It's been a while since I've shared my thoughts on the pedagogy and implications of my work, having focused so much on my EPIK Experiences "guidebook" sort-of series. But as I prepare for my last six months in EPIK, I've lately felt the need to reevaluate my philosophy as an educator. This need is especially poignant after speaking with other teachers here in Korea--my Korean coteachers, the novice ELT, university professors, slacking soju enthusiasts, and the sincere teacher who wants to do their best. What is my role as an EPIK teacher, and what goals can I put in place to make my work here worthwhile?
In researching Korea, I'd scoured every blog you could imagine, reading horror stories and nonstop dream-land fantasies about this mountainous, coffee-shop-paradise, Kpop lala land. (Please--for all of Korea's good times--read the sarcasm in that last sentence.)
Most of the horror stories discussed cultural-conflict. The nonstop-dream-land fantasies nearly all about concerts, too-many-nights with too-many-bottles-of-soju, and monthly adventures out of town.
By all means, I've got posts queued up about my second Seoul trip, my traipsing up mountains every Autumn Sunday, my Halloweekend Fireworks Festival, my cringe-y K-pop-loving self at a Busan Music Festival...and there's the things I don't like, too. The things that remind me I'm not from here (and that's okay).
But let's talk about school. Let's talk about the good, the bad, and the make-your-heart-so-full. Let's talk about how you may have stumbled into education, unsure whether you belonged here. Let's talk about how you might still not be sure, but how much you desperately want to give these kids the quality education they deserve.
Let's talk about the way they look at you--the foreign teacher whose class they know they can sleep through . Let's talk about the 사랑합니다s that inexplicably follow you in your girls' school, and all the rowdy middle school boys who bang on your classroom window to wave hello, even if they glare daggers at you during class.
Let's talk about co-teachers you can never feel quite so relaxed around, and co-workers who shyly say a "See you next week!" Let's talk about it all, because it is, after all, why you were brought here in the first place.
"What do your students do if they arrive late in an American classroom?" my co-teacher asks as another gaggle of fourteen year old boys bursts into the room, disrupting the introduction of my lesson that hasn't even gotten off the ground yet.
"Well--I taught adults."
Adults, I might add, who had paid to travel to America, paid to learn English. Even when I taught American middle school, I had a teacher who took over the classroom management portion just so I could focus on the details of my lesson plans instead. My current co-teacher looks again as the door opens for yet another gaggle of fourteen year old boys. He glances between my late students and the trouble-makers who've taken this opportunity to chit-chat chatter all over the place and punch their neighbors.
"Yeah," he says. "You might want to brush up on your rules, then."
Before I start I want to clarify that these are my thoughts not as a linguist, but as an English educator. I am by no means an expert on languages, but rather want to consider the ways in which we Language Arts and ESL/EFL teachers grapple with the difficult reality of Standard English, stigmatized dialects, and neocolonialist attitudes in English language learning.
In my post on Babarbados, I said that Bajans speak English, and that’s true. Obviously Barbados is the Caribbean, though, so there’s the Bajan accent most tourists will grapple with...
Sometimes I think I fell into EFL without really noticing. I'd gotten my teaching certification in English Language Arts, did an entire year of interning at the middle and high school level with the usual Romeo and Juliet required reading. My career as a teacher began with little to no indication I would, one year later, begin planning to move abroad. In fact, my career as a teacher was as average as they came:
In about a week, though, I send in my application for EPIK, the English Program in Korea. That's not to say I won't be filling out paper-work as a teacher in Korea, of course--running a classroom has a certain universal rhythm.
Everyone knows TEDTalks, especially teachers.
In regards to ELA, they're a great tool for exploring rhetoric--Does the speaker appeal to logos? pathos? ethos?--What are their strongest pieces of evidence, and where is such evidence placed in the speech? Beginning or end? This leads the classroom through a close-reading exercise, transferring skills learned in ELA to media, speechmaking, and argumentative language as a whole.
When it comes to ESL, though, you usually find a few websites that have ready-made, video worksheets catered to a student's fluency level. You can even find step-by-step lesson plans if you search hard enough. On TEDed, they have clickable quizzes paired to short videos (usually 10 minutes). Such resources are useful to have on hand, but sometimes their predictability can run a class stale.
Besides, a worksheet isn't always the most student-centered option. It's the equivalent of watching the video once, then again, then pausing at points to ask teacher-led questions. It turns what should be an engaging and real discussion into a hunt for the "right answer." With ESL, the "right answer" is important, of course. Our goal is always comprehension--but to extend that comprehension? It challenges students to understand and produce language.
Thanksgiving break is here, and Monday morning is an iPad class where I'm hoping to use videos on travel. Since all my students are currently travelers visiting the United States, let's cross our fingers that the theme will help them stay active. As you can probably tell, I'm thinking about drifting from the normal routine. Ditch the worksheet and the mind-numbing step-by-step questions that would play exactly into the boredom you'd expect from a morning-after-vacation class.
While searching for something to use, I stumbled upon this blog post entitled "10 Speaking English Activities using TED." I was immediately a fan of the Vocabulary Collection idea (as that has been an activity I use in reading comprehension task), the Post Speech Interview, and the Wh- Group Questions task.
In addition to the ideas listed above, I was also thinking about putting students into groups of 3. In these groups, they'll be assigned a different TEDtalk and must watch, take notes, and create a summary presentation of their video. This summary is then shared with the other groups. Actually, the more I think about this, the better I can see it working if I combine the task with the Wh- Questions activity.
And when you think about these types of lessons, they actually require less prep work but open up to more differentiation: Find videos at different levels. Students make their own interview questions using grammar points A, B, or C. This group creates a poster summary, this group a written summary, this group records their summary on the iPad.
I've got a few extra days to think about this lesson, so if anyone wants to share their TEDtalk-Go-Tos, let me know!
I admit I sometimes have trouble keeping track of the grammar focus in a conversation task. There are so many students mixed and matched, and, as a teacher, you feel compelled to walk between each group to correct them.
But then again you also don't want to interrupt the natural flow of English they're reinforcing. But then again that vocabulary isn't the focus today, the grammar structure is. But then again frequent corrections discourages students. But then again maybe this needs to be a more guided tasks with predetermined fill-in-the-blank scripts. But then again...
Yeah. Conversation lessons can be brutal. You have to think of an authentic scenario, balance all your students, and somehow give them feedback. Oh. And maybe, like, persuade them to talk instead of stare at you?
This past unit had been on Music, though, and I implemented the following two activities pretty seamlessly.
That's all I've got for you today, but next week's unit is sleep. If anyone's got some ideas for that, pass 'em along. Until then...
About two years ago I picked up some magazine with Lin Manuel Miranda on the cover. This was around the time that Hamilton had gotten big—like monstrously big—and Lin gave an interview about his work. He mentioned that it all started with teaching as he had been an educator before pursuing theater. He then went on to say that he quit teaching because he loved it. He knew this was something both safe and fulfilling, and it would have lulled him away from his more precarious dreams.
Sometimes I'm scared that I’ll fall trap to that comfort, that I will—for lack of a better term--settle for this career. I love teaching, and it’s safe, and I have a master’s at twenty-three and amazing mentors and networks within good school districts, and…
…and while I hesitate to say I’m good at it, I know I have some natural proclivity for teaching. Connecting with students, classroom management, content knowledge. These are the things that eat a novice-teacher alive. My big worries lay more on the administrative side of things. The ground work? The in-class? I love it.
But almost every day it feels like there's this gap in my chest, one that I don’t know how to fill.
I drive to work, and I think through my books’ plot-holes and weak-points. I go to a coffee shop, acting the epitome of some stereotypical English major, and read with longing. I look up yet another program for maybe a PhD in Linguistics, maybe in English Literature…maybe an MFA in writing. Then I check the time, see I need to do some lesson planning.
How can I love something that leaves me feeling incomplete? How can I love and leave and go back to a career that I hesitate over?
The answer is, as everything else in my life, a cliché:
So I realized I haven't nerded out over my bullet journal yet, and that's an atrocity. This is the type of nerdy stuff I ADORE, so I'm sorry if note-taking is boring....too bad...my blog....
For those of you who don't know, bullet journaling has become increasingly popular among neurotic-pinterest types, such as myself. Used as a to-do list/sketchbook/journal/planner hybrid, bullet journals invite the creative and organized (or otherwise) to take charge of their day.
According to one website, bullet journaling "works as the crossroads of mindfulness and productivity." This website in particular promotes its own special materials and even an app, but really all you need is a notebook of your choice and something to write with. You can make bullet journaling as simple or as complicated as you like.
Personally, I use my bullet journal to balance my week's lessons, my novel revision schedule, my exercise, my language studying, my leisure reading, my blogging, my martial arts and climbing, my thoughts, my social time, my me-time, my creativity, my...
...you get the picture.
I won't say that bullet journaling is some magic hobby that everyone should take up. That's unrealistic. But it has worked for me in multiple respects. As an educator, it's become the easiest way to prep for the week and keep notes on individual students. As a writer, it tracks my revision habits and creates a space for me to use those creative muscles. When it comes to hobbies and interests, it holds me accountable for pursuing the life I want.
Let's be honest, teachers hate prep time.
I'm writing this post while eating lunch in my classroom, and I'm struggling to stay awake (as usual). It's Monday, and it's rainy, and I just want to tell my students to complete fill-in-the-blanks all week rather than sit here and plan/prep for the next four days. I was at the beach all day yesterday, want to write today after I run countless errands--this lesson planning HAS to happen now...
...So obviously I decided to blog for a bit instead.
Pedagogy and Reflection
We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience