Friday, December 22, 2006

The Students...

I was reading a fellow English teacher's blog and was struck with how similar our problems are. When I was in America, I taught five Korean students in an ESL social studies class. Two of the boys were always falling asleep in class, but all of the students were respectful. I even got in the habit of trading mini-bows (a little more than a head nod) with Korean students--something that I practice daily here.

From what I gathered talking to my Korean students in America, and then from general perception, I wasn't really prepared for the reality in Korea. The students are like normal teenage students. My middle school students are going through puberty and are dealing with sex, increasing class difficulty, and the everyday pressures of being a kid. I have found classroom management slightly more of an issue here than in America. Some common problems:
  • Here, students will openly lay their heads down on their desks when they are tired--something that isn't as common in my American classrooms.
  • My gentle reminders that I learned in college, and honed during student teaching aren't effective when the students don't respond to English
  • While other teachers expect a bow, bending at the chest level maybe, students wave to me and practice their slang
  • The students at most of my schools--small towns on the edge of Goeje Island--have career goals no higher than being a fisherman (or fisherwoman)
I love my students, although some are harder to love than others. The biggest challenge for me aren't the ones that goof off occasionally or need extra help--its the ones that don't try. The image of Korean students may be of uptight, disciplined, structured schools. Students are under a ton of pressure at the high school level. Consider the following story:
A father in Gongju drove to his son's high school and torched his wife, daughter and himself with gasoline because his honor roll son disgraced the family with bad grades. All three died. from the Asia Times
However, I get the students when they are still "kids." They are a few years away from the college entrance exams, and don't have the pressure of going to school for literally 12 hours a day (students have about 7 hours of class, and then five hours of "self-study" under teacher supervision). I don't know if I could stomach high school under those conditions. So, I will gladly keep my middle school students, even if I have to keep nudging them awake and telling them to be quiet occasionally--at least they'll empathize if my voice cracks occasionally.

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