Tuesday, November 13, 2012

About Teaching

Mostly I write about my life outside of work. Sometimes I write cute stories, but mostly I stick to what I think people will find "interesting" ... aka: what I can illustrate with photos! But, since this is also partly about me and my journey, teaching is what I do and I need to debrief (so to speak).

I think today I mostly need to talk about one specific class. This is a class I didn't have a lot of problems with in the beginning, and therefore I don't think I've mentioned much. When I first started with them, they were Step High 2-1. Now they are Step High 3-1. That means they have completed 3 sections of work with me as a teacher, approximately 3 months. At this point, I can almost assuredly say they are my least favorite class.

The kids are probably around 12 years old. Out of 9 students, 4 are boys. Three of the 4 boys are typical troublemakers. One is incredibly smart hard working and extremely sweet, Eddie. The others, the troublemakers, are Jay, Top, and Alex.

Top is extremely ADHD. Although that is not nearly as common of a diagnosed "illness" here, Top certainly has it. I wish someone would prescribe this kid some Ritalin. Out of 60 minutes of our class, I think Top talks about 40 minutes, and plays with his various things on his desk (pencil, pencil case, eraser, the occasional action figure or toy) for an additional 18 minutes. When I first started with the class, I thought Top was my most frustrating student. I constantly had to remind him to stop talking, tell him to stop speaking Korean, and to concentrate on his work.

Jay is a mousy kind of kid. He is very intelligent and quick to learn, but is an enabler for Top. He talks and laughs and basically cuts up a lot of the time with Top. Jay even had about a week of just plain rudeness when we first started out. But by now, he has settled into the routine and, even though I still have to tell him to be quiet many times each class, we have a kind of understanding.

Then there is Alex. Alex is a special kind of student. He is the kind of student you just wish would completely drop out of the school. Alex wasn't as vocal when I first became his teacher, but as time passes, he has shown his true colors. Alex speaks Korean constantly; completely disregards my instructions; ignores me when I call his name; when I get onto him for speaking Korean, he looks right at me and continues to do so; when I tell him to move his desk to sit by himself, he actively holds down the desk so I can't move it. This kid is the definition of disrespectful. To compare him to my own school-experience, he is that kid that got sent to the principals office at least once a week and had the attitude of "I couldn't care less." I can't stand this kid.

I think the thing that bugs me the most about Alex is that it is blatant disrespect. Top, well, he's hyperactive, and I can deal with that. When I tell him to stop talking, at least he tries for a few minutes. Alex, he will hold my gaze and continue to speak, in Korean, as I am telling him to stop. When I get on his level, by his desk, and look him in the face and tell him to work on his classwork, he talks in Korean right in my face, and the way he talks, well you just know he is saying something along the lines of "I hate you, get out of my face, stop talking to me, go away", etc.

Again, thinking back to the good ol' American school system, and especially my experience with it in the South, we respect teachers. Even if we disagree or we don't like them, we respect them. And that is what I absolutely cannot stand about Alex. Defiant, your-momma-shoulda-taught-you-better, blatant disrespect.

After an especially frustrating class today, during which I told Alex to move outside and when he said "no, stop bothering me" (in English) and attempted to hold his desk in place, I said in his face "Did your mother not teach you to respect teachers?!", I decided that I just can't do it anymore. Threatening him with Jackie teacher wasn't going to work with this guy. Jackie teacher is not good with the undermining kind of behavior, she can only be effective with physical behavior (not sitting up straight, etc). I told Erica Teacher, my partner teacher for that class, that it had reached a limit and I would not deal with it anymore. Alex is not stupid, and I would like to teach him, but I can't fight a battle every single day. It's exhausting to me, and it's not fair to the other students in the class who want to learn.

Erica Teacher commiserated with me, and looked appropriately appalled at the correct places in my various stories and examples of Alex's behavior and attitude. She said she felt for me, and would talk to Alex. She said that if he continues to do that, she will talk to his mother. I simply cannot understand how this kid was raised in Korea, a culture that has a lot of respect for elders and teachers, and be so absolutely disrespectful.

As I told Erin, I can handle annoying talking or giggling or wandering attention, but what Alex does on a daily basis genuinely angers me. And it's not acceptable.

A slightly different story, about the same class: last week on Wednesday, Jackie teacher pulled me aside when I got to work and told me that Top had told his mother that he felt picked on in class. That when I tell the class to be quiet and stop speaking Korean, that I single him out when he is not even talking. Now, Top talks a lot, but I conceded that perhaps sometimes I assumed Top was the culprit when I was not absolutely sure. I told her that I would be more discerning and attentive to who was actually starting the talking, if Top would take some responsibility and not be so quick to join in the bad behavior. Kind of like, be careful who your friends are? guilty by association? Even when Top isn't the one talking, he sits with the "talkers" and is more often than not talking. So, the few times he isn't, I probably assume he is because of his location and propensity to talk. Am I right?

Well, that day, Top's mom decides to watch the class. Jackie Teacher told me that while she does understand and know Top's personality and inclination to be chatty, she felt that she should check in. It was, after all, her son and if he felt bullied, she had the duty to look out for him. I totally understood and didn't mind at all. She would watch on TV, from CCTV, and Top wasn't going to know she was watching. I felt okay about this, since I figured I had the upper-hand by knowing she was going to watch.

I conducted class normally, making sure to be extra patient with the whole class, but of course by halfway through, I was quite frustrated. Top was being his usual self, but it was Alex, of course, who really angered me. By the time class was over, I was so frustrated I went directly to my desk, not even attempting to smile and greet the mother in the hallway. I never heard from Jackie Teacher about it again. I think Top's mom saw Top's behavior and understood that he is simply very talkative and animated!

Since then, I have really been trying to make sure I know who exactly is talking when I get onto the class, rather than assume I know. So far, Friday and Monday, I think it's been good. Top actually works on his school work, and while I still have to tell him to stop talking, I have also made sure to distribute the chiding to all who need chiding, not just Top and Alex.

Whew!!! That was a lot... I'm sure I rambled a bit, but it felt good to express my frustrations. Teaching is hard. When you're preparing for it, even when you have quite a bit of preparation, I don't think you fully understand the whole picture. Especially when you're teaching ESL... I never would have thought this kind of thing would happen (call me naive!). But, here I am, learning as I go...

In other (better) news, my first class on Mon-Wed-Fri, the smallest kids I teach - NHK2? Well, I have begun to turn that class around! Last month I had a little break because Leo, my biggest troublemaker, was on a month-holiday from SLP. He returned this month, much to my chagrin. But Friday I tried something a little different, and it worked. We were drawing pictures that go with the different senses (What kinds of things can you smell? Popcorn! etc), and Leo started getting really into it! The next activity, I let them come up to the board to circle different pictures in the activity.

Today, we worked out of our Phonics book, and there are lots of circling pictures, drawing lines between things, and writing new words. I took turns calling on them and if they got the question right, they could come up to the board and circle or draw a line or whatever. Amazingly, this kept Leo from working ahead and being bored and drawing pictures, because he had to pay attention to get the question right to come up to the board. It kept my slower (aka lazier) learners involved because they wanted to come up to the board so they worked harder to keep up. And of course, everyone likes the attention. One little girl, I even had to give a boost so she could draw the line all the way up to the correct picture. They absolutely loved it, it made the time go by faster, and I left class smiling. Wow!

I tried out the method with some of my older kids, but I think it is a technique best used with the youngest kids, NHK 2 and below.

Last but not least, during the test last week, my 2SAP girls got done quickly, so I had them practice writing letters by writing a letter to teacher. Charlotte's didn't make sense (of course, this girls is about as intelligent as a pile of rocks), Rachel's was asking to show a movie in class, and Kelly's said how she loved me!! *AWWWW!* She said she talks about me in her other school and says "I study with Chelsea Teacher" and that I am so beautiful and kind. Aww ... it was so sweet, and since it was coming from Kelly, I actually think she meant it. It made my day!

Charlotte's doesn't make sense, and she can't even spell her name right.
Rachel just wants me to show a movie in class... 

But Kelly loves me!!! YAY!! :D
I guess, all in all, teaching isn't that bad. It has its ups and downs, but it can be rewarding (as well as infuriating!) and I think that after 1 year, I will have had my fill. But, I'm glad I'm here and I'm going to keep busting my butt to get these kids to learn some English!!


  1. Great blog. I'm trying to find out anything I can about what it's really like to teach English overseas. I have a general idea, but to hear specifics like this is really helpful. Thanks for keeping this blog, I'll refer to it often!

  2. Kelly is pretty much adorable! I love Chelsea Teacher too!

    Love, your Mom


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