Let me preface this post by saying teaching is one of my passions and that I take improving myself as a teacher seriously. The intent of this post is to make some very needed observations and criticisms about how workshops are designed and how presenters are chosen and presentation materials vetted . . . or, unfortunately, to illuminate the lack of vetting and the lack of supervision . . .
I arrived at Korea University at 8:40am Monday . . .
I signed in, got my name tag, and picked up a workshop booklet. After that I headed into the auditorium and found myself a seat.
Some Koreans were testing the microphones and prepping things for the opening ceremony. The usual items were being prepared . . . national anthem, big Korean flag power point slide, and an overview of the workshop schedule power point slides were readied for the 200 or so native English teachers slowly filling up the auditorium.
As I sat in the audience waiting for the usual hoopla to be finished . . . I thought about how I always find it amusing that foreigners are asked to stand and salute the Korean flag and sing their national anthem. I have no problem paying my respect to the Korean flag, and standing while their national anthem is played–I am after all at work and on their dime–but I still ponder these things from time to time.
National anthem and flag respecting done the supervisor says some opening remarks, and begins introducing the SMOE office co-ordinators . . . and unfortunately can’t remember all their names. I am terrible with names so I feel some sympathy for him because I’d probably have been lucky if I could remember 2 and I think he got through about 4.
The supervisor then goes over our schedule for the two days.
Monday December 21st
8:30 to 8:50am – Registration
9-9:20am – Opening Ceremony
9:30-10:20am – Co-teaching
10:30-10:50am – Reflection Session: Classroom Issues and Professional Development
11:00-12:20 – Reflection Session
12:30-13:20 – Lunch
13:30-14:20 – Reflection Session
14:30-16:00 – Co-teaching Demo Lesson and Q&A
Tuesday December 22nd
9:00-12:50 – Co-teaching Workshop
13:00-15:00 – Lunch Party Buffet
16:00-17:30 – Go to see “Jump” (Show)
I had already seen the schedule because my co-teacher is awesome and when she got the memo she printed out a copy for me, and then when I asked her to she translated some of the info written in Korean. There wasn’t really a lot of info to translate but what there was she did with no hesitation or complaining. My co-teacher rocks, and I’m insanely lucky to be working with her.
After the supervisor finished going over the schedule a coordinator got up and kind of did the same thing, lol, and then pointed out a map we had been given in our schedule booklets. Finishing that we had a ten minute break before the first presentation, “Practical Co-teaching,” began.
I walked around and chatted with some people I knew, and then sat down again for the first presentation.
Now this is where I have to talk about expectations. I’ve learned in Korea that expectations are deadly. I’ve learned that I have to identify my expectations, and then unpack all of the unconscious norms and values that are embedded within them, and then think about them within the Korean cultural situation I find myself in and see if what I expect is still reasonable or not. If it’s not then I have to change my expectations and not try to impose my expectations on the situation and people involved . . .
That being said I found that my expectations for the first presentation were disappointed, and definitely not unrealistic or unfair. Let me explain.
The first presenter was a MIDDLE SCHOOL TEACHER. He was an excellent presenter. Well spoken, well organized, and at times funny. He knew his material well, and did a great job.
The issue here is that he was presenting to an audience of HIGH SCHOOL teachers at a workshop that was taking place four months into their contracts.
I expected that SMOE would have avoided making the same mistakes as it did during the August orientation where the presenters for the high school group of orientation attendees were from middle schools. I expected that the presenters at the workshop in December would be from high schools so that they could present materials targeted to high school teachers, and use stories and examples from HIGH SCHOOL situations they had experienced.
(To be fair I need to add here that the co-teaching demo later in the day did actually have a high school teacher presenting.)
I also found it odd that the title of the presentation, “Practical Co-teaching,” was not what the presentation was really about. The content of the presentation did begin with a definition of ‘co-teaching.’ But it was a very brief one and after two minutes the focus shifted to the real theme of the presentation: “Co-teaching culture and relationships with a dash of advice for new foreign teachers adapting to Korean school culture.”
In terms of the ‘practical’ nature of the presentation and co-teaching I really didn’t feel like the presenter gave us any concrete tips on how to co-teach more effectively. And this leads to my next point–if the presentation was about ‘practical co-teaching’ the case studies used might have been about the typical situations native teachers find themselves in while co-teaching in HIGH SCHOOLS . . . but I’ll get to that in a moment.
The presenter structured his presentation around four things: 1) What is co-teaching? 2) Why Co-teach? 3) Personal Qualities of the Successful Co-teacher in Korea, and 4) 5 Case Studies: “Monster Students,” “Zombie Students, “Less-than-enthused” Korean Co-teacher,” “Unhappy, Depressed Native Co-teacher,” and “”Slave Driver Principal/Vice-Principal.” The general pattern the presenter followed was to identify his topic, describe the general idea and conditions, and then suggest what to think about the topic with general suggestions about how one might behave . . . unfortunately not much to do with actual co-teaching in a classroom was talked about . . . not, at least, in a way that native teachers could leave the presentation and think to themselves, “I’m going to use that X-idea/method the next time I co-teach.”
The case studies used, if they were to be in line with the ‘practical co-teaching’ title, might have been the following: 1) Classroom Behavior Hell: the students don’t pay attention and fall asleep . . . and my co-teacher doesn’t seem to care, 2) My co-teacher is absent even when they are in the classroom–what can I do?, 3) I make lessons and send them to my co-teachers but they don’t read them, 4) Communicate with my co-teacher/s? How? and 5) How can I communicate and negotiate with my co-teacher when they operate under the assumption that they’re ‘my senior’ and I should respect Korean culture and do whatever they say?
There is a fundamental pattern that I’ve learned about from doing my own presentations, and attending workshops through public school education offices, and attending the KOTESOL conference every year . . . talk about theory, talk about ideals, talk about anything you want to . . . but then bring the presentation into the real lived situations directly related to your presentation topic and after identifying real lived teaching issues that your audience of teachers can relate to then present coping methods, problem solving methods, and concrete things that the teachers can leave the conference with and individually develop to work for them according to their specific school and teaching situations.
Unfortunately, this didn’t seem to happen in the first presentation–and I think that perhaps the primary reason is that there was a disconnect between the title of the presentation and the actual content . . . actually, there was something even bigger that needs to be talked about . . .
The final thing I noticed about the first presentation was that at the end there were some slides for Korean English teachers–yes, I just said there were slides for Korean English teachers . . . and this is when I began to get a little pissed off. WHY would there be slides for Korean teachers in a power point presentation for native English teachers? I’d really like to know if there’s a valid reason for this . . .
My theory, and if someone knows the truth and I’m wrong please post a comment here, is that the presentation was actually designed for a Korean English teacher workshop or even more likely an orientation. My suspicions led me to revisit some of the content in the presentation. A key example being the question, “Why Co-teach?”
For most if not all new native English teachers there is no doubt, no resistance, no questioning of their need to have a co-teacher in the classroom. The group of teachers that generally have doubts about co-teaching and why it is necessary at all are KOREAN co-teachers . . . was it possible that the presenter was using a presentation that had been made for Korean English co-teachers? I’d suggest that there is a strong possibility that the material had never been designed for native teachers . . . and while some of the material overlaps, and was relevant to native teachers because of how the presenter spun the language he used it was also information that really should have been given during the August week long orientation BEFORE the native teachers went to their schools–not four months into the contract after many if not all of the issues addressed in the power point content had happened to unprepared new to Korean school culture and co-teaching native teachers . . .
I also suspect that the presenter tried to tweak his power point slides to erase references to Korean teachers (but missed the last few slides somehow) but didn’t realize that the workshop booklet was using the original power point slide content printed out for the native English teacher attendees–oops . . .
In the first presenter’s section of the workshop booklet lies the evidence for my theory. Under the question, “Why Co-teach?” the first reason is “the Law.” Now why would you need to use ‘the law’ as a selling point with native English teachers? Well, you wouldn’t because new foreign teachers walking into an alien culture, with no Korean language ability nor understanding of Korean school and language classroom culture, would NEVER even question the necessity of having a co-teacher . . .
Also, anyone who has been in Korea for at least a couple of years knows it’s ludicrous to suggest to native teachers that they cite ‘the Law’ to try to reason and/or motivate a Korean English teacher, a vice-principal, or a principal to listen to them and/or do something. Korea is a society ruled by relationships–not laws. A presenter who doesn’t understand that . . . well, I think he does understand that so I’m lost as to why he’d use that while speaking to an audience of native teachers . . .
I’ll cite two more examples and then try to let this go. Under the first “Case Study: Monsters,” in the Approach section (a kind of ‘what to do’ section) one of the recommendations is, “Be firm and take control early. Help your native teacher to establish boundaries and routines” . . . wait a second, did that just say “Help your native teacher” . . . ? And the second example is found under “Less-than-enthused” Korean Co-teacher” in the Signs section (a ‘what to watch for’ section), “You are always “too busy” to help your Native Teacher or to come to English meetings” and “You feel frustrated because you have to always speak English with your NEST,” “You feel you have to explain everything to your NEST,” and “Your NEST is constantly confused” . . .
YES, I am confused–isn’t this presentation supposed to be for native English teachers???! Why is the presenter using materials OBVIOUSLY DESIGNED FOR KOREAN teachers?!
I had intended to write about this with some degree of tolerance because I know presenters are often asked to do work for education offices at the last second, and instructions from supervisors can often be vague to non-existent . . . but there has to be some degree of professional responsibility and dare I say ETHICS?
But the next bit from the booklet materials on the first presentation pretty much destroy any ‘understanding’ I might have for whatever the background excuses might be for why a native English teacher would use a power point designed for Korean English teachers when he is actually presenting to native English teachers! The following sentence was pretty much the last nail in the coffin, “As a Korean, you possess the trait of extreme loyalty . . .” blah blah blah . . . is this for real???!
I’m sorry sir, but you owe the native English teachers who attended your presentation an apology for the use of materials that were never designed for us. Unbelievable!!!
Perhaps the most ridiculous content of the first presentation was the part where Korean English teachers are given specific signs to look for if they suspect they have an “Unhappy, Depressed Native Co-teacher.” The following signs are listed: “lots of complaining,” “every conversation includes, “In America [Canada], we . . .,” “Minimum effort; lesson quality drastically drops,” “emotional distance,” and my personal favorite, and I also think every other native teacher at the workshop felt the same, “Constantly looking at Facebook.”
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Facebook is the Anti-Christ of native English teachers in Korea. If you see your native teacher worshiping FB make sure to have a teacher office exorcism and destroy the SOCIAL NETWORKING and support lifeline the native teacher is clinging to because they are homesick, have co-teachers abandoning them to teach alone in the classroom, co-teachers who show no interest in preparing lesson plans together, co-teachers who have low level language skills and no understanding whatsoever of Western culture, and co-teachers who do not understand communicative language learning and teaching methods therefore thinking and assuming that the native teacher with a MA in TESOL doesn’t know how to teach (yes, I was sitting by a native teacher with that situation) . . .
NOTE: I am NOT saying here that all Korean English teachers fit the above descriptions. What I AM saying here is that about 50% of the native teachers, if not more, talk about these things as a part of the normal range of issues faced in the day to day realities of teaching in a Korean public school with Korean co-teachers.
Given the tendency by many Korean teachers to overly simplify ideas about native English speakers I now imagine that Facebook has become public school enemy number one. I have to wonder now what Korean teachers must be assuming about me because I have FB up on my computer every day at work. “Is Jason depressed? He’s on that foreign website called Facebook, and I was at this workshop where another native teacher said looking at Facebook means you’re lonely and depressed . . .” Great. Thank you. Fortunately for me I have a co-teacher who knows better than to take something one native teacher says and blow it all out of proportion and make it into a generalized truth about all native English teachers . . . and in case you think I’m over-exaggerating think about how often you hear Korean English teachers express shock that you can eat kimchi cause EVERYBODY knows that foreigners don’t like spicy food, right?
Moving on to other things . . . on the Friday before the workshop began I posted on Facebook the following comment, “I’d suggest dressing warmly just in case the rooms they put us in at Korea University aren’t heated properly….” Sadly, my prediction came true. The auditorium where the opening ceremony was held was unheated. And the large lecture hall my group went to for the rest of the day was also unheated.
When asked about why there was no heat, two coordinators said they had contacted the university administration about the problem–this was around 3pm . . . apparently calling again and insisting that the heat be turned wasn’t a priority. During the winter one of the first things I do each time I teach a class is to go five minutes early to the classroom to see if the heat is on because all too often if there is no class before mine the heat is not on. To me this is just a basic leadership skill: check to make sure the environment a meeting is being held in is comfortable to facilitate the actual purpose of the meeting being successful (instead of attendees focusing on the temperature). I really don’t know why the problem wasn’t solved earlier in the morning but I also have to suspect that because the coordinators are young and have little to no social rank in the Korean cultural hierarchy that they really couldn’t do anything about it in the first place. I wonder, though, why they didn’t pass on the problem to the SMOE office supervisor who had been at the opening ceremony . . . not calling him about turning on the heat could be symptomatic, however, of the common notion that you don’t bother the powers that be with complaints originating from the grunts, er, native English teachers cause . . . well, we’re just not important enough. I do believe that if the supervisor had been told about the no heat problem that he would have made some calls and I imagine that the heat would have been turned on . . . so unfortunately this puts the onus back on the coordinators . . .
The second session of the day was called, “Reflection Session.” The group I was in headed over to a different lecture hall . . .
A red flag had gone off in my head last Friday when I saw the schedule for the first time because I really wondered how the reflective session would be structured. Also, in my teacher training readings I’ve basically come to the conclusion that reflective sessions are a euphemism for thought and attitude manipulation and control. That sort of thing can be positive if a talented and experienced teacher trainer is prepared and knows what they’re doing . . . if they don’t it ends up being . . . well, you’ll see.
The “Reflection Session” began with a woman identifying herself as a ‘teacher trainer’ and that she’d be ‘facilitating’ our reflection session. No real explanation of what a reflection session is, and what it is intended to accomplish, was given. I slowly sank deeper and deeper into my seat, and became more and more frustrated with . . . oh god, where does the list begin?
I expected to hear a definition of what a ‘reflection session’ was because a good teacher trainer knows (and if they don’t know they do some research) what kind of training and experience the group of in-service teachers have that they will be working with. In the workshop reflection session the group was comprised of native teachers with only 4 months of teaching experience, probably a 100 hour TEFL or TESL certificate gotten online . . . and then the other side of the spectrum with teachers who have a Master’s degree in TESOL, or CELTA, and extensive teaching experience in Korea and Asia in general. It would have been very useful to just give a brief definition of what a ‘reflective session’ is and what it tries to accomplish so that there could have been sound kind of framework within which us native teachers could have tried to focus our efforts . . . but that wasn’t given.
Our facilitator then rattled off that we’d be talking about 1) Classroom Issues and 2) Cross-cultural Issues. Again, neither of these terms were defined, and no guidelines were given for how we might want to talk about them. I halfheartedly hoped that our ‘teacher trainer’ and ‘facilitator’ might have prepared a power point slide with a list of common classroom issues in Korean language classrooms, and common cross-cultural issues, but she popped off a couple of vague examples of each and then went on to other things.
I sat in stunned disbelief. No power point, no handout (and no materials in the workshop booklet), no small lecture with content to prepare us to engage in a reflective exercise that had a clear goal? I thought for sure that something like cross-cultural issues might warrant a 10 minute mini-lecture about things like, oh say, the 4 stages of culture shock, or talking about how native teachers perceive cultural differences and the common mistakes made and then provide some models of how to reframe misperceptions . . . or something along those lines . . . but nope, it was time to organize and divide everyone into groups.
After we’d been divided into our reflective session groups our facilitator said we should start . . . everyone kind of looked at each other wondering what we were supposed to start with and how we should do it–you know, kind of like what you might imagine a room full of teachers might look like when asked to do a task with no instructions, no preparation on what to do and how to do it, no modeling, and no new content to think about and use . . . . that sort of thing. I think this was when she added that we should choose a secretary for each group who would write down a summary of what we discussed so that we could use that later for what I tentatively call the ‘goal’ for the reflection session group discussion: we had to give group presentations after lunch for TWO HOURS . . . oh god.
For an hour and twenty minutes, in an unheated lecture hall, nine groups of high school foreign teachers talked about whatever they wanted to, however they wanted to . . .oh, loosely under the topics of classroom issues and cross-cultural issues.
Our facilitator toured around the room and stood next to each group for a couple of minutes. While standing next to the group I was in she didn’t say anything. I’m not sure if she said anything to any of the other groups either . . . maybe she did, I don’t know.
And then it was lunch time.
We all had our workshop booklets and the maps inside them telling us the building name where lunch was supposed to be held. For some reason, however, our coordinators didn’t seem to think it’d be a good idea to come along and make sure we found the cafeteria, and that everything was okay. Instead, the mass of teachers went to one set of doors to the cafeteria, and then whoever was at the front either couldn’t get in because the doors were locked or a Korean told us we weren’t allowed to go through the doors, so we all headed back outside to try and find the correct set of doors . . . and couldn’t so we headed back to the first set of doors . . . and finally got inside the cafeteria.
I took one look around the cafeteria and quickly calculated that the odds of there being enough seats were iffy at best.
I don’t know if this actually became a problem because I decided to go off campus and get some food and just avoid having to walk around looking for someone almost finished their lunch so that I could sit and eat my own–no thanks.
The menu here has an item that people from Boston will find particularly amusing: Boston Butt Steak, lol.
After lunch, the group presentations began . . . and everyone did their best considering we were given no directions whatsoever about how to present.
I continued to sink lower and lower in my seat, again, as I realized that all 9 groups were going to talk about the same issues NINE TIMES. If our facilitator had actually prepped the reflective discussion properly, and had had a list of common classroom issues and cross-cultural issues, she might have organized our groups to each focus on a different set of issues, or one classroom issue and one cross-cultural issue so that a broad range of topics would be covered . . . or whatever organizational idea that would pre-empt all NINE GROUPS DOING THE SAME DAMN THING . . .and then forcing us to sit through NINE 10-15 minute presentations about NINE GROUPS presenting about the same general issues NINE TIMES . . .
I kept hoping that the facilitator would actually do some kind of moderating and facilitating after each group presenter finished. But all she did was pick up the microphone and pass it on to the next presenter/s and occasionally make a small comment or joke about what the previous group had said.
Due to the complete and utter lack of structure to the reflective discussions when it came time to do the presentations things had pretty much become a ‘fine-I’ll-do-this-but-I-know-it’s-simply-meaningless-work-for-works-sake’ atmosphere.
People began making jokes, and by the end of the 2 hours things had gotten so out of hand that one presenter made a joke about students asking him if he watches porn, and some teachers in the room began making comments and jokes about it–and our facilitator did what she had been doing all along: sat in her seat and just watched us.
And what was the ONE THING our facilitator actually took time to comment on and explain? One of the presenters had talked about a Korean children’s game where one student stands against a wall, and other students line up and put their heads between the student in front of them’s legs, and then another team of students run and jump to land on the tops of the bent over students’ backs . . .
Instead of commenting on the classroom issues, co-teaching issues, and cross-cultural issues that came up time and again, over and over and over . . . instead of commenting on these things she chose to comment on a children’s game–nice.
The 3.5 hours of reflective group discussion and then presentations simply turned into a repetitive litany of describing the problems native teachers face in the classroom and the cross-cultural issues that native teachers face regularly in Korean school and classroom culture. Some of the presenters made efforts to suggest ways of coping, problem solving methods, and some possible solutions–but how can a teacher trainer expect new native teachers with FOUR MONTHS IN KOREA to do this competently is beyond me; how a teacher trainer could expect new teachers with only four months in Korea to have the cross-cultural awareness and to have done research and reading on this topic (when they didn’t know what the workshop topics would be) and then to do something productive after discussing topics they themselves chose–how they could come up with new ways of positively framing cultural differences and come up with cross-cultural coping methods and ways to reframe their native cultural biases . . . I really don’t know what this ‘teacher trainer’ was thinking . . .
There are some books I’d like to recommend to the ‘teacher trainer’ that might be useful for future reflection session workshops she might do. In terms of prep there is very little to do other than choose the reflective exercise type you wish to use, and then think about what what particular goal/s this exercise will be used to accomplish.
Training Foreign Language Teachers, A reflective approach.
Wallace, Michael J. Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Cambridge Teacher Training and Development, Series Editors: Marion Williams and Tony Wright.
Teach English, A training course for teachers. Trainers Handbook.
Dorff, Adrian. Cambridge University Press, 1988.
Cambridge Teacher Training and Development,
Language Teacher Education.
Roberts, John. Arnold, 1998.
Tasks for Teacher Education, A Reflective Approach. Coursebook.
Rosie Tanner and Catherine Green. Addison-Welsley Publishing Company, Inc.1998.
Crossing Cultures in the Language Classroom
Andrea De Capua and Ann C Wintergerst
University of Michigan Press, 2004
Let me say again that the primary purpose of this blog post is to make some very needed observations and criticisms about how workshops are designed and how presenters are chosen and presentation materials vetted . . . or, unfortunately, to illuminate the lack of vetting and the lack of supervision . . .
I considered going back through my post and trying to use more neutral and diplomatic language because I think the argument can be made that my use of sarcasm and the scathing tone that comes out don’t necessarily help me present my case but I’m tired of trying to be diplomatic, and trying to ‘understand the unique situation’ that I seem to constantly be bombarded with when I attend workshops . . . being polite and diplomatic doesn’t seem to be accomplishing anything so in this case I’m going to leave the writing style as is.
I hope future workshops don’t repeat the same patterns that I saw in this one because native teachers, for the most part, really do want to become better teachers–the unfortunate truth, however, is that the workshops don’t facilitate this desire . . . and in the reflection session case in particular simply create a forum in which a list of problems and issues were raised over the course of three and a half hours with the end result being that native teachers walked away without any new ideas, perspectives, teaching methods, and resources . . .
At least that’s how Day 1 ended . . . in my mind.
Day 2 looks a bit more promising because I think I saw a teacher trainer I recognize from the August orientation is going to be running the co-teaching practice session in the morning . . . and at the orientation she, and her partner teacher trainer, were awesome. They were fully prepared, knew their materials and goals, and came across as highly competent professionals who are passionate about teaching and teacher training . . . if I’m right and this particular teacher trainer is running the Day 2 morning session things will take a dramatic upturn and native teachers will leave the workshop with something new that they’ve learned, and something they can actually use back in the home school classrooms while co-teaching.
Keep your fingers crossed . . .
p.s. Oh, one final observation . . . I’m not sure what kind of budget and or other restrictions may have been at play with the designing of the workshop booklet but I would suggest that 2 pages be added in the future to all workshop booklets. One page with suggested EFL/ESL methodology books, lesson plan and resource books. A second page with useful teaching websites.