As you know, for well over a year now I’ve been the Guest English Teacher here at the Samcheok Girls’ High School.
I’ve written before about “Being a Western Male Teacher in a Korean All Girls School” and things have changed a little bit here. Last year, it took me a very long time to develop a relationship with my students where they actually talked to me. They were very nervous and I’m sure a bit scared.
With the new students I got this year it was much different. I think it probably had to do with the fact that they had an awesome English teacher the year before (Nicole) who gave them a boatload of confidence. I also think that they saw how friendly all the older students at school were with me, and that talking in English really isn’t a big deal.
I made a big change to all my classes this year that has had some outstanding results: I learned their names. You might be saying, “How did you not know their names last year??”. Well, in one class I would have Lee JuHee, Lee Jisu, Kim Juseon, Kim Eunji, Lee Eunha, so on and so fourth – not easy to remember.
So, what I did was get my girls to all make name tags they could wear around their necks in class. They could choose their Korean name (written in English) or just a regular English name (I gave them a list of 100 to choose from).
I probably only know 150 names out of my 480 students, but I know the most important ones: the loud girls, the bad ones and the lazy ones. It really makes a huge difference when someone isn’t paying attention to be able to say “Sohui! Turn around” instead of “Hey, you!”.
I think the students also appreciate me remembering their names – just so they know I do see them and they’re not just another Korean student with dark hair and bangs (they all have bangs).
The other question I’ve been asking myself is this: are my students actually learning anything?
Half of the time I love the freedom I’m given: I have no curriculum whatsoever, meaning I can teach whatever it is I like. I’ve taught things from Racism to Idioms to Konglish to Jeopardy. But, at times, I run out of things to teach. With people who speak a different language, being able to keep lesson plans fresh and interesting can be tough. When they get bored, they stop paying attention and things can fall apart quickly, depending on the class.
I’m not sure this really translates to real world uses for them: could they fly into Toronto’s airport, ask for directions and go to a restaurant to order their lunch? I think so. Maybe my class where they visited “JB’s Diner” will be useful after all.
After a year, I have got some really good relationships with the students. I can’t really say there are any students that don’t seem to like me. It’s also made me start to care about them quite a lot. Today they are writing their midterm tests and I really do hope they do well, because the entire country is putting a lot of pressure on them. I also want them to stay safe and stay out of trouble, but teenagers will be teenagers.
I think I’m doing a good job here, and I actually do think they are learning. I like when I get angry and they say “teacher, don’t have a cow” or when they finish their test and say “that was a piece of cake” (those are also two idioms I’ve taught them recently).
Sometimes school life sucks, the rest of the staff pisses me off and Korea can be a whore in general. The students keep me happy and keep me sane. A good thing, because aren’t they why I’m here?