just WHAT was the student’s levels? It took a lot of painful dialogue to figure out that the classes for each grade had been divided up into two levels: low and high, and that they’d (sort of) barely mentioned it when I was interviewing with them, but they had never bothered to show me which classes where low and which classes were high. After some more experimenting, failing, and getting critiqued, I finally figured out that the grade 3 (seniors) low level class was lower than the grade 1 (sophomore) low level class. That the grade 1 low level class was higher than the grade 2 high level class, and that the grade 3 high level class was higher than the grade 1 high level class. Confusing, right? So I bagged the grade levels altogether and now only teach by English levels, and my calendar is this confusing color-coded matrix.
All of which is a crazy amount of work, since I only taught one grade one class, and the classes were mixed with three different levels. So at the former school, I tended to speak to the high level students, teach to the mid level students, and the low level students had already tuned me out anyway, so it was pointless to teach them at all. Sad, but you can’t teach a sleeping person and if you wake them up they hijack your class and nobody gets taught anything…
But here, I have to develop 3 levels of classes. To complicate things, grade 1 gets seen by me twice a week, low level and high level. So that’s 5 classes I have to prep for. To further complicate things, I give the entire school a 10 minute morning broadcast four days a week, for which I am given an hour prep for each broadcast. But the broadcasts actually take me almost two hours each to prep for. So I’m totally swamped and take my work home with me and I’m lucky if I get an hour or two away from lesson-planning each day.
Grade 2 Architecture class just gave me shit from minute one and refused to sign the contract. The following week the co-teacher was chatting with them and cajoling them and debating with them about why they should participate, and I was just standing there getting really pissed off, as the students had hijacked authority from the co-teacher and her coddling them had taken up half of the class time and they were now a week behind. Afterward, the teacher told me I had ignored one of the students on the first day and that made him angry. She said the students need lots of praise and attention. Um, what about the other 270 students in the school? I didn’t praise them (I hadn’t asked anyone to DO anything yet, so what was there to praise?) and they didn’t give me grief, did they? Turns out this class had previously whipped this teacher into submission and this class had also previously given the last foreign teacher bloody hell, so her strategy for the current year was to be their buddy and let them drive. Which I wasn’t having any part of, since they were of course essentially eliminating English from their curriculum. Anyway, I wrote a personal letter to the other co-teacher about the situation and it got better. I don’t know if anything was said or not, I just know it got better. And, I gave a lesson that really engaged the students so maybe they realized it was a little harsh treating me like crap when they hadn’t even given me a chance. I think a few of the students felt bad, because some of them would say “hi!” between classes, and one girl told me she really liked my class, and that I was beautiful and she loved me…
So, I don’t think the Architecture class is going to continue being a problem. Yayy!
BUT all in all, the co-teachers I have are AMAZING and FANTASTIC! They step up and translate when it’s needed. They elaborate on things I say so the kids understand it. They are interested in and recognize the importance of culture as a component of communication. They really like my teaching style, even though it means more work for them. Hell, I really like my teaching style too, even though it means more work for me.
And, I REALLY LIKE the students! And the school culture! It’s more like a big family here. I like them because they’re more like me, have the same values I mean, if that makes sense. They recognize b.s. when they see it, they’re very real and down-to-earth, they’re not willing to sacrifice who they really are to get ahead, they like their lives in the country, and it shows in the spring in their step and the smiles on their faces. They make me smile all the time. I find myself patting them affectionately on the head, or laughing at their mischief, or totally getting where they’re coming from if they act up, and totally feel for them when they’re getting yelled at. And in a weird way, they are much more adult about their English classes than the students at Baekyoung were. The class is a treat to them and not just an opportunity to not study. The native English teacher is interesting and not just a toy to abuse. They actually listen. Some even take notes. Some of the rougher and tougher kids even talk a lot in English, as if they’re making light of it, but actually they’re interested in it, you can tell.
The students here have it pretty good. The school is clean and bright. Nobody’s beating them. The rules are pretty clear. Everybody knows everybody. There’s less stress and worry in the air. The boys’ hair is too long, and nobody cares. The girls are allowed to wear pants too, if they want, and about half do. And they’re not covered in make-up and constantly looking at themselves in mirrors. The cool kids all peg their pants. The boys have to remember to take out their piercings when they get to school. The students are all about after-school activities as much as school activities. It’s just more like an American high school with American high school students in a lot of ways.
And, I learned a lot during my year of hell last year. I learned I talked too much. I learned I did more that interested me than what interested them. I learned more about Korean culture. So this year, I’m more able to give them what they need.
This year, I’ve got a sort of loose formula I work around. My goals, that I don’t always meet, include: a new bit of slang or a new useful expression, some phonology practice, some cultural point, and dialogue practices that are ONLY relevant to them personally or in the near future. I’m teaching much more of a survival English than an academic English, because talking should come first before reading and writing, and we need to get them to talk, and not six years after they already know 2,000 words. So right now I’m getting them to think about what they are doing each and every minute of the day, and to ask themselves, what am I doing in English? and to talk to themselves in English. And I’ve asked the high level students to start journaling. Um, I also tried to introduce a collaborative project with students in another country, but the interest in that seems mixed. We’ll see…And, I can’t be more thankful for all the intense translation I get from my co-teachers, because with that I can explain in detail my intentions and thought process and empathy for the students, so they are all fully aware that I’m working hard to make the whole process easier for them. I can also, through translation, explain my own difficulties with Korean and how language learning difficulties are universal. I am trying to be, for them, Mrs. Kim.
This is a doll. doll. That is a suitcase. That is a table. The suitcase is on the table. This. That. This. That. Doll. Suitcase. I put the doll in the suitcase. in. out. in. out. (as I’m putting the scary molar baby puppet doll in and out of the wooden suitcase) I cover the doll with a blanket. blanket. The doll is under the blanket. The blanket is on top of the doll. Where is the doll? Where is the blanket? Where is the suitcase?
This is me. I wake up. wake up. I look at the alarm clock. alarm clock. I sit up. sit up. I get out of bed. get out of. (images of me with naration) Dan wakes up. He looks at the alarm clock. He sits up. He gets out of bed. (images from a story with captions) I wake up. I look at the alarm clock. I sit up…(images with captions) And then, just images with no captions, students saying them on their own.
It’s a really winning scenario. I’m going to like it here, and I hope all the class prep I’m doing now will mean I can relax a little more next year.