Friday, 26 September 2008

It's all the same.

This post from Brian struck a cord with me.

I have recently been struggling to care about the students whom I teach. There is the odd few that I want to help, no matter what, but…

My part of the curriculum in this middle school counts 10% of the final mark. The only speaking evaluation that they get counts ONLY 10% of their final mark. The ability to actually communicate in the language that they are studying counts ONLY 10% of their final mark.

For me to calculate this mark I give an oral test every two chapters as well as assignments/homework. Most students could not care less about the homework. They will either leave the homework, untouched, on the table as they leave or they will just throw the paper away at the door.

“Surprisingly” these are the same students who feel that “YES!” is the best answer to “What is most important in your life?” They feel that the two sentences they have to study over one week is just too difficult, because they “don’t understand” me. I suppose their Korea must be really bad as well, because they are unable to understand the Korean that their English teachers speak, which means they can’t ask them either.

These students will inevitably get a mark of about 20% from me. This they get for actually being in class. The mark will then get adjusted to be out of 10, with 6, 7, 8 and 10 the only options. Yes, there is no mistake. You are not allowed to get 9. A student who turns up in my class and willfully does nothing will get 60% and a student who deserves a 9 will get an 8. On the plus side, I can say: “Truly, I am an amazing teacher to be able to say that not one of my students scores less than 60%.”

Add to this that students know it doesn’t matter if they are never able to speak English. In Korea they don’t need it and even when they travel they do it with Korean tour guides, go to Korean restaurants and watch Korean TV. Basically, they will never have to Speak English because they will effectively never leave Korea.

There are up to 40 students in a class. A period lasts 45 minutes and students are unable to arrive on time so I am lucky to get 40 minutes. Some students, as I already said, don’t care. Some students do. The ones who don’t care make it almost impossible for me to teach the ones who do, so I have started sending out the students but disrupt the class. Recently the one group has been getting FUCKING RUDE about their IDIOTIC DOKDO KAK as well. Last week I was told I am not allowed to too send students out of the class any more. I was told by my teacher “I don’t want you to send the students out any more”. I DON'T WANT? You don’t lift a finger to help me with discipline even after I asked for help, and now you think you get to tell me what to do for discipline? You allow student to disrupt the whole class and then you try to take the moral high ground by saying it is unfair to send them out? What about the students who behave themselves and try their butts off every week?

My new philosophy is “Do as little as possible”.

If a student asks for help then I will help. If they don’t, then I won’t. I will teach the students who care and claim there wasn’t enough time to give everyone individual attention. The end result will be the same, so why should I stress myself out in a system that cares more about making everyone look good than about what the students learn?


sinkorschwim said...

I hear ya man. The system sucks!

Jason said...


I saw a link to your post on Roboseyo's blog and read the original posting here.

I've been in Korea for almost 4 years now. I started on Ganghwa Island in three middle schools, with after school classes at an elementary school and a high school . . . and I'm now teaching at a national university of education.

I had only been in Korea for two weeks, and I had no clue what I was agreeing to, when I said yes to extra classes and ended up teaching 34 classes a week . . . and that's when I began running into a lot of the same stuff you are experiencing.

To this day I will never forget the day I took a sick day to prevent myself from strangling a Korean teacher who was overtly sabotaging my authority in the classroom by telling the students in Korean the opposite of what I would ask them to do . . . that being said, I also had other Korean teachers who were AWESOME--it's just the bad apples that poison you, sigh. Learning how to inoculate against burn out and rage and despair is insanely difficult here . . . but it is possible.

My teaching methods and goals changed almost overnight from what I know to be 'good teaching' (Canadian style and based on TEFL teaching theory) to a 'foreign teacher in Korea survival teaching style': 1. Fun is the most important goal in the class, 2. If the students speak SOME English, and learn ONE thing--I was happy.

In my second year I prepared a 3 hour seminar presentation for new foreign teachers arriving in Korea based on what I had heard from hundreds of foreign teachers in Seoul, Daegu, Ilsan, Incheon, Ganghwa, etc, at parties/bars/on the street . . . and at the same time tried to balance that info with all of the TESL and TEFL theory I had studied. My advice to you (and them) is/was to stop giving homework (why bother, no one usually does it due to the insane amounts of time in public school, hogwan, and then forced study at home with the Korean Super/Psychotic-Study Mom watching over their shoulders . . . homework just makes you the enemy who in the students' minds is just stressing and tiring them out more.

Make FUN your number one priority in lesson planning and class time otherwise students see your class as sleep time, do homework for other classes, etc.

Korean teachers (not ALL, but too many) see our classes as a waste of time as they are not tested in any meaningful way, nor is speaking a part of the national university test which DEFINES THE ENTIRE ED SYSTEM! Once they see the students enjoying the class, and actually speaking some English and hopefully learning one or two things, they generally begin to wake up from the zombie-state too many are possessed by and begin to actively participate in the teaching process--often they also participate with the students in the games and activity stages of the lesson. "A Framework for Task-Based Learning" is one book I'd highly recommend picking up as I've had a lot of success using that approach here.

Anyway, my point is that I SOOOOO get the head-space you're in right now, and hope that you will rediscover some kind of joy in teaching in Korea.

I find that I can recharge and re-motivate myself every year at the KOTESOL conference in Seoul at Sookmyung Women's University on the last Saturday and Sunday of October every year. Go to this site for more info,

You can go to a lot of decent if not excellent lectures on teaching and teaching issues, get free shit, see the 2009 new books from major publishers and get them for a lower price, and also meet a lot of other foreign public school teachers and profs along with Koreans teachers/profs too.

Anyways, please know that you are not alone, and hopefully I will see you at the conference.

Jason Ryan