Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Inside The Korean Classroom

(May 17, 2002 Chautauqua)

I can still remember the fear I felt when I walked into a classroom for the first time. It was just this morning.
Seriously, I can now feel fairly comfortable in a classroom. When I first started, I had no experience aside from some labs I took in university. I was expecting to receive some kind of direction from the school that I was working for, but all they wanted was a native speaker to give the kids some exposure. How you spoke, and what you did to capture their attention, was pretty much left up to you.
Now the morning kids in the typical Korean "hak won" are pre-schoolers. They have no attention-span to speak of, and the Korean teachers keep them in line through fear. It's not corporal punishment, so much as the shame of being made to stand against the wall with their hands in the air.
The most profitable way to keep their attention is to be a bit of an entertainer. One teacher likened it to performing like a professional wrestler. You have a flashy entrance, some music and movement to attract attention, and a lot of loud vocalization to keep the kids centred.
The first class I teach in the morning are five-year-old boys. They are probably the most difficult to handle. They are more pre-occupied with making sure that their pencil is the longest in the classroom. It's harder than it seems, as the pencils also have to be sharpened after each individual letter is written. These points are then inserted into the erasers and broken off, necessitating more sharpening, and on and on in an endless cycle.
My next class is composed of 7-year-olds. I share that class with a Korean Teacher, and we do story-telling. I read the story, and the kids repeat my words until they can tell the story in English. The Korean teacher, Jenny, translates the words into Korean occasionally, so the kids can better understand the action. I also teach the kids phonics every other month. The other foreign teacher, Aurora, is doing that this month.
My last class in the morning is 3-4 year-olds. There is not too much I can do with them but colour, and try to introduce some English letters, numbers, or words along the way. These kids are very sweet. One boy, David, is like a pudgy little doll. He usually has a big smile on his face, and the other kids play with him as they would a doll.
The afternoon kids are elementary and middle-schoolers, ranging in age from 7-15. When I was in Korea last year, I had to do quite a bit of prep work each day. I was expected to draw up a syllabus, and do lesson plans. My first school had limited resources, and I relied on the Korean teachers for direction. My second school was a bit better organized, with teacher's manuals, games, and supplements that made planning a lesson so much easier.
The school I am at this year does not require me to do any prep work. I just walk into the classroom and the Korean teacher shows me a couple of pages in the book to do. The Korean teachers do not even leave the room. Some of them do a little interpreting of what I am saying, some do work on their own, and some sleep.
They work long hours, and I do not envy them. They are all young women, in their early twenties. There are not a lot of opportunities for women over here. It is very much a man's world, though it is slowly changing.
Some of the afternoon kids can be a little bratty, especially once you start dealing with teenagers. But most of them are very smart, and are keen to interact once the initial shyness (on both sides) has worn off.
Usually, the earlier in the day it is, the younger the kids are. Some of my last classes of the day are composed of 15-year-olds. These are kids that speak English fairly well, but need some help with polishing, grammar points, and forms of language. I've gotten a bit better at deviating from the book if a line of inquiry opens up, in order to expose the kids to as diverse an experience as I can.
It amazes me to think how far I've come from those first days, and how much more I have to learn about teaching. Although I can do a pretty basic lesson without too much thought, I hope I can learn enough to be of more use to the kids coming to me for knowledge. I'm working for them, and I want them to "get their money's worth".
Even tough I sound pretty confident about my abilities, I never really shook that fear that I had going into a classroom for a long time. And now that I've been out of work so long, I think I've forgotten how to teach altogether!

1 comment:

  1. I found I got used to the classroom quickly. Having done some public speaking helped be ready for it.