Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Head against wall...

I've been pretty fortunate this week. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were exam days for all students in the school, which meant no teaching and early home time if needed. It was nice to have the freedom, but it came with some frustrations too.

I've had a difficult time of late getting into my lessons. I realize that a lot of this comes from the nature of my role in the school, some of it comes from me and my own inconsistent ability to commit to a project at times, but more of it lately seems to be coming from my co-teachers who seem, well - a little reluctant to let me expand my role beyond that of "hired gun."

Don't get me wrong - I really enjoy my co-teachers and I have decent relationships with each of them - both on a professional and more personal/friendly level. However, I feel like I need to air some things that have been getting to me lately. It may sound petty, but here goes...

I realize that this makes me sound like the ultimate nerd, but I would like to have more responsibilities at work. I mentioned this in my previous post, but it bears repeating that I am really feeling the lack of purpose inherent in my job as a Native English Speaking teacher in my school. I'm trying to remedy this, but it seems like I'm the only one who sees any problem here.

Essentially, my job boils down to teaching two lessons a week to 20 classes. In addition to this, I am at times responsible for running after-school sessions with select groups of kids. This is a welcome respite from the monotony of repeating the same lesson throughout the week in my regular classes, but my after-school stuff needs some re-tooling as well.

Basically, my issue is this: I want to be a better teacher, but my co-teachers don't seem to think that there's any problem with what I do. I recognize that I have high standards for myself, but what I'm wanting to achieve at this school is not that unreachable - it just seems to be out of my grasp at present. I'm trying to find a way to work with my team of co-teachers to create lessons that will work with our students, and will make me feel that there is some real learning going on in my classroom.

Sadly, my school also seems to be the land of mixed messages. At the beginning of the year, I was told to have meetings with my co-teachers once a week to discuss lesson plans and to make sure that we are on the right track. In some work environments, I would say that weekly meetings are a pain-in-the-ass waste of time an serve only to satisfy micro-managers who are seeking to be in the know as opposed to seeking productivity from their employers, but here in an ESL teaching environment, I feel it's necessary to touch base each week - even for fifteen minutes. I'm trying to communicate that I'm not satisfied with what goes on in my classroom, and I'm looking for way to work together to change that. People look at me like I've got 8 heads when I suggest such a thing. I don't know.

But I do know that part of the problem is working with so many different teachers - each with her own style of discipline and classroom management, or, more accurately, lack thereof. If one thing needs to be solved soon, it's coming to an agreement on what rules we can have in the classroom so that our 45 minute classes can have at least 30 minutes of productivity. 15 doesn't really cut it for me. When I approach some of my co-teachers about this, they respond by telling me that they are more "mild" with their students when they are teaching on their own. "Mild"? Yes - as in they don't discipline at all. Apparently, when I'm not around, and my co-teachers are running classes on their own, nobody pays attention in class - at all. They admit that they let their students talk because it's too much work to get their attention. Ummm...

I'm really not that strict a guy. I like to have fun in the classroom and I like to have my kids feel comfortable and laugh on occasion. All I ask in return is that they try to listen to me and to each other. In a class of 36 grade 3 middle school students, maybe 10 will pay attention enough to understand enough of the lesson and to be able to participate to the best of their abilities. Paying attention, and trying - that's really all I ask. It drives me mental to see the other 2/3 of the class just tune-out, draw on their desks, and start talking to each other while I'm explaining an activity - all this while my co-teacher sits idly by and wonders why I'm getting frustrated.

Every school is different. Every Native English teacher here has different challenges, and I do consider myself to be pretty lucky in most regards. I'm just trying to be a better teacher, and I'm looking for a little bit of teamwork to achieve that goal. It's hard to get started though when people don't see there being a problem. It's tough to plan lessons when I don't see the collective goals of the school or the program. My textbook seems like a rag-tag patchwork collection of random phrases with little-to-no context upon which students can start to build an understanding of a second language. We NEED to talk about how to make their time in the English classroom more usefully spent.

The other day, I walked into my English Only classroom after lunch to see all of my co-teachers having a meeting - I was the only one not invited. What were they meeting about? They were choosing the new English text books for next year. I wonder why they thought that the opinion of the only native English speaker at their school (who also has friends in the English publishing industry here in Korea, who also has 7 years of library experience) wouldn't have a valuable opinion to count among many in regards to what text books we use in class next year. This is not a case of me over-stepping my bounds, or getting involved where I shouldn't. I think it's more a case of my school having the lowest expectations possible and believing that the easier my job is - the happier I will be. Ummm... no. Seriously, people - give me something worthwhile - let me contribute in the best way I can. If anyone knew me at work last year, they would know that it's in my nature to work hard at school. It's what I love - why wouldn't I want to put the work in? I guess I'm saying that I'm not satisfied with "collecting a paycheck", which is all that most schools here assume foreign teachers care about.

Something needs to change. My teachers are so kind to me - they took me out for wonderful 3 hour lunches each day this week after exams. They treat me with respect when they see me, and they seem to care about me. That's nice. Now, if only I could convince them to have a meeting to talk about what actually happens in the classroom. It's tough to plan and deliver lessons when I'm doing it in the dark.


Kid Atomic said...

Man, I'm sorry to hear that. It sounds frustrating, and I would imagine that generations of English teachers before you who don't share your work ethic or your desire to do a good job are working against you. Hopefully you'll be successful in persuading them that you aren't just in this for the pay cheque and really want to make a positive impact.

vagabondshandi said...

Fair enough, I feel you. Especially the part about the discipline. I never in a million years thought I'd end up being the "toughest" teacher at WL but apparently I was... all I wanted was the kids to listen to each other, and from time to time me. It's shocking that that's such a peculiarity. I guess most people really are there just to put in their time and get their paycheque... depressing.