Saturday, August 26, 2006

my job, call it that if you want

Sometimes I wonder myself but I am setting out right now to explain what it is I do or more precisely, what it is I have been doing at work. I say this because on Monday all my class schedules change and books change that I teach out of so it might be different but I am fairly confident I half-way know what to expect with the changes.

Just a little recap, I am an English teacher at a type of school that is known in Korea as a hagwon. These hagwons are quite the trendy thing right now in Korea and any parent who has got the cash to send their child to a hagwon sends the poor kid away. Hagwons can be described more precisely as private tutoring schools that a student attends in the evening/off normal school hours to further their studies. They might be translated into English as “private tutoring academies” or more accurately “cram schools”. My hagwon specializes in English but they come in all sorts of specialties like cooking, art, math, music, martial arts, whatever. My impression, and this is only my impression, is that all the parents want to be able to say that their kid does this or that and thus in Korea they have a school for it.

Strangely enough, I wonder sometimes just how much time a child actually spends at home with their family if they spend their days at school and their nights at school. Hmmm, but I am not one to criticize, I spent much of my young life either at school or in day care during the day and playing video games or watching TV at night as did many other kids in America of my generation so it is not much different, I guess.

During the last month I was teaching “summer intensive”, which basically means that the kids were out of regular school for a month and so they just went to the hagwons more. Schedules were mixed up and I am not sure if things were organized as well as they should have been at my school, in fact I know they weren’t (Probably the norm for cram schools though from what I hear). I would teach one class one week and another the next. It was all kinds of crazy. My days were too long, 11 hours on M, W, F but not as bad on T,Th, only 8. Way, Way, too much work though for me.
So in each of the classrooms I would walk in, always sure to give a big happy “hello” to get the kids excited, or in some cases a loud and sharp, “Sit down. Open you books” for those classes that were a little too excited to begin with. Then, I was off and class had begun. Usually, a class would last 40 minutes.

On my first day I was given a pile of 10 books for 15 different classes, no training and told “go teach”. Oh yea, they also failed to mention which classroom I would be teaching in and or the kid’s names. I was only given a schedule with the level of class and time I was suppose to teach, which led me to have to have to ask around to different teachers, “Do you know what book they are using?” and “Where is the classroom?”. More than once I ended up in the wrong class or had the wrong book with me. After a while I started getting the hang of it and learned some of the kids names and filled out attendance sheets via role sign in sheets and towards the end was able to make seating charts and even learn more of some of my 150 student’s names. Hmmm, I wonder how many I will have starting next week now that everything is changing (By the way I was told on Friday that I won’t know what I will be doing for sure on Monday until Monday).

So, I go into the classroom with my book in hand, ask the kids to open their books, look around and figure out what page at least have of them turned to, sneak a peak at their page number hopefully unapparently and tell the rest of the students to open to that page. (haha, how smart I am!) I have done this time and time again since the first day because I was able to get away with it then, so why not still do it now? But really from now on, I plan on trying to keep track which class is on what page and so on in hopes that I don’t look like so much of a dumb #@@.

So once I am there and they have their books open that is actually the easy part. I mean they are all elementary books so it is not that hard to teach. I skim over the page real quick and tell them to fill in the blanks/read the sentences out loud and correct them. Many of my books are workbooks helping to build English awareness. Some exercises work on vocabulary in which case I say the word, get them to repeat it, and try my best to act out or explain the word. Other exercises are speaking so I just listen to the kids and correct them. This part in itself, which is supposed to make up almost all of the job but really is only half of it, is not too hard. They hire anyone with a college degree to do this job and for the most part, any half way intelligent person should be able to walk through it fairly easy, that is as far as the content of the material that needs to be taught.

Ah, but that is not all teaching is now is it? Half of teaching, and the half that seems the most difficult, is motivating kids who spend most of their life in school already doing work, to do that next page, that next assignment, the next task, when I am sure to them it seems like such an onslaught of school work will never end, and for them it seems like it really doesn’t, at least until they are in their 20s, poor kids. So a lot of my job is telling kids to sit down, be quiet, go outside in the hall, stand in the corner, don’t do this, don’t do that, write down you answer, write down your answer, write down your answer.

When class is going smooth, it is going really easy. I explain to the kids what to do, they do it and everyone is happy. When it goes rough, I discipline the kids by first moving them to stand in the corner/not getting to sit by their friend, or make them stand in the hall. It seems to bring my desired result of good behavior most of the time for the kid and to a large extent for the rest of the kids but it is always a pain building up to the point of telling the kids to be good before I finally discipline them. Oh well.

So the recipe for what I do is: 1) Quite a bit of wondering where I am going and what I am teaching. 2) A good chunk of explanation, instruction, and feedback to kids about their English lessons out of different books. 3) And a liberal serving of shaping kids towards classroom behavior.

Teaching and taking the rest that goes with it. Hoping for health and happiness for the rest of you.

P.S. I am enclosing a humbling picture of my desk at work.


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