Now that I have a day off, I can get this blog current and answer a bunch of questions.
Okay, first of all, about my job: It was really bumming me out for a while. In fact that's half the reason I had John write the last post. I really didn't want to use my blog as a place to complain and I knew that if I did, it would worry some of you and also probably allow me to continue feeling sorry for myself, which I didn't want. Here's the deal: I teach 20 classes a week, which is more than anyone else at my school. Other teachers usually teach 13-16 classes a week, but they have paperwork to do for the state that keeps them incredibly busy. I think it's about normal for the native-speaking English teachers in Gyeonggi-do though.
Here's how the school system in Korea works. Elementary, middle, and high school each consist of 3 grades and the numbers restart at each level. So there are grades 1-3 in all 3 schools. It looks like this:
The middle and high school grades are about equivalent to grades 7-12 in the U.S. Within each grade, the students are split up according to academic performance. The smartest of each grade are in Room 1 of their grade, the mediocre students in Room 2, and the poorest students in Room 3. So far it has been my experience that smaller schools may only split their students into 2 groups per grade.
So I teach M1-1 (the smartest 7th graders) twice a week, M2-1 and M2-2 (the smartest and the average students of the 8th grade) twice a week, M3-1 (the smartest 9th graders) twice a week, and the entire 11th grade, H2-1, H2-2, and H2-3, four times a week. There are 40 students in each class except for the one 7th grade class, which has 18 students.
My H2-3 class was absolute hell for a while there. The very first class I had with them, they wouldn't actually let me talk. The spoke in Korean to each other across the classroom while their normal teacher just rubbed the shoulders of the students in the back who were sleeping as a way of gently waking them up. It was so frustrating. I tried to talk a little bit about myself and then ask them questions, and then allow them to ask me questions, but I couldn't even get through the bit about myself. So I moved on to asking them questions, but that was nearly impossible, and then they wouldn't even ask me questions. I had only taught middleschoolers at this point (this was my first day) and they had been largely too shy to ask me many questions, but I had hoped the highschoolers would be a little more outgoing, not out right obnoxious. One of them actually told me I looked like Jesus (my hair was down, and being brown and wavy, they made the connection). Then they also told me I look like Angelina Jolie and Jessica Alba. Basically, I don't really trust Korean comparisons of Aryan people to other Aryans. Hahaha.
The next time I saw any of the 11th graders, I had an activity for them so that we might get to know each other (since I had failed so miserably on the first go around). This is how I learned that boys perform much better when given a task to complete. But my H2-3 class was still giving me trouble, and while all of the other classes had sort of gotten on board with me, this class fought everything, however minor. It continued like this for the next week and a half, with me trying something completely different each time I saw them. I mean they wouldn't even write down the answer if I gave it to them.
I finally reached my breaking point. I was doing the second half of a lesson on American pop stars, which was simply games having to do with some of the stars' songs, when my computer froze up. (The computer was providing the music.) The lesson wasn't going well, so I took the opportunity to ask Teacher Quak (their usual teacher) what he thought I should do about the problem. We talked for the next ten minutes while the class just chatted with each other, initially assuming we were trying to figure out the technical difficulties but more and more realizing that we were talking about them. Finally, I decided I would just do my best to make them feel foolish. Now, there is a TON of personality in this class so I knew it would be difficult, but I think it semi-worked. I just made them stand up and do what I did (John does this for fun with his girls but I knew my boys would hate it). And they did. I made them raise their arm, hop on one leg, turn in a circle, stuff like that.
Eventually I told them to raise both arms above their heads, and didn't let them put them down for a few minutes. All it did was tire out their arms, but eventually, the kid who called me Jesus and who is sort of the ring leader (not a bad kid, he just likes attention) said sorry. And I was like, "Good! Who else is sorry?" And most of them said sorry and I let them sit down. Then I announced that if they ever attempted to chat in Korean throughout an entire class instead of follow my directions, I would have them do the arm thing for the whole period. But I was cut off by some kids in the back who started talking to each other.
I was too shocked to care and class was about over anyway, so I just had Teacher Quak translate the point I was trying to make and left the class. (The students are in the same classroom all day. It's the teachers who change every period.) But the next time I saw them, they were quieter, and they finally participated in the activity. The Jesus kid even pointed out that they were quieter in the beginning of class, almost as if they had made a collective decision to be. So I thanked them and did a warm-up of hangman (the world was FAMILY) and then asked them to draw me their families and told them they could get candy if they volunteered to tell me about what they were drawing. It was the best class ever. I had a lot of fun with the group in the back that gives me the most trouble. They wanted the candy, so they raised their hands in a hurry, but I really made them work for it. They had to tell me all about each of their family members in complete sentences. Anyway, they ended up making up this elaborate story about how two of their fathers are in rival gangs, and their siblings each have a different position in the gang....hahaha we laughed a lot, especially when one of them started threatening to call his father if I didn't give him the candy. Now he says"Father call?" to me when he sees me in the hallways. They're actually very intelligent, just disinterested in school. That should ring a bell with plenty of teachers in the States!
So after class, I asked Teacher Quak if he said anything to them. He said no, he was just as surprised as I was that they cooperated. He thought that they probably realized they were being rude and decided they didn't want to be. He said at lunch that they seemed to have "opened the window to me". This was the last class before Chuseok (the reason why I had today and yesterday and next Monday and Tuesday off), so I'm hoping that this wasn't just a one-time thing.
In all, this is what makes my job difficult:
- I am teaching all boys.
- I am a young American woman....so boys have a hard time taking me seriously.
- The large class size makes both activities and maintaining control difficult tasks.
- Except for the H2-3 class, I am alone in the classroom.
I wouldn't have really started to feel bad for myself if I weren't aware that most of the other native speakers in Yeoju had it easier. They are not on their own in the classroom, they are not teaching all boys (as a woman, no less), and they have smaller class sizes. But now that I have made some progress, I am doing much better! It'll still be difficult, but at least I don't feel bad for myself anymore. I think that happened somewhere between the class where I punished them and the class where they were quiet. Now I just have to figure out how to get my 9th graders to participate.....