Saturday, September 12, 2009

Jason, you're going to prep the seniors for the listening section on Suneung, and do you want to be in a promotional video for our high school? Wow...

I haven't been blogging much for the last week cause I don't have Internet at home yet, and have been having problems with access to blogger on my school computer. Add to all this that I'm pretty sick right now: bad hacking cough, some sinus stuff, headache, fatigue .... but I don't think it's Swine Flu--no temperature, vomiting, diarrhea, etc. So blogging hasn't been up there on my list of things to do . . . but I finally had some free time tonight so here's what's been going on.

This past week went fairly well for the first week of teaching. I only did 10 of my 22 classes because the other 12 will begin this coming week. I've been asked to prep the senior grade high school students who will be taking Suneung: the national university entrance exam all students take. In particular I'll be focusing on the listening section of the test. I don't know how to explain this but it's a very unusual request---NO foreign teacher, in the entire 5 years I've been in Korea, has ever been asked to work with the senior students to prep them for this exam; I haven't heard of anyone being asked to do this and if you have heard of someone doing this please let me know. I'm really curious if somehow I'm the 'first.'

This exam, this one day, defines a Korean person's entire life: where they go to university determines their social status, who will date and marry them, their income, EVERYTHING. Foreign teachers NEVER teach the seniors--ever--period (at least that I've heard of). So being asked to to do this is a big honor, but also a huge pressure on me to do well, and I've never taught specifically to prep for this kind of thing before, though I have read a lot about teaching listening for EFL/ESL methodology, strategies, and skills, and I have prepped Korean teacher trainees for listening tests--just not the one that defines their entire LIVES . . .

I've designed an intensive Suneung listening section prep course, and think that the strategies and exercises I put together will help the students. I'm going to also be teaching them some reading strategies as those will help with processing the instructions and answers on the test paper too. Wish me luck.

Spinning the topic wheel . . . this past Friday afternoon I was asked by my co-teacher if I'd be willing to take a part in a movie the high school is making to promote the school. I said yes because I could sense it's a big deal for the school, and I wasn't feeling REALLY crappy YET--but Friday night I got a lot worse. When my co-teacher asked me to do the video I asked if I needed to prepare anything, she said just show up, talk to the students for a few minutes, and that's it--I really should have known better that it wouldn't be that simple, but my co-teacher is actually one of the best, if not the best, that I've had in Korea so I tried to trust her .... sigh.

I woke up this morning on the verge of calling and cancelling because I felt like recycled dog food that had been put in a microwave and then a blender .... but I took some Tylenol Daytime Cold (I brought with me from Canada), and forced myself to go.

Later, after arriving at Korea University where we'd be filming, I watched as a pro-looking video camera, two massive flood lights, and a train track rail for the camera guy to slide while doing zoom and scan shots were set up--yeah, wow--and I suddenly realize that all the Koreans in the room are looking at me standing at the front of the classroom, with 20 students in desks in front of me, and in the back are a photographer (with a wicked Sony SLR), a videographer, the director, my vice-principal and my co-teacher, and a few more Koreans . . . and nobody's told me what they want, or what to do . . .

I ask my co-teacher to give me some instructions cause I sense that they want more than me chatting ..... she says the movie director wants TWENTY MINUTES OF FOOTAGE--needless to say I get a bit irritated at this point. I say to my co-teacher that I had asked her what I needed to do ON FRIDAY and she failed to find out; if she had I would have brought some materials with me, and planned out 20 minutes of teaching ..... argh.

I tell her to stall the movie people, and think furiously. I ask her to give each of the students a piece of paper. I tell each student to write ONE letter on their page, spelling out: USE YOUR ENGLISH. The remaining six students I ask to make happy face emoticons on their papers.

The reason I chose "USE YOUR ENGLISH" is because Korean language learners generally only learn English for testing purposes. If language learners would study and USE their English it would likely raise their test scores AND their language performance ability in general.

After getting the students working on making their letter cards I write five questions on the board: Who are you? Where are you from? What do you do? Why do you study English? How do you study English?

I rehearse the boys for 5 minutes trying to get them out of replying as a group with zombie level energy and enthusiasm. I force myself into a high-energy-friendly-happy-cheerleading-coach-teacher personna (oh god did I not want to be doing this sick!) and they begin to respond well. Who are you?--We are handsome boys! Where are you from? Choong Ahn High School! What do you do? Study English! Why do you study English? To get a good job! How do you study English? USE YOUR ENGLISH!

The movie people liked the visual I created by getting the boys to hold up the letter cards spelling out "USE YOUR ENGLISH" in a wave like they do at baseball games when we reached the fifth question. We did the sequence of five questions about four times, but then I noticed that the word "English" was backwards in order of letters for the cameras, and we had to do it all over again--good thing I noticed cause it would have looked really stupid on the school website, and wherever else they show it. Considering how loopy the Tylenol Daytime Cold had made me I'm pretty happy I caught the error ...

Just when I thought I was finished my co-teacher tells me the final thing they want is close-ups, great I'm sick and they want close-ups, of me interacting with the students. So I go to six boys, one at a time, and shake their hands while asking them what their name is. Finished ..... actually no ....

Earlier in the morning I had asked my co-teacher to tell the vice-principal I was not going to go out for lunch with them after shooting the video. The VP wanted to buy me an expensive lunch as a thank you for working on a Saturday without overtime pay ... but after watching my co-teacher try explain this to him, and seeing his body language refusing, I just gave in and went out for lunch--I've learned to pick my battles in Korea. I just wish that the hospitality culture would add an element of sophistication into it so that when the hospitality being offered is DETRIMENTAL to the guest/person that the host would adjust their expectations ... all that being said Korean hospitality is AWESOME 99% of the time--it's just when I'm sick that I seem to really have a problem with it.

Lunch was at a VERY high end galbi (bbq'd beef) restaurant, wow. If I hadn't been feeling crappy I would have really enjoyed the meal. Probably the best Korean meal I've had in 2 years. The lettuce was of a calibre that would be used in TV commercials, and the cuts of beef were gourmet quality . . . I'm glad I gave in and went in spite of feeling really crappy.

Well, that's some of what's been going on over the past week. Right now Julianne and I are in a hotel room a block from my apartment. While I got a queen sized bed in my apartment 3 days ago, Julianne only has a twin so that makes for crappy sleeping at her place. She has Internet but no cable. I have a big bed but no Internet and no cable ... so we decided since I'm sick and we wanted to watch TV, and have access to the Net we'd get a room at this tourist hotel that apparently is famous in Seoul because the location is great. There is a really nice view from our room too.

Hope everyone is doing well, and staying healthy!



John from Daejeon said...

I've taught quite a few seniors over the last few years, but it was mainly for the TOEFL Test in order to get them into universities in the U.S. and Canada. They've all had high hopes of getting into prestigious schools in the U.S., but most of them waited too long to improve their English skills before I got them. Some did make it into schools in Canada, and it looks like one will make it into Stanford and one into U.S.C. Those two just need to graduate high school now.

I really don't care to teach them at this level because class is usually held Saturday nights when none of us are really in the mood to be in the classroom for three hours of listening, speaking, and writing. However, my kids are a bit more advanced than average as many have lived abroad in English environments, so they do keep me on my toes when they aren't falling asleep.

I actually started with just one student (the owner's kid), but word of mouth has them coming in in greater numbers now. It also helps keep me out of “caveman” English speaking mode as most of my normal hagwon students are at really low levels.

Jason said...

Hi John,

I realize that foreign teachers teach senior high school students in hogwans and language training centers--I'm curious to hear if I'm the first to be teaching them in the actual public school system.

In a meeting I had last week with the 3 of the Korean English teachers I'll be co-teaching the seniors with, 2 of them understood and bought my ideas for what I'd be doing with them to prep for the listening section on Suneung. The third, though, was a hard sell, but eventually he came around.

Even the Korean English teachers who have been teaching for decades are shocked that I've been asked to teach/prep the seniors ...

Another shocking thing for me is that the 3 KETs I was speaking to say that they do NOT teach listening strategies as they prep the students ... I'll write more about this later, but I think it's going to be interesting to see their reactions to how I go about prepping the students in contrast with what they've been doing for years ...

Jason said...

Ah, one more thing ...

If they keep coming in high numbers due to word of mouth, John, congrats!

That's probably one of the biggest signs of a great teacher in Korea.

Just wish your story, and others like it, would get into the media--instead of the crap that passes for news.

Diana E. said...

You're right, Jason--it's really surprising they have a foreign instructor teaching listening. They tend to keep us away from anything that "counts" in Korea, like the third grade year and suneung prep.

I personally don't mind so much because my least favorite part of teaching back in America was feeling beholding to some standardized nightmare. I just wish that I could have other kinds of assessments (like the writing and projects I do with them) count for more than 30% maximum of their grade.

Jason said...

Hi Diana,

This is what I've been thinking too. I wish I could have had video of the one teacher who was really nervous and concerned about what I was going to do ... the next day he came up to me and said, "Jason, I know you thought I don't trust you, but I do. Please don't worry." I nearly fell over.

It's going to be a VERY interesting week as I see how the Korean teachers and students react to what I've prepared.

I, like you, also like the freedom we have in choosing our lessons and content ... but this year it seems like I'm not going to have a lot of room to work with.

Kelsey said...

Wow! Test time for me (and for 99% of foreign teachers, I'd bet) was pretty much sit-at-my-desk-and-watch-movies time.

Hope you're feeling better!

Anonymous said...

Jason what I like about your blog is that you discuss teaching and Korean culture, both from a positive and constructive perspective.

I, and I assume others, don't want to hear what bar an ESL teacher got wasted in last night and the inevitable outcome in grim detail.

I imagine some of those who are in a position to choose who the "listening" teachers will be are also reading here appreciatively.