Tag Archives: Classroom


18 Jan

For the past week and a half I have been entrenched in Winter English camp. To say the least, it hasn’t been quite what I expected. True, I only have nine students (a godsend considering I have upwards of 3o in my normal classes) and most of them are fairly high level, but thus far during winter camp I have noticed something that seems to have slipped under my annoyance radar until now.

My winter camp students are extremely obsessed with receiving rewards for every tiny task they perform–almost to the point where I can’t get them to do anything without promising payment in the form of candy, or some type of token that can eventually be redeemed for a prize.

I’m not a complete rube.  I understand very well that for many teachers, offering rewards is an easy way to get students to participate in classroom activities, but when when it gets to the point where students are throwing tantrums  because they didn’t get a Chupa Chups sucker after answering a simple question, the system needs to be re-worked.

Earlier this week I had a student disrupt the entire class because I wouldn’t give him a paper dollar bill (used by my co-teacher and I during games and vocab drills) after he correctly guessed the topic of the day’s lesson.

He stands up, holds his hand out and says “Teacher, give me dollar! I right!” I tell him to have a seat and continue the lesson when he stomps his foot on the ground and again demands payment for his classroom efforts.  I almost slip and tell him “tough shit” before I decide to ignore him. Truthfully, I couldn’t give in to his demands even f I wanted to. I haven’t been teaching with my normal co-teacher this week and don’t have the keys to the stash drawer. Still, I’m not about to explain that to a third-grader. Is “good job” not sufficient enough?

Maybe I’m just bitter.

I remember when the only reward a kid got in school was a lousy gold star on some chart posted in the back of the classroom, a system I still feel is was rigged from the get go. For a full week of homework assignments handed in on time and perfect classroom compliance, you would get half of a star. After accumulating 30 or so stars, you’d get a “prize.”  Now, the prize might be anything from a  fancy eraser cut out in the shape of a heart to extra free time after lunch, but it didn’t matter. The stars could just as easily be taken away for misbehavior, which happened to me on a regular basis.

Here in Korea elementary students get rewards for everything short of breathing. Show up to class? You’ve earned a new pencil. Finished your homework? Have a piece of candy. Good job class. You all remembered to bring your notebooks to school! Ice cream for everyone! I’m beginning to feel like we’re just passing out treats to little puppies who have learned how to sit, lay down and stop pissing on the carpet.

I’m not at all against bestowing prizes when we’re playing classroom games or fostering healthy competition in some other way, but I can’t accept  the feeling that I’m somehow buying my students’ participation with goodies purchased at the local 1,000 Won store. These kids are going home with pockets full of candy and other treasures, speaking whole sentences of perfect English, without a clue of what they’re saying.

Maybe I’m exaggerating. and I’m sure not if all waygook English teachers employ bribe tactics, but it does seem like a popular trend and I remember several lecturers at the EPIK orientation mentioning how useful it is to offer treats to students who participate during lessons. I still have yet to see how this is more useful than encouragement and praise.

The way I see it, “teaching” and “training” are two totally different concepts. If you want to teach put in the effort don’t rely on candy currency. If you want to train, head to your nearest pet store and buy a parrot.


Kimchi Dreadlocks


Teaching from the Bottom of the Totem Pole #3:Truths

2 Nov

With just over two months teaching English in Korea under my belt, I’ve come to realize certain truths about my place of employment. A couple are probably native only to my school, but I imagine a few are fairly general as well. Either way, I’m no stingy bastard. In an effort to preserve these truths forever. I’ve decided to share.

#1 TRUTH: “Maybe” means Absolutely.
This is someething I figured out right away. If your co-teacher says you should “maybe” do something. Your ass better get on it.  Maybe you have to wait for your paycheck? You can forget about getting your money that day. Maybe you’ll have extra lessons that week? Expect to work like a damn slave. Maybe one of your students is sick and brought an infectious disease with him to class? You get the idea.

#2 TRUTH: Any Korean I Speak Will Elicit Laughter from My Students
Rather it be a simple An-yeong-haseyo in the hallway or some classroom command, when it comes out of my mouth, my students crack up laughing–sometimes while rolling on the floor. Sometimes after lunch I’ll get students who come to my desk, slowly say a word in Korean, then wait patiently for me to repeat it. I haven’t the slightest clue what I’m saying but I do it nonetheless and sit there while they laugh hysterically at my shitty accent. My feelings suffer, but I do it for the kids.

#3 TRUTH: The School Janitor is My Pal
The man speaks almost no english, yet everyday he greets me at the door and and we have our daily thirty-second conversation. Because of he language barrier, it’s strictly delegated to one of three topics: How beautiful Korean weather is (regardless of the season), How beautiful my co-teacher and her twin sister are (yes, I said the “T” word), and how beautiful I am while wearing my sunglasses. Anything other than those three topics usually comes in the form of some classic song that I’m sure the poor fella rehearsed the night before. He only sings the chorus though. The latest was “I Did It My Way” by Frank Sinatra. After our morning routine we say “have a nice day” and go about our business.

#4 TRUTH: Come Lunch Time, I Either Have to put Up With the Slurping and Loud chewing, or Simply Starve
There’s no getting around it. It’s the Korean way. Soup and noodles will be slurped. Food will be chewed with an open mouth.Particles will be shot across the table. I just have to sit there and bare with it. I’ve written about this before. It kills me a little everyday.

#5 TRUTH: Get Caught Dropping a Deuce, and the Whole School Will Find Out
This is the latest an most important truth to date.

I’m sitting at my desk two hours or so before work is over when suddenly I need to go drop a deuce. Normally I maintain a strict no-pooping-at-school policy. Why?  I’m still scarred from my elementary years. Then, a child could be pushed to drop out of school in grade five if some heartless bully recognized his sneakers underneath the stall door and ran back to spread the news. Believe it or not fifth graders can be quite evil in this regard. It’s a fear that still plagues me as an adult.

At first, I think I can hold out until I get home, then I look at the clock and am faced with the reality that I’m not going to make it. My school only has one teacher’s bathroom but it’s on the first floor and something tells me it’s really only reserved for the principal and vice principal (plus I’m lazy and don’t really want to make the trip). Most teachers use the same bathroom as the students and my office is right across the hall from one. I look at the clock and notice I have 10 min before the next class lets out and all the students come pouring into the hallway. No problem right? Just hurry in, do my deed and get the fuck out of there. Only I didn’t expect it to take as long as it did.

Before I’m able to finish the bell rings and I can hear some of the boys filing into the bathroom. Suddenly I’m back in the fifth grade, only the stall door goes all the way to the floor so I think I’m in the clear to just wait it out. Then one of the kids knocks on the door and says something in Korean. Shit. What do I say? If I say anything They’ll know it’s me.

I mumble a “just a sec” and they immediatly know who I am. I hear him run out of the bathroom saying my name. Surely he’s going to find his friends and broadcast the fact that Dreadlock teacher was just going number two in the fifth floor bathroom. I return to my desk hoping I will hear nothing about it.

The next morning some of my students stop me in the hallway and one of them gestures like their sitting on a toilet trying to poop. They all burst into laughter. I tell them to go to their homerooms then I head to my office desk to cry a bit. Why didn’t I just go to the downstairs bathroom? You live and you learn.


Kimchi Dreadlocks

P.S. Feel free to share your TRUTHs as well. Comments feed my desire to feel important.

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