Thursday, March 12, 2009

Technology

I’m not so much a fan of it for the most part. I do realize that I am writing this sentiment in a blog which, in itself, is a bit of hypocrisy. Anyway, today at school I had my first real WTF moment and it was because of technology. I know that I keep promising a nice long blog full of positive things to say about my school, and it will come, but right now technology is pissing me off, so I felt like writing about it.

Let me first say that as a teacher, I tend to over-think things – especially at the beginning. If anyone last spent any time around me during prep (or on Sunday afternoons in my first few months), they would concur that I tend to spend far too much time planning for the unknown. It’s good to be prepared so as to limit undue stress in the moment of presentation when it comes, but too much preparation for something you’re not yet familiar with can be just as counter-productive. On the Thursday of my first week at my new school, that’s kind of where I find myself.

Here’s the issue as I see it: it is both a blessing and a curse to have been given all of this time to plan lessons and to observe classes. On the one hand, I feel very lucky to have had a chance to see the students in action as well as to get a sense of what might be expected from me. My co-teachers all seem very kind and patient, though I’m sure their patience will wear thin should things not go as planned. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

A big contributor to my stress this week comes from inactivity. Yes, I am observing classes, and yes, I am planning for my first days of teaching next week. But I’m starting to feel a little bit of cart before the horse syndrome. I am learning a lot, but I need to start applying before any of what I’m learning can start to make any kind of sense. With all of the good things in my school, there have also been some instances of real miscommunication. I am hopeful though that things will clear-up within the first month.

At the SOME training when I first got here, we spoke a bit about “high context” vs. “low context”. It was mentioned in application to being an English teacher in Korea, but you could apply it to really any fish out of water scenario in any kind of job. Basically, what it refers to is the idea that some people are “in the know”, while others are mistakenly assumes to be “in the know”. I clearly fall into the latter category in this case. It is often assumed that I know a whole helluva lot more than I actually do.

Let me give you a for instance: Though I have been working and living in Korea for a year, I don’t know Korean. I just don’t. Living in an English bubble for 14 months can effectively prevent the even slightly language-lazy from getting anywhere with picking-up a foreign tongue. I came here with the best intentions of learning the language, but I spent far more time planning for my English classes than I had thought I might. I also found myself enjoying said planning far more than I thought I might. Anyway, as much as that may sound like one of many lame excuses for not learning Korean last year, it also happens to be a fact.

So, here I sit – the only native English speaking teacher at my school, and I believe that I’m expected to not only read, but understand the Korean instant messenger system that blinks on my monitor an average of 50 times each day. It’s like getting an email in Korean. It may be urgent as all hell. It might say that the building’s on fire. I wouldn’t know. Learning the language is something I am bloody determined to do – at least to a basic reading, listening and speaking degree. I can foresee that my working situation, in time, will allow for this. However, my situation isn’t there right now.

My situation consists of the following at the moment. Kay, it may actually be better for me to break this into point form:
1) I am supposed to be getting a new classroom all to myself. This is always a good idea. I can fill it with English, student work, etc. The new room will be coming with something called a “Smartboard” – something like the thing that Tom Cruise fiddled-around with in Minority Report, or Tony Stark played with in Iron Man – basically, it’s a touch-screen, intuitive monitor. I can have fun with it and the kids will love it too.
2) Even without the smart board, one of the things that was pushed on us at training was using technology in the classroom. It makes a lot of sense. Visuals and audio clues and cues can be an important tool in the classroom when teaching another language. There’s great stuff out there if you know how to use it.
3) Which brings me back to technology – and how I don’t get it. Yes, I use it often in my life, but I have never – never in my life – used a powerpoint presentation. I know what they look like when they are finished, but I don’t have the first clue about how to put one together. Now’s the time to learn.
4) So, on one of my trips to Gangnam earlier this week, I decide to head into COEX mall to look into getting this program for my Mac. The school did offer me their Microsoft Office program (2003), but it’s not compatible with my laptop. Effing PC crap. I decide it’s worth it to buy the program anyway – It’ll be something new to learn, it’ll help me in the classroom, learning powerpoint will help me score with the ladies…
5) I get to COEX and I see a much cooler program designed for the Mac – iwork, which includes programs similar to that of Microsoft Office. Instead of Word, iwork has “Pages”. Instead of “Powerpoint”, iwork has “Keynote”. But no – I am getting this for work, so I bite the bullet and go with the Microsoft Office program for Mac.
6) Here’s the problem: My version is newer and therefore incompatible with the programs at work.
7) Even if it were compatible, as tests revealed today, there seems to be about a 50% chance that on any given day, my classroom computer may not work. We’re talking not only powerpoint being unable to load, but also the internet. This is Korea, people. What’s up with the lack of reliable technology?
It’s like this. Tomorrow (Friday), I teach my first class. It is a lesson that has been re-written three times based on varying suggestions and, most importantly, my own misguided naïve perfectionism. In the end, after splurging on a new software program I didn’t fully know how to use, spending far too much time on my first lesson plans and the wonderful technology that would supplement them, I had to let my co-teachers know that until the in-school technology is more reliable, my lessons would be stick and stone, bare-ass, technology-free. Yep – what worked for me last year 90% of the time will just have to cut it this year until things get more streamlined. There’s nothing I dread more than painstakingly preparing for something only to discover that the train won’t make it into the station.

So, it’s back to basics. It probably should have been all along. The simpler, the better, for now. Until I know what the hell I’m doing, and until the school’s technology is sound, I don’t think spending my energy on a 50% chance at failure is a good plan. Wish me luck tomorrow. After all that, it looks like I’ll effectively be winging it with only the memory of Pig to guide me through my first lesson. Brighter technological days I’m sure are ahead. I just need to learn me some computer skills.

1 comment:

Colleen said...

Dave!
I hope your first lesson is a blast. If the school computers ever get to be semi-reliable, try Google Documents. It has Word, Spreadsheet (Excel) and Presentation (PowerPoint) programs and all your work is stored on the web. It's also pretty intuitive to use.
Break a leg!
Colleen