I know it seems like I posted more often before I arrived in Korea. My excuse is valid. I still haven’t got an Internet connection at my apartment. Instead I’ve been relying on flaky wifi signals or my local PC bang (literally: “PC room”, it’s basically an Internet cafe). When I do get online, I focus on the necessities — email, banking, news and maybe Facebook. Blogging should probably replace Facebook.
At work I have a computer and Internet access, but generally not much time to write blog posts. Today is different. Students are taking term tests and I escaped proctoring duties thanks to the fact that none of my classes are participating. With the rat races slowed down, I thought I’d take this extra time to write about where I work.
The school is similar to my apartment. It liberally applies needlessly complex technology while the major utilitarian concern is efficiently using space. Americans reading this would be amazed at how little is required to accommodate 15 students and their book bags. There’s enough space for four rows of desks, spanning the width of five desks across. The teacher gets a narrow strip of space in front of the whiteboard. I feel lucky for every day that no student farts in one of my classes.
As for the technology, it’s actually pretty sweet, if slightly redundant. Each classroom feature its own PC projected onto a whiteboard — pretty standard. What’s krazy kool is that we have an electronic “marker” that “draws” on the whiteboard or can manipulate the computer like as a touch-screen stylus. Teachers write and draw on scanned textbook pages. It’s called a smartboard, and even my students find it amazing.
So far I enjoy my job — I’m one of those people who likes hearing what kids have to say, especially in a mangled version of my own language. Even so, it can be challenging. I’m still figuring out how to organize my daily routine and keep track of the workload. Aside from setting up a calendar and task list in Google, I haven’t come up with much. Folders seem like a good idea, though — at least in theory.
Classroom discipline can also be tough to manage. With a class of five or six, it’s easy to keep everyone focused, but 14 or 15 preteens can get out of hand. Avalon is an academy for after-school study, essentially turning English into an extracurricular activity. Because of this, older students feel more empowered to do as they please, especially if they’re only attending because mom and dad force them to learn English instead of another subject. This is made worse by two things:
- Students are hungry and worn out after a day of listening to teachers yak at them. By the last class period at Avalon, revolt is a distinct possibility.
- There’s a lack of clear discipline policies. (This may actually be good, as I’m free to creatively solve my own problems. A “three strikes” rule has so far sufficed, with after-school detention as punishment.)
One difficulty I anticipated was fixed long before I arrived. I worried about how I would ever learn a bunch of foreign students’ names. Fortunately, students choose their own Anglo names. The result is a lot of names you’d rarely encounter among the youth in contemporary English-speaking countries. I teach a Darwin, an Irene, and an Ella, among others. The other result is popular names taken from English media products. Thanks to a certain wizarding phenom, there is no shortage of Harrys at Avalon. Curiously, I haven’t met any Rons, Hagrids or Voldemorts, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
other challenge has been my company’s hands-off approach to orientation. I showed up and someone pointed to my desk. Later they handed me a class schedule. I have to rely on my new friends/coworkers to keep me up to speed on the daily routine and my out-of-classroom duties. I fear my constant pleas for advice, reassurance and clarification are trying their patience, but their generosity and willingness to help has so far held up admirably. I’m gonna owe a lot of people six-packs when I get my first paycheck next month.