Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Open class

I had my open class today. I actually had one a couple of weeks ago and it was a smashing success by all accounts. Sadly, I had to do another one today.

The school gets measured in many ways by the district supervisors and these open classes in which other teachers come to observe and critique the lessons are a tad tedious in that they are traditionally not a true representation of what a real class is. From the ones that I've been to, the students seem rehearsed, and the teachers run around cramming 3 lessons worth of material and activities into the 45 minute slot allowed for a regular period. In other words, these open classes become a completely unrealistic depiction of what we do as Native Speaking English Teachers. They are designed to impress and to illicit praise in hyperbole. It's expected and it's rather ridiculous.

I see this as a lost opportunity to get some actual feedback and for the district to see what really goes on from day to day. In all honesty, I would much better appreciate having a surprise visit from supervisors who could then see what a S******** Middle School day really consists of. Had the observers shown-up a few weeks ago, they might have seen the reality of where I work - students 10 minutes late for class, students not prepared, not listening, throwing shit at each other, and disrespecting the Korean co-teacher. Instead, supervisors come to an open class and see kids well-behaved, on time, and ready to be angels.

I didn't want that to happen here, but I had to balance my wants with the school's needs. Sadly, in Korea, appearance is, if not everything, then close to it at times. Teachers depend on getting good reviews from their peers if they want to do well in the district. I played the game as best I could and gave them the show they were looking for - and I got the usual comments that come from these types of open classes: "That was wonderful!", "You have such a great way of managing the students and getting them to participate!" etc. etc.

What I wouldn't have given for them to watch on hidden camera last week so that they could have seen the true face of my day-to-day - the lowest possible standards of classroom management (that belonging to most of my Korean co-teachers), colliding with my apparently much higher standards - watching frustration build, consequences for bad behaviour disappear or not be enforced, and lessons come to a complete halt because I don't think I should have to look the other way while students throw their school supplies at each other, completely ignore the lesson, yammar-away at each other in Korean, and carve holes in the new desks we just bought for the English Only Classroom.

All of this occurs on a daily basis while my co-teacher generally sits idly by and wonders why I'm getting frustrated. That would be a great show for the district.
I realize that I sound all old-school and tight-ass when I talk about "kids these days" - but seriously... kids these days. I seem to work with people who have thrown-in the towel. It's as though my Korean co-teachers have seen the imminent end-times just around the corner, so why should they bother making sure that their students are listening? A cliched paper plane could zoom through the air, thrown by a student, hit my co-teachers square in the ear, and they would let it fall to the floor without changing their expression of utter defeat. At times, with some teachers, it IS that bad. Actual conversation with a co-teacher last week:

Dave (approaching the subject with far too much respect): Sorry about getting frustrated today, but I was wondering what you'd like me to do if the students are clearly not listening, and distracting the students who are trying to learn. Would you be comfortable maybe helping me by telling those students to focus while I am giving the lesson?

Teacher (with complete sincerity): I think that you should just let them talk.

Dave: Excuse me?

Teacher: These students won't learn anyway, so if you ignore them, you'll be less frustrated.

Dave: But the other students can't learn because the other students are poking them in the back of the head.

Teacher: I know. It's really frustrating sometimes.

Dave: Yeah... frustrating... yeah...

Whatever. Today, I gave them the show that they wanted. Everyone loved it. My Vice Principal even gave me a hug and glowed with pride in the praise rained-down on our English department. I am proud that the lesson went well, I just wish that the students and my fellow teachers would see the value in learning from what seems like the generally acceptable failure of what we do day-to-day: try to teach some of the worst-behaved kids in Seoul a second language under the shabbiest classroom standards imaginable. I know that I should feel relieved and proud of the success of the day, but overall, I think I've further-strengthened my resolve to make this a better situation next year. I owe it to myself and to the (sadly) small percentage of students who come into my classroom wanting to learn, and respecting their teachers. My target audience may be small, but I am bound and determined to make it grow and to remove the weeds that get in the way. Next time a student disrespects a classmate or my co-teacher, I'm just going to have to get all Noah Whyle in Donnie Darko: "Get out." If that doesn't work, I might try getting all Ray Kwan.


Anonymous said...

Spare the rod, spoil the child. Regular beatings help with discipline and toughen kids up for the harsh realities of the world. Plus it's fun! Well... for the teacher anyways.


Jen Davies, MA, CDP said...

Oh, Dave, you care too much in an environment where others don't. Your co-teacher might be right - teach the ones who actually might want to be there, and let the others do whatever they're going to do. "Get out" sounds like a great solution to me (because the noisy ones really don't want to leave the class, then they can't yak with their friends).

I recall who described the Korean public education system to me as "broken", but you're seeing it from the inside. Until the gov't fixes that, there will always be room for hakwons.

Chris Taylor said...

I'm sorry that your co-workers seem unwilling to help you in dealing with the problem, Dave!

It sounds like you're still doing as much as you can, which is key. I don't suppose you have any power to talk to the VP and say "hey, look what's happening"?

We're rooting for you, big guy. :)