Monday, September 1, 2008
It's been a year since we arrived in Korea, over four months since my last blog and only two days since returning from Japan for our brief but rewarding vacation.
When I started this thing (this blog), I wasn't sure if I would be able to keep up the pace of writing every week, let alone every day. Well, I was clearly correct. Life happens here, and I suppose a few things have contributed to my lack of correspondence through this blog:
1) School - School's been as busy as ever and since June, it's been more so. I found myself (at my own request mind you) in charge of some of the higher level classes that Youngdo offers. I did this mainly so that I could garner some experience with some of the age group that I eventually plan on working with when I return home to teach in Canada. I always thought I'd be a Junior High guy should I eventually go into teaching and this was a chance for me to give it a shot.
My experience was, of course, met with mixed success. While my first two or three weeks with the class were very rewarding and interactive, many of the middle school students began to take time away in order to study for their regular school exams - leaving my class decimated in numbers and at the mercy of a girl who cares more about her finely straightened bangs and painted nails then she does about most everything else in life.
It was a lesson for me. I know that I do have the abilities and energy needed to engage a group of grade 7-9 ESL students with some of the more obscure works of Mark Twain and Sylvia Plath, but I'm not always going to win. It's amazing what can happen when the idea of "group think" is part of the equation. Teenagers seems perfectly okay "playing dumb" if they feel that's the best way to get by. I can best equate it to the awkward feeling of being part of a live theatre audience. When the play's first joke isn't met with laughter born of free will, you can bet your bippy that none of the subsequent jokes will be either.
Not that I have been trying to run a new comedy routine in front of my kids. What I mean is that something happens to these kids (at least in this tiny test group) when called-upon to be involved in class - at least beyond the basic expectation of doing one's homework and completing essays. Sadly, if the cool girl with nice hair and nails and the best cell phone doesn't want to talk - well then, by gum - neither will the rest of them!
Like I say, it's been a learning experience. I like to believe that I'm a pretty approachable guy. I prepare extra material for my class (videos, photos, songs, additional works) just to make those Mark Twain blue jays or Sylvia Plath mushrooms a little bit more easy to relate to for these kids. Somewhere however, the signals crossed and I was more often than not met with a room full of blank stares - or, worse yet, awkward and false giggles from girls who are incredibly smart and able who would rather pretend to be completely absent of the power of reasoning or response.
The boys of course weren't much better. The two I had would traditionally sit by themselves and stare at their desks - seemingly hoping, praying, that I wouldn't call on them.
Understand though that this wasn't a typical ESL class. They understood everything we read, everything I said, and there were times when, if clarification was necessary, recognition and even sometimes the joy of simply "getting it" could be read clearly on their faces. Some of the essays I read were well beyond the abilities of some of my fellow first year university students. In other words, these are students perfectly capable of engaging in class discussion - even considering the sometimes challenging material that we read. Unfortunately, things just slid downhill.
Thankfully, I have switched classes for my last two months at this school. I'm of two minds about it. I'm certainly glad to rid myself of the frustration of trying to engage a class that stubbornly refused to benefit from an interactive class. But, I'm also sad that things didn't work out. I really got a kick out of preparing for the material, doing a little extra research, preparing extra assignments and activities for those few students who did make the effort to involve themselves each day. I will miss those few students and I will miss the material - it made me feel like a real teacher - defined in the way that I would like to be one.
After my last class with these students, I felt like I had invested so much energy in something that absorbed my efforts like sponges that were only wrung-out onto the sidewalk before stepping on the buses to go back home at the end of the night. I had spoken to the two previous teachers who taught this class and they had informed me of the same problem. How did they deal with it? Well, for the most part, they said, the class was mostly willing to sit and listen like in a University lecture. Hmmm...
But it's a lesson learned and proof that, as a teacher, not everything can or will go the way I want it to or try to direct it towards going. I will miss those students who involved themselves and hope that my next batch isn't intimidated by a tall skinny guy with glasses.
Well... it looks like I only had time for number 1 this morning. There's been a new batch of teachers here at the school to replace the five that have returned to their former lives abroad this past month. They will all be missed - it's strange to walk into a neighboring room and not see your old buddy. But, there's a new energy here and some good people that will go a long way towards helping the next two months go smoothly.
Updates will follow fast this week. In fact, I promise to attempt a blog a day. There's catching-up to be done, a new country to write about, people to say hello and goodbye to. This has been our first large-scale taste of the effects of transient change - friends leaving and our little world changing. But, friends are now fathers and husbands, friends have crossed the sea to be where we are, and I'm still missing the folks back home.
I look forward to writing more this week.