Saturday, October 23, 2010

My Saturday Class So Far

It’s been far too long now since I’ve been teaching my Saturday Critical Reading and Writing class to start at the beginning, but I'm going to try (later). I could honestly make a blog entry about every one of the lessons I’ve done with this group of students, but I never find the time.

I do want to say a few things tonight though – maybe in a general sense. When I’m somewhat tired and potentially distracted (as I am now by the cavernous expanse of this particular Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and its high ceiling that sends sounds bouncing all over the place) I like to make lists. Forgive me.

1) I’m Lucky to Have this Class

As I mentioned in a previous post, this opportunity came about because I know good people. My friend, Ed, who has been teaching at a public high school here has been doing well for himself of late. Part of this is due to his extreme positive nature with everything he does. He’s got a great teaching situation at his high school with a supportive and friendly group of co-teachers that he can actually count among his true friends in Korea.

Through various circumstances, Ed has been recruited to run workshops for new teachers, and to present demo lessons and supervise other training seminars for educational districts across the city. Ed has a teaching degree from back home, and he throws his skill and positivity into everything he does – even while he’s going through some extremely challenging times outside of school, his professionalism always wins out.

Ed was first approached by school board coordinators to teach this new class on Saturdays. He decided against it as he already had enough on his plate, so – he put my name forward. Had he not done this, there’s no way I would have this job right now. I may have mentioned this before, but I think it bears repeating that I wasn’t even interviewed for this position. Ed, and his head co-teacher, Jisun, spoke very highly of me as a possible alternative teacher when Ed had to turn the position down.

Apparently, Ed’s word was all that was required – it was even enough to over-rule the fact that I was not a high school teacher; though our teaching placements seem to be chosen at random when we are first assigned our schools, a lot of stock is somehow put into our level of school once we are there and as a result, it would be unheard-of for a lowly middle school teacher such as myself to be allowed anywhere near a high school class. Thankfully, Ed and Jisun’s votes of confidence were enough to convince them that I was indeed worthy of consideration. So – thanks, guys ☺

2) This Class is Lucky to Have Me

There – I said it. I don’t normally toot my own horn, but here I think it’s justified to say that I am working harder than a lot of other foreign English teachers might had they found themselves in this position. When I look across the board – at training sessions, workshops and such – I imagine myself in the upper 20% of foreign public school teachers here in terms of the quality of what I actually do in the classroom. I’m not a walking bucket of confidence in a lot of areas of my life, but I feel relatively safe reporting that sifting through the Good-Time-Charlies who seasonally call Korea home and call themselves “teachers” long enough to collect a paycheck, drown themselves in weekly doses of Cass and soju, and develop a sense of bitterness about their surroundings, I’m actually a pretty dedicated educator who maintains a pretty high standard for myself, my lessons, and my students.

In some situations here, however – high standards are not necessarily a healthy thing. Former supervisors have repeatedly warned me to “stop working so hard” – and fair enough. I do tend to obsess with certain teaching tasks, and usually end-up creating more work for myself – far much more than is required for my job.

With this Saturday class, however, I find that the extra work is actually paying-off. I justify this partially based on the expectations of the parents and district supervisors who created the course, advertised it as something equivalent to a Harvard acceptance guarantee – and then forgot to provide it with a complete curriculum. Hey – it gives me an outlet to aim high and hopefully drag my students upward from their sleepy Saturday stupors. If anything, I'm going to mark the living hell out of their essays, and they are going to be more effective writers when I'm done with them.

3) I’m Lucky to Have this Class (Part II)

Really, I’m not sure where I would be, mentally, if I weren’t looking forward to teaching for two hours every Saturday. That is the level of bookishness I have apparently attained. It would be more than suffocating at this point to bitch about the lack of general stimulation I receive from my regular teaching duties (I have engaging teaching days at my middle school almost as often as I win a bout of “Rock, Paper, Scissors”), but because this is my reality – or rather, the reality of the role we play here in the public system, it is worth bringing-up, just so that I can mention my Saturday class in contrast.

Perhaps part of what makes Saturdays stimulating for me is the fact that I teach each lesson only once (as opposed to 15 times each week at my middle school). I get geared-up for it. After the first week’s lack of sleep the night before class, I now go to sleep on Fridays looking forward to the lesson and the potential of discussion around engaging topics with my students. I had previously enjoyed certain lessons with some of my academy classes back in Suwon, but that was a completely different level. So far in my short teaching life, this Saturday class has been the first time I’ve felt like a “Teacher” – working with a group of students of the level I hope to teach for my career, once that actually gets going.

4) Not a bad idea to remind any still-interested readers what this class is:
a Critical Reading and Writing class for 20 grade 3 high school students who are looking to improve both disciplines in English as they prepare to apply to universities – for many of them, overseas.

As mentioned before, with all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the opening ceremony of this class (along with a public speaking class which another much more qualified teacher has been taking care of), I was led to believe that this class was going to be more like teaching university students than working with high school kids. Not really – unless you consider the reality that growing-up in the Korean education system means that students are conditioned to be lectured to, as opposed to being actively engaged in their classes in a multi-directional sense. For the most part, these students seem to be very cool teens who want to say and do more than their timidity is allowing them to.

Through 6 lessons so far, I’ve come to the realization that my main goal, aside from focusing on writing and critiquing instruction, I really just have to crack them and drag them out of this passive mode. I can tell daily that they want to talk. I can see them forming words behind their lips and just not letting them out.

The students are with us for 4 hours on a Saturday. The schedule looks a bit like this:

Period 1 (Korean co-teacher A) – Article analysis and discussion
Period 2 (Myself and Korean co-teacher A) – Article analysis and activity
Period 3 (Myself and Korean co-teacher B) – Writing instruction and discussion
Period 4 (Korean co-teacher B) – Writing focus and supervised writing time or group project work

As you can see by the schedule, I seem to be kind of the meat and potatoes of day. I pretty-much lead my assigned periods and this is for the following reasons:

a) There is no curriculum save for the one I provide for my assigned time, so naturally I want to be the one who chooses material for my teaching hours.
b) My co-teachers and I all work zany hours at different schools across the city, and as a result have almost no time to meet and plan curriculum outside of class hours. Even at school on Saturdays, we are never – all three of us – there at the same time.

Anyway, I have a lot to say about this class, but to avoid another extremely long-winded entry, I will instead do my darndest to write a SHORT entry every couple of days about every lesson we’ve had so far. Why bother back-tracking? Because it’s an exercise to remember what went well, and what went wrong. Plus, some of what we’ve done in class and students’ reactions to it, I think, are worthwhile reflecting on.

Read it – unless you’re too cool for school.

1 comment:

Mr. Genius-Face said...

I think this is a great idea. It ought to be scientifically proven by now that self-observance yields a higher rate of success for your goals.

...but without all the corporate-speak.

And by the way, "the parents and district supervisors who created the course, advertised it as something equivalent to a Harvard acceptance guarantee – and then forgot to provide it with a complete curriculum."

Made me laugh out loud. Lordy, I wish I could come for a visit.