A glimpse into my year-long travels and work in South Korea as I fulfill a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
My first Educational conflict in Korea...
So I've been at Cheongran All-Girls' High School for three days now. I haven't taught the last two days nor today since the schedule for my first grade advanced English students has not be finalized yet.
But already I've come into a very interesting conflict...Not only am I completely team-teaching (like literally back and forth with my CoTeacher for the entire 50 minute lessons), doing lessons solely from a textbook, and having very little opportunity to supplement the text with my own lessons, but I am in quite a quandry when it comes to sticking to my educational principles.
I am, it seems, not really needed for any speaking skills. Regardless of the entire purpose of having a native speaker (to get Koreans to actually SPEAK English with a live foreigner and to build confidence in that skill), I am needed only to provide the American cultural element to our lessons...Oh, and by "American cultural element" I mean a "fun video" at the end of every lesson. ><
(I should mention that I was already a little disappointed with the fact that I have to completely team teach anyway...and from a text. It seems there was a struggle to get a foreigner teacher into my school last for the first time last year. Most of the English teachers believed (and still do, in fact) that ETAs and EPIK teachers just play games and that this has no real benefit to their students' English ability. It is because of this misconception that I believe I am not trusted to teach any class on my own - since my students will obviously not benefit from such an instructor...sigh... There may also be some element of the Korean English Teacher being able to manage the classroom better. Basically, "foreign teachers cannot control their own classes and keep students on task" more or less. This last point hasn't been made explicit by my CoTeacher, but I think it may also play a part in the way she and others at my school view foreign english teachers. I should also point out that other ETAs around the country do not have this same situation at all. It varies TREMENDOUSLY! But for my own situation, I am kept under quite a tight leash.)
My main goals, the reason why I came to Korea to teach was because Koreans overall lack the ability to speak English with confidence and proficiency. They can read and memorize vocabulary like little English robots, but they do not know how to speak. My goal with my students was to encourage these skills through practice. My goal was to make them want to learn English and SPEAK English on their own. I wanted to instill in them a genuine personal interest in speaking a different language. I wanted to be a teacher that told them they could learn this difficult language. They could succeed and speak with a foreigner. I wanted to expand their conception of what it was possible for them to achieve. They could do it! In Korea, I might have been the first teacher to even say those kinds of things to them...I knew that I couldn't "get to" every student, but even one would have been enough.
But now it seems I may have to re-evaluate these goals. Or at the very least think of ways I can do these things outside of what is now a very controlled, text-based (ie: reading- and listening-based) lecture classroom...
CoTeacher came in today and told me that the Vice Principal (a lovely man by all accounts!) criticized them for the girls' English scores that came in today. Supposedly, they aren't so good. Basically, for me this means that we will be doing a lot more reading and listening than what we had initially planned. She says they need to improve their vocabulary, and that practicing speaking is good - but not as important. Classic teaching to the test basically. So I tried to make a case for the inclusion of the vocab they need to know in speaking exercises and getting away from using the textbook all the time ...(since its obviously not making a difference). And CT was like, "Well, really we blame the students. From this area, their quality is not so good." D:< That kind of thinking just totally flies in the face of what I fundamentally believe about education...I know deep down, that even though not every student is as good as the other, EVERYONE CAN LEARN! They just need to find their own motivation/style to learn and decide they want to learn on their own. So I tried to explain this idea and the whole "life-long learner" thing. And she just nodded. So... I suggested that I could find real articles or live interviews that discuss the topics we are learning and rephrase them for reading practice and make fill-in-the-blank worksheets for listening practice. I tried to explain the concept of getting away from the textbook as a motivation factor and creating excitement. Like, weren't we always like HOORAY! when the teacher said.."ok, let's close our texts and do something different." I told her in that moment we can be teaching exactly the same things as the textbook, but since we've just made a more exciting environment, maybe the vocab and grammar and whatever the kids need to know, can stick! Also - emphasizing speaking the words can get students to remember too. Even our Korean Language teachers were always like, "Your brain likes your voice" during Orientation at Jungwon. I totally proscribe to this... ...Still she didn't buy it. "Well, the students are changing. They do not study as well. And they do not want to listen when we teach." Which of course I can see...Young koreans are becoming more and more like young americans in the classroom. But still, I just don't jive with that "blame the students" mentality. I told her, maybe to help the students, the teachers should try to change what they are doing and come up with new ideas. Which she agreed with...she said it earlier herself when she was explaining the initial problem. But, she seems to think that the only other way you can teach without a textbook = playing games. Which is to be avoided at all costs. UGH! so frustrating... Anyway, its interesting at the very least to have my ideals about education come into direct conflict and try to work that out. I really just what's best for the students. But obviously, there are very different ideas about what exactly is "best" for students and how to get them to achieve that goal.
Married to text vs. let's try something new and engaging...We'll see which wins in the end! Or more likely, which kind of marriage of the two I will try to strike up in our classroom.