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On the last day of my contract my primary co-teacher took me and five English co-teachers out for a last lunch. She chose a raw fish restaurant, and the food was really really good. I brought along with me my Canon 400D and Sigma 10-20mm wide angle lens to take pictures. I had considered doing a group photo but the vibe didn’t feel right, so I just took pics of the food.
A while ago I wrote a post called, Raw fish lunch with Korean English co-teachers . . . and a discussion about being a “little too strict., and funnily enough the same young male Korean English teacher had to make some passive aggressive digs at me. After I took the first picture, the same teacher leaned over to me and says, “Jason, do you know that in Korea college girls like taking pictures of new foods when they try them?” I looked him dead in the eyes and said, “I’m not Korean, and I love taking pictures. Anyone who uses Korean culture to judge what I’m doing needs to learn more about English culture.” SNAP!
Anyways, I let him have what I’m sure he thought was quite the smart and lethal winning comment–right, I’m going to lose face because some insecure wanker wants to try and upset me with comments that I’d expect middle schoolers to crack, NOT–and kept right on snapping pictures of the awesome food.
I enjoyed chatting with the other co-teachers about my upcoming move to China. And then the conversation moved on to co-teaching and new native English teachers–all of them seemed to be concerned about my replacement and how he would do if he was totally new to Korea and to teaching in general. I tried to reassure them that natural raw talent and a good attitude are far more important most of the time than a lot of training and experience (which anyone can get).
English accents, of course, also came up because the new teacher is from Australia. Inwardly, I was laughing a fair bit at the anxiety that this seemed to be causing because even native speakers of English from North America have trouble at times understanding the Australian accent, and it has nothing to do with your English language abilities in terms of whether or not you’re a native speaker but more to do with how much experience you have communicating with a native Australian speaker of English, and whether or not you have been exposed to the idioms and cultural background info you need to have to understand them. I offered reassuring comments, and I hope they don’t worry too much about the accent thing.
The overall experience of my last lunch was generally positive. A lot of that had to do with the fact that the co-teachers who came along were ones that I had formed positive relationships with, and/or had co-taught with in a positive manner. Some co-teachers hadn’t been able to come for the lunch. One of them in particular didn’t come because of some ‘issues’ we had with each other while the English speaking tests were on at my school; the sad thing about that is that during the first semester I was at the school (and when there were no speaking tests) we got along great. But once the testing prep and testing periods began I ran into several problems . . . personally, I like the guy . . . but professionally, ugh.
Anyways, it kind of sucked that other co-teachers were busy or teaching and couldn’t come to the lunch. I ran into some of them later and we chatted at my desk for a while before I had to leave, and said our goodbyes then.
It’ll be interesting to see if any of them email me in China asking for tips on how to co-teach better with a native teacher–though I’m not holding my breath.
I was invited out today for lunch with some of my Korean English co-teachers . . .
We went to a little Japanese restaurant and I ordered a sushi plate–it was pretty good.
The conversation for the most part revolved around Julianne and I going to China, and the next native teacher who will be replacing me at the boys high school.
This brought up issues of classroom behavior management because every newbie teacher I’ve ever talked to always struggles to one degree or another with figuring out how to keep the peace in the classroom.
A young co-teacher, later on during lunch, told me he’d heard that some students at the school think I’m “a little too strict.”
I found this highly amusing because if I wasn’t “a little too strict,” especially at an all boys trade/sports high school, my classes would likely range from mild anarchy and chaos to insane anarchy and chaos.
I decided to tell him that from what I’ve seen when I walk around the halls of the different buildings on campus I see too many classes with students sleeping, talking to each other and ignoring the teacher, and other behaviors I won’t allow in my classes . . . not all, and perhaps not a majority . . . but still too many.
I then asked him if he’d asked the students which of my classroom rules they don’t like, and why, and what were they doing when I had to be “a little too strict” with them–he hadn’t asked them and all I got was a silent response to that. Strange that he would feel the need to mention this to me when he hadn’t bothered to find out the why’s and what’s behind the comments.
I told him how at the beginning of each semester I always go over my classroom rules.
Classroom English Rules
1. You must try.
2. You must pay attention during class.
3. You must bring a pen/pencil and notebook with you to class.
4. You must keep all handouts given in the class.
5. You must come to class on time.
6. You must keep the classroom clean.
7. Do not write on the desks/tables.
8. You must not use your cell phone in class.
1st time = lose for one day
2nd time = lose for one week
9. Have fun!
I wonder if the co-teacher, who I think was trying to give me a subtle-passive-aggressive criticism, has ever had to deal with the chronic problem of students not coming to class prepared–and I mean in the BASIC DEFINITION OF PREPARED: bring a pen/pencil and notebook to class.
My students have to leave their homerooms and come to the “English classroom” where I have my classes. Bringing a pen/pencil and notebook with my lesson handouts and some blank paper is apparently an insanely taxing and difficult task for about 50-60% of each class . . .
Since I don’t use corporal punishment dealing with situations and chronic problems like this can be extremely difficult, especially if I have a co-teacher who won’t back me up with trying to change the students’ behavior.
Thus one possible reason why some students might think I’m “a little too strict” comes from me punishing them for not coming to class prepared, and for preventing them from borrowing a pen/pencil from their peers (often with six guys all hitting up one of the better behaved guys to loan them several pens and pencils).
Punishments usually come from the following list . . . and the students know LONG before an infraction what the consequences are because I tell them when I talk about my classroom rules, and I also remind them during a class when they’re misbehaving.
1) 30 minutes of free time lost at lunch combined with 2 or 3 or 4
2) cleaning the classroom desks of graffiti
3) sweeping and mopping the floors in the English classroom
4) in severe cases duckwalking and push-ups outside for about 10 minutes, and then cleaning tasks
UPDATE: I forgot to add that for each minute a student is late for class they have to do 10 push-ups (unless they give me a reasonable excuse AND I believe them).
None of my co-teachers have given any signs of thinking I am too strict or that my punishments are too harsh (probably given that the males use corporal punishment and the females give a tongue-lashing in Korean–neither of which I can or want to do). Also, when co-teaching with me most of the co-teachers don’t have to deal with the classroom behavior problems because my system works. Add to this that EVERY Korean teacher who has ever walked by while students are doing a punishment task has grinned from ear to ear and given me their complete and enthusiastic approval . . . and yeah.
While I was talking about this with the co-teacher the other co-teachers at the table, all of who I have taught with, were in agreement with me that I wasn’t being too strict at all. I don’t think they were just saying that to be nice because more often than not when a difference of opinion happens between a native teacher and a co-teacher the other co-teachers side with the Korean teacher.
I think the other co-teachers also agreed with my comment that it’d be nice if all the teachers and classes at the school adopted the same classroom rules and expectations of behavior and penalties so that the students would know across the board what to expect from class to class, and not have to constantly be changing what they can and can’t do based on who the teacher is . . . that’s being rather idealistic, I know, but if it did happen I imagine the school would be a lot more peaceful and that classes would become more productive.
I’ll finish with the two other classroom behavior management techniques I use.
The first is I draw 10 X’s on the side of the white board. At the beginning of each semester I usually only have to use the 10 X system for about a month and by then the guys learn that I’m serious about the consequences that come with all 10 X’s being erased off the board.
Each time I say “Please be quiet” or “Please pay attention”, the two most common classroom commands I use during my lessons, I then put my hand up in the air and count down from five with each finger going down as I say the numbers . . . by the time I reach 1 if the guys haven’t stopped talking or doing whatever they’re doing I erase an X–when 10 X’s are gone it means the entire class loses 30 minutes of free time during lunch and has to either clean, or if the class has been really bad, go outside and duckwalk and do push-ups.
At the start of the last fall/winter semester when I first arrived and began teaching, and explained the classroom rules, it took me taking two classes outside and duckwalking them during lunch (when all the other students are outside and playing soccer and enjoying the tiny bit of free time they have during the day) and then word got around that I was serious about my classroom rules and would enforce them.
I don’t say “Please be quiet” and/or “Please pay attention” more than once, and I do NOT yell it (well, most of the time anyways, lol, sometimes the guys are just being guys and I have to raise my voice), and when the count down is finished if someone is still talking, or not paying attention I erase an X. I don’t get angry, I don’t get frustrated, I just erase an X.
Now there are a few classes that have more than a few students who like to cause problems. I realized that punishing all the guys wasn’t fair and that I needed to modify my classroom behavior management system a little, so I introduced “orange cards.”
I cut up several dozen orange colored paper cards and gave the guys one week to adjust to the new system before enforcing it strictly. I told them that if they got 3 orange cards, or warnings, that it was like baseball and that they’d struck out. If they strike out they have to leave the classroom and stand in the hallway for the duration of the class. After the class a punishment and time would be set up during lunch and if they skipped or were late they would have 3 more days of lost lunch time added.
Overall, this classroom behavior management system has worked really well for me. I rarely if ever have to draw the 10 X’s on the white board after the first month of the semester, and the orange card system only had to be used for about 3 weeks with a few classes and then they changed their attitudes and behaviors and I didn’t have to use the cards anymore. Occasionally a class will act up and I’ll go to the white board and draw the 10 X’s, or pull out the orange cards and teach while holding a small pile of them in my hand . . . but overall the guys accepted the system, and adapted to the rules.
In almost all my classes I’ve also noticed that several of the guys will also help me out by telling the other students to be quiet when I start counting down and some of the guys don’t listen–now THAT tells me they’re okay with the system, and the fact that they actively participate in helping me manage the class reassures me the system is a good one.
After explaining the basic ideas about my classroom management system to this young co-teacher the topic got changed . . . I think he saw that the complaints were likely coming from students who had broken the rules, and who wanted a more “relaxed” aka “disorganized” classroom environment in which they could do whatever they want to do even if the teacher is teaching and they’re supposed to be learning.
Maybe I’ll drop in and see how this teacher’s class behaves some time this week. I wonder how THAT would go, lol.
At the beginning of the spring/summer semester at my high school I found out that I was going to be allowed to give speaking tests for my 12 ‘second’ grade classes. Last semester I dropped several comments every once and a while about how student motivation and classroom behavior are heavily influenced by whether or not there are test points assigned to the lesson content they are learning in my co-teachers ears . . . and apparently during a pre-semester meeting it was decided that I could have 10% of the English grade. For my 10 ‘first’ grade classes, though, at first I was told there weren’t any test points that I could get assigned to my classes . . . and then later, about six weeks or so, I was told I could write 3 questions of the 33 questions on the mid-term and final exams for the English section of the test . . . this just goes to show one of many examples of how hard it is for native English teachers to design a semester syllabus, choose the curriculum, and how testing points are all too often not assigned to their classes and/or they’re told about the testing points weeks after they have already prepared and designed their lessons . . . but I digress, and should get back to writing about the process I went through designing my speaking tests.
I have a lot of experience designing speaking tests and administering them with different kinds of EFL language learners (from middle school and high school to pre-service student teachers and in-service Korean English teachers). But I decided to do some research and re-read materials I have in my EFL/ESL library (see the list of relevant books at the bottom of this post) cause I hadn’t looked at them in a long time. While doing my research and writing up my speaking test design I thought to myself, “What do you do when researching “EFL/ESL speaking test +Korea +public school +high school” and your own writing is the only thing you find that is relevant? HAS NOBODY who teaches high school in Korea designed speaking tests, and then written about it online? Wow.”
Actually, there are bloggers who have written about speaking tests in Korean public high schools but they are a minority. Also, due to the nature of blogging as an informal genre most of them haven’t really gone into much detail about their test design process, why they chose the test format they did, and other details that I would have really liked to read about the experiences of other native teachers in Korean public schools doing speaking tests . . .
One teacher I did find, and I posted about, wrote this series by Supplanter‘s blog which I found pretty interesting–and which reinforced my decision to record all the speaking tests with my mp3 player (something I usually do anyways–Korean university students are notorious for trying to get their test scores raised if they don’t like them, so when they do come to ask for an increase I suggest we review their recordings and look at my notes for their test . . . this usually dissuades most of the complainers, lol).
Finally, I come across something related to my search parameters, Evaluation of The Foreign Language High School Programme in South Koreaby Yvvette Denise Murdoch, a master’s dissertation submitted to the School of Humanities, University of Birmingham to fulfill requirements in the Master of Arts in Teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language”, 2002. Unfortunately, while it’s an interesting read, Murdoch doesn’t really provide much in the way of how she tested and what process she went through while designing her tests. But that being said it’s still a good read.
Anyways, I decided to give myself a research and writing project to kill time when I had no classes at school. I loosely based my writing goals on Chapter Six: Developing Test Specifications of “Assessing Speaking” by Sari Luoma, Cambridge Language Assessment Series, Cambridge University Press 2004.
Here is a list of things a teacher should be considering, at least some of them anyways, when designing a language test,
“the test’s purpose; description of the examinees; test level; definition of construct (theoretical framework for the test); description of suitable language course or textbook; number of sections/papers; time for each section of paper; target language situation; text-types; text length; language skills to be tested; test tasks; test methods; rubrics; criteria for marking; descriptions of typical performances at each level; description of what candidates at each level can do in the real world; sample papers; samples of students’ performances on task” from “Assessing Speaking,” Chapter 6, page 114.
The problem is the logistics (I’m going to use this word a lot) of designing and giving speakings tests in Korean public school English native speaker classes is that there are so many unforeseeable, unplannable, and unbelievable (from a native teacher’s perspective anyways) issues and challenges that come up throughout the whole process that trying to do a truly professional EFL/ESL speaking test is nearly impossible–in my opinion . . . but I’ll get into that in more detail in part 2 of this post.
I also found “Chapter Eight: Ensuring a reliable and valid speaking assessment” to be an extremely helpful unit to help me refresh on what I needed to be thinking about as I designed the speaking tests for the high school boys.
While reading Chapter 6 I came across three examples of how to do test specification write-ups: Example 1: An end-of-course classroom test, Example 2: A language test at university entrance, and Example 3: A general purpose proficiency test . . . after reading this chapter I decided to do my own test specifications write up . . . although I was unable to follow the models exactly due to the realities of planning lessons and tests that Korean public schools present.
Alright, that’s enough about why I decided to write this blog post . . . time to wade into the nitty-gritty of what I did while going the process of making speaking tests for a Korean public high school.
Before class/semester begins language learner assessment: There were no opportunities for me to assess the actual language learner levels of the students in each class. The only thing available was the students test scores from the previous semester which in terms of communicative ability and fluency really had no validity or relevance. The only thing I found useful about the test scores that I asked my Korean English co-teachers to show me was being able to see which classes might have a majority of low level students, or average to higher level students so that I could alter my teaching methods accordingly (or ‘differentiate’ them).
Test #1 format (of 4 over the course of the school year, 2 in the spring semester, 2 in the fall/winter semester) : one on one interview, teacher and student
Test #2: one on one interview, teacher and student
Test #3: Unfortunately I won’t be teaching as my contract finishes August 24th, 2010. I am, however, leaving all testing and lesson materials from the book I was using for the next native teacher. I hope that they will continue to teach from the same book . . . my original plans for the four tests were that in speaking tests 3 and 4 that the tests would shift from focusing on accuracy with a low degree of fluency to a higher focus on fluency in balance with the test point values for accuracy. The book I was using focuses on developing fluency and learning, practicing, and mastering speaking strategies so it will be interesting to hear from the new native teacher how the students progress throughout the fall/winter semester.
Test #4: fluency and accuracy have equal values on the rubric.
Class hours before Test #1: two fifty-minute classes.
NOTE: The logistical realities of teaching EFL speaking and conversation in a Korean public high school often necessitate the instructor exhibiting a degree of “flexibility” when it comes to following EFL methodology the way it “should” be practiced versus adapting to and dealing with the chaotic and extremely unstable school schedule and teaching/learning conditions. I scheduled the first speaking test with only 2 weeks of instruction due to several reasons: 1) My classes were not assigned time slots during the school’s official midterm exam and final exam periods (thus necessitating me having to schedule testing during regular classes). 2) The students do not understand fully (perhaps even not at all) how they will be tested (my test will be the first ever speaking test done at the school in its entire history), and this diminishes their ability to develop effective learning styles and habits specific to my classes (I made a “How to” study guide for speaking tests handout (look at the bottom of this post) and gave tips and strategies during my classes). 3) I fully expect motivation and attention levels to dramatically spike after Test #1 has been completed as students will have a much clearer idea based on first-hand speaking test experience with a native speaker/teacher in a public school setting.
Test #1 focus: pronunciation, intonation, grammar, and demonstrating/performing cultural rules for speaking and interactions during the test (for example, how to shake hands)
Test Duration: 2 minutes
Type of school: 2nd grade classes at an all boys trade/sports school transitioning into an academic high school, Seoul–the 2nd grade students were enrolled during the trade school standards for acceptance. The overall English abilities are lower. On average each class has 25% false-beginner, 50% low-intermediate to intermediate, and 25% high-intermediate to advanced levels of English language ability.
Class size: 30-40 multi-level high school boys
Language learners: mixed levels, on average each class has 25% false-beginner, 50% low-intermediate to intermediate, and 25% high-intermediate to advanced levels of English language ability.
Test location: in the native English teacher’s classroom, no other students are permitted to be in the room; also, no Korean English co-teachers (they’re presence would inhibit student speaking performance and test conditions), all other students will be waiting in their homeroom, and in groups of 5 come to the hallway outside, line up and wait for their turn.
General Conditions: each class of 30-40 boys will be divided into two groups, A and B. Boys will do a lottery that places them in one of the two groups, and also determine order of testing. This is to avoid the ‘not fair’ criticism that is a very big concern for Korean students in testing situations (whether or not what they’re saying has anything to do with ‘fairness’).
Role of Korean English co-teacher during testing: KET will be responsible for organizing the boys into testing order, and keeping them quiet as the tests are in progress.
Absent/Sick students: more than likely a make up test time will have to be set up during a lunch period as soon as possible
NOTE: During testing I realized that my co-teachers were not taking attendance on the day of the test (they tend not to during regular classes too, sigh), not marking down who was absent/sick, and that they had not checked the order of testing group lists we had made against the class attendance list to make sure every student was on the testing list . . . this caused some problems later, and hopefully other native teachers can avoid this by explicitly asking their co-teachers to check these rather important details (although, even when explicitly asked, the unfortunate truth is that the task is not done or done poorly).
Test Writing/Editing: due to “issues of motivation and a lack of interesting co-producing lesson plans” the native English teacher designs and writes up the English test text and rubric. A younger Korean English teacher who I wasn’t actually co-teaching with ended up helping me edit and proof the test questions and make sure there were no problems.
Test Planning/Meetings with Co-teachers: Getting the co-operation and willing participation of co-teachers was extremely challenging and often met with failure in the weeks leading up to speaking test #1. For speaking test #2 I decided not to go through the ridiculous stress and passive-aggressive/apathetic participation I was exposed to during prep for test #1 due to being constantly reassured by my co-teachers that they knew what their testing roles and tasks were (which they didn’t, and had forgotten). Test 2 had several administrative problems due to a lack of a pre-test meeting where I wanted to, as I did in the pre-test meeting for test 1, go over and review what each of us needed to do, how to do it, and try to make sure my co-teachers understood the very few testing tasks I had asked them to take care of . . . I will write more about this in part 2.
Test Review Class: a test review class will be scheduled in the week before each testing period so that students can learn and practice test procedures as it is the first time for them to participate in a public school speaking test, and familiarizing themselves with the procedure will help reduce stress and anxiety for students. This is also vital for the co-teachers as they have never participated or overseen speaking tests and they need the practice time too.
1 week before the test: a list of questions based on the English class lessons will be provided to students. The reason for this is that the classes are multi-level and the speaking book lessons are intermediate level. In order to give the lower level students a fighting chance to do well on the test it is vital to provide them with the general test content. If they actually study hard, and practice hard, they will then have the possibility of achieving a good test score.
Primary focus of KETs in test design: produce ranked results for evaluations–in general, they had very little to no interest in accurately and fairly assessing student speaking abilities.
Primary focus of NET: I wanted to accurately, and in a fair and professional manner, assess student speaking abilities.
Role of KETs in test and curriculum design: 0%.
Role of NET in test and curriculum design: 100%
Reasons for choosing teacher-student interview style test versus other types of speaking tests:
1) Large multi-level classes preclude being able to pair up students. Putting a low level student with an advanced student is a recipe for disaster.
2) Low level students need a testing situation where they can be prompted if need be, and also a friendly non-threatening partner for the speaking interview. Pairing up students who are not friends or part of the same social peer group within a class (there are multiple groups) creates the potential for classroom peer to peer dynamics to sabotage the testing process and validity (i.e. I’m gonna kick your ass after school if you screw up my test score).
3) Selection of partners process and ‘fairness.’ If students perceive the process to be “unfair”–regardless of whether or not they’re right–this can dramatically impact teacher-class relationships, etc.
4) Small groups . . . see #1.
I mentioned that some other instructors I know suggested doing pairs or small group speaking tests but my reaction is the same as I found online while doing some research to see what other instructors have done for speaking tests. The instructor in a A Case Study: One Speaking Test Format says, “But a good conversation depends on both students doing their part, so you run the risk of one person’s grade being affected by the other’s performance.”
The relationship between test format choice and language learner levels is critical. In the particular situation of large multi-level classes in Korean public schools the range of choices is severely limited by both consideration for the students abilities AND the logistical nightmare that is organizing and scheduling the test dates and times.
I came across two articles from the Internet TESL Journal. The first is Using Pair Work Exams for Testing in ESL/EFL Conversation Classes by Ian Moodie, Daegu Hanny University, Gyeongsan, South Korea
“In utilizing one-on-one interview examinations obviously the instructor can get a sense of the oral communicative competence of students and overcome this weakness of written exams. However, there are other disadvantages to this approach. First of all for the instructor, time management can be an issue. For example, assuming a two hour period for exams, a class of 20 students would mean each student only has six minutes of time for testing. This includes the time needed to enter the room/office and adjust to the setting. With such a time constraint it becomes doubtful that the student and instructor can have any kind of normal real-world conversation. Also, considering the weight of the exam (assuming that it is between 20-40% of the final score), it is not a lot of time to elicit and test for speaking ability or listening comprehension. Six minutes for 30 or 40 percent of the student’s grade puts a lot of pressure on the students to perform in a very limited amount of time. The fact that it is a direct conversation with the instructor, who will dole out the final grade, would also make it more stressful for the students. As for the instructors, it can be taxing to both have a conversation with a student and evaluate it simultaneously” (my bold, my italics).
The logistical realities (or perhaps ‘nightmare’ might be more appropriate) of my English classes and testing pretty much forced me to have to ignore certain EFL standards and methods for testing that I would have preferred to follow. The testing time was only 2 minutes, the class sizes 30-40, and because the school was not integrating my testing into the official mid-term and final exam testing days I was forced to schedule TWO WEEKS (one class per week) of class time in order to complete all the 2 minute tests (and that was just for test 1)–if I’d reduced the testing time to one week only each test would have lasted something like 45 seconds MAYBE…
Pair Work Conversations
“One way to improve upon one-on-one testing is the utilization of pair work activities as part of or all of the exam itself. This type of activity frees up the cognitive resources of instructors in order to pay closer attention to the production of each student than if they were participants themselves. Students have a longer time to interact, instructors have longer to evaluate and comment on each student’s performance. In the case of the instructor following Communicative Language Teaching methods, where pair work may take up a significant portion of a class, it would be appropriate to incorporate similar activities in the exam. That way the exam itself is much better integrated into the fabric of the course. Students can be tested for performance related to activities done in class. For a conversation course, oral pair work exams are much more relevant than written exams or one-on-one interviews. There may also be benefits in regards to student motivation. If students are aware that they will be tested on activities similar to the ones done in class, they may have more incentive to be attentive and use class time effectively.”
I had originally planned on getting my guys to do a lot of in-class pair activities so that I could have them test in pairs . . . but learner motivation, maturity, and self-discipline in the classroom quickly made it apparent that I’d spend more time on trying to get the low level/low motivation language learners to do the paired learning tasks/activities and to keep them from disrupting the other pairs who were actually doing the work . . . I quickly reassessed my curriculum plan and testing from paired to teacher-student interview format.
I also took a look at the different ways one can test speaking . . . here are links and descriptions.
“Duration: 19 minutes (28 minutes for groups of three at centres where there’s an odd number of candidates).
Participants: Candidates are interviewed in pairs. There are two examiners present: one who asks the questions, the other acts as assessor and doesn’t speak during the interview.
Format: The oral test consists of three parts.”
“Tests ability to: use language for social purposes, such as in making introductions, answering questions, giving an opinion.
This first section of the CPE Speaking exam lasts about 3 minutes (4 minutes for groups of three). In this section the examiner will ask you at least three questions to give you the chance to introduce yourself and for you to give an opinion on a general topic to do with your life experiences, interests etc.”
“Tests ability to: use language to discuss and interpret, to agree, disagree or agree to disagree, negotiate and collaborate, to rank or classify, speculate, evaluate, make decisions etc.
There are two sections to Part 2 of the CPE Speaking test, which lasts about 4 minutes (6 minutes for groups of three). The examiner will ask you and your partner to talk about a set of visual prompts together.”
“Tests ability to: speak at length coherently, use language to develop a topic, describe, compare and contrast, hypothesise and comment.
Part 3 of the CPE Speaking test lasts about 12 minutes including 2 minutes for each long turn and 4 minutes for the final discussion. Candidate A is passed a card and has to speak about the topic without interruption, either from the examiner or their partner. When Candidate A has finished the examiner asks Candidate B a brief question about the topic. The roles are then reversed: Candidate B is given a different card and speaks for 2 minutes followed by Candidate A who answers a brief question about the topic. At the end of the long turns both candidates participate in a discussion with the examiner about the theme of the two topics.”
“Duration: Between 11 and 14 minutes.
Participants: Candidates interviewed individually. The test is recorded.
Format: The test consists of three parts.”
“Part 1 of the IELTS Speaking test lasts between 4 and 5 minutes. The examiner will ask some simple ‘getting-to-know-you’ questions which will help the examiner find out a little about you and help put you at ease. These will be general questions such as about your family, your studies, where you come from or what your interests are.”
“Part 2 of the IELTS Speaking test lasts between 3 and 4 minutes (including 1 minute preparation time). The examiner gives you a task card and you have to speak about the subject without interruption for between 1 and 2 minutes.”
“In Part 3 of the test, which lasts between 3 to 4 minutes, the examiner will ask you questions linked to the topic in Part 2.”
While doing my research I came across a research article excerpt from, The paired speaking test format: recent studies by Linda Taylor. In the two page excerpt Taylor talks about the drawbacks of one to one testing versus two students paired up for speaking tests. I think the article has extremely valid points about language learner anxiety and how being paired with a student helps to relax them, raise their performance levels, and also produce a wide range of speaking skills and content whereas a teacher/evaluator pairing with a student has an ‘asymmetrical’ relationship that impacts what a student thinks they can and can’t do based on a different set of relationship rules from their L1 classroom cultural experiences (Korean public school classroom culture is notoriously imbalanced in terms of teacher-student power dynamics) but I would argue that I create and foster a sense of informality and friendliness between myself and the students I have in my conversation classes. To play Devil’s Advocate with myself, though, I would say that in a testing situation there is a dampening of the normal English conversation class teacher-student dynamic I try to foster because of testing anxiety and its powerful influence on a student.
Speaking Test Rubrics: I told students I would post copies of the rubric, and explanations of the rules and standards for each point in the classroom. I also went over the rubric in the test review class, and had my co-teacher translate what I said to reinforce and make sure the students understood how they would be tested. I think the students were surprised at how transparent and fair I was making the testing process–overall, their reactions were positive.
I’m going to end part 1 of this post on speaking tests with copies of the handouts I gave my classes, the list of books I referred to while preparing my speaking tests, and links to other posts I’ve written about speaking tests in Korean public schools. It’ll probably take a few days to finish writing part 2 of this post . . . in it I plan to write about some of the challenges and issues that arose during the designing of the tests, during the testing itself, and also more about test 2.
1. Each class will be divided into two groups: A and B.
각 반은 A와 B 두 그룹으로 나누어 질 것입니다.
A lottery will decide the order in which students are tested.
추첨을 통해 각각의 그룹 안의 학생들의 시험 순서가 정해질 것입니다.
2. Group A testing : March 29th to April 2nd
A 그룹 시험일 : 3월 29일부터 4월 2일까지
Group B testing : April 5th to 9th
B 그룹 시험일 : 4월 5일부터 4월 9일까지
3. Go to the waiting area 5 minutes before class time/test time begins.
수업/시험 시간이 시작되기 5분 전까지 대기실로 가기 바랍니다.
4. Leave all papers and notes outside the test room. If you are caught cheating you will get a ZERO score.
모든 서류와 메모들을 시험실 밖에 두고 들어오기 바랍니다. 만일 부정행위가 발각된다면 0점을 받게 될 것입니다.
5. The Korean teacher will tell you when to go to the English classroom for your test.
한국인 선생님께서 여러분이 시험을 치르기 위해 언제 영어 교실로 가야할 지를 알려주실 것입니다.
6. Five students at a time should wait outside the English classroom in the hallway QUIETLY.
한 번에 5명씩의 학생들이 영어 교실 밖 복도에서 조용히 시험을 기다리게 될 것입니다.
7. Wait quietly outside the classroom door. If you talk loudly and/or laugh you will do 30 minutes lunch time cleaning.
교실 밖 복도에서 조용히 기다리세요. 만약 큰 소리로 말하거나 웃는다면 점심시간 30분 동안 청소를 하게 될 것입니다.
8. When it is your turn, come into the classroom and be ready to start the test immediately.
당신의 차례가 되었을 때, 교실로 들어와서 바로 시험을 볼 수 있는 준비를 하도록 하십시오.
9. The test is only 2 minutes so please be ready to speak English
시험은 오직 2분이 소요되기 때문에 영어로 말할 준비가 되어 있기를 바랍니다.
10. After the test is finished you should return to the waiting area (homeroom).
시험이 끝난 후에는 대기실로 돌아가길 바랍니다.
11. Do not talk about the test with other students. If you do this you only help them get a higher score than you.
다른 학생들과 시험에 대해서 말하지 마십시오. 만약 하게 된다면, 이는 단지 그들이 당신보다 시험에서 더 높은 점수를 받는 것을 도와주는 것이 될 것입니다.
Speaking Test Study Guide
1. Find a quiet place to practice and study.
2. Find a partner to practice asking and answering questions with.
3. Memorizing spoken English . . .
a) Read over the class handouts.
b) Write all of the expressions, questions, and answers 5Xs each.
4. Practice speaking the expressions at NORMAL VOLUME and SPEED.
5. Practice in the same way you normally speak. Do not practice speaking quietly, and in a robot voice.
6. Make an mp3 recording of yourself speaking, and listen to it. Try to find errors and then practice the correct pronunciation and intonation.
7. Speak slowly when you begin your practicing, and then slowly speed up to native speaker speed if possible.
8. Do some practice speaking each day over many days. Do not practice the NIGHT BEFORE the test day, or the HOUR before the test day.
9. After memorizing the English do not use a script paper when you practice speaking. Practice speaking with NO PAPER because you cannot have a script in the test.
10. If you need help with pronunciation, intonation, or have a question about the language on the speaking test YOU should ask your Korean teacher, or Jason, for help. Do NOT ask for help in the hour just before your test date and time!
Rubric for Test 1
|Eye contact andHandshake||1||2||3||4||/4|
|A = 15-18 points, B = 11-14 points, C = 7-10 points, D= 5-6 points|
NOTE 1: My co-teachers insisted on the point range for each letter grade . . . thus the unusual “D” value.
NOTE 2: Use an mp3 player to record each speaking test. If necessary, you can use this later to support your evaluation and the score you give a student if it is challenged. If possible, and necessary, use a video camera (or point and shoot camera with video capability) if you are assessing body language and gestures.
Criteria for Marking: Explanation of Point Values
Eye contact and handshake
|1||Korean style eyes down, left hand/arm horizontal position, very soft hand pressure, 5+ seconds holding hand too long, bow|
|2||Left hand begins in Korean style position but student self-corrects, right hand 4+ seconds holding time or less, hand grip pressure is too soft or too strong|
|3||Left hand stays at side entire time, right hand 3 seconds holding time or less, pressure a little too soft or a little too strong, eye contact good|
|4||Left hand stays at side entire time, right hand 3 seconds holding time or less, medium pressure not too much pressure|
|1||No up and down sounds, robot speakingYes/No questions: stress the most important word, go up at the end of the questionWH questions: jump to the most important word, step down to the end of the question|
|2||Very little variation to up and down sounds, and wrong direction of sounds with wordsYes/No questions: stress the most important word, go up at the end of the questionWH questions: jump to the most important word, step down to the end of the question|
|3||Good up and down sounds paired with appropriate wordsYes/No questions: stress the most important word, go up at the end of the questionWH questions: jump to the most important word, step down to the end of the question|
|4||Excellent up and down sounds paired with appropriate wordsYes/No questions: stress the most important word, go up at the end of the questionWH questions: jump to the most important word, step down to the end of the question|
|1||Unclear and difficult to understand.|
|2||Clear and intelligible pronunciation.|
|1||Many errors in use of articles, subject-verb agreement, forget to use verbs often|
|2||Some errors in use of articles, subject-verb agreement, use of verbs|
|3||A few errors in use of articles, subject-verb agreement, use of verbs|
|4||Excellent use of articles, subject-verb agreement, use of verbs|
|1||5+ second/s response delay time in producing correct response|
|2||4 second/s response delay time in producing correct response|
|3||3 second/s response delay time in producing correct response|
|4||0-2 second/s response delay time in producing correct response|
List of books I referred to while preparing my speaking tests
Teaching ESL/EFL Speaking and Listening
ESL & Applied Linguistics Professional Series
Practical English Language Teaching: Speaking
Kathleen M. Bailey
Communicative fluency activities for language teaching
Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers
Teaching Large Multilevel Classes
Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers
Cambridge Language Assessment Series
Conversation: From Description to Pedagogy
Scott Thornbury and Diana Slade
Cambridge Language Teaching Library
Keep Talking: Communicative fluency activities for language teaching.
Klippel, Friederike. Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers. Series Edited by Penny Ur.
How To Teach Speaking.
Series Editor: Jeremy Harmer. Longman, 2006.
Teaching English to Koreans.
Edited by Susan Oak and Virginia S. Martin. Hollym Publishers, 2003
David Kehe and Peggy Dustin Kehe
PLA (Pro Lingua Associates)
Strategies in Speaking
Basics in Speaking
Oxford Introductions to Language Study, Series Editor H. G. Widdowson
Blog posts I’ve written about speaking tests in Korea (and other related topics)
I was surfing my blog roll and came across this 3 part series by Supplanter on what happens when a native teacher’s speaking test design and plan get changed by a Korean supervisor . . . it’s well written, and I could totally relate to everything being described as I’ve been through similar experiences at other places I’ve worked at in Korea.
Some people reading my blog posts about speaking tests may think I’ve been a little paranoid but I was really striving to avoid having to deal with any ‘English test score ajumma fallout.’ Really, who likes to have an ajumma aka Korean supermom appear at your desk to cry, yell, and attempt to browbeat you into quivering submissive goo so that little Subin will get a perfect English test score–not me, that’s for sure.
Anyways, check out Supplanter‘s series cause it’s definitely a wake up call to any native teacher considering asking for permission to start giving speaking tests.
As I’ve mentioned a few times I’m working on a massive post about designing, planning, and giving speaking tests in Korean public schools . . . for now, here are some of the smaller posts I’ve written on the topic.
Time to go get some chow.
Today was the first day of speaking test #2 at the all boys high school where I teach. It went pretty much as I expected though there have been a couple last second curve balls thrown at me . . .
I’m still working on a massive blog post about designing, planning, and giving speaking tests in Korean public schools. I just haven’t had the time and energy, or the motivation, to finish it up. I hope to get it done sometime soon but it may have to wait till the final exam testing period when I have no tests and just come in to school to warm my desk.
Anyways, on Mondays I only have 3 classes which is nice cause it gives me two spares first thing in the morning with which I can do prep. I photocopied my test rubrics sheets, and printed out the group A and B test groups to post on the door of my classroom in case the guys forget their order of testing while walking from their homerooms to my classroom (and being high school boys this is highly probable–err, likely), and then had to pick up garbage left by a Korean teacher’s Saturday morning class when they used my classroom . . . argh, not impressed.
I then taught my first grade class, and it went fairly well considering it was hot and the guys were all zombies because it was Monday morning.
In the next period the speaking tests began . . . well, actually, not right away because my co-teacher failed to be in the homeroom before the class time started so he could organize the first five guys and send them to be ready to go right when the class time started . . . whatever. Apparently, if I don’t explicitly tell my co-teacher what he should do, and what he needs to remember, it won’t get done in spite of the frequent reassurances “Don’t worry about that” . . . yeah.
For the first speaking test I tried setting up meetings with my two co-teachers and ran into so many problems and resistance to having meetings, especially on the part of the oldest male co-teacher, that this time for test 2 I didn’t waste a single molecule of oxygen asking to set up any meetings, and neither co-teacher asked about them too.
Actually, I decided that I wasn’t going to approach them at all about the second speaking tests to see if they would ask questions and take some responsibility for the tests–and I got nothing. No questions, no requests for meetings to go over the testing rubric, test questions, and to review the test procedure–nothing.
They didn’t even ask to see a copy of the test . . . I give up. Seriously.
In fact, this morning, the first day of the tests, the oldest male co-teacher comes into my classroom while I’m cleaning and organizing the classroom, and setting everything up for my lessons and tests . . . and he says to me, “Jason, are we having the speaking tests this week?” I look at him with what I’m sure must be “ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS?” stamped all over my face . . . unable to hide the incredulity at his display of ignorance. We had just finished doing an ENTIRE WEEK of speaking test preparation and review last week, and in every single review class I told the students that next week Group A will begin testing . . . and yet my co-teacher is asking me whether or not we’ll be starting the tests today?
Unbelievable . . .
Two minutes after the class time starts my first group of guys finally arrive. I begin testing . . .
The first four questions of my test are ‘warm-up’ questions that allow a student to calm down a bit, raise their confidence level, and get the momentum going. One of these questions is,
Jason: How are you today?
And my favorite answer of the 15 tests I gave this morning was,
Student: I’m supreme.
LOL! I couldn’t help but laugh my ass off, and both of us enjoyed the moment thoroughly.
Another student, when I asked how he was, replied “I’m VERY ANGRY.”
I blink, and ask him why. He explains that nobody told him the speaking tests were today. I look at him, and fight to hide my surprise, and say, “But last week we did speaking test preparation class. I’m sorry, but I think YOU forgot.”
At this point the student kind of took on a look like Dory . . .
Note to whoever replaces me: Don’t forget that Korean students pretty much have as good a memory as Dory does in the movie–which is to say don’t expect them to remember anything about testing dates and times. I already knew about this, but had forgotten.
The rest of the tests went by fairly quickly, and then it was time for lunch.
While sitting with a couple of other co-teachers one of them reminded me that there were two days next week where there would be no classes, a Wednesday and a Friday. While making my first speaking test I’d made a semester calendar in order to map out when my lessons were, and when the two speaking tests would take place . . . the bugger is I must have been possessed by a bit of Dory-esque memory loss cause I’d forgotten to check the dates I’d marked off where they’d be no classes during the two week testing period for test 2 . . . argh.
It would have been nice if one of my co-teachers that I teach the classes with had helped me out with preparing and organizing test 2, but as usual it was pretty much all on me to not miss anything in the preparation of the tests . . . and this time I had missed something.
Luckily, after finishing my lunch and then looking at my class schedule and a calendar, I saw that I’d be able to bump the two testing days to the week just before final exams. Initially, my co-teachers had asked me to assume the week before finals would be textbook review classes where I wouldn’t be needed; this meant that I scheduled my two weeks of speaking tests just before review week, and that the makeup speaking test days would have to take place during the final exam review days . . .
Frankly, the school really needs to embrace the fact that if they want the native teacher to give speaking tests they should integrate my testing into the mid-term and final exam official testing days . . . but something I realized today was that I’m not really doing ‘speaking tests’ in the minds of the school administration and my co-teachers–rather, I’m doing ‘proficiency tests.’
“Proficiency tests” are given BEFORE the mid-terms and final exams, and the testing scores have to be submitted before the official mid-term and final exam days begin. It’s nice that I’ve been given testing points for my classes, but I still wish that I wasn’t losing FOUR WEEKS of class time in order to test all the students (more on that later when I publish my post about designing and planning speaking tests in public schools).
Another thought occurred to me, after thinking about how my speaking tests are really ‘proficiency tests,’ and it kind of irks me a bit. Giving me the ‘proficiency tests’ may have had nothing at all to do with helping me to give the native English teacher’s conversation/speaking classes more legitimacy, and may have had more to do with GIVING AWAY all the duties and tasks that the Korean English teachers had had to do when THEY were the ones giving the proficiency tests . . .
I just asked my co-teacher about how ‘proficiency tests’ are usually done by Korean English teachers. She told me that they’re typically listening tests, and that the testing materials come from the education office. One of the reasons, probably the biggest reason, that speaking proficiency tests are not given by Korean English teachers is, and this comes from a Korean English teacher and NOT ME, the students don’t trust the Korean English teachers to evaluate them fairly and accurately–wow.
I told my co-teacher that I was surprised that the students, and parents, hadn’t complained that having speaking tests instead of listening tests is ‘not fair’ somehow because I imagine that some students and parents might think they have a better chance of getting a higher test score on a multiple-guess, errr, multiple-choice listening test . . . but I only had one student complain about his test score on the first speaking test I gave, and after offering to replay his speaking test recording and to go over the notes I’d written on his score card he declined and accepted his score.
Another thing, though, to add to why students and parents might not like having speaking tests instead of listening tests for the English proficiency test is that in general speaking isn’t tested, especially on Seunung (the Korean university entrance exam), and that that might somehow also be detrimental to scoring higher, etc . . . but come to think of it, a speaking test is not only a test of speaking skills but ALSO a test of listening skills . . . so in some respects the speaking tests are perhaps more beneficial because they necessitate a more active listening skills performance than is typically required. Hmmm . . .
Anyways, I’ve written pretty much everything I can think of . . .
Time to go get ready for the last class of the day.
Today at the boys high school it was open demonstration class during two periods of the afternoon where parents of the boys, oops, I mean moms of the boys came to observe Korean teachers for the new teacher evaluations the government has introduced. I found out about this day 2 weeks ago, and find the whole thing kind of bizarre. Let me explain.
When I found out that my class would be observed by parents, oops I mean moms, for the new government teacher evaluations the first question out of my mouth was “What is being evaluated? Can I see a copy of the evaluation?” My primary co-teacher thought this was an extremely bizarre question, I don’t know why, and immediately went to the evaluation papers that are used for native teachers near the end of their contracts.
I already knew that native teachers are evaluated by their co-teachers, primary co-teacher, and students near the end of their contracts, but I had never seen a translated copy of the forms with the content. I took a moment to point out that my primary co-teacher should have told me that (don’t worry, I was nice about it) when I first arrived at the school (NINE MONTHS AGO), and that she should have gone over translated copies of the forms that would be used to evaluate me . . . she didn’t look very happy about that. I imagine the reason being that she knows I’m right, felt a bit embarrassed, and also didn’t want to have to do the work of translating the forms (which, in fairness to her, should really be done by the education office and the forms should be given to new native teachers at orientation and save Korean English teachers the hassle).
Moving past that particular gem of native teachers working in public schools I returned to asking about the government’s new evaluation process and how could my co-teacher find a copy of the evaluation paper the parents, oops I mean moms, would be using to evaluate myself and the Korean English co-teachers I’d be teaching with. My co-teacher then began trying to say I didn’t have to worry about any of this because it was ‘only for Korean teachers’ . . . but earlier she had said it was ‘for my classes’ . . . uhm, which was it really?
I’d also read in the Korean English news online, somewhere sorry can’t remember the article, that the evaluation results of schools and teachers would be published online–THAT little tidbit had me VERY curious to find out everything I could about this . . . and I was getting nowhere fast.
The nearly 25 minute conversation about one simple question, “What will I, and my co-teacher, be evaluated on?”, never really got answered. My co-teacher ended digging up an email with an attached set of evaluation forms but after showing them to me and with me asking several questions about them we both realized, sigh, that they were the forms for the native teacher evaluations that happen near the end of each contract . . . so, I was no closer to finding out anything then when I started asking questions, and I had lost 25 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back. Blah . . .
For the next couple of days after that futile inquiry with my co-teacher, I asked each of my the other co-teachers I work with if they had been shown any evaluation papers, or had received memos with the evaluation criteria listed–all of them said no, and their general attitudes were of ‘why are you asking me these silly questions?’ Okay, message received, and I gave up my search for answers.
Over the course of the two weeks leading up to the open demo class day I tried assessing how much my co-teachers were concerned about what we’d be doing, and again received disinterested and unconcerned responses, so I just let it go. This past Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday I tried to make a small effort to meet with the co-teachers who would be doing the open demo class with me but they kept saying they were busy, and while we did finally meet on Friday for a few minutes to discuss the lesson plan and content for my class (I say “my” class because I’m the one who makes the lesson plans alone, and I’m the one who does the majority of teaching when we ‘co-teach’) but again ran into a lack of concern.
Today, however, was the day of the open demo class and in typical Korean cultural fashion my co-teachers suddenly found their motivation and concern about the demo classes–probably because several hundred parents, oops I mean moms, descended on the school in the early afternoon to observe the open classes, lol.
At lunch time my co-teachers finally got around to helping me clean and tidy the classroom for the visit. In general, however, my co-teachers don’t see the classroom we teach all my English classes in as ‘their’ classroom because in spite of the class being ‘co-taught’ the reality is that Korean English teachers see it as “Jason’s class”; this general attitude usually results in a hands-off approach which places all responsibility for the classroom, lesson planning, and general teaching conditions on me.
Considering the fact that 22 classes worth of high school boys walk through the classroom each week it goes without saying that it gets dirty fast, and frequently. Ordinarily I try to get some students to help me tidy up the classroom, empty the garbage, sweep, and mop the floors about every 2-3 weeks, but for the demo class I wanted my co-teachers to take SOME responsibility for the conditions of the class . . . so with the imminent arrival of the horde of ajumma I suddenly witnessed high motivation levels on the part of ONE of my co-teachers that I’d be doing the demo classes with. The other, an older male teacher, did what most older male teachers do: pointed out the younger female teacher and suggested that she ‘knows how to do the preparation’ and avoided all responsibilities having to do with getting the classroom clean and organized.
The devil inside me kept whispering that I should have told my co-teachers that for this week they needed to make the lesson plans, prepare all teaching materials and photocopies of worksheets, and in general organize the classroom conditions and teaching tasks that needed to be done . . . but I really didn’t feel like having the open demo class turn into a textbook lesson 7, workbook lesson 7 exercises 1-4, and Jason as ‘human CD’ speaking robot boy with the rest of the time in the class having me standing around waiting for my co-teacher to remember I exist as a teacher that can do other things besides drill pronunciation with the class as a chorus. I also think if I’d suggested that my co-teachers make the lesson that there would have been some resentment–which pisses me off just a ‘little’ bit considering I make 100% of the lessons, prep everything needed for each class, and do 70% or more of the teaching in every class, so why not have ONE LESSON in which the Korean teacher does most of the work?!–so I kept the status quo in order to maintain the peace and my relationships with my co-teachers.
The first demo class of the afternoon went pretty well. Six parents, err moms, came into the classroom all wide-eyed and a little apprehensive to see the big chubby shaved head white Canadian teacher at the front of the room who was smiling at them and waving them towards the chairs I’d finally gotten my co-teachers to find and move to the classroom. I walked to the back while the boys were entering the room, greeted them in Korean, and handed them copies of the lesson handouts. They all smiled and took the handouts, and then laughed a little when I offered them pens in case they didn’t have any in their purses; thinking about this now I understand their laughter because I think it must be ‘standard ajumma kit’ to have several pens in one’s purse at all times (you never know when you’ll hear about some magical hogwan that can raise your son’s test scores by 0.1% and need to write down that info!).
I then began the class with some trepidation because in my head I kept asking myself this question: if the open demo class is for the moms to evaluate the Korean teacher’s teaching how much should I do, and can I safely hand the reins over to my co-teacher for different parts of the lesson that they ordinarily don’t do . . . ? To be honest, I began to sweat a little because I didn’t want to embarrass or somehow harm my co-teacher’s evaluation (though who the hell knows what might do that as we were never told what the moms were evaluating about the class) . . .
Throughout the course of the lesson I kept offering the reins to my co-teacher for different teaching tasks that I thought he’d be able to handle yet normally doesn’t do, and things went pretty well (though by the mid-point I noticed he and I were sweating like we were both on treadmills at the gym, lol). The boys, for the most part, were well behaved . . . except when my co-teacher would speak in English–yikes!
In my regular classes (as in the ones without several ajumma watching like hawks) I’ve been trying to stop the guys from imitating and mocking my co-teacher’s intonation and pronunciation of English in the lesson content whenever he teaches parts of the lesson. They do it, for the most part, quietly because they know he has problems hearing well thus avoiding detection and what I’m sure would be the immediate use of corporal punishment. What makes all this worse is that in spite of the fact that my co-teacher’s English is actually PHENOMENAL and he is VERY fluent and truly an advanced level English speaker with near native speaker abilities . . . for some reason when he’s teaching and, for example, slows down his enunciation of a word to ‘demonstrate’ how to say it to the boys something strange, and unfortunately awful, happens to the elongated vowel sounds. The boys find this highly amusing and love to imitate it. I try to stop them but sometimes even I can’t hide the fact that I’m freaked out by the distorted sounds I hear being said with vigorous enthusiasm by my co-teacher–and the guys see it. They’ve realized, though, that there’s a line that they can’t cross in terms of mocking my co-teacher because while I might smile for a tenth of second they also know I won’t tolerate more than a few moments of this kind of behavior . . .
Unfortunately, in the demo class, my co-teacher felt an overpowering need to show off his English abilities for the watching mothers more than usual–and I began to sweat even more when I heard the guys doing their usual mimicry posing as listening and repeating what their teacher is telling them to listen and repeat . . . oh god. I threw out a few warning glares and stares and that toned things down a bit, but the guys knew that I couldn’t openly take them to task for doing what the teacher was asking them to do because to do so would also call attention to my co-teacher’s pronunciation–argh.
Other than that the lesson was quite successful except for near the end when again I offered my co-teacher the reins to take up the answers for a worksheet exercise the students had just finished. By this point my co-teacher must have been feeling exhausted from trying so hard because of the six ajumma sitting in the back watching every little detail because he lost his place 3 times while going through the answers for the questions . . . I pretended to ‘review’ the answer he had just talked about and covered the missing answer each time, and I don’t think the mothers noticed these small mistakes, and then the class was over.
The mothers all left after my co-teacher and I said thank you for coming to them, and seemed to be happy with the class in general. I thought the class in general was also a success, and told my co-teacher I thought it was the ‘best class we’ve ever done together, there was a lot of co-teaching and we shared the lesson well.’ Lol . . . too bad there can’t be an open demo class every week, I thought to myself, sigh.
Then there was a ten minute break before the one other open demo class period. The parents, oops moms, had TWO CLASSES worth of time in which to form their ‘evaluations’ of the Korean teachers classes and teaching methods . . . yeah, uh-huh, two classes eh? Wow.
My other co-teacher arrived at the classroom before the class time began–shocking! (actually, to be fair to her she usually arrives either at the start time or one minute after whereas many other co-teachers I’ve had in the past show up 2-5 minutes after the start time)–and we began passing out the lesson handouts to the students to get ready to start.
As we began the class I noticed a slightly different attitude in her body language, and she seemed a little nervous though why she might be feeling this I don’t know because we’d established last week that we’d just do the typical co-teaching patterns that we always do. I mention this because I had tried to encourage her to speak more in English while teaching with me for the demo class because she also has PHENOMENAL English language abilities, and her teaching skills are really good too. The look on her face though, when I’d made this suggestion, was tantamount to me suggesting that she do cartwheels down the classroom aisles while singing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” . . . lol.
Needless to say, and sadly too because I KNOW my co-teacher’s English is amazing and she is fully capable of teaching English only in English, she spoke for the most part in Korean during the lesson and the different teaching tasks she would do by herself, sigh.
Slightly off topic but definitely relevant to this post, how on earth does the government think that teaching English in English is possible when the Korean English teachers who are fully capable of doing so show EXTREME reluctance towards displaying their English language skills in the English language classrooms of Korean public schools? This is something that needs consideration and possibly some kind of training exercises to be added to the six month teach English in English program if the millions of won being spent on Korean English teachers so they can teach English in English isn’t a complete and utter waste of time and Korean taxpayers money.
Anyways, the rest of the second demo class went well. At one point, during a worksheet exercise that lasted nearly 10 minutes (I’m not going to rush a learning task just because it’s boring for the moms to watch) the mothers decided that they’d go check out some of the other demo classes going on, smiled and waved and made I’m sorry faces as they snuck out of the back door to my classroom–and once they were gone suddenly several of the guys in my class all let out huge breaths and collapsed in relief to my enormous amusement.
I asked them what that was about, and six guys immediately said that the six ajumma who had been watching were their mothers, lol! I then told them, “DAMN! If I’d known your moms were actually here I would have made sure to make you speak English a lot to me!” Which was immediately met with groans and ‘no, Jason, no!’ again to my enormous amusement.
The remainder of the class passed quickly and when there was only five minutes left two of the mothers returned–much to two of the boys horror, lol.
While taking up the answers to the cloze exercise for the lesson one of the boys made sure to answer 3 of the 10 questions–I imagine so that later his mother wouldn’t pummel him or something for not participating more in class . . . or at least that’s the kind of thing I imagine based on the severe reactions of the guys after their mothers left the room, lol.
And thus ended open demo classes day–err, afternoon, err, a whopping two hours worth of time.
I am VERY curious to see how the evaluations play out once the results are released in June or July (nobody is sure when this will happen). Here’s a quote from one ‘news’ article about the new evaluations,
“During the meeting, the ministry decided to lay out related regulations first by the end of next month, while the legislative process is still languishing during a flurry of discussions among lawmakers, teachers and parents. In order to minimize possible confusion in the early stages, a reference manual will be offered by the ministry for each school to develop their own evaluation questionnaire.”
If there was a ‘reference manual’ that was sent to my high school none of the Korean English teachers I talked to know about its existence, and none of them know what kind of guidelines were in it.
Also, “The evaluation result and original questionnaire will be displayed at school websites and will be considered when local education authorities evaluate a school`s operating performance.” I’m guessing that the evaluations results from parents and students will be put into some kind of ‘special formula’ which will then produce an inflated score–though if every school does this sort of thing, and that wouldn’t be unusual, the final evaluation results will be meaningless–especially considering the fact that “the result[s] will not affect promotion chances and wages, [though] underperforming teachers w[ill] be obliged to undergo special training programs, while high-performing teachers are to be given incentives.”
If there are no tangible consequences for the teachers being evaluated, and none of them know anything about the fact that “high-performing teachers are to be given incentives” . . .
What’s the point?
“And that’s all I have to say about that.” Forrest Gump
For the past 10 days or so I’ve been battling the cough/fever/fatigue/body ache virus that’s been making the rounds at my school (and probably all of Korea).
Last week I was supposed to begin the first round of speaking tests for my 2nd grade classes but Sunday night I felt so crappy, and had lost so much of my voice from coughing, that I decided there was no way I could force myself to do the speaking tests for the 2nd graders and teach my 1st grade classes too (that’s a LOT of speaking!). I text messaged my co-teacher Sunday night saying that if I still felt the same way Monday morning at 6:45 I’d be taking a sick day.
Monday morning rolls around and I feel like death warmed over, and my voice was down to around 50% power . . . I text messaged my co-teacher and took a sick day.
Tuesday I forced myself to suck it up and soldier on into the school where I did two second grade classes (about 18 guys out of 38-40) worth of speaking tests, and taught my three 1st grade classes . . . it was a LONG day.
Wednesday, I pumped myself full of cough and cold meds and again soldiered on trying to ignore how crappy I felt, and did the tests and classes. On top of that I stayed at the school for my after school program gifted class that runs from 6:30 to 7:30pm. Oh my god was that a mistake. A twelve hour day when you’re sick is NOT a good idea.
I text messaged my co-teacher Wednesday night, again saying that if I felt as crappy as I was and if my voice was as terrible as it was that I’d be taking another sick day. Thursday morning at 6:45am I texted her to say I wouldn’t be coming in.
I have been very happy with how my school, and my co-teacher, doesn’t harass me when I take a sick day. They generally accept and trust my judgement about whether or not I am able to work when I’m sick, and they accept that I’m not Korean (meaning that Korean teachers usually go into school no matter what their condition is). Also, I haven’t heard a single “You should go to the hospital.” from any of the co-teachers I work with–actually, I got a few text messages from the older ones after I sent them an apology text message saying I was sick and staying home where they suggested, and didn’t demand/command me (wow, impressive), that I should go to the hospital. I now see this as a normal expression of concern in Korean culture but when I first got to Korea it used to bug me.
I ended up staying home on Friday too. It was a little amusing to me Friday morning when I texted my co-teacher at 6:45am to say I wouldn’t be coming in again to see the first hints of alarm at my absence because there were now 3 days of speaking tests that would have to be made up, and the school schedule is already insanely full and figuring out when and how to make up the time was going to be difficult to figure out . . . but my throat felt like I’d sucked back a shaved-glass smoothie from hell, and my voice sounded like it too. My co-teacher texted me her concerns, and I decided to actually call her so she could hear what I sounded like–if there had been even a glimmer of doubt as to why I couldn’t administer the speaking tests, and why I was staying home, it disappeared pretty fast! She told me to get better soon, and that on Monday we’d figure out how to reschedule the tests.
Anyways, to get to my post about what Korean English co-teachers do when the native teacher is sick and not in class . . .
I really don’t understand why 99.9% of the co-teachers I’ve worked with, and 99.9% of the stories I’ve heard from other native teachers about their co-teachers, don’t use the lesson plan and materials that the native teacher makes if the native teacher is sick.
Actually, I do know the reasons but it still frustrates me.
Here are some of the many reasons,
1) The KET’s English language ability is “poor” (by “poor” I mean the literal performance ability, not the Korean cultural practice of being ‘humble’ about your abilities) and they cannot teach English in English.
2) The KET’s degree of participation while co-teaching a class is little to none, so they don’t know how to teach the lesson plan alone (even after having observed it several times).
3) The KET is shy and/or insecure about their English speaking ability and afraid/nervous about how students might react if they make a mistake, or say/do something wrong.
4) The KET often learns the language goals and content of the lesson DURING class along with the students, and has not mastered the content enough to teach it independently.
And the list goes on. Some of the reasons are very legitimate and understandable, and others are not.
The thing that motivated me to write this blog is that the native teacher/Korean teacher Thursday and Friday classes are at the end of the week, so in terms of my co-teachers not having learned and mastered the lesson goals and content of the week’s lesson . . . that shouldn’t have been an issue because they’d already co-taught/observed the lesson at least twice with me. The power point for the lesson was on the English classroom computer; there were copies of the lesson worksheets on the desk ready for the classes; the co-teachers had taught the lesson with me at least a couple times already, and had had a chance to listen to me teach and explain the lesson content, and go over the worksheet exercises; the co-teachers had heard the classroom English expressions and procedure language, and observed how I taught each stage of the lesson and how much time it took . . . simply put, the co-teachers had pretty much gotten their ‘practice’ co-teaching sessions done with me, had had time to observe me teaching the lesson and voluntarily choose what they want to do in terms of specific co-teaching tasks, and had had time to learn, practice, and master the lesson content . . . so you would think that if the native teacher had to take a sick day that the co-teachers might be able to teach the class alone using the lesson plan for that week–but that’s not what happened.
Instead of teaching the lesson for OUR classes my co-teachers used the class time for regular textbook teaching. Now normally I might not have any problem with this because in the past my classes in public schools have never been assigned a portion of the English class final grade, and have never been given testing points. But this semester my classes are being tested, and are worth 10% of the final grade. It doesn’t make any sense to me why a professionally trained and licensed Korean English teacher who has a good level of English language skills and understanding of the lesson goals, content, and communicative teaching procedure would choose not to teach the lesson without me.
Some people might try to explain this by saying maybe the co-teacher doesn’t fully understand all of the lesson’s language and culture content, or that they aren’t sure about how to pronounce some key words or expressions, and other things along those lines . . . but I would respond with the following comment.
When I’ve tried sending co-teachers my lesson plans and the materials I will be using in the coming weeks they rarely if ever ask me questions; they rarely if ever take a close look at the lesson plan, its goals, its content, the communicative procedure, and the division of teaching tasks between native teacher and co-teacher laid out on the lesson plan and materials; they rarely if ever bring a copy of the lesson plan and materials with them to the first class of the week even when I’ve sent them an email with digital file copies (or even placed a paper copy on each co-teacher’s desk); they rarely if ever talk to me before class or after class about anything in the lesson they don’t understand and need to master in order to c0-teach effectively with me . . .
So when I don’t criticize my co-teachers for all of those things, and let them slide, I really don’t think it’s too much to ask why they won’t teach the lesson we’ve already taught together several times if I’m not in the classroom.
I just paused while writing this to ask my primary co-teacher, who is also the head English teacher at my school, about this. I told her everything I’ve mentioned here, and also said I felt that my co-teachers have excellent English language abilities, the communicative teaching method basics mastered, and the lesson goals and content mastered . . . and that I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t teach the lesson plan for our class time when I was sick and absent. My co-teacher smiled, laughed a lot while I was describing all this (definitely signs of some nervousness, trying to show sympathy and understanding, and hoping that I wasn’t going to insist she do something about the issue), and then started explaining that Korean English teachers use the lecture style of teaching and that they don’t normally use communicative language teaching methods . . . her answer pretty much side-stepping my query. Basically, from what I heard and the impression I got, there’s not even the slightest possibility that she would be interested in trying to help me lead and motivate the co-teachers to attempt to teach English in English through a communicative method with a lesson plan made by a native speaker . . . so if the head English teacher who has near native speaker level English, an excellent grasp of lot of western cultural ideas, and a kick ass ability to teach using communicative language teaching methods (we co-taught together last semester) is not willing to try and help me motivate my co-teachers to step up and teach alone when I’m sick . . . well, without support from her I don’t have much of a chance of this happening.
All of this being said, I think if I really pushed, and spent a lot of time and energy coaching and motivating and supporting my co-teachers to try to do this with a lesson that we had already taught a few times during the week, a lesson which they had had at least one or two classes in which to observe and learn all the things they need to, and then ask them to try doing it alone . . . that some of them, perhaps even all of them, might be willing to try it–but there are so many factors involved in this, and a lot of extra time and energy that would be required on my part if I wanted this to happen that I don’t know if I am even interested in trying.
There’s a favorite quote of mine that comes to mind from The Matrix,
Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Spoon boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Spoon boy: Then you’ll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.
I guess I need to make myself more ‘bendy’ when it comes to how I think about co-teaching . . . but the double-standard that exists bothers me. What I mean by this is that I imagine native teachers who teach with a Korean English teacher using the public school textbook are expected to teach the class from the textbook even if their co-teacher is sick, on a business trip, or whatever the case may be when the Korean co-teacher is not in the classroom. The textbook material is extremely valuable in the minds of the co-teachers, and this comes from the fact that it is the primary testing material–unlike the lessons and content the native teacher produces and teaches.
And therein lies one of the issues surr0unding this problem, I think. There is a lack of value and respect for the native teacher’s lessons and class time because traditionally it has not been given any test points at all, and even when it is given test points it can only be assigned 10% due to the fact that native teachers only see their classes once a week (although this can vary, and be for example once a MONTH in some cases).
Another major issue is the lack of a sense of SHARED ownership in the lesson planning, preparation for co-taught classes, equal or somewhat equal division of co-teaching tasks and work in the classroom during classes, and so on. If co-teachers had a bigger personal stake in the classes they teach with native teachers I think it would go a LONG way to raising motivation levels and improving attitudes towards theses classes. However, the scheduling difficulties and realities of school work culture make it very difficult for the native teacher to meet with all of the different co-teachers (anywhere from 2 to upwards of 12 (I know one native teacher who has 15 different co-teachers!)) to design and make lesson plans, discuss co-teaching methods and issues, and in general for the Korean English co-teachers to invest their time and energy into the classes . . . anyways, these are some of the things that need to be addressed, I think, if co-teaching is to work well for BOTH the native teacher and the Korean English teacher.
I’ll wrap this up by summarizing a conversation I had later this afternoon with one of the co-teachers who didn’t use the lesson materials for our class last Thursday and Friday. I took a break from writing this blog to think about it more over the afternoon and to also see if I could find some answers . . .
After carefully and very diplomatically asking one of my co-teachers why she hadn’t taught the lesson last week when everything was laid out and ready to teach her reply was, “I thought it was your special program. Only you should teach it.” Wow . . . I really didn’t know how to respond to that. Was this a case of a cover up story being used to save face and to try and avoid embarrassment because she knew she should have taught the lesson because the Thursday and Friday classes shouldn’t lose the class time with OUR tested lesson content–or was this a case of Korean cultural teacher boundaries causing my co-teacher to think she’d somehow make me upset because she was ‘stealing’ my special program (I’ll admit the power point I made was spectacular, lol, and that I spent a lot of time on the lesson and the students’ responses and high motivation levels were impressing the Korean English teachers, lol)? I don’t know what to think.
I trust and like my co-teacher, but sometimes the rationalizations I am given when I ask questions about co-teaching issues/situations, and why something was done one way, or not done, I struggle to accept the answers. I still, after five years in Korea, can’t bend my mind around always putting relationships before good teaching principles and actions in the classroom and school. And I still haven’t been able to figure out how to easily trust what I’m told by co-teachers because there’s always this small voice in the back of my head saying, ‘She’s only saying that because she wants to protect your co-teaching relationship. She’s really thinking/feeling something else.’ It’s unfortunate, but true.
There are no easy answers for what native teachers and Korean English teachers ‘should’ do when one of them is sick. There are just too many variables involved. But I do think it is something that the native teacher and/or Korean English co-teacher should talk about what they hope for (as opposed to expect), and what they are willing and able to do when one of them is sick or absent from the classroom.
What do you think?
About a month ago I sat down with my co-teachers to get them to explain to me how many points my speaking tests would have in the students’ English final grade.
I brought paper with me to write everything out in the hopes that it would help prevent any miscommunications . . . god I’m such a fool to think that there is any method that might prevent this!
Today, after already finishing 2 classes where I explained the speaking test procedure, the rubric, and talked about how the test points add up and effect the students’ final grades . . . today I find out that I have no clue what I’m talking about.
I’m a little pissed off.
To start with, during the meeting I had a month ago I used the phrase “final grade for the whole year” several times. I talked about “100 points for the final grade” and asked how many of those 100 points were delegated to the native speaker conversation class tests–SEVERAL TIMES.
I wrote out on a piece of paper a break down that looks something like this,
Final Grade = 100 points
Jason’s Class = 10 points
Test 1 = 2.5 points
Test 2 = 2.5 points
Test 3 = 2.5 points
Test 4 + 2.5 points
Jason’s Class test point total = 10 / 100 final grade points
After writing this out, I then asked THREE co-teachers to confirm that my understanding was correct. None of them even hesitated for a second as they all enthusiastically said I understood the point system. WRONG!
The reality is that each semester of the school year’s testing points culminate in TWO FINAL GRADES: one final grade for the spring/summer semester, and one final grade for the fall/winter semester.
The two final grades are NOT averaged on the student’s academic record (according to what I was told this morning, but take that with a grain of salt)–believe me, I asked because I find the whole concept very strange.
The long and short of it is that this grading system helps the schools construct the student academic rankings each semester.
When I pointed out that the English classes throughout the entire year use the same textbook, and that all the tests in the spring/summer semester and fall/winter semester are based on the same source of material, and that there is a performance continuum that goes through the entire year . . . it was acknowledged that I had a valid point, but that the practice was to isolate each semester’s test scores in order to, wait for it, produce the academic rankings.
My co-teachers didn’t seem to understand why I was irritated today when I sat them down to hash out this miscommunication. In fact, one of them thought the discussion was a waste of time, and just walked away. Fine, thanks for the support–not.
The fact is that when I’m in the classroom and I am talking about TESTS and TEST POINTS I NEED TO KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT cause otherwise the students will lose confidence in my authority and competence as their teacher and evaluator. But these things don’t seem to register in my co-teachers’ minds . . .
It’s extremely difficult for me to trust anything and everything I’m told by a co-teacher in Korea because I always have to wonder if there is authentic two-way communication taking place . . . whether I’m the one making a mistake and operating on some kind of unconscious cultural norms assumptions, or they are, it’s really hard to trust the information.
Often, Korean cultural norms and automatic assumptions create static and noise that inhibits thinking about the message and its content, and distorts and twists the specific contents of a message being sent by one party to another . . . even with the visual aids of pen and paper, and the frequent use of repetition of the key words in the message, comprehension checking questions, and rephrasing the SAME information in several different forms . . . the communication often gets distorted by the automatic thinking and cultural norms of the Korean, and/or the native English speaker.
It drives me a little crazy when this happens in my every day life outside of teaching, but most of the time I laugh it off.
But when it happens in a teaching context I have a really hard time shaking it off. Especially when it damages my teacher reputation and the quality of education in my classroom.
Explaining the testing and grading system to new native teachers arriving in Korean public school teaching jobs might just be something that NEEDS to be added to orientation curricula in the near future as English speaking tests begin to appear in more and more public school native English teacher conversation/speaking classes . . . otherwise I foresee the exact same situation happening to hundreds if not thousands of native English teachers in the near future.
When a new foreign teacher first comes to Korea and walks into their new school and teacher office it could be compared to an actor walking into a play in which they don’t know the following: how to speak the language the play is written in, the cultural behavior rules for how to interact with other characters, power dynamics and hierarchies, and the social conventions for the different situations which arise in each scene of the play.
After working in Korea for five years and having attended several orientations and workshops for foreign teachers I have yet to see a presentation that addresses the most common situations and challenges that new foreign teachers experience during the first couple of weeks at their new schools, while settling into their new living environments, and throughout the course of their first year in Korea.
If any of the following materials are used as a part of an orientation or new foreign teacher training manual I would appreciate being cited as the author (if it’s something that I wrote) and or as a source from which the materials were taken from (if it’s something I found and arranged and posted on the Net). I’ve spent a lot of time and energy writing and blogging and would appreciate the citation. Thanks.
Now I should preface everything I write below by saying that I’m pretty sure most if not all foreign teachers can adopt and embody several Korean aspects to being the ‘ideal model new foreign teacher.’ (The definition of what is ‘ideal,’ however, seems to vary a lot. Sometimes it also boils down to just saying yes all the time and doing whatever is being asked of you–this meaning that you’re being a ‘good’ foreign teacher.) But the flip side of this coin is that everybody has psychological and behavioral boundaries they just won’t cross, or modify, and there’s a limit to how much one can assimilate themselves into a culture that may at times be incredibly alien and stressful–from a foreign perspective.
With this in mind I decided to write about the following situations below.
14. Failing to be patient with the bureaucratic school culture paperwork and how Koreans get tasks done that are directly related to your work and living situations.
New foreign teachers often complain about how slow and inefficient public school bureaucracy is when they first arrive in Korea. They need to bear in mind, however, that they really don’t understand the processes involved, and generally the large number of Koreans involved in completing one seemingly ‘simple’ task.
Try to keep in mind that there is generally little to (usually) no cross-cultural training for your Korean co-teacher (and when there is it’s only for your ONE primary co-teacher, and fails to include all the other Korean English teachers at your school, some of which you’ll likely be working with, but who never get the training) let alone all the other Koreans in your school that will be involved with things relating to your life in Korea. As a result of this when Koreans are talking about something and/or doing something for you they don’t know how to include you in the process. If the ritual way of doing a task hasn’t been modified to include the foreigner in a situation in Korea then the foreigner pretty much doesn’t exist.
New native teachers are often frustrated about the language and cultural barriers that exclude them from active participation in decision-making processes, lol. For example, when a school is setting up the teacher’s apartment, or perhaps even just learning that they need to find one for you AFTER you’ve already arrived at the school straight from orientation (yes, it’s happened to me, and may happen to you) the new foreign teacher needs to keep in mind that the school admin office manager, a secretary or two, their co-teacher, the vice-principal, principal, the apartment building manager, the apartment owner, and toss in a few Koreans I’m probably forgetting . . . they are ALL involved in completing this ONE TASK. Add to this that Korean culture is a very ritualized culture with what to a foreign teacher appears to be an ‘obsession’ with attention to rank and respect and only one way to do something and yeah, everything begins to look like it’s moving in slow motion IF you compare it to how things get done back in your home culture–DON’T DO THAT!
Sit back and let the Koreans work out what needs to be done and how, and occasionally ask your co-teacher to translate the key parts of what is going on but be prepared for most if not all decisions to be made for you, without asking for your input, to HELP you (though you may not like how you’re being ‘helped’). The assumption is being made that since you can’t speak Korean, and have never lived in Korea, that you must not know how to do anything in Korea–literally! This is not to say that the Koreans are being mean, or negative in any way towards you; it’s just the way Korean culture views a young unmarried adult in their mid to late twenties . . . especially one who doesn’t have any older family members present to make decisions and do things for them–which is the norm here even if you’re a 25+years old university graduate. After you’ve been in Korea for a while and met some Koreans who are in this age bracket you may realize that it’s pretty true that older married mid-30s to mid-50s Koreans have to help the 20-something generations to do things that in western culture it’s taken for granted that the young person can do–in Korea, that’s just not the case. For example, a 20-something Korean guy cooking a simple meal or doing his laundry . . . many have no idea how to do these things.
Another issue that new teachers may not consider is that how work tasks are prioritized is very different. The task that gets given priority is always the task coming from whoever has the highest social and workplace rank in the school. If a school office admin manager is working on doing 10 tasks, and one of them comes from the vice-principal or principal, it’s pretty safe to assume that completing the bank account deposit form for the new foreign teacher’s monthly salary deposit is going to drop lower in the task priority rankings–even if pay day is tomorrow, or even worse, yesterday. The Korean admin office manager is in Korea for life, and has to do what is best for their career and future; dropping all other tasks regardless of the social and work rank of the Korean who needs it done in order to do something for the new foreign teacher who is likely to only be in Korea for ONE year . . . yeah, not likely. Be patient and be friendly to the admin office manager in your school because this person especially handles tasks that you NEED done. Also, if you’re the first foreign teacher at that school, and/or the admin office manager is new to their job, they may not know what to do and how to do it which will also make the whole process take longer (add to the mix that every public school office admin manager and university secretary/co-ordinator I’ve worked with has never been given any training or mentoring on what foreign teachers need done, and how to do the paper work–expecting them to do their jobs quickly and well when it’s a task they’ve never even heard of before is not really fair so be patient and know that things will eventually happen . . . eventually, lol).
13. Failing to adapt to what may appear to be an extreme loss of independence and autonomy at work and in your personal life.
A lot of new foreign teachers arriving in Korea, myself included, are shocked at how much independence and autonomy they have to surrender at work and in their personal lives. I’ll never forget the first time I told my primary co-teacher in 2005 that I was going to go to Seoul (from Ganghwa Island) for the weekend and how she showed extreme agitation and worry about how I could possibly survive 72 hours without her, or someone older than I was, to ‘help’ me.
Now remember, she was operating under that general assumption that if you can’t speak Korean, don’t know the culture, and don’t have an older family member to supervise you that you’re pretty much a helpless child . . . and no, I don’t think that this is an exaggeration.
I looked at my co-teacher and told her that if I could survive basic training in the Canadian Army that I’d be able to ‘survive’ traveling to Seoul and back, finding a place to sleep, finding food, and walking around Seoul amusing myself. She continued to ask “How will you . . . ?” questions in spite of my attempts to reassure her and I finally just gave up and told her that I’d call her day or night (HA!) if I needed her help (I didn’t, lol). Telling her that I’d rely on her to tell me what to do if I needed help calmed her down a tiny bit, but I’m sure she probably spent a good portion of the weekend worried about me being ‘all alone and helpless’ in Korea, lol. (As an aside I think it’s much more preferable to have a co-teacher who cares about your well-being than one who has no interest at all in helping you and/or how you’re doing during the first month or so in Korea!)
There are a huge number of situations in Korea that you actually will feel ‘helpless’ to a lesser or greater extent.
a) getting a cell phone
b) getting Internet and Cable TV installed and an account set up
c) getting a bank account (though KEB is pretty decent if you want to go alone)
d) going to the hospital for your health check, or if you’re sick (go with a Korean co-teacher who can help translate things (it’s 70-30 that you’ll get a doctor that has fantastic English) and be willing to sacrifice your privacy for the sake of accurate translations to aid the diagnose and treatment. Also bear in mind that everything your co-teacher hears and sees is fair game for discussion with other Koreans back at your school!
e) going to the immigration office to apply for your alien registration card and to get a multiple re-entry visa (I cannot urge you strongly enough to NEVER go there alone, always go with a co-teacher or a Korean from your school)
Some foreign teachers manage to accomplish tasks in spite of the language and cultural barriers on their own, but I suspect that many if not the vast majority need help from their Korean co-teacher when they first arrive in Korea. You can do the things I list above, and more, ALONE . . . but they often exact a high cost of stress and difficulty if you go it alone; getting your co-teacher or another Korean to help you generally speeds things up in ways that you may not understand right now–just trust me, 99% of the time it’s easier if you have a Korean helping you.
It’s a really really hard thing to do, however, giving a Korean stranger/co-teacher complete and utter power over you in a situation to get something done for you, but it’s something that often has to be done no matter how much you might hate it, resist it, and really don’t want to do it. It can be very surreal to sit in a bank setting up a bank account and have no clue what is going on most of the time because your co-teacher is speaking in Korean, and the bank officer is speaking in Korean, and very little translating is going on other than the bare minimum. Yet the alternatives are not being able to get something done, it taking a thousand times longer than if you’d just let your co-teacher help you, and the thing being done incorrectly (often because of misunderstandings, and often a Korean will make assumptions based on Korean cultural norms about what you need and want that are the OPPOSITE of what you have specifically said in ENGLISH and they didn’t understand or just assumed they know better because you’re new to Korea) which can cause more problems in the future.
12. Failing to understand that there is a hierarchy and you are at the bottom of it (most of the time anyway).
In Korea there is a very highly structured social hierarchy based on age, gender, job title, and other factors (whether or not you’re of Korean ethnicity, in my opinion, also plays a major role in this). In public school culture a new foreign teacher who is in their mid-to-late 20s, unmarried, can’t speak Korean, doesn’t know Korean culture, and doesn’t have a high ranking job title . . . well, you have about as much rank as a ‘recruit’ entering army boot camp in the minds of the Koreans you’ll be working with. Do not be confused by all the attention and flattery and compliments you’re getting from students and faculty because in terms of having the authority and/or power to request something you need or want you have to go through the chain of command first. Even if you’re an older foreign teacher, for example someone in their fifties, you’ll not be treated the same way as a Korean teacher in their fifties; I should add, though, that most Korean teachers who are younger than you will be fairly deferential to you, but that that is not always the case (as I’ve heard from older foreign teachers, and also witnessed first hand).
When a fresh out of teachers college graduate/new Korean teacher arrives at their first school to begin their teaching career they’re pretty much everyone’s ‘lackey’–to put it lightly. Every task that nobody else wants to do–give it to the newbie. I’ve talked to several young Korean English teachers and ALL of them, especially the young unmarried female teachers, tell me that they have a really stressful time at work because of the rigid social hierarchy within the school culture. Basically, they can’t say ‘no’ to pretty much anything a senior ranking teacher tells them to do without severe social and professional penalties being enacted on them by their ‘seniors.’
Juxtapose what young new unmarried Korean teachers go through when they arrive at their new jobs and schools with how new native teachers are treated and I think it’s safe to say that in general we’re treated a lot better even though we’re at the bottom of the school’s social/workplace hierarchy. (Oh, and if you’re Korean-Canadian or Korean-American and you can speak Korean semi-fluently to fluently YOU SHOULD HIDE THIS FACT!!! If you don’t you WILL be treated almost exactly like a new Korean teacher. You’ll be asked to do translation tasks, stay late, and basically you’ll lose the ability that new foreign teachers have to claim “I am not Korean” and say no to things like doing extra classes on Saturday mornings, and other extras that most Korean teachers cannot refuse to do.)
If you think you can somehow LIVE AND FUNCTION as a teacher outside this social hierarchy and somehow sidestep it, and create your own power dynamics with the Koreans you work with–well, let’s just say you’re in for a really long and stressful year in Korea. I am NOT suggesting you say yes all the time and act like you’re in the Korean army. I am suggesting that a drastically increased sensitivity to rank and power politics and cultural issues is a good idea.
11. Getting visibly and openly upset/angry/negative about something in the teacher’s office (or anywhere in the school where faculty and/or students can hear and see you).
For most new foreign teachers there will inevitably be something that makes you so angry you could spew molten lava out of your mouth and it still wouldn’t convey how angry you are with whatever is going on. DO NOT YELL or use an angry/critical tone of voice with a Korean teacher/office admin manager/vice-principal/principal . . . you’ll lose 99.99999% of the time in terms of getting whatever it is you need or want from them. You’ll also likely make every other Korean who is within earshot immediately label you as ‘the enemy’ and the school’s faculty will likely close ranks against you; you’ll be ostracized to a degree that is generally not seen in western culture workplaces. You may still get what you’re fighting for–but at the same time you’ll be PAYING a severe social penalty in terms of the damage you’ve done to your reputation and relationships with Koreans at your school.
During my first year in Korea I got really sick in about my second month. I had a high fever, cough, and flu symptoms, and in general felt like I was dying. My apartment, unfortunately, was only 50 feet from the main school building. I told my co-teacher that I just wanted to be left alone to rest and try and recover as quickly as possible. I told her that I would not answer the door for anyone (it’s VERY common for your co-teacher, vice-principal, principal, and others to ‘visit’ a foreign teacher when they’re sick-which is NOT fun) because I was sick, taking medication I’d brought with me from Canada, and didn’t want visitors. This drove my principal bonkers and I later heard that he stood for hours one day watching my apartment door from the teacher’s office windows to see if I’d come out. At one point during the day I ran out of juice and water so I hauled my sick butt out of bed and began slowly walking across the school courtyard towards a nearby store. The principal saw me and literally ran through the hallways to catch me. He wanted to interrogate me about every detail of my illness in KOREAN, and didn’t think to bring my co-teacher with him to translate. He fully expected me to stand and communicate with him in spite of the fact that I was terribly sick and DIDN’T SPEAK A WORD OF KOREAN . . . oh, and the other thing he wanted to tell me: he’d set up a dinner meeting with a friend of his he wanted me to meet on a Monday night at 7pm and expected me to go no questions asked.
While standing in the courtyard of the school with this 61 year old Korean principal talking to me in lightning fast Korean I didn’t have the first clue what he was saying or what he wanted from me, but when I tried to walk away he stopped me by grabbing my arm, and speaking even faster to me in Korean. I snapped . . .
I became furious and gestured to him that he follow me. I marched through the halls of the school and up to the teachers office, and in front of the entire school’s faculty I read him the riot act about how he was not to bother me when I was taking a sick day. I asked my co-teacher to translate this, which looking back now I find hysterically funny because I assumed she would actually translate a nobody-rank criticism of the god-king-ranked-principal . . . and after she asked the principal what he wanted from me, she told me about how he’d set up a dinner appointment for me outside of the 8 hour work day, on my personal time, without asking me if I wanted to go . . . well, I lost it and got really angry and lectured the god-king in front of all of his subordinates.
The principal pretty much turned nuclear-red (if such a color hadn’t existed before it was born that day) and stalked out of the office. He didn’t talk to me or even look at me in the school hallways for almost 3 weeks. Later, when I wasn’t feeling like death warmed over from my illness I realized how big a cultural taboo I’d broken by figuratively spitting in the face of the highest ranking Korean in the school, and in general Korean society also a very high ranking person. I went into the principal’s office and ate probably the biggest crow (‘eating crow‘) of my entire life. The principal, after hearing my co-teacher translate and seeing my meek attitude and desire to beg his forgiveness (don’t forget, I was 12,000km from home and living in a two-street village next to a mountain on an island–yeah, I needed the guy who could make my life a living hell to forgive me!) . . . said he accepted my apology a little coolly and that was that. It took about another two weeks before we were back to being on friendly terms, and later I found out his nickname for me was “The General” because of what had happened. I WAS DAMN FREAKING LUCKY, and I think if, for example, I’d been living in Seoul and had done something like this things would have been really really bad . . . I don’t think I’d be fired, but I imagine that going to work would be a nightmare for a very long time.
All of this boils down to one simple rule: if you think you’re going to lose control and speak to another Korean in a very angry or critical tone of voice GET OUT OF THE OFFICE! Go to an empty classroom and call a friend to talk to them and cool down. Go outside the school building and take a walk and cool down.
If you really feel the need to talk about whatever is bothering you ask the person you’re upset with to go with you to an empty classroom or somewhere where you can talk alone. But I’d suggest that it might be better to wait a couple hours, if not a day, and think things over. There are not many issues or problems that cannot wait a few hours, or until the next day, till you’ve thought things through, and calmed down a bit before you start a conversation you may really regret afterwards.
NOTE: You should also consider that most Koreans will almost never express anger or criticism to anyone who has a higher social/workplace rank than them. If you decide to express anger or criticism or anything negative towards a Korean who is older than you are, or has the higher social rank, you should expect things to get very very difficult, and most of the time it is highly unlikely that you’ll get what you need or want from them or the situation–it is more likely that you’ll make things worse, and it will be even harder after that to try to accomplish what you need or want.
The indirect approach is generally the best strategy to get what you need and want in Korea. Ask a Korean who is older and has a higher rank than you, and most of the other Koreans involved in the situation/issue (this is great because the older Korean outranks the others and can put pressure on them if they choose to) to help you solve your dilemma. Then let the backroom social politics play themselves out. This is really hard to do for people who are very assertive, proactive, and independent when it comes to problem solving . . . but unfortunately it is almost always the only way anything might possibly change. The backroom politics allow for the Koreans involved to save face–which is a HUGE thing here. Believe me, I know, and this comes from really stressful experiences I’ve had in Korea. Think about it.
10. Open confrontation and being assertive.
In western culture there is a very different sense of the cultural behavior rules and norms for when it’s okay to openly confront another person, and when it’s not. The same thing applies for when it’s okay to be assertive and not. In Korea the rules are different, and if you don’t know them you can set yourself up for some bad experiences.
There may be problems that happen at your school regarding teaching, administrative things, and/or living condition issues. Whatever understanding you have about the concept of professionalism back in your home culture/country you SHOULD ERASE THEM FROM YOUR MIND for the duration of your time in Korea–often these standards, procedures, norms and values are NON-EXISTENT in Korean culture. Do not expect and assume that professionalism will support your efforts, and direct how Koreans respond to whatever the situation is. You are NOT in a western cultural work and living space anymore!
The problems you’re dealing with may be really bad (for example, severe mold in your apartment that threatens your health), and you will probably tell your co-teacher about the problem, and then expect the school to do something about it–and nothing happens, or nothing seems to be happening and no one seems to care. Whether or not this is the case (sometimes it’s hard to read what Koreans are truly feeling, and you may misread attitudes so be careful), you should try to avoid open confrontation and being assertive about whatever the issue might be . . . even if your apartment looks like there are giant black mold clouds on the walls and ceiling.
If you decide to openly confront a Korean about an issue/problem that you think is serious enough to warrant it (based on WESTERN cultural norms) things will likely go from worse to terrible very quickly, and you might have even more problems getting what you want and need. Confronting an older, higher social and work rank Korean, EVEN IF YOU ARE 10000% IN THE RIGHT, usually only results in one thing: damaging the relationship between native teacher and Korean teachers/school faculty, and damaging the native teacher’s reputation and image in the group consciousness of the school.
Taking the indirect route is almost always the best thing to do. But it’s also freaking hard to do especially if you’re an independent person who is used to being very proactive about problem solving.
Some strategies for getting what you need and want in a crisis.
1) Politely tell your co-teacher what the problem is. Then leave it for at least a day or two. (Unless of course it’s something truly critical like a fire in your apartment, or infestation of fleas, etc).
2) After politely telling your co-teacher about the problem, send them an email repeating what you’ve said (sometimes the teacher’s English ability may be low and they need to have the problem written out so they can dissect it and figure out what you’re saying to them) or give it to them in a polite letter (actually, a letter is probably better as Naver and Daum tend to see Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo as spam and your co-teacher might never see the email).
3) Talk to other teachers at your school. Tell them about the problem. Paint a picture of yourself needing help, and how you hope someone will help you (basically, paint a picture of yourself as a helpless victim who needs to be rescued), and avoid placing blame and openly criticizing any Koreans at the school. Korean public school gossip networks are incredibly efficient about spreading any and all stories about a native teacher. By the end of the day EVERYONE will know about your problem, and this will likely make it a higher priority to be taken care of.
4) If you can talk to an OLDER Korean English teacher (older than your primary co-teacher) and get them to understand what is going on, what you need and want . . . they will often talk to your co-teacher or the office admin manager about the problem when you’re not around and push for things to be dealt with. This is a fantastic way of getting things done that helps to build relationships with co-teachers, and at the same time avoid confrontations and being overly assertive (in the Korean context).
5) The NUMBER ONE THING YOU MUST DO: Keep your relationship with your primary co-teacher, and school faculty, in good condition. (I just asked my co-teacher about strategies 1-4 and asked her if there’s anything else I should add. She said, ‘keep the relationship good’ very emphatically.)
Every native teacher will deal with problems and issues differently, and I know that I haven’t always followed the advice I give here, but it’s good to know what the ideal way is to do things in Korea even if you choose not to use these strategies or are unable to for whatever the reason. But remember that if you damage your relationships with the Koreans at your school you’d better hope that the reward is worth the VERY HIGH COST.
9. Asking “Why?” when a higher rank teacher, office admin manager, vice-principal, or principal (pretty much anyone who is Korean and older) tells you to do something.
In Korean culture when someone who is your ‘senior’ (meaning a higher social rank) tells you to do something you’re generally expected to obey, and to do it right away. Everyday life culture in Korea has a lot of military-style power dynamics because all able-bodied Korean men do military service; military culture is embedded in everyday civilian culture to a very large degree. A lot of new foreign teachers experience pretty big culture shock when they arrive in Korea, especially when they think the school workplace is not an army base–but in some ways it is.
Also, Korean Neo-Confucianism has very strict rules for power relationships and hierarchies. I would use the military example again as a way of explaining that every person (solider) has a rank (both socially and at work), and that the rank is extremely specific in terms of what you can say and do, and what you CAN’T say and do, and how you can and can’t interact with higher ranking and lower ranking Koreans. This takes a lot of adjusting to, and most foreigners figure out what they’re able to conform to, and then try to develop coping strategies for those things they just can’t do.
A good example of this strictness in social interactions might be experienced during the first month or so at your new school when you may be asked to sign forms that are in Korean language and your co-teacher may or may not translate and explain everything on the form. When you try to insist they explain everything they’ll likely be shocked, and perhaps even insulted or hurt. It is expected and assumed to such a degree as it is usually unconscious on the part of the co-teacher that you should blindly trust them because you have been assigned to their care, and they are your ‘senior’ (they outrank you). Think of this as a kind of modern day patron-client type relationship wherein your patron does things to help you be successful in your career and daily life while at the same time expecting a high degree of respect and obedience to whatever they ask you to do in return for their patronage.
8. Refusing to accept gifts.
Koreans will offer you gifts of food and other small things as a gesture and offering of welcoming and/or friendship when you arrive at your school. Regardless of what you think or feel about the gift you should accept it.
Even if it’s a food, for example dried squid (a common snack food in Korea), that has an insanely pungent aroma (I’m being diplomatic here, lol), you should accept the food. If you can do it you should also try to eat a little bit of it in front of the gift giver, and tell them no matter what you truly think and feel about it that the food is ‘delicious.’
7. Refusing to drink with other teachers during dinner parties
Native teachers should know that public schools often have teacher dinner parties. Drinking soju and beer is very common at these dinner parties for most of the male teachers (the female teachers generally do not drink at these dinner parties, though I have been at a few where they did). Eating and drinking together, especially for Korean men, is a HUGE BONDING RITUAL in Korea. This is one culture shock experience that still boggles my mind: if I get drunk with another Korean, even a Korean who can barely string together 3 words in English, they will vehemently tell everyone the next day at school that they’re now ‘best friends’ with me. This is no exaggeration. This is also not limited to Korean-foreigner drinking episodes. I also have seen this happen between Koreans who are strangers to each other. During one of the 6 month Teach English in English training programs I taught in, two young female teachers enthusiastically told me that they were now best friends, in the early stages of the program, because they had gotten drunk at the previous night’s dinner. That’s how powerful sharing food and drink is in Korean culture (though this is NOT the case for all Koreans, it’s usually male Korean teachers).
If you refuse to let another Korean pour you a shot of soju you are causing them to lose face, insulting them, and publicly announcing you do not want to be their friend. Of course, the teacher’s personality type and other factors influence how they react to this, and some just chalk it up to you being foreign and ‘not understanding Korean culture’ and they move on down the table to find a more compatible drinking buddy–but other teachers will write you off in terms of trying to develop a friendship, and they may influence other teachers at your school to see you as ‘unfriendly.’
If you don’t drink alcohol then it’s a really good idea to start planting this idea during your introductory conversations with teachers at the school. Ask them what the drinking culture is like in Korea, and then say you’re worried about what to do at a teacher dinner party (see, indirectly manipulating the situation is always best, you’re painting a picture of yourself as needing the help of the Korean you’re talking to), and that you don’t drink alcohol, and need some advice from the Korean teacher on what you should do to avoid being ‘disrespectful’ when someone offers you soju. Ask a Korean co-teacher to explain to the other Koreans at the dinner that you don’t drink alcohol. But you should still expect that a few Korean teachers will make exploratory invitations to drink. They’ll walk over to where you’re sitting, and offer to pour you a shot. In this case, do what the female teachers do. Hand them a bottle of chilsung (Korean version of 7Up/Gingerale), and let them pour you a shot of the soda, and then you should take the bottle of soju, and with your left hand held under your right forearm, pour them a drink holding the bottle with your right hand. This will impress them greatly because you’re pouring them a drink in the traditional Korean style. Also, keep in mind that Koreans will insist, sometimes rather forcefully, that you accept something from them THREE TIMES; each time they offer they will increase the enthusiasm and forcefulness of their offer. This can be intimidating to some new native teachers, especially young female teachers, and you should just firmly and politely say “I’m sorry. Thank you.” Try not to say ‘no’ directly and firmly, especially to the older male teachers. Make sure you sit beside your Korean co-teacher, and try to get them involved in the situation so they can help you by speaking in Korean to the enthusiastic Korean (who may be anywhere from mildly drunk to red-faced and VERY ‘happy’ to see you).
Also, some people who do enjoy a good alcoholic beverage, whether it’s occasional and you consider yourself a social drinker only, or those that really like to hammer it back, you may find that soju is . . . well, ‘unrefined strong wine’ (that’s the most diplomatic way I can think of putting it) that is about 20 steps away from reaching the definition of what western culture would consider a good drink. (Actually, I’ll confess the first time I did a shot of soju I thought the Koreans I was with were pulling a practical joke on me, and that they’d given me a shot of rubbing alcohol–yeah.) If you can handle doing a few shots of soju, regardless of how you feel about the taste (and ‘interesting’ sensations of the fumes running into your nasal cavities) it will earn you huge social points with the other male teachers.
The best way to get out of drinking the mass quantities of soju that can be consumed at teacher dinner parties is to apologize several times and explain that you have to teach the next day and don’t want the principal to get angry with you for being hungover. Make sure your co-teacher translates for the other Koreans who don’t speak English. This usually works fairly well, though the drinking teachers will still be disappointed that you’re not ‘part of the gang’ hammering back the shots, and bonding.
Oh, lastly, Julianne just reminded me to give this cautionary: don’t say you think soju is disgusting or any other negative thing about it–for many Koreans who love soju this would be tantamount to saying you don’t like kimchi!
6. Rejecting invitations to go out for dinner and other social outings.
Say ‘no’ once to a Korean making an invitation and you very likely guarantee they’ll never invite you to do something again. In Korean culture it is generally expected that if someone who is ‘senior’ to you invites you to dinner or to do something (i.e. go hiking on the weekend) you should say yes. Saying ‘no’ to higher ranking Koreans even if it’s an invitation to do something on ‘your time’ (private time and public time/work time is pretty much a foreign concept in Korean public schools) you should try to rearrange your schedule if you have something else planned and keep the senior ranking Korean happy and accept their invitation.
If you really don’t want to do the outside of work time activity, make sure to use an indirect response/excuse. Apologize many times and explain that you ‘must’ do something with someone else who is older than you, or that you have a doctor’s appointment, or something that a Korean will see as important in the Korean cultural context. Do NOT say ‘no’ explicitly, and if possible don’t refuse the invite right away . . . say you will have to check your schedule, or need to think about it, or something like that.
But be aware that saying ‘maybe’ is, in Korean culture, usually interpreted as a ‘yes.’ There is no middle ground, or negotiation of probability, for this kind of thing. You’re either saying yes, or you’re saying no . . . ‘maybe’ is a ‘yes’ to most Koreans.
5. Refusing to eat snacks with other Korean teachers in the office.
Eating is a VERY communal activity in Korea. Korean teachers will often bring in fruits and other snack foods into the office and put it on a table (there’s usually one somewhere in the office with a few couches and chairs around it, often in front of the vice-principal or head teachers desk where they entertain guests/parents when they come to visit the school) and begin preparing it. Everyone in the office will usually take a break from whatever they’re doing and have some of whatever is on the table.
If you refuse to join the group bonding through eating you risk creating an anti-social reputation with the other teachers in the school. In Korean culture the maintenance of relationships within the social hierarchy is critical to being accepted as a member of the group, and if you refuse to fulfill your group eating role it will negatively impact how other Koreans in the group treat you when you’re in other situations.
Also, it’s a good idea to bring in some snacks you buy (get a bag of apples from a fruit truck vendor, or buy some bread and jam at a bakery) and share the food with your fellow teachers. The Koreans will be very impressed and happy that you are actively participating in the teacher’s office social culture.
4. Getting upset about ‘last second notice’ aka ‘last minute notices’ about schedule changes.
“Short term planning is ‘what’s for lunch?’ and long term planning is ‘what’s for dinner?’” This pretty much sums up organization and planning in Korean school culture.
There are some things to keep in mind when you are told your class schedule times have changed.
Often Korean teachers themselves don’t know what is going on with the daily school schedule, and are not told by others about schedule changes. Getting upset that your co-teacher didn’t tell you about a schedule change can sometimes backfire on you because it was IMPOSSIBLE for them to tell you cause they didn’t know and weren’t told by whoever is in charge of scheduling.
During the first two to three weeks of every semester, and especially in March which is the beginning of the school year, the public school schedule is subject to several changes on a daily basis. As a native teacher there is NOTHING you can do about this other than keep politely asking your co-teacher if there have been any changes to your class schedule every morning as you arrive at school.
Again, keeping your relationships with the Koreans at your school positive and friendly is, unfortunately, far more important than any western cultural education standards and professionalism norms you might be upset about . . . keep the peace with others and just do your best to adapt to the changes as they come.
You can read more about Korean public school scheduling culture here.
3. Refusing to eat Korean food, refusing to eat in the cafeteria with Korean teachers, and/or saying Korean food is disgusting.
When new native teachers arrive at their schools they often have to overcome food culture shock in the school cafeteria surrounded by several Koreans all watching their reactions very closely. There will be many completely ‘alien’ (try to think “different”) foods that you have to eat (there’s only one menu each day for lunch), and it’s important that you don’t freak out and say things like “That’s gross!” or “That’s disgusting!” about every day Korean foods. Especially, NEVER say anything bad about kimchi!
Also, I’ve heard some native teachers say that they go into the cafeteria ONCE and walk out without trying anything, and openly criticize the food quality and type. This is a really bad idea as a nation’s food culture often combines with the national identity, and if you criticize the food or say you hate the food or refuse to eat the food . . . you’re essentially, for many Koreans, rejecting Korea.
My suggestion is to take a little of everything and fill up your lunch tray. Even if there are foods you don’t like, take a small portion and everyone will be happy to see you have a ‘full’ tray like they do. They may notice you don’t eat some things on your tray but you can claim you’re full or make some excuse that allows you to avoid being painted with the stereotype about foreigners not liking Korean foods.
Eating with your co-teachers every day is one of those critical relationship building times, and if you don’t eat with them you lose this opportunity to develop and grow your work relationships. If the only contact you have with co-teachers is in class, and sporadic chats in the office, it is much harder to create a good relationship; without the foundation of a good relationships it is almost impossible to co-teach successfully in Korea–in fact, I’d say it is impossible.
2. Refusing to answer personal questions–it’s how Koreans ‘place you’ so they can talk to you.
As I said earlier Korean English co-teachers do not get cross-cultural training about English cultural information (although that seems to be changing a little from what I hear in a few places, but I’d like to seen what the cross-cultural content is, and how it is approached before I say this is changing), and they typically use Korean cultural norms for getting to know you.
Koreans ask questions in order to place you in the social/workplace hierarchy. Based on your answers they then know how to talk to you (unfortunately using Korean cultural norms while speaking ENGLISH, often because they just don’t know what the English cultural rules are for being polite and avoiding English culture taboos like talking about your body weight and appearance openly). While teaching a 6 month teach English in English program one of the courses I taught was “Understanding English Culture/s” and in it I gave a 3 hour lecture about how to be polite in English. As I taught the material I realized that in the past I’ve been a little too harsh in my criticisms of Korean English co-teachers for how they’ve spoken in English to me, and how they’ve interacted with me. They DO NOT KNOW many of the English cultural rules for how to be polite, and also what the taboos are too.
To make things even more complicated is the negotiation of power between a NET and KET as to which language culture rules will dominate the relationship. Some KETs feel that since you’re in Korea you should follow the Korean cultural rules all the time; some Koreans go with following the English rules all the time; a very small minority of Koreans are open to negotiating the rules and creating a cross-cultural hybrid kind of relationship that is fluid and open to communicating and evolving as time passes.
I’ve actually heard some native teachers tell me they refuse to answer many of the common questions that Koreans and Korean English teachers always ask. Refusing to answer personal questions is your right IN WESTERN CULTURE, but in Korean culture some of the questions we might normally refuse to answer need to be reconsidered if as native teachers we are to build strong relationships with Koreans. Otherwise the road blocks you set up with privacy barriers will cut short any kind of journey you might share with your co-teachers as you go through your time in Korea.
1. Refusing to bow to Koreans of higher rank.
This has to be one of the biggest, if not THE biggest Korean cultural acts I’ve ever heard native teachers say they refuse to do. Refusing to bow to the god-king also known as your principal is tantamount to refusing to stand when, for example, an American president walks into the room. Actually, it’s a BILLION TIMES worse in Korea.
In western culture bowing is generally framed in the sense of a master-slave relationship. It is seen as anathema to equality, independence and individuality. Yet in Korean culture bowing is the primary visual representation of social order and harmony–refusing to bow is a direct attack on the very fabric of Korean social reality, and the dissonance this causes is HUGE.
Koreans may not exact a physical punishment on native English teachers who refuse to bow, but the native English teacher who doesn’t bow is committing a form of social suicide in which any positive image they may want Koreans to have of them is destroyed, and any positive relationships (which are the foundation of life in Korea) they need in order to survive and thrive in the public school environment, while they may not be destroyed, they certainly are severely diminished in terms of their potential.
I’ll finish with two final thoughts. It is important that new native teachers realize that for every taboo a native teacher breaks their primary co-teacher has to bear the brunt of the responsibility and shame according to Korean cultural rules. Before a native teacher considers saying to hell with following Korean cultural rules, they might want to consider that while the Koreans in their school will ostracize them as punishment if they break a big enough taboo, the punishment dished out to their Korean co-teacher can and may be worse.
While many Koreans might wish native English teachers could just ‘become Korean’ for the duration of the typical 1 year contract (I think something like only 40% or so re-sign for a second year contract) this is just not possible. Decide for yourself what aspects of Korean culture you can follow, and what aspects are just too much of a sacrifice in terms of your own cultural identity and well-being. As for the Korean cultural elements that you cannot adapt to it is then critical to research them so that you can find coping strategies that will help you to deal with any problems and stress that arise due to cultural misunderstandings and conflicts.
This morning in my English class 3 students were absent. I asked my co-teacher to track down where they were and why they were absent because no one had told either of us that they were sick or otherwise being kept out my class for one reason or another.
My co-teacher tells me after the class was finished that a ‘counselor’ (aka the discipline guy) teacher had kept the guys out of my class in order to punish them for smoking (I’m not really sure how he found this out, but assume he must have called another teacher).
I was not happy about this as Korean teachers often see my class time as without any value or importance due to it not being tested–but this year it is being tested.
I decided that my co-teacher and I should track down the the teacher and have a chat about him pulling students out of class without telling either my co-teacher or myself, and that making students miss a class would impact their test scores on the upcoming speaking test.
Now I’ve attended several orientations and workshops for native English teachers, and no one has ever said a word about official policies on how students can be disciplined. Usually you’re just told to ‘let the co-teacher handle it’ (and look the other way when corporal punishment is being used). You would think that classroom behavior management and school discipline policy might be something that a new teacher needs to know . . . but there are many things new native teachers never get a chance to learn about in orientations due to time constraints and other factors, some good and some bad.
Anyways, my co-teacher and I find the discipline teacher and we go to sit down on the couches in the teacher office where we find him.
My co-teacher begins explaining in Korean the following points.
1. We weren’t informed our students would be missing from the class. We are responsible for them.
2. The students should not be absent from the class because they missed the lesson content.
3. The students should not be absent from the class because it will probably lower their speaking test score.
4. We want a promise that it won’t happen again.
The meeting does not go well, and the Korean teacher begins arguing vehemently with my co-teacher . . . when I get back to my office I ask my primary co-teacher about the situation. She tells me that it is school policy, and in fact education office policy that it’s okay to take students out of classes to counsel and/or punish them. Wow . . .
Off topic to this post but related, I should have remembered a story that a fellow native English professor told me about the national university of education where we were working. An older male Korean professor sent a student to pull another student out of a FINAL EXAM because he was angry about something and wanted to talk to the student. The native English professor in charge of the course and exam didn’t say a word because of this older male Korean professor’s status at the university. I was shocked, and said I would have told the messenger student to convey an apology, and that the requested student would be sent to the professor’s office AFTER the final exam. The other native English professor suggested that that would have guaranteed the Godfather-professor (my nickname for him) would put me on his blacklist, and that I’d almost guarantee I not be signed on for another contract. My response at the time was that if the faculty members sided with a professor pulling a student out of a final exam, and not wanting to offer me a renewal contract because I refused to let that happen, that the last thing on my mind would be getting re-signed. It seems like all too often in Korea the student’s rights, and the quality of education, are sacrificed on the altar of respect for your elders regardless of circumstances and things like doing what is right.
Getting back to my story about today . . . I decide to let the whole thing go. It’ s not my ‘place’ to try and buck the system, or contravene what is seen to be ‘normal’ procedure in Korean schools. I still, however, feel highly irritated that no one had bothered to tell Mr. X or I that they were keeping two of our students out of class.
. . . . . . . some time passes . . .
As I was writing this my co-teacher comes into the office and we start talking about the situation. My primary co-teacher then interjects to tell us that the discipline teacher is very upset, and that he now wants us to apologize to him. My co-teacher totally dropped the ball and didn’t ask the discipline teacher if he had pulled students out of class TODAY and during the SECOND period. He had had nothing to do at all with our students being absent. Now the discipline teacher is pissed with both the co-teacher and myself (and I didn’t say a single word during the discussion!).
I point out to my co-teacher that I find it puzzling that he accused a teacher of bad conduct without asking preliminary questions to check and see if he was actually the teacher who pulled our students out of class . . . he tries to side-step the issue, but my primary co-teacher and I both repeat again that he was the one who went about this in the wrong manner, and didn’t ask the right questions.
What should have been a simple and short discussion about not pulling students out my class to be punished then blew up into a royal class fuck up with shrapnel flying primarily into Mr. X’s face, and hitting me through a guilty by association proximity. Nice . . . NOT!
My primary co-teacher and I try to convince Mr. X to apologize to the discipline teacher but he keeps making evasive responses and excuses. Mr. X begins to see that I’m really not impressed with him and because we have a good co-teacher/native teacher friendship he promises me he’ll “take care of it.” I’m a little skeptical as to how he’ll ‘take care of it’ because he’s the older male teacher in relation to the discipline teacher who is younger and who also is his ‘junior’ in terms of the Confucian social ranking system in Korean culture. Older males do not as a rule apologize to younger males in Korea, so . . . . yeah.
Later, my co-teacher and I talk. She tells me that the discipline teacher understands that I didn’t do anything wrong, and that it was Mr. X’s mistake. I tell her, though, that I’m still going to apologize to the discipline teacher because I don’t want this particular teacher to be unhappy with me (usually we give each other a friendly ‘annyeong haseyo’ in the halls), or the school’s faculty to perceive me as being a rude and disrespectful foreigner–which is probably what has happened regardless of my lack of culpability in the situation.
The bigger issue here, in my mind anyways, is with a discipline policy that permits and encourages teachers to be able to pull students out of class–it just blows my mind. I’m sure there are ‘legitimate’ reasons for this, but all I can think of is that no one wants to spend time disciplining students during the lunch period or after school because that impacts their free time. I’m sure there are several other reasons, and that some of them probably make sense, but my western cultural norms are wreaking havoc today with how I see the whole situation. If counseling did actually need to take place, I’m pretty sure the normal thing to do is to tell the students’ teacher they’ll be absent from class–but this is not what happened.
I guess now I’m beginning to see the light in terms of why Korean co-teachers are always so surprised when I say I’m going to punish students during the lunch period or after school . . . they must think I’m completely loony (insert sardonic tone here) to give up my free time to try to modify student attitudes and behavior into more positive patterns in order to try and get them learning and succeeding in the lessons and tests. It must be a kind of ‘common sense’ that I just can’t comprehend as a foreigner to make students miss class, students who in all likelihood already have low test scores and are struggling to keep up with the lessons . . .
Update: I’d be curious, though, what would happen if I pulled students out of another Korean teacher’s class in order to punish them. Younger teachers might not say boo to me about it, but I imagine older teachers telling me that the students need to be IN THE CLASS AND LEARNING!
. . . . . more time passes . . . .
Now the story has shifted to it’s possible the students’ homeroom teacher kept them for something . . . or they were skipping my class.
I point out that if something had happened to the students that my co-teacher and I, actually it’d primarily be the Korean teacher, are responsible for not knowing where they were.
I ask my primary co-teacher what the normal Korean teacher behavior is for this kind of situation. Is it okay for other Korean teachers to keep students out of another teacher’s class without informing them? I know I’ve seen students come to a class late because a teacher kept them for punishment or something, but to keep them out of an entire class? I haven’t seen that before.
I ask if it’s generally expected that one teacher should tell another if they keep students from attending a class–yes, it is. I then ask why, if this is the case today, why no one would think of informing the Korean co-teacher or myself about this . . . no answers are forthcoming.
. . . . . more time passes . . . and more phone calls attempting to find out where these missing students were.
It seems as though the students were skipping English class, but no one knows for sure. I suggest it might be a good idea to figure out where they were and what they were doing.
I then ask what should have happened when my co-teacher and I realized students were missing from my class (cause I already know the answer). My primary co-teacher says that Mr. X should have left the class to track them down, or made some calls to the homeroom teacher to ask if they know what is going on. This never happened.
Mr. X leaves still promising to “take care of ” things with the discipline teacher.
. . . . . . . more time passes and I re-read what I’ve written . . .
Now I’m asking myself the following question: “Was all of this worth finding out why two of my students were absent?”
And I find myself feeling totally conflicted.
In my own sense of what a ‘good teacher’ is I think, YES, it was worth it. If those students had been sick, hurt, or in trouble I would have felt bad that I didn’t say or do anything to try and find out where they were, and to help them if they needed it. If you read the Korean English news regularly you see stories of groups of students beating one or two students, and I often ask myself “where were the teachers?” when I read these stories. This is especially a concern at an all boys high school where fights happen with more frequency.
But in the context of ‘being a good native English teacher’ according to the whole ‘don’t rock the boat’ philosophy that seems to be the paradigm in Korea, I shouldn’t have said a word about missing students at all. I should have just let my co-teacher deal with, or not deal with it, and I definitely should not have initiated approaching another teacher about the problem because I can’t speak Korean well enough to ask and check what was going on. Having to let another teacher “take care of” things leaves me open to too many possible problems.
All of this boils down to this: how can a native English teacher actually be a teacher in a Korean public school?
The answer is you can’t in many respects. The complexities of Korean public school culture are so beyond our abilities to understand fully that the safest thing is to take a hands off approach and let the Koreans, who have lived and worked in the schools their entire careers, do what they do–or don’t do. It’s that or be prepared for a lot of unnecessary stress and the situation to be blown out of proportion due to factors that are completely out of your control, and/or also a lack of understanding when it comes to the nuances of Korean culture that only a Korean can understand.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions . . . “Jason’s Expressway” just had a couple hundred kilometers added today.