Monday, March 21, 2011

Class 3-1

This class feels like it's going to be the end of me. You're going to need a bit of a breakdown, so bear with me...

This year, my middle school has, in terms of homerooms:

8 grade 1 classes
10 grade 2 classes
11 grade 3 classes

Some attribute this to the aging population here in Korea, but this is far from a Children of Men scenario, people - so let's not bandaid this with a plethora of new babies born into culturally motivated endentured servitude to the older generation's twighlight years care.

For my situation as a teacher here, this means a few things...

Grade 1 (8 classes) - I teach all 8 homeroom classes undivided. That's about 30 students in each class. I see them once every two weeks.

Grade 2 (15 classes) - I teach all of the students, but these 10 classes are divided into 15 separate groups according to level (A, B, and C) with homeroom students mixing with students from other homerooms. I see them once every two weeks.

Grade 3 (11 classes) - I teach all 11 homerooms. That's an avarage of 32 students per class and they, like the grade 1s, are not divided according to level. So, there is a big mix of ability on every class. I see these guys once a week - the first time such frwquency has occured for me at this school.

This means that I teach 22 classes in one week, and 23 the next. 22 is the limit as stated in our contracts, but I'm doing my best to be a nice guy,

The big difference between teaching the grade 1s and teaching the grade 3s is that the grade 1s are new and think I'm the coolest thing since last month's G-Dragon single. For them, my S#@% don't stink, and likely won't before I leave.

Quite the opposite for grade 3. I sheen has long ago come-off the Davey as far as the majority of them are concerned. In short, I think that those grade 3s who haven't grown significantly through their English learning experience here (I'm guessing about 80%) are now looking down the long barrel of their approaching high school years and thinking: "why bother?" Fair enough, friends. But this attitude disappoints me a great deal. Why? Because I have a genuine affection for a lot of these students. Even the shabby ones - the ones who notoriously make other teachers cry on a regular basis - have a special place in my heart. I've been their foreign English teacher since they began at my school, and I'm glad that I get to be seeing them (at least partially) through their last year here. I will truly miss some of them terribly and will wonder about them when I leave.

Anyway, as I mentioned, it is a bit disheartening to see how many of them have allowed themselves to slide in these years. The English language learning system here is not set-up well to assist the typical kind of kid that attends this school. I fear that lumping all levels together for my classes is having a disastrous affect thus far - at least for the grade 3s.

Nowhere is this more obvious than with my 3-1 class. This is a group of grade 3s, many of whom I know by face if not by name, who appear shell-shocked when they enter my room. I'm not sure what happened. Of the 350 some-odd students in the grade 3 level, it seems that the absolute bottom of the barrel has been scraped to make up the population of this class. I am speaking in terms of two attributes here, lest I be accused of labeling these kids as losers, which I'm not. I'm speaking in terms of 1) English ability, and 2)Leadership skills. This group is remarkably short on both.

The result is painful. In this group of 32 students, I can see two whom I know well from summer and winter camps as well as from after-school classes. They know what they are doing, and they are well above the typical "A-level" student in their grade. But, surrounded by what can only be described as the dregs of their peers (again, I speak only in terms of English ability and leadership skills), these two potential leaders just fade into shadows of their former selves. Never before have I felt more like Ben Stein in front of a group of students - and I don't mean that I'm frustrated attempting to indoctrinate them with theories of intelligent design.

I'm just kind of at a loss here. What worked exceedlingly well as a lesson for the class before, simply goes down in flames with this group. We began today with a translated and (I thought) encouraging reminder that, unlike last year, this year we have mixed level classes, and we need to help each other as much as possible. be patient, and look to help those students who need it, etc. The class quickly degenerated into first sleepiness, then outright defiance. I can't remember ever being as friendly or encouarging as I was today, but even the softest lobs from me were left to fall in the dirt. Some of my favourite students simply stared me down with mostly forced stupidity ("think you can make ME learn, do ya?"), and those students who could have answered the questions or read the dialogues in their sleep, seemed content to "dumb-it-down" in front of the others.

I wonder what (if any) kind of wisdom goes into the sorting of homeroom classes. Other grade 3 homerooms are chock full of natural leaders and those who seem to excel academically at every opportunity. They'll be fine, and they will likely bring-up those around them. What then of those (like those few in my 3-1 class) stronger students who are surrounded with underachievers and don't feel motivated enough to break away from the pack and challenge themselves? I'm guessing their overall grade goes way South this year, and I'm pretty sure that my Tuesday morning period 2 class is going to be, well... a shabby experience all around. I'm at a loss, I'm afraid.

Advice is welcome.


Mr. Genius-Face said...

Hey Friend,

I tried to submit this earlier, but my computer is being annoying. I apologize if two of these show up.

First of all, let me thank you for your postcard. A response is on the way, so I hope you aren't leaving in a week or so.

It seems that you're in quite the pickle here. I know that your code of ethics won't allow you to check out mentally for this group of Funyuns, so let me pitch something that I wish I had tried.

This is not advice: it's the opinion of a guy who left Korea on a positive note purely by luck-of-the-draw enthusiastic students, short on experience and long on misconceptions of what it takes to cut the mustard.

See if you can create a staged (or, it doesn't have to be staged, I guess) situation in which you are evidently Mr. Cool. This would take some coordination and outside help - but if you can pique the curiosity of your students about YOU, then you can teach them anything. Just keep them curious and don't reveal too much of the mystery. It's just like keeping a girl interested or applying for a job - same skill set, in my mind.

Anyway, it's kind of a stretch - all it takes is one "Ms. Kim" to pop the bubble and you're done for. But that's the sum of my non-advice: if English is dead, try to stack up some cool points.

George Bailey Sees The World! said...

Thanks, man - I think that's a good idea. Sadly, it's too late for me to get cool points with this group. They just know me too well.

I think I can turn this suggestion into me just trying to position myself so that I'm "on their side". It's not easy. I do afterall want them to learn something while they're with me. I have only two speaking tests remaining with this group, and I think we'll be able to develop a better rhythm, but it still somehow surprises me just how easily they can "play dumb" because it's just easier that way for them.

I do thank you for the advice though. Time for a little good cop / bad cop.