Thursday, June 15, 2006

missing cellphone posts

Maybe I'm just too impatient with technology. I just made two posts while I was on the bus from my cellphone. They aren't on here yet. Hopefully they will turn up.

Friday mornings are very good mornings. I teach 4-year-old kindy on Friday mornings. In Korea, you are one-year-old on the day of your birth and then you turn two on lunar new year's eve. So, these students are actually 2 and 3-years-old. They are great little kids but they still haven't quite mastered the art of not hitting one another, not to mention keeping their boogers in their noses and sitting down when they are told to do so.

Nonetheless, they are cute as hell and lots of fun when they want to pay attention. Learning in the ordered sense that educators talk about doesn't really happen, but I see them slowly turning -- growing accostomed. The first classes we had together, the different groups of 3-year-olds would just look at me in a frightened way. If I approached, they would start crying or just go blank, not being able to cope with the stress of having just met their first foreigner on their first day in Kindy.

Sadly, most of their Korean teachers are not trained educators, they don't know any songs (not even Korean songs) and they don't know how to get a class of youngsters to do stuff together. So, for the first few Friday mornings I would try to sing a song and they would pay attention for as long as they could. Then one would start looking out the window and say "piongi" (airplane) and the next thing I know all my students are standing at the window.

That's when I'd pull out the playdoh and they would all be rapt. At least then we could talk about a couple things like colour and snakes while we were playing with that very tactile stuff. But they would inevitably start to fight over the playdoh and finally, mercifully the Korean teacher would take them back to their homeroom or in some cases they would go straight home by bus. Strangely, some of them were only engaged in English class at this school and nothing else.

Today my first classe's Korean teacher told me in a frustrated sort of way when the action for "Where is Thumbkin" broke up, because of the usual distractions of pushing and shoving and window gazing, that next Friday we would have "Open Class".

This means that the parents are invited to walk into the classroom and see what their youngsters are upto! She said this to me in an expectant sort of way. I guess she was hoping I could figure out some way to be more interactive with these kids to make her more relaxed about what the parents would see next week.

But after seeing them for 20 minutes a week for about 6 weeks (with a lengthy interruption while I was in the Philippines) we are still just working on the basics. These little guys cannot sit still for more than a couple of minutes and they have to be reminded all of the time to sit down or not hit their friends.

Perhaps some good will come of this open class. The parents that have poorly trained teachers for their children will take their children out of this school. I can only hope that the owner of this hagwon has enough brains to recognize which teachers need to be replaced.

To put it quite simply, you cannot expect too much from 4-year-olds. Listening for 2 minutes and doing a fingerplay for 3 minutes -- that's all your typical 2 to 3 year old can do. But it's plenty for their brain. They learn heaps. On the other hand, once they are with an adult that they know and trust, an adult who is capable of bringing a class of the very young together in a friendly, happy learning environment, you can begin to expect so much more.

Added to the difficulty is the novelty of having a teacher who cannot speak your language. You can say something really funny and inappropriate to make all of your friends laugh but your teacher does not understand that you were being bad.

Most kids find this really fun and try to make the most of it. 3-year-olds just cannot get over stuff like that. That's why being a cooperating teacher, like all of the Korean teachers I work with, needs some thought and some training. It is pretty obvious that most of the Korean teachers that accompany my classes do not have a clue about this novelty for the children, nor about cooperative teaching in general.

The Koreans have to take control of the class and make room for me to begin my teaching. They have to take care of the discipline because in most cases the students just don't understand me. How can I discipline a child who thinks I'm a martian?

But with the 3-year-olds you cannot get into discipline too much. You have to lead them into doing things and make them aware that if they do not do what is expected it disappoints you and it disappoints the other classmates. Some of my cooperating teachers do this very well, while others fail abysmally.

I have 4 classes of 3-year-old students. Two of these classes are very good, they sing, they are told to sit-down when they get out of hand and they generally all enjoy participating. The other two classes are full of kids who will not sit down, sit up, stand up -- if the other students are doing it, they do not want to do it. Basically, they do not want to follow the crowd. This is the most important sign that you are with a teacher that is out of her league.

This particular school I think I will finish with soon, because approximately half of the classes have between 3 and 5 students who do not want to follow the crowd. It is extremely difficult to teach under these circumstances and it would probably be better for these students if they did not come to school at all rather than be subjected to the kind of mayhem that exists in a classroom run by a teacher that hasn't got a clue.

Older students are quite different. Once you establish a general air of understanding with older students they are capable of taking discipline and learning a great deal from a foreign teacher -- an interpreter is still essential on an occasional basis!

Mr. Nopay is the owner of this particular hogwan. He seems to specialize in the art of finding and hiring teachers who cannot teach or relate to their students. His other specialty is, as his name suggests, not paying the teachers that he hires the amount that he agrees to pay them. He is rather like Brad actually (my Canadian roommate in the Philippines).

Both of them seem incapable of following through with their agreements, especially if they can somehow rationalize breaking the agreement. Say by thinking to themselves that the money they agreed to pay would look very nice in their own bank.

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