spoke too soon OR one step forward, two steps back

WARNING:  LONG Rant about school ahead…you’ll skip it if you’re wise…

I wanted to continue the good vibes and conversation techniques from last week, so I picked another aspect of answering questions about what we like or don’t like as a topic.  This week, focusing on liking or preferring more, less, or to – neither, either, or both, and reviewing the magic words of “what about you?” to continue the conversation.

First class with Mr. Lee was a dream.  Second class with Miss Baek I went over the lesson plan from last week, since her girls missed it because we were doing Miss Baek’s lesson.  Third class with Mr. Lee – no Mr. Lee.

This lesson plan required quite a bit of writing on my part, and without a second teacher there, the class devolved into Korean social hour.  Then, at dialog example time, there was no Mr. Lee to have a sample dialog with.  I chose a student, and he put up a huge fuss.  The students simply wouldn’t give up social hour and despite using all quiet tricks any teacher uses, they barreled on.  I threatened a writing assignment and they continued, so had to follow through.

When I act like a child then, I will be treated like a child.  50 times, numbered.  Name and student number.

AND THEY KEPT ON TALKING.  What the?  So after destroying another aluminum pail to signal they should shut up, and hitting the podium so hard I’d smashed my pen into pieces, it was clear they were just going to keep on talking.  So I had to hit individual desks with the mop handle as well.  Where the hell was Mr. Lee?

The students were still acting up, so I didn’t let them leave the room until they were finished.  (funny how they will still talk, which is breaking the rules, but when you tell them they can’t leave, they will follow that rule) So half the students missed their class break.  And four students were late for their next class. I counted the assignments and about six of them had slipped out without turning them in.  So I returned to the class and wrote down the missing student numbers, as well as posting three that had not put their number on their papers and left a note saying they needed to bring the finished assignments to my desk, and that all missing assignments would be reported to their homeroom teacher.

Upon returning to my desk an hour later, there was one of the unattributed assignments with the following note on it:

assignments like this piss students off making them talk even louder next time

I showed the note to Miss Baek, who gasped.  With her help, I told the boy’s homeroom teacher and gave him the missing student numbers as well as the assignment with the note on it.  He asked if I wanted to punish the students or have him do it.  Through Miss Baek, I told him I just wanted the boys to know that was NOT ACCEPTABLE.  I told him how powerless I am:

  1. not allowed to use the corporal punishment all the Korean teachers are allowed to (not that I’d want to – but it does put me at a discipline disadvantage)
  2. not able to affect grades, since I am not allowed to give a grade
  3. not able to call student’s parents, since I can’t carry on a conversation with any of them

I have no idea what he’s going to do to those boys, and I guess I don’t really want to know.

Mr. Lee shows up for class 1-1, always my worst class.  I am NOT in a good mood.  Mr. Lee’s classroom management assistance is always minimal, as usual, and this class does not go well either, but that’s to be expected.  One boy who always looks out for me tells me about Mr. Lim.  He says he has excellent classroom management skills, and that I should have him be my co-teacher instead.  I tell him I have no choice who I get, and he and I both shrug our shoulders and I thank him for the suggestion.  But despite the typical 1-1 problems, I manage to have conversations with many boys.  The problem is Mr. Lee should be doing the same, but I am too busy with the students to be able to manage Mr. Lee and make sure he is helping me.

The problem is, the boys don’t bother to DO any of the pair work speaking until I personally am leaning on their desks walking them through it.  And they do it just fine – they simply arrogantly think they can ignore the speaking portions or stupidly think I don’t notice that their papers are on the floor or hidden or under their pillows or that they’ve taken their other homework out

I make them put all their other books and homework and pillows away prior to class beginning – this always takes several minutes but it pays off by reducing how many individual times I must manage student transgressions – all this could waste of time could be avoided if I had my own classroom.  Most English teachers here have something called an English Zone which the children must travel to and therefore they don’t bring their distractions with them

or that they have torn parts of it up or drawn over its entire surface or made a plane out of it or have it turned over and just spend the time talking to each other.  And I have to smile and walk over to each above stated transgression and say,

“it’s kind of hard to ask your partner about the questions on your worksheet when your worksheet is UNDER YOUR DESK, isn’t it?”


“Oh.  Sorry.”  And then they pick it up and start asking each other the questions.

Now, I have a class of 40 and I have to do similar to this about 20 times, just to get them to start talking to one another.  Again, where is Mr. Lee?  He’s right there in the classroom with me, just standing and joking with one or two of the boys, seeming to contribute to their social hour.  Lamely and weakly occassionally tapping a desk with his stick and saying, “you should ask in English.”  Come to think of it, this is what Miss Baek does as well.  I have come to believe that, if they were forced to teach speaking English in a communicative way, in total immersion, their classrooms might even have worse discipline problems.

This really is an impossible job.  This is not about me and my teaching ability.  This is about this class and this subject mean absolutely nothing to these students and I am given no authority or assistance in making it relevant to them.  And you know, I’m actually PROUD of the many ways I’ve come up with to show how interesting being able to SPEAK a second language can be.  But at 17, they know someone else will speak to the foreigners and it doesn’t have to be them.  At 17, they know that they won’t be tested on their speaking ability.  I actually don’t blame them for not paying attention and trying to enjoy the break from their every dayly routine.   But they could at least not be assholes about it.  The six or so boys who care in each class find some way to look like assholes yet still listen and absorb.  I remember what that’s like.

Miss Baek returns later saying Mr. Lee thought I never have any problems with 1-7, so he didn’t think he needed to come.  (slapping forehead with hand)  She doesn’t know how she’s going to get him to come to every class, because he has more seniority than her.

Clearly, I can’t have any lesson where I write this much on the board.  However, I find power point presentations to be entirely too rigid and unresponsive to the individual needs of each class.

And I have a problem giving these students handouts like Miss Baek likes to do for classroom management. (she had FOUR handouts prepared for one lesson – what a waste of trees) I do not call busywork education.

None of these Korean students carry a binder.  None of them save anything for reference.  None of them have any loose paper or tablets.  I can require these next semester, but it’s too late to enforce that right now.   It’s a waste of paper, and it discourages and takes time away from SPEAKING, which I thought was supposed to be my job.

Clearly, I can’t count on Mr. Lee to be there, so I will have to revert back to lessons that exclude him.

The problem with teaching high school English speaking in a Korean classroom is that I must OVERLAY a free form over a rigid physical environment.  I must BREAK their conventional classroom in order to facilitate communication and interaction.  Yet I must do this while robbed of the power and authority all the other Korean teachers have.

In addition, it is irresponsible to not prepare them for college and, for me personally, a future where they must express themselves.

Like I said, impossible job.  Evening classes and teacher classes are so wonderful.  If the English Zone does not get approved, and maybe even if it does, I think I might go private Hagwon next year.

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