If you read the post I wrote following last week’s telephone interview with Adventure Teaching, you know I was pretty excited. As our interviewer explained each step of the visa process, April began to feel a lot closer than June. Now it feels scary-close to January.
I wrote the first draft of this post around 3 a.m., after a lengthy period of lying awake in bed, trying to imagine what problems I might encounter in my job as a teacher. My fears stem mostly from my inexperience as a teacher and my near-total lack of knowledge about contemporary Korean culture. Hoping to allay them I then thought about the two adult conversational classes I taught in Prague, with the result that I’m now even more nervous.
When I went to Prague, I’d already spent a fair amount of time in Europe and had a fair idea of what my life might be like there. Sure, Czech has its own brand of cultural idiosyncrasies and much starker linguistic differences – made more imposing by a larger alphabet – but (post-)Christianized Europe tends to maintain a certain level of cultural homogeneity.
Thanks to the ongoing Americanization/globalization of world cultures (your side of that slash depends on who you read), there was also some level of shared culture among my students and I – they liked “The Simpsons” and American pop music, most had traveled abroad to major international tourist destinations like the Canary Islands and Israel, and they followed NHL hockey. While I expect a similar familiarity with movies and music, the indigenous culture will be completely new to me.
In Prague I had little trouble learning students’ names because they tended to be Czech-ified versions of Christian names used throughout Europe, like Jan (John), Petr (Peter) and Aleŝ (Alex). The names I found difficult to remember were those with – from my perspective – more alien origins, like Rotislav (Funny how I can remember it now!). How quickly will I be able to learn an entire group of foreign names based on another language and cultural history? I’m bad enough at remembering the names of fellow Americans!
This brings me to issues of class size. I am pretty sure I’ll be teaching in a private language institution, so I can expect classes to be smaller than in public schools. Even so, having to remember more than four or five foreign names sounds like a tall order. My short-term memory span would give goldfish a reason to pity me.
When it comes to teaching experience, my threadbare resumé could use some padding. What little experience I possess came from highly informal conversational classes, with groups of five or fewer students who helped determine the course materials and emphasis (Our crazy system of 12 tenses dominated most lessons). I have no idea what students and school administrators in Korea expect of their teachers and classroom settings, but the things I’ve read about Korean culture and public behavior sound anything but informal.
My last concern magnifies the others, but I think it’s realistic not to expect much downtime between my arrival in the country and my first day of work. Public schools provide some basic training before you start. They know how many of the people they hire will be inexperienced. I haven’t even been shown a contract yet, so I have no idea how or if private schools address this or their immediate expectations of me.
With so much uncertainty swirling around my brain, I decided some small amount of preparation would be prudent and thought up this simple lesson activity while lying in bed. At least I’d be able to learn something from my students, though I wonder if it sounds a bit desperate.
Teacher writes on the board: “Think about the best English teacher you’ve had. Without saying their names, what qualities made he or she such an effective teacher? Now think about the worst English teacher you’ve ever had. Without saying their names, what qualities made them ineffective teachers?”
Give students time to write their responses, then go around the room and have each student read his or her response aloud, asking direct questions to elicit more details and get them thinking in English on the fly.
If you’re an ESL/TEFL teacher, what tricks have you used to learn students’ names? Or you were/are an ESL student, what would be your response to my blackboard question?