So how is teaching going? Well, I have a wide range of students. Some of the students are great at English and can hold a conversation (one student told me that she read Harry Potter is fourth grade!), most of the students know a little bit of English, and maybe 1/6 students can barely read. This is middle school. Middle schools in Gyeongju (and possibly most of Korea) are not divided by level, which means that kids from wealthy families who can afford to send their kids to hagwon (private after school academies) go to school with kids from poor families who may have never been to a hagwon in their lives (though there are kids in my low level classes who do go to hagwon). The difference in exposure to English at a young age translates to big differences in abilities in my classes. My classes are divided by level – four levels for the 7th graders and 3 levels for the 8th graders (so all the 8th grade classes are over 30 kids, while the 7th grade classes range from 15 students to 26 students).
The classes also vary in behavior. Some of the classes are wonderful – well behaved and diligent – while a couple classes are so disrespectful – nonstop talking and generally ignoring the activity. The bad classes got me very upset in the beginning. I actually screamed at a class during my first month. Why didn’t the kids do the activity? Throughout the semester however, I’ve become better at not getting upset. I don’t like being angry, so I changed my mindset so that I don’t get angry. Instead of becoming angry when their piece of paper is empty, I walk up to them, give them a marker if they don’t have a writing utensil (because they leave their pen in their classroom), take off the cap, and stick it in their hand. I sarcastically explain “This is a pen. You use it to WRITE” which gets them giggling. I’ve also tried engaging the students who aren’t doing the work in other ways. One girl was looking through an elementary school yearbook during the individual work time. Instead of grabbing the yearbook and telling her to work, I asked her questions about the pictures and engaged her in conversation. I act interested in what the kids are doing when they’re not working. I laugh playfully at their complete lack of interest and make silly faces of disbelief at their empty papers, which makes the kids laugh. I say the word for write in Korean in the command form, so they definitely know what I’m asking the to do. I guess I just want the kids to like me if they’re not going to work anyway. Their grades are based only on tests, so it doesn’t matter to their grades if they do the work or not (though their grades directly correlate with their diligence in my class…). I think of the kids as silly teenagers instead of bad students. They’re the rowdy kids in the movie Grease. The behavior of the kids in Grease is funny, so my students’ lack of interest is funny too.
Last week I started teaching an after school class every day. This is a cool experience because I finally have the chance to see students every day, instead of once a week. My plan is to get the kids to actually speak English, instead of just listen to the Korean English teachers translate blocks of sentences at them (which is what seems to be going on in the English classes that they don’t have with me). I’m going to be teaching American history through watching the movie Forrest Gump. At first I thought that every day I would show 20 minutes of the movie and then discuss what we just watched, but not I realize I need to have more focused questions and activities. So far we’ve watched up until Forrest goes to college and starts playing football. Today I am planning on having a debate about whether college athletes at big state universities (like University of Alabama, where Forrest goes) should be paid or not (since they work really hard and make a ton of money for their universities). The problem with the class is that the kids range from the highest to the lowest in their levels of English. One girl was even accepted into a foreign language high school! About half the class is able to write and understand me, while the other half doesn’t understand anything (or so it seems) and can’t write anything. I’m not sure how to deal with this. So far I’ve tried to aim the class towards the middle: I speak very slowly and say things a couple times, and then have one of the high level kids translate to the other kids (though they seem shy with translating). A big challenge is that the kids don’t want to have a discussion. Even the really high level kids seem shy in speaking in front of the class. Yesterday I had them do some writing, and today I’m going to get them into groups for pro and con so they can talk to a smaller group of students.