Saturday, December 12, 2009

My name is Keith. I am from USA

COOLish Foreign Language Institute. Keith, now teaching, can finally back up the URL of the blog. The following is a pieced-together post of notes I took the first 2 weeks. I just started week three. More to come.

I spent last week closely observing my predecessor Nathan. I paid extra close attention, because he's gone and I'm up there doing my thing now. The schedule was the first challenge.

There are seven classrooms, 6 of which I teach in over the course of the week. Mondays and Thursdays I teach mostly in rooms 1, 2, and 6; Tuesdays and Fridays in rooms 3, 4, and 5. On those days, I teach in hour-long blocks, 20 minutes in each classroom. On Wednesdays I have classroom 7 to myself and I teach six 50 minute lessons.

The day starts at 1:00pm, but with lunch and planning doesn't really get going until after 3. From there, it's straight out until 9. I put in just under 6 hours of teaching. If it sounds a little confusing, it is. It was very confusing to me, but there is a pattern to it.

Sometimes, the 20 minutes is not enough, other times it is too much. Depending on how much the Korean teacher wants me to cover, I may fly through everything in 10 minutes. That leaves 10 minutes to entertain young, rambunctious Korean students. Oy vey.

I am the only foreign teacher at COOLish, and it's a medium to small size school. Students range from 7 to 14 in age. There are 5 other native Korean teachers. My teaching curriculum is not my own, rather I work with the teachers and go over units as they teach them. Generally, the students have already been taught the grammar and vocabulary in Korean before I set foot in the classroom. This is different from the English teaching approach that was drilled into us in Prague, which has made for a bit of an adjustment as I carefully feel out what is appropriate in my role, not just as a new teacher, but also as a foreigner with different ideas about a lot of things.

My adjusting has gone very well overall, better than I could have expected. Mr. Lee and the teachers seem very open-minded and with smaller class sizes (1-7 students) I have a lot of flexibility as a teacher. I'm trying to think of creative ways to engage the students and get them to speak. I've found that a smile and a little physical comedy (verbal quips generally don't register with the elementary English-learner crowd) goes a long way. It's fun.

Ah, but the challenges. The day is a marathon, not a sprint. The breaks in the day are front loaded, making the stretch toward the end dizzying some nights. I've learned that I can't dance around every class and expect to have anything left after 7 or 8.

Korean names. My goodness, they are difficult for me. Half the students have English names that were assigned to them either by Nathan or the teacher before him when a Korean name just proved too difficult to pronounce. I came in with the mentality that as tempting as it would be to name my students after people back home, I would try to learn their real names. Here's a sampling:

Kim Eun Bi
Lee Bo Geum
Hong Sung Hun
Kim Hyung Jun
Sang Hyoung Kim
Je Wan Lee
Boo Kwan Shin
Hyan Jung Mi
Lee Yoo Seok
Pyo Se Young

These are all English phonetic adaptations since their names as they know them are in Korean character script. When I asked for spelling, there wasn't always a straightforward response. At first I could do little to ward off uproarious laughter when I read the roster. In an extreme example I've begun to call a student "Chew-bar" because its close to what I'm hearing when he and other classmates say his name. They think its funny.

The pronunciation issue continued into my introduction.

Me: "My name (pointing energetically toward the chest) is Keith. I am from Boston, USA."

(General chattering; apparent confusion)

Me: "Boston."

Korean teacher pipes in from the back of class: "[inaudible Korean]"

Students: "Ooooooooooooooh. Buss-stone!"

I say I'm from Boston thinking it best not to challenge my students too much with "Duxbury" and also to associate my home in the US with somewhere they have actually heard of.

Teaching is full of ups and downs. Each class has a personality of its own and it can really dictate how a lesson goes. Students can be wild and out of control or completely silent on the verge of falling asleep onto their desks. I could do somersaults and garner no reaction at all. Other classes are quiet but diligent. Of course, students also have very individual needs. Many classes have that one student that calls out all the answers. The challenge there is to involve the other students and make sure they also understand before moving on. It's not always easy.

Teaching and learning and teaching and learning. Borrowing from my 11th grade Spanish teacher Ms. Curtis: its un ciclo interminable, an interminable cycle.