Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Afternoon

I've written a lot here about kindergarten, but really that's only half of my day. Elementary schools let out right as kindergarten ends, and before we can even get Robinson & co. out the door our halls are swarming with a whole new batch of kids. These later classes are much shorter than kindergarten, take place less often, and in general have less emphasis placed on them by the administration.* But still they happen, and it's high time we gave them their due.

*From what I understand our school makes most of its money off kindergarten, with the afternoon classes serving as something of a bonus. 

I teach four classes in the afternoon.

These kids are six or seven. They came to school four months ago knowing zero English. This is an every-day class.

The same age as ES-1 but came to school already knowing a little bit. This is also an every-day class.

These kids are nine (or so) and have been studying English for a while.* This is a M-W-F class.

*The kids aren't supposed to speak any Korean once class starts, but with so many beginners on my docket it's been impossible for me to enforce that policy. PK301 is an exception, and I have to hand it to them, they take the rule seriously -- on the rare occasions when someone does slip up and use Korean, they are called out and mocked by their classmates before I can even react.

How is their English? Awkward and filled with tiny errors, but generally pretty coherent. They seem to understand me almost always, and I understand them 80-90% of the time. 

Elite 2
These kids are a year (or so) older than 301, but know less English. I teach them for an hour and twenty minutes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

It took me a while to get the hang of the afternoon.

What I do with the three year olds presents its own challenges, but it's not really teaching. We do have lessons, and I am trying my hardest to get them to learn some English, but there's no getting around it: half the job -- at least for now -- is just straight-up babysitting. 

The older kids, on the other hand, require teaching, real teaching. Which is so lame.

When you first start at a job, in most cases, you're going to kind of suck. The trouble with teaching is that you perform your job in front of others, which means that, for a little while at least, you PUBLICLY suck. You wake up, get dressed, go to work, and suddenly you're a stand-up bombing on his first open mic night.* 

*It's not just inexperience working against you, either -- you also have no idea who you're teaching. Even for seasoned teachers, it will take a week or so to realize that Anna can't sit next to Jake, and that Steve will shut down if you don't call on him enough times. That information is crucial, and regardless of your level of experience, you won't have it at first. So as a rookie teacher, you're screwed on both macro/micro levels.

Yeah. The first month of teaching, really, is ass. Just so many things you don't know. I remember I had a lot of trouble at first just trying to find ways to fill up class time. Most days we had only a page of material to cover, and once I finished explaining the lesson I never really knew what else to do. It didn't help that a lot of those pages looked like this:


Eventually the school remembered to give me the teacher's guide that came with this set of textbooks, which was good of them. Once I learned some class-related games and activities, and -- more importantly -- how to use those games and activities to my advantage, everything became a lot simpler.

Easy example: You promise the kids that you'll play a game at the end of class if they behave and get their work done, and if anyone acts up you dangle that shit over the edge of a cliff. Seeing their fun jeopardized, the rest of the class will usually freak out on the kid and immediately diffuse the situation.*

*Let me just stop here and disabuse you of any notions you might have about Korean children being perfectly-behaved studentbots. They're just like kids anywhere.

I also followed the lead of my co-workers and began awarding stars for individual performance. I shunned this practice at first because the stars were obviously meaningless, and I figured the kids would see through the ruse immediately. WRONG. The kids treat stars like they grant magical powers.

Anyway, I'm almost five months in now. I know some tricks. I'm comfortable. My students and I have a warm relationship, and that's important to me. 

Still though, there are certain kids who are immune to all efforts to control them, kids who will irritate you as easily and naturally as they breathe. I have two such kids.


Oh, what a little buttmunch. Ben is in the ES-1 class. Never stops talking. Never has his book out. Teases other classmates and has nearly come to blows with two. Ben has jeopardized the after-classwork-is-done game so many times the other kids are about ready to give him a pillow party.

It's difficult to reach Ben but not impossible. The problem is that when the threats and the punishments and the yelling finally work, they work too well. He stops talking, puts his head on the table, and refuses to respond to anything. On a few occasions he's curled up in a ball and sat on the floor. No amount of encouragement could get him up. I guess it's better than his normal routine, but still it's unnerving. And I really don't want my boss to pop her head in one day and see some catatonic kid on the floor. 

Kate J

Oh my god the worst. The absolute worst. 

As mentioned, when you start out as a teacher you make a lot of mistakes. Most kids either let them slide or don't even notice. Kate J was very much an exception. Class after class, this girl picked apart EVERYTHING I did -- every misstep, every hesitation, every memory lapse, everything. 

I'm five months in now, and nothing has changed. Still everything I do displeases Kate J on some level. I left the door open a little? "Teacherrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!" That sentence I wrote on the board curves down toward the end? "Teacherrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!" Kate J would complain if I got a new haircut.

And I haven't even mentioned her voice. Holy shit. 

What an asshole.

Anyway, besides those two nut hairs things are really solid now, and if I'm being honest, that's probably the reason it took me until now to write about the afternoon. I was waiting for the time when I could say that and mean it. 

(Sorry about that seven week layoff, btw.)

Update, 7/19/11
Right on cue I flipped SHIT on Ben today. Made him cry too, which was pretty satisfying I have to admit.

No comments:

Post a Comment