Friday, June 3, 2011


In case anyone forgot "to teach" means to impart knowledge or skill; give instruction. Being in Korea I think I often forget what it means to teach. Yes, I am theoretically an English teacher and I spend a sizable chunk of my work week "teaching", but I often wonder if what I do is actually teaching. First let me break down what a typical (although there isn't really such thing as a typical week here since my schedule seems to change without notice every two seconds) week entails. 

Monday: Work from 8:40-4:40. Co-teach four classes of 6th grade in the morning (all the same lesson).

Tuesday: Co-teach four classes of 6th grade in the morning (same lesson as Monday). Teach one after school class of 1st and 2nd graders with minimal English knowledge. 

Wednesday: Co-teach two classes of 6th grade (SAME lesson as Monday and Tuesday--this is where I contemplate suicide), and two of 5th grade (this is where we start to question the word "teach). Teach teachers' English (well the two teachers who show up) for approximately two hours (although this has changed every week so far). 

Thursday: Co-teach three (but sometimes four or five, the schedule seems to change every single week) classes of 5th grade (same lesson as Wednesday). Teach after school 1st and 2nd grade. 

Friday: Co-teach four (sometimes more sometimes less) classes of 5th grade (SAME lesson as Wednesday and Thursday--again contemplate suicide). In Konglish: pinishee (finished!). Bring on the weekend!

Now let me do a little math for you:

-There are approximately 30 students in each of my regular 5th and 6th grade classes.
30x10 classes= 300 individual 6th graders
30x9 classes= 270 individual 5th graders
20 1st and 2nd graders. 
Total students= approx 600 individual students!!

-I teach the same lesson every week to my 5th and 6th graders
1x 10 classes= 10 times of pure torture (besides the first and second lessons where it's semi fun to see students reactions)
1x9 classes= 9 times of pure torture (and there is virtually no enjoyment when it comes to 5th grade)
2x 2 classes= 2 times of fun with adorable Korean children who I can do whatever I want with

Conclusion: My job can be pretty boring. There is no possible way to get to know my students because I see so many of them. 5th and 6th graders study English three times per week, they see me one time per week. Am I helping them much? Probably not. 

So this all sounds a bit negative. It's not all bad, really. There are a lot of things I enjoy about teaching but the problem is what I do 80% of the time is not what I would call teaching. In a perfect world where the contract that I signed and what I learned at orientation is followed, my lessons would go something like this: My co-teachers and I would share equally the teaching and lesson planning load. My job is to be a pronunciation guide for the students and something of a novelty since I am from a different country and look different from every other person in my school. My co-teacher is supposed to be the disciplinarian, the one who teaches grammar concepts (because las a native speaker you really don't know grammar all that well), and a translator when I explain something in English. In my 6th grade classes my co-teacher and I achieve these goals relatively well. It doesn't mean that I'm still not bored out of my mind by class number ten of teaching the same lesson but I think we both still manage to have some fun in the midst of the monotony and I think most of the students enjoy themselves and don't leave the classroom hating English. 

This is about the enthusiasm most of my 5th graders
have for English after I'm finished with them. 
5th grade on the other hand is a different story. When teaching in Korea, you never quite know what you're going to get when it comes to co-teachers, schools, apartments, and location. I was lucky in my location, my apartment, and my main 6th grade co-teacher but of course there are things I would love to change. I am at least outwardly a patient and positive person, but "teaching" 5th grade tries even my outward patience. What are my primary duties? "Teaching" spelling (in quotations because I am NOT qualified to teach spelling therefore I don't think I'm actually imparting any knowledge to my students since I didn't have any spelling knowledge to begin with), playing games that bore me out of my mind (and I think bore my students as well), and assigning endless homework assignments that amount to essentially handwriting practice for the students. Some of the 5th graders are little devils (they know more English profanity than other vocabulary combined) yet there is little discipline in the classroom. I am the last thing from an expert teacher, but I have discovered that part of effective teaching is good classroom management and being aware of what is going on in all corners of the classroom. When a student is crying, likely because of another devil student aggravating her, in my mind something should be done.  

But this is not the place for me to rant on my teaching woes. In my little dream world I am a good teacher that my students will remember for a long time, and I am actually helping my students learn some English while enjoying the learning process. This can be a difficult to impossible task in Korea. Because of private English academies that middle to upper class families send their children to, the English abilities of students in my classes can vary from kids who could carry on a pretty good conversation with me, to kids who can't read English. Managing this huge discrepancy in levels, while trying to make the required textbook material interesting and fun is only possible with a co-teacher who can effectively manage the classroom, has a fun personality and perhaps remembers what it was like to be a student. I've accepted the fact that this goal will never be accomplished with 5th grade, instead my new more achievable goals are to amuse at least one or two students in class by my ridiculous behavior (also serves the purpose of keeping me amused), and have fun with and teach (the full definition of the word) my 1st and 2nd graders. 

While I may not always give instruction or impart knowledge, I can brag that I have a job where I get paid to be overly dramatic, sing, dance, sometimes shout, play, and draw. And at least I haven't quite stooped to the level of an English robot (but perhaps pretty close at times). Soon robots will replace Native Teachers in Korea so until that day I continue trying to amuse my students with my clown-like antics. See video below.   


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