Monday, February 8, 2010

Winter English Camp in South Korea: Camp #2, Day 1 — Lesson prep in Korea is the Achilles Heel of EFL teaching

I'm still writing up the first English camp I just finished this past Friday and will try to post the series (it covers 8 days) some time this week.

This morning I came to school and did the small bit of prep I needed to do for my second two week winter English camp. Then the events of today reminded me yet again why lesson prep in Korea is pretty much the Achilles Heel of EFL teaching. Let me explain.

Last December I organized an informal winter English camp workshop at my high school for other foreign teachers who wanted to collaborate ideas and materials. About 9 teachers showed up and we talked for nearly 3 hours. It was awesome. Ironically, we ran out of time before my turn came up to describe the criteria of my camp (number of students, grade level, number of classes per day, number of days in total, and other info) and get some ideas from the others--but that was okay because my English camp experience Korea is pretty extensive (click here to see my English Camps in South Korea - A Guideline for Foreign English Teachers) and while it would have been nice to get some feedback about my camp plan there were other teachers, especially newbies, who really needed more time to collaborate than I did.

Anyways, the reason I mention the workshop is that I had been planning my winter English camp theme, lesson outlines and notes, supplies I would need, and other details nearly TWO MONTHS before the camps I am now teaching would begin--and I should have known better!

Some time in the last week of December my co-teacher and I got together to confirm all the details of my camp . . . and it was at that point that I realized the camps were really just a 'Come See The Alien Teacher Show' for the incoming freshman students. The camp schedule had been set up so that I'd only have TWO HOURS with each of the freshman classes--two hours?!

The only things I would have been able to accomplish in a two hour period of contact time with freshman are: introductions, ice-breaking activity for myself and the students, and self-introduction posters--my favorite ice-breaking activity for the freshman to introduce themselves to each other.

Needless to say I was a bit . . . uhm, what's the word I want to use here . . . ARGH! That'll do.

I politely (though with a very disgusted facial expression, I'm sure) explained to my co-teacher that I did not want to do an alien freak show, and asked her if any of the other Korean teachers were having the same sort of schedule set up with the incoming freshman (I already knew what the answer would be--no, of course not) and after she said they weren't I pointed out that this was a complete and utter waste of my time, and the students' time . . . and she agreed with me.

I'm pretty sure it also helps that I had several papers with me including a camp syllabus that I had designed. I had already gone over with her the theme I'd chosen for my camp, the learning goals I had for the students, the number of classes assigned to each of the learning goals, and other planning I'd done . . . it was pretty obvious to my co-teacher and the Korean teacher that this wasn't a case of a foreign teacher whining and complaining for no good reason--I had specific professional teaching issues with a camp concept and schedule that wanted to use me as an alien freak show, and lucky for me this was one of those rare times during my teaching tenure in Korea that the Koreans in charge of my teaching situation listened to me, heard and understood what I had to say, and agreed with me. (Yes, I'm still in shock!)

(For those reading this blog outside of Korea, and who have never taught in a Korean public school, what I mean by 'alien freak show' is the tendency in Korea to parade foreign teachers out in front of students, Korean teachers, and sometimes even parents during the first day of an English camp. Typically the audience ooohs, and ahhhs, laughs a lot, and yells things at the native teachers whose reactions range from 'let's get this over with' to 'oh my god, why am I here?')

The fact that my co-teacher listened to me, and didn't try to strong-arm me into agreeing and submitting to a plan that we both knew is bad, is yet another example of why my co-teacher is the goddess of all Korean English co-teachers in Korea. (Anyone who knows me in Korea will also know that this is NOT typical of my general discourse about co-teaching in Korea--so let me assure you that when I give this kind of high praise it is based on having worked with a large number of co-teachers.) Most other co-teachers would have argued with me or tried to persuade me to just say yes or blatantly ordered me to obey and follow the schedule as it had been set up. I didn't get any of that pseudo-Korean army culture nonsense from my co-teacher--wow.

After talking with me in English for a couple minutes she then explained in Korean what I had been saying to the Korean teacher in charge of organizing the camp schedules for all the teachers at the school. He understood, and had the decency to look a bit embarrassed at the situation; I found out later, however, that it hadn't been him at all who was responsible for the idea of putting me out on display for the freshman (I won't say who it was, but expats with time in Korea will know who makes those types of decisions in Korean public schools, 'nuff said). The meeting ended with me telling my co-teacher that if I had to do an alien freak show that was 'fine,' but that I was very unhappy about it and hoped that some kind of changes would be made to the concept of the camp and its schedule.

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Click on the link below to see pictures and read more at Kimchi Icecream: The Second Serving . . . . I've moved over to and will be blogging there from now on.

Winter English Camp in South Korea: Camp #2, Day 1 — Lesson prep in Korea is the Achilles Heel of EFL teaching


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