Tag Archives: students

Teaching from the Bottom of the Totem Pole #4: 6 Months Down (6 More to Go)

3 Mar

Yesterday was the official start of the new school semester and the (unofficial) halfway point of my one-year contract.

I’ve been here 6 months. How do I feel about it?

The end of last semester was fairly  confusing, to say the least. My sixth graders took off for middle school and while there was a big ceremony commemorating their time elementary schoolers, many of the teachers seemed to take it pretty lightly. I brought a camera to possibly take some photos with some of my students before their departure and hoped to shake their hands and wish them good luck. Instead they were promptly marched out of the auditorium and out of the school to the sound of applause and cheering from their families and fellow classmates. As far as I could tell, most of the other teachers in the school went back to their rooms or to the teachers’ office to finish out the rest of the day. I took no pictures, shook no hands and congratulated no one. The ceremony, it seems, was mainly for the students’ families. Not that I have any problems with this, but I would’ve thought that many of the teachers would be little sad to see their students go. I certainly wasn’t shedding any tears on the matter, but over the course of six months I have developed a fondness for my students and admittedly (cue the violins) was somewhat sad at their rapid departure.

It then dawned on me that in Korea teachers and administrators move from school to school quite frequently and are very used to these sudden changes. They come and go almost as much as the students so when it’s time to move on, the goodbyes are short and everyone continues on with their assigned tasks. Sorry Mr. Dreadlocks. There is no time to dwell on your previous kids. We must prepare for the new semester.

As is the norm, change brings about confusion and this situation is no different. New textbooks are being used (though much of the material is the same), I have a new co-teacher (my former one moved to a new school), and my schedule has been jostled a bit. Surprisingly I’m taking it all well. If the past 6 months have taught me anything, it’s that in Korea it’s best to roll with the changes and (as much as you can help it) let the stress fall by the wayside. To do anything else might drive you into a state of depression.

A few thoughts about my first six in the classroom:

–Getting used to my completely illogical teaching schedule didn’t take as long as I expected, but I still have problems understanding how they came up with it. Why am I only seeing my third and fourth graders once every other week?

–Classroom rewards can be useful to foster participation, but they’re a pain in the ass to manage. I’ve written about this before.

–What is the benefit of placing special education students into my classes if I’m expected to completely ignore them? Everything about this seems unethical. *Chris (now gone from Korea) over at Kimchi with Eish wrote a good post on this a while back.

–Playing soccer with the students outside beats desk warming any day of the week.

–Instant coffee isn’t so bad…especially when it’s all you got. I just close my eyes and pretend it’s hot chocolate.

–I never expected to be told that I look like a “strong African warrior” during my time in Korea; let alone be told by someone at my school. Truly, the assistant principal is my homeboy.

–Soju hangovers will not improve your teaching ability, but it will make your breath smell like the inside of a Korean squatter toilet. Never again.

–Teaching my students how to beat-box and pop-lock (in addition to teaching a few hip handshakes) are some of the best ideas I’ve ever had.

–Simply put, the old textbooks were horrible and the new ones show little promise of being any better.

–Dong-Chim was created by satan.

All jokes aside though, the first half of my teaching contract hasn’t always been a breeze, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it and am looking forward to another six months of last minute staff dinners, desk warming and perky Korean students throwing up the peace sign as I pass them in the hallways.

Ciao,

Kimchi Dreadlocks

* On a side note, welcome to all the new EPIK teachers who just started. Words of wisdom for the “newbies” in Busan: KSU on Saturday nights can be bad for your health. See you there.

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Rewards

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.

Ciao,

Kimchi Dreadlocks

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