Thursday, December 17, 2009


Public schools are not free of stress or frustrations. In comparison to hagwons I think the job itself is a whole lot different. Sure you are teaching English to kids but the goals of your superiors are different.

What I am talking about really here is how one's idea of how and what to teach often times is very different from the opinions of your coteacher. This is a good example of eastern thought clashing with western thought.

At my last school the mix was like water and oil, meaning we didn't get along. I gave up really and focused on the advanced class, which I was left to my own design. Now at my new school when I try to explain my opinion of why I want to teach selected materials I seem to get a lot of criticism.

Recruiters like to tell you that every public school is the same, and I think they are making this assumption based on the fact that at every elementary school the curriculum is the same. But not every public school is equal.

It comes down to their interpretation of how English should be taught, and there is no changing it. I guess that I still haven't adjusted well to the Korean education system since I find myself up against a wall this time.

Here's the situation:
Winter camp is next month and so all the preparations need to be squared away. I have experience teaching 4 camp sessions, so I know what it is like.  Or I think I know...

I will teach 4th and 6th graders while the other foreign teacher will teach 3rd and 5th grades. We will both teach the same subjects such as "World Culture" and "Sports Day."

The situation I walked into was that the previous teachers made a plan for winter camp but it was very lean and needed more. So I added more to it using stuff from last year.

The problem came today when my coteacher checked it and made the remark that my materials were too difficult for 3rd and 4th grades. There were a few worksheets with sentences and maps on it. I didn't make the material but was borrowing it.

Immediately I tried to explain to her that it doesn't matter what material you use as long as the teacher adjusts the way they teach. Meaning I was handed these same materials last year and said "Go~". So I learned to adjust myself to the students and not adjust the materials. This is a teaching method and philosophy I picked up from experience. Last year at mountain winter camp I used the same materials for the lower grades and it came out fine. They spoke, had fun and learned a thing or two.

But she frowned and said "No." At that point I did the thing that I should not be doing anymore, which is I got upset and took it personally. You would think I have learned by now.

Needless to say I tried to defend my understanding of how to be a teacher. Yet she stood her ground with what she thinks how English should be taught.

In the end, you have to yield to what they want. You are in Korea and it is their court. Logically you would think that they would try to understand where you are coming from but it is more that they want you to adjust to their ways.

So as you can see I need to readjust myself and create an image that they will be pleased with.

How to make this a positive experience:
It is my opinion that I need to stop thinking that they will someday understand it all from my perspective.

I have the choice of just giving up and becoming a non-creative and robotic teacher who doesn't care anymore. Or I could adjust to their ideals, yet find a way to be creative and still teach the "Joy" way.

In other words I understand where my coteacher is coming from. She demands that English be taught to the children with the goal that they speak. So speaking is a priority of theirs. That means my lessons should cater towards speaking as an objective.

They want to teach by talking slowly and clearly, as she put it "This is the most important thing." At first it was a little insulting to hear her ask this of me since I already do this. But I guess she wants to make sure.

An Example of Teaching Differences:
I made the mistake this week of giving out to my 2nd graders "The Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" song lyrics with Korean next to it. My coteacher and the Korean 2nd grade teachers complained it was too hard for their students.

From my point of view I wanted to teach them the festive holiday song that was accompanied by a fun video. At my old school a similar method was used to learn a song. First you read the words and get use to them. Then you sing the song over and over till you know it.

My coteacher told me that it was too hard for them and suggested instead to focus on teaching them only a few sentences. And to repeat it over and over again. Not from the song, cut that out, but teach them a sentence like "The reindeer is brown" and make a lesson out of that. (You can do it like this: The____ is _____)

Initially, after hearing this I felt as if she wanted me to just be some kind of English Robot babysitter. Then I have thought about it some more and realized that her method is valid.

They are English Foreign Language students and should learn in a simple and easy format. This doesn't mean that my lessons have to be boring or that I as the teacher will end up looking like an English robot. It means I can make fun games and activities to help them reinforce those one sentences they are learning.

Readjustment Realization:
What I am trying to point out here is that I need to change and not them. As a westerner and independent woman this is something that is very hard.

But I know what happens when you don't adjust to what they want, and I don't want that to happen again. I want my coteacher to see me as useful, smart and a darn good teacher.

And so I started to think some more and realized that teaching is not only about relating content and how to say English words, but it involves catering to Multiple Intelligences.

I know they want me to plan for their level, but what about their intelligence? For example, some students may respond well to listen and repeat. While other students need more hands on activities like a craft or role play game.

What I wish I could do is talk to my coteacher about this teaching method and have a lovely conversation. But I am learning now that my coteacher is an older stubborn woman set in her ways. I respect that and so understand there is no point trying to shake up her roots.

Instead I will just plan my classes to teach them to speak a certain phrase or words but use materials and methods that will cater to different intelligences, without her really knowing that is what I am doing.

I feel like I am the only teacher out here who takes their job too seriously (but who knows). Wish I could be the teacher who just goes through it all without really caring and then hitting the bars in the evening. But unfortunately my nature won't let me do that. Yet I am sure I could try to take it a little less seriously~

Well I feel good for getting that out. My other foreign coworker talked to me on the way home about how she is dealing with the same things. I have to say I was skeptical about our relationship at first but now I am seeing that we have a lot in common. I hope we help each other out more ;)


  1. It might be a good idea to use all that free time you have at work from an inability to access your favorite internet sites at work to crack open a book or two on teaching theory (ESL in particular). Your co-worker would probably respect your ideas more if she believed you were, as she is, educated about pedagogical methods.

    You can't really have a meaningful discussion about teaching methods if you haven't learned anything about them. Think about having a disucussion with someone who hasn't learned about art history as you have--sure they might have a few opinions, some even worth hearing, but you're not really going to consider them as relevant to the field you studied, right?

    Teachers learn. Get some books about teaching. Learn. Worry less, study more.

  2. Yea ~ that hits another thought of mine of a way to keep my eyes off the computer at work. I don't really like staring into the computer the whole time.

    Any titles you recommend? But good idea.

    Have you done what you say? Read an ESL book in class and had an enlightening conversation with your coteacher...not sure if we teach the same area. ??

    I did learn some things during my online TEFL course, which I am guessing to some is total BS. But I got a lot out of it. I should bring that stuff in and could use it as reference just in case.

    Also I have a big grammar book which could help explain anything I don't know.

    I also feel we can learn from books but also experience...a mix of both.

  3. I'm not sure if this will help, but my theory on teaching here is that I am not the main teacher. I am here to help my co-teacher teach *her* (or his) class. This is something I fell into after months of trying to teach and then realizing that I was not the English teacher. I'm just the native speaker/teaching assistant, even though they call me an English teacher. I do jokingly refer to myself as an English robot, but it's a lot less stressful at least.

    I tried teaching Rudolph to my grade 5s today. I really don't think my lowest level (grade 3) could do it, your grade 2s must be very good at English if you thought they could.

  4. Rudolph is a hard song: it doesn't have any repeated lines or choruses to fall back on. We wish you a merry christmas would be easier, because of the repetition; so would deck the halls, because the "falala"'s are fun. Jingle Bells is super familiar, too.

    as for reading up on teaching methodology, I'd actually recommend starting with the textbook from an "intro to esl" type course -- just to get your feet wet. especially if you can find a course textbook on "teaching esl to kids" - shouldn't be that hard to find on amazon or something

    Then, pay attention to which books are being cited most often in that book, in order to figure out who the standouts in the field are, and order their books, to really dig in. I don't have THAT much education background: I took one intro to TESL course in university, but it actually helped a lot when I was in the classroom.

    good luck, joy! and work on that "not taking stuff personally" thing... it'll get you far.

  5. For basics of teaching:

    Harry Wong's The First Days of School: How To Be An Effective Teacher

    This book is AWESOME. Use Rob's advice if you like it--read some of the books he cites. I actually disagree with the model he uses for his pedagogy, but it does work for many, many teachers and you need to start SOMEWHERE. It's designed for teachers in the US, but his ideas apply everywhere.

    Basics of ESL (for content):

    ESL Miscellany by Raymond C. Clark et al

    I found this little gem hiding in my high school. It is well-laid out and arranged both topically and by grammar structure. Although not a textbook itself, it would be a very helpful resource to check your own grammar and judge the difficulty of your own lessons.

  6. Hmmmm.... remember when your, MS Education degreed/Ed.D. student Mom suggested taking a few Ed courses back at SFSU....?!!!
    Well not to really say "I told you so" but saying it anyway!!

    Get over the personal stuff Joy...remember K.I.S.S. = Keep it Simple Stupid!

    Yesterday I had fun w/Matthew & Tyler (2nd grade & K.) & taught them a collaborative version of Jingle Bells....when I sang, "Laughing all the way" they laughed ho, ho, ho....then when I sang, "Bells on bobtail ring", they went "ding dong, ding dong"...then when I sang, "what fun it is to sing" they sang fa la la la, fa la la" & then when I broke into "Jingle bells, Jingle bells...." they joined in!
    It took quite a bit of practice for them to remember their parts in the correct sequence & cues...but after a while I told them to think about it & practice w/each other quietly while we driving to pick up Puja. When she got in the car we surprised her & performed our hit tune.... & they GOT IT RIGHT!!!!
    Way to go boys & we had alot of fun doing it.
    Give this kind of collaborative song a try!

    Just try to accommodate the older teacher's request & methods best you can & don't rock the boat!
    From what you've previously described the Korean culture doesn't seem to appreciate foreigner boat rocking!

    Yes....stay off personal online activities on the job! Best study pedagogy and other theories related to teaching while being paid on the clock. Then at home you're free to do whatever.....

    Been thru this teaching stuff for over 30 years, I may have a few clues how to manage in the situation!!!
    from Momz

    I'll send some Ed. titles your way also later...

  7. There's definitely a lot to say about adapting yourself to the situation. I don't particularly enjoy first graders that much - it saps my energy and most of my patience - but I'm in a position where that's what's expected.

    Until we live in an ideal sort of world where we can do exactly what we want to do, we'll have to change things as we can, but accept things as they are. How does that Serenity Prayer go again?

    There is something to be said about rocking the boat - if the current method isn't working... But let's flip perspectives - you and a foreign Spanish teacher are working together in an American classroom, and you disagree. You know they're the foreigner here, and you're the main / home teacher. Now go back to the 'Rudolph' example - your concern will be not to frustrate / overly challenge the students....

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  9. Serenity Prayer
    God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
    The courage to change the things I can. And the wisdom to know the difference.

    Works for me everytime I remember to live it!

  10. Ha! I should print that out and put up in the office. ;)


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