Without Class

Trip Start Aug 25, 2012
Trip End Feb 25, 2013

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Flag of Korea Rep.  , South Chungcheong,
Monday, September 10, 2012

On Monday and Thursday afternoons I was supposed to teach an "Extra Class" for two class periods each day. These are students whose parents have signed them up for extra English classes. This means that all of these students (about 30 kids) are already in my regular classes during the week. For these four classes (two back to back classes on Monday and Thursday) I would need to come up with completely new and original material that I hadn't already used during the week. I would not have a Korean teacher in the classroom to help me with any of the activities or to explain things to the kids. Okay, I guess I can do that.
My first week of class (last week) was really pretty rocky. I was having a hard time filling up the time and keeping the kids interested. These kids are from all grades and all levels so there are some who barely speak any English at all, and there are one or two who speak as much English as the Korean English teachers. Last week one of the students came up to me after class and told me that my class was too easy. I spent all of the rest of last week and much of the weekend trying to come up with something better. I figured astronomy would do the trick. I wanted to give the kids information that they hadn't heard in English before. They probably knew the planets, but had they talked about then in English?
Besides, who doesn't love space?!
So, I began putting my power points together. Painstakingly finding information and pictures. Downloading videos. It took hours. Hours and hours. I had put together a slide show on the planets, on the moons of the solar system, and on comets, meteors, and asteroids. I found a Bill Nye the Science Guy TV show about planets. I even got worksheets and word finds. I was set. I figured this would last me for all four classes. All the way through the week.
I was super stoked when the kids rolled in yesterday and I couldn't wait to enchant them with my hard work and enthusiasm. I put up the power point and most of the kids in the room started chatting in Korean. First, I tried to engage them by talking about what they did this weekend. It fell completely flat. No one said anything. No one even looked at me. My heart started to sink. I tried to tell them that I went bowling. I raised my voice, struggling to be heard above the chatting in the room. I tried to call their attention but it got me little more than a glance.
Well, I guess I'll move on. I started to talk about the planets. Two girls in the front row appeared to be paying attention, one of them even asked a few questions. I tried to get the kids to be responsive. Questions that I asked the class barely got answers. Maybe one of the two girls in the front row would say something, but usually not. I pushed forward, trying to appear unaffected. Unfortunately I was speeding through my material. I had counted on them answering my questions. Or maybe they would have questions of their own. Maybe we would even spend a minute or two talking about one of the pictures or one of the facts I had given them. But, the majority of the class went about talking or drawing or generally not paying attention.
I even noticed that at one point, the two girls from the front row were speaking to each other in Korean for a moment. I paused in my teaching until they were done and had turned their attention back to me. Sad. But they were the only two who were actually following what I was saying, so teaching while they were talking to each other would be like teaching in an empty room.
After my Solar System lecture was blown I put on Bill Nye, who is one of my absolute favorites. At least a third of the kids put their heads on their desks. The kids in the back were talking so loud that the kids who might have wanted to listen to the show couldn't hear the words. I tried to hush them, but with the same results as before. At one point some of the boys at the back of the class actually got up to start fighting. I scolded them to sit down and they did for a moment before continuing to rough house. Finally I went to sit at the back of the class, so that I could keep a closer eye on them.
Bill Nye finished up just as the first of my two classes was ending. I gave them a 10 minute break before starting the second class. Damn, I had really hoped this would go better. But, persevere I shall. I loaded up my Moon power point and after I had blown through that I loaded up my comets, asteroids, and meteors presentation. Again, no one could care less. With time still left I passed out worksheets for the kids to work on. A few of the advanced kids in the class raced through them and then passed their sheets around so the rest of the kids could complete their sheets. Fine. Be that way.
As soon as class let out I knew that I couldn't do this. I couldn't spend all of my time struggling to put together lesson plans that wouldn't be appreciated. I couldn't spend all of this energy trying to yell over the boys talking at the back of the classroom. This was too much. I needed to talk to my co-teacher about it immediately.
It took me a while to track her down in the school, and once I did she seemed surprised that I knew where to find her. I explained to her my situation, allowing the stress of the afternoon to overcome me. My co-teacher thinks of her self as a mother (or older sister) to a lot of people and wants to think that she is good at taking care of them. I allowed my emotions to show as I explained to her that I couldn't teach the Extra Classes anymore. It is too much work and too many kids. My contract says that the maximum number of classes I will be assigned is 22 per week and with the Extra Classes I am at 26. Although I would be getting over-time, it is beyond my contractual obligation to teach these after school classes. She hushed me and laughed nervously, telling me that she would take care of the situation in the morning.
I hurried home, eager to replay the day's events to my family and friends to gain their support. After a long conversation with my Mom, another long conversation with Carlo, and a brief discussion with my Sister I felt I had good footing. The anxiety that I had been holding with me all afternoon slipped away and I was ready to make a stand.
In the morning the Vice Principle of the school came to me at my desk in the Teachers Room and asked me if I had any problems. I asked her if she had talked with Ms. Lee and she said she had. I told her that I wouldn't be teaching the Extra Classes anymore. She nodded solemnly and walked away. Shortly after that Ms. Lee came to her desk and had me pull my chair close so I could talk with her. She tried to re-open the subject of teaching the classes. Maybe I could teach one day and someone else could teach another. Maybe someone could help me with my lesson plan. Thanks to some fantastic advice from Carlo, I made my half of the conversation very simple. I was not teaching the Extra Classes anymore. Not half of them. Not with help. Not on a boat. Not with a goat. Nope. I'm not teaching them. Ms. Lee's face contorted and she tried to explain to me that she would have to teach them if I didn't. I said that I was sorry for that. She tried to explain to me that it would make me more comfortable, but that I was making other people uncomfortable. I said that I was sorry for that, too. Finally she relented and told me that she would take care of it. She gripped my hands tight in her sweaty palms and she told me that she hated me, but that she understood what I was feeling. She laughed and then left.
For a moment I felt bad for passing on such a difficult class to someone else, but then I got over it. The other faculty at this school have been teaching for upwards of 20 years on most cases. They speak Korean. They know the students. I am brand new. I have been teaching for 1 week. I am new to Korea and don't know how to handle the kids. The same class will be infinitely easy for a Korean teacher to teach than for me to teach.
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Carlo on

"Okay, I guess I can do that."

Famous last words... until you put your foot down! I am damn proud of you, B.

They heaped a lot on your plate and had planned to ignore your stress. I am *so* glad that you pushed back early on -- your co-teacher doesn't want to teach this class either, that should tell you something! Don't feel sorry for her one bit, this was a completely unrealistic expectation on their part to take advantage of you this way, IMO.

Another great journal entry and one to look back on a year from now to reflect on how bad it was and how unrealistic they are -- and the good that comes from standing up for yourself. <3

Mom on

I am so proud of you for taking a stand and doing what's right for you. You clearly went above & beyond to create wonderful presentations and activities to help these kids learn English. Thanks to their extremely poor, disrespectful behavior, they've blown the opportunity to get to know you and learn from you. It's their loss.

Benny on

Look at you, setting limits and standing up for yourself! Congrats to you for doing it, and many thanks to Carlo for encouraging you. It's an important skill to have, and I'm really glad you stood your ground on this one.

Did your co-teacher really say she hated you? Was she joking, or not joking, or kinda-joking-but-not-really-joking? That worries me.

beckiablaze on

Yeah, I knew that I wouldn't be able to maintain that over the entire semester. I think when she said she hated me it was a "sort of serious but not serious but kinda still serious" thing. Remember, she doesn't speak English all THAT well, so it was probably meant as "this frustrates me" more than actual "hate".

Christine on

SO damn proud of you! I can just picture you sitting there in that chair. No, no, no. :) Awesome.

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