Taking opportunities when they come


Today the lesson plan for my upcoming open class was due. After putting it off until the last minute, I turned it in knowing it wouldn’t be received well, and sure enough, the co-teacher came back and wanted me to revise it.

See, instead of the typical lesson plan I spent last evening looking for a template that was fluid and conceptual, vs. one that dissects every minute of the hour into micro scrutiny. She wanted me to at least add the time-frame for each section of the plan, and I argued how that didn’t reflect how I taught. “But,” she asserted, “all the teachers do it this way. They’ve been doing it this way for a long long time.” And she wanted me to do it more like the lesson plan example we had from the middle school open class we’d attended last semester. The one that was two pages of intro and another FOUR PAGES of breaking down one hour, complete with scripted monologue for the teacher and scripted action of the student, down to every 5 minutes of time.

I argued how over-planned it was and reminded her how awful the lesson was, how it crammed too many things in, and how far away it was from a real learning experience. She agreed, but said I should still revise my lesson plan. Then I told her, “Look. How is Korea ever supposed to change for the better if everyone continues to do things they know aren’t good, just because that’s the way it’s always been done?” I then told her this was my protest and me changing things, and that this is what I want to submit and if it fails, then she can just say it’s all my fault. “Okay,” she said, and smiled.

I think she’s actually happy I’m such an upstart. She hates the book and these stupid monkey shows too.

This is the passive co-teacher, btw. I don’t know if it was my complaints about her or my standing firm making the students in that one class take my written punishment seriously, but she’s actually been supportive with the classroom discipline of late. We’re working pretty well together these days, and much of that has to do with throwing the book aside.

Yesterday we had one of those free-form lessons, and I brought up topics for the kids to just try and discuss. One of them was about me getting a tattoo. I told the kids foreign teachers couldn’t be hired if they had tattoos, and I asked them if they felt that was logical or not. Then I told them that many foreign teachers actually had tattoos but they were hidden under clothing. Anyway, one of the students said it didn’t look good, and another student showed me her tribal stylized dragon tattoo. I really love these conversations with the kids – it’s a struggle, but somehow they manage to find a way to express themselves: telling me tigers and dragons were mafia but anything else was okay, that people with tattoos were not bad people, and that (once again) it was mostly only the old people who stigmatized people in that way.

And so I will stick to my questioning and challenging the students, making them be responsible for getting their own clarification, making them find their own path to expressing themselves, giving them topics they are interested in enough to make the effort over. And I will protect it’s dynamic nature and let it meander where it wants to and won’t confine it to 5 minute increments, damnit.

Prior to turning the lesson plan in, both co-teachers have told me how this open class is more important than the others were, and that there are VIPs coming in from the school district to observe. Just a little pressure there…I hope the class will prove to them that we don’t need to invent some extraordinary one-time-only super lesson, that we don’t need to stress out and freak out expending huge amounts of energy on materials we’d never use in a daily setting, and that it’s less valuable to force an ingenuous performance and more valuable to see a real demonstration of actual teaching in action.

So today I’m just hoping I got my mojo next week, so this gamble pays off! I think it will go well, as the topic is explaining Korean customs. And hey – I’m a foreigner! Just try and explain it to me, I dare you!

Not that it matters, since I plan to move on. But it does matter if I can help free future teachers of some of the artifice we’re forced to conjure up for this annual exercise in self-justification.

And part of me is also feeling some alarm at the state of the union back home, as I just spoke with a former colleague who has been unemployed the past three years and only had one short stint delivering pizza before being laid off, and then there’s another former colleague who was unemployed for a couple years and is now working in China, separated from his wife and kids just to make a buck. I’m probably heading the wrong way, and while my particular job sounds promising, I do fear just seeing/feeling the unemployment of others. I guess I can feel very fortunate I came here when I did and have managed to weather the past three years so well, with a fairly easy job and a comfortable living.

And it’s not been without its good moments and the lessons have been priceless.

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4 thoughts on “Taking opportunities when they come

  1. i hate open classes myself, and for a long time didn’t understand why they were required, and why schools would put on such a show when everyone — the teachers themselves, the visitors, the education office reps, the students — knows these lessons are never taught, ever. but the last time i did an open class, i was flipping through the paperwork and saw that the title of the presentation is something like Open Class Presentation for Curricular Development. the word Development was there for sure. and i asked my co-teacher why these open classes were necessary, and the same question was asked by another NET. my co-teacher and the district coordinator both answered that these are not open classes to show what normally occurs in the classroom. rather, they are opportunities for teachers to think of new teaching methods and activities, and for visitors to evaluate how useful these new methods may be in everyday teaching. i’ve only been to one or two open classes, and have used one or two ideas from their presentations.

    the other thing that’s helpful is to see how the NET and coteacher teach together. you can tell when the interactions are not natural, but sometimes the chemistry is naturally good, and i think we can learn from these cases.

    all that said, i think the scripted dialogues (Hello, Class, did you enjoy your lunch? bla bla…) and pages and pages of writing are totally unnecessary. an introduction explaining classroom goals and methods is important, but two pages?

  2. Ah yes, points well taken and also I understood that a little, as they usually publish a book every year of their favorites, meant to inspire people to write better lessons.

    But it’s still an unrealistic benchmark, in my opinion.

    Another reason I presented a different lesson plan approach and will present my own way of teaching is precisely to demonstrate to other teachers something they might not do — but in this case, something that is do-able on a regular basis…

    Anyway, they’re coming to film next week. (gak!)

    Once again, I set myself up to look like an ass!

    ha – they got one page of outline, one page of lesson plan, and a couple of images…I think they called the co-teacher and must have asked her, “what is this?” because she had to explain that yes, that was my submission…

  3. i think that what you plan to do is precisely why open classes can be helpful. other teachers can see that this can actually work, and they can try it out at their schools while tweeking the method to their liking.

  4. Rousing success to all 3 visiting teachers (only 1 of them foreign) – no school district reps here as expected – but the school does have to submit the video.

    Soooo glad I didn’t give in to the pressure to rehearse the kids, etc.

    Now, I have only one more lesson to give before final exam test crunch time happens. Basically, the school year is over for me. It’s kind of too bad, because I don’t think I’ve become a really good teacher until just the past few months. I think it takes three years!

    But it’s been an experience, mostly good. Ahh Korea…soon we will be saying goodbye….

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