I’m still writing up the first English camp I just finished this past Friday and will try to post the series (it covers 8 days) some time this week.

This morning I came to school and did the small bit of prep I needed to do for my second two week winter English camp.  Then the events of today reminded me yet again why lesson prep in Korea is pretty much the Achilles Heel of EFL teaching.  Let me explain.

Last December I organized an informal winter English camp workshop at my high school for other foreign teachers who wanted to collaborate ideas and materials.  About 9 teachers showed up and we talked for nearly 3 hours.  It was awesome.  Ironically, we ran out of time before my turn came up to describe the criteria of my camp (number of students, grade level, number of classes per day, number of days in total, and other info) and get some ideas from the others–but that was okay because my English camp experience Korea is pretty extensive (click here to see my English Camps in South Korea – A Guideline for Foreign English Teachers) and while it would have been nice to get some feedback about my camp plan there were other teachers, especially newbies, who really needed more time to collaborate than I did.

Anyways, the reason I mention the workshop is that I had been planning my winter English camp theme, lesson outlines and notes, supplies I would need, and other details nearly TWO MONTHS before the camps I am now teaching would begin–and I should have known better!

Some time in the last week of December my co-teacher and I got together to confirm all the details of my camp . . . and it was at that point that I realized the camps were really just a ‘Come See The Alien Teacher Show’ for the incoming freshman students.  The camp schedule had been set up so that I’d only have TWO HOURS with each of the freshman classes–two hours?!

The only things I would have been able to accomplish in a two hour period of contact time with freshman are: introductions, ice-breaking activity for myself and the students, and self-introduction posters–my favorite ice-breaking activity for the freshman to introduce themselves to each other.

Needless to say I was a bit . . . uhm, what’s the word I want to use here . . . ARGH! That’ll do.

I politely (though with a very disgusted facial expression, I’m sure) explained to my co-teacher that I did not want to do an alien freak show, and asked her if any of the other Korean teachers were having the same sort of schedule set up with the incoming freshman (I already knew what the answer would be–no, of course not) and after she said they weren’t I pointed out that this was a complete and utter waste of my time, and the students’ time . . . and she agreed with me.

I’m pretty sure it also helps that I had several papers with me including a camp syllabus that I had designed.  I had already gone over with her the theme I’d chosen for my camp, the learning goals I had for the students, the number of classes assigned to each of the learning goals, and other planning I’d done . . . it was pretty obvious to my co-teacher and the Korean teacher that this wasn’t a case of a foreign teacher whining and complaining for no good reason–I had specific professional teaching issues with a camp concept and schedule that wanted to use me as an alien freak show, and lucky for me this was one of those rare times during my teaching tenure in Korea that the Koreans in charge of my teaching situation listened to me, heard and understood what I had to say, and agreed with me.  (Yes, I’m still in shock!)

(For those reading this blog outside of Korea, and who have never taught in a Korean public school, what I mean by ‘alien freak show’ is the tendency in Korea to parade foreign teachers out in front of students, Korean teachers, and sometimes even parents during the first day of an English camp.  Typically the audience ooohs, and ahhhs, laughs a lot, and yells things at the native teachers whose reactions range from ‘let’s get this over with’ to ‘oh my god, why am I here?’)

The fact that my co-teacher listened to me, and didn’t try to strong-arm me into agreeing and submitting to a plan that we both knew is bad, is yet another example of why my co-teacher is the goddess of all Korean English co-teachers in Korea.  (Anyone who knows me in Korea will also know that this is NOT typical of my general discourse about co-teaching in Korea–so let me assure you that when I give this kind of high praise it is based on having worked with a large number of co-teachers.)  Most other co-teachers would have argued with me or tried to persuade me to just say yes or blatantly ordered me to obey and follow the schedule as it had been set up.  I didn’t get any of that pseudo-Korean army culture nonsense from my co-teacher–wow.

After talking with me in English for a couple minutes she then explained in Korean what I had been saying to the Korean teacher in charge of organizing the camp schedules for all the teachers at the school.  He understood, and had the decency to look a bit embarrassed at the situation; I found out later, however, that it hadn’t been him at all who was responsible for the idea of putting me out on display for the freshman (I won’t say who it was, but expats with time in Korea will know who makes those types of decisions in Korean public schools, ’nuff said).  The  meeting ended with me telling my co-teacher that if I had to do an alien freak show that was ‘fine,’ but that I was very unhappy about it and hoped that some kind of changes would be made to the concept of the camp and its schedule.

Looking back at this meeting and the fact that I didn’t go into a typical Jason-hyper-assertive borderline hyper-aggressive push for concrete changes to be made in my camp schedule and the type of camp classes I’d be doing . . . well, let’s just say I am shocked by how much I’ve changed since, oh, let’s say 2007.  In 2007 I had been in Korea going on 3 years, and I got to a point, I think for very legitimate educational and professional reasons, where I stopped being concerned with education ‘cultural differences’ and would go hard core assertive on my co-teachers about any issues and situations that fell under the general category of ‘good EFL/ESL teaching and learning’ criteria; I got to the point where I completely stopped considering relationships and social harmony (according to Korean cultural rules) where I was working because I truly believed that those things in Korea are the antithesis, rather, the Nemesis (I mean ‘Nemesis’ here in the sense of something that is the education system’s own worst enemy) of professionalism and quality teaching and learning.  I still believe that the Korean school and work culture focus (one might also say ‘obsession’) on relationships and social harmony as a priority that supersedes professionalism and quality teaching and learning is one of the biggest problems in the education system in general–but I’ve learned how to identify Koreans who will use the indirect approach effectively (meaning ‘backroom meetings where Korean social political power is really exercised away from the underlings–namely ME) to try and maintain harmonious relationships between everyone involved in the English camp situation and at the same time try to produce a good quality camp concept, schedule, and ultimately avoid making teacher Jason an alien freak show.

I think it was a few days later that my co-teacher told me that my ideas had been well received and that instead of doing the alien freak show style camp that I’d now be doing 2 two-week camps, 20 hours of teaching time each, with 20-25 students in each of the camps, and that I could use the same lesson materials for both camps thus cutting down on my prep time and energy.  SERIOUSLY?!  She truly is Korea’s goddess of co-teachers!  I was in shock that this big a transformation had been made, and I had been working really hard to try and create a more open-minded attitude on my part towards the original plan in spite of my absolute disgust towards it . . .

To tie all of this back to today, and it being the first day of my second two-week camp . . . my first camp went exceptionally well.  Last Friday I gave my guys a student survey questionnaire to fill out about my teaching, camp lesson content, and other aspects of the camp and I got really good scores on everything.  Here’s the questionnaire I gave them,

2010 Winter English Camp Student Survey

1.  How was the teacher’s speaking speed in class? 1 2 3 4 5
2.  Did the English paragraph writing have enough classes? (6 classes) Do you think you need less or more classes?*If you missed a writing class please check this box.

1 2 3 4 5
3.  How was the teacher’s explanation of how to write English paragraphs? 1 2 3 4 5
4.  Did you have enough time to do writing exercises in class? 1 2 3 4 5
5.   Please rate your interest level in learning how to write BEFORE the writing classes. (1 = no interest . . . 5 = very high interest) 1 2 3 4 5
6.    Please rate your interest level in learning how to write AFTER the writing classes. (1 = no interest . . . 5 = very high interest) 1 2 3 4 5
7.    How was the teacher’s attitude? (1 = not prepared and uncaring …. 5 = excellent preparation and high enthusiasm) 1 2 3 4 5
8.   Did using video raise your motivation to practice speaking? 1 2 3 4 5
9.   Did using video help you improve your speaking and gestures? 1 2 3 4 5
10.   How was the teacher’s explanation of how to do a demonstration speech?(pronunciation, rhythm, gestures, body posture, etc) 1 2 3 4 5
11.  Were the demonstration speech handouts interesting and fun? 1 2 3 4 5
12.  Were the writing exercise handouts interesting and fun? 1 2 3 4 5
13.  Did your English writing skills improve?(1 = not at all …. 5 = 100%) 1 2 3 4 5
14.  Did your English speaking skills improve? (1 = not at all …. 5 = 100%) 1 2 3 4 5
15.  How would you rate this winter English camp overall? 1 2 3 4 5

1 = Needs Improvement, 2 = Okay, 3 = Good, 4 = Very Good, 5 = Excellent

1.  What are your 3 favorite things about this English camp? Please explain why for each.
2.  Where are 3 things you didn’t like about this English camp?  Please explain why for each.
3.  What would you like to learn in future English camps?  Please explain why. (Think about this summer 2010.)  Here are some examples: essay writing, story writing, reading, listening, speaking/conversation, business English, job/university interview English . . .
4.  Please write any thoughts or feelings about the English camp and Teacher Jason you want to share.  Be honest so that future English camps can improve.

I think the freshmen, and my Korean co-teacher, were shocked that I was giving them the opportunity to VOICE their thoughts and feelings about the camp, and potentially to criticize me as a teacher.  I also think that the freshmen really liked that they were being given a tool with which they could actively participate in shaping future learning and teaching–something that rarely if ever happens in their regular classes (though this coming semester will see the beginning of Korean teacher evaluations by students).

I was really happy to get 5/5 across the board from all the students for overall satisfaction with the camp.  The rest of the scores were predominantly 5s, and the remainder 4s . . . with one exception.  Many students gave 3s and 2s for question #2–they wanted MORE WRITING CLASSES WITH ME–AWESOME!!!

Okay . . . re-reading this post I’m realizing that it’s gotten a bit more ‘organic’ than I’d like it to be though I would like to think the tangents I go off on all spring from writing about winter camps and lesson prep, lol.

To wrap this up . . . I think my winter English camp schedule changed a total of about 8 times before it was ‘set in stone’–though I hesitate to use that expression because in camp #1 and now in camp #2 I am being thrown a curve ball that impacts how I organize my lessons for writing and demonstration speeches.

Apparently no one gave much consideration to the fact that the incoming freshman have to return to their middle schools during February to attend their graduation ceremonies.  There are also a few days where the guys have to go to the school too for ‘classes’ which are really nothing more than an opportunity for last minute administration tasks to be done before they move on to their high schools.

How does this impact my camp schedule and lesson plans you might ask?  Well, I’ve assigned six hours of class to learning how to write paragraphs and paragraph format rules.  The six hours take place over the course of 3 days, and if a student misses even ONE day of the three they have a really hard time catching up with the others because of the developmental structure of my lessons and the writing exercises I have them doing in each class.  Last week, a couple guys missed one day, and one guy missed two days, and when they walked in and tried to participate and keep up they really struggled.

I know that professional teachers, regardless of what socio-cultural teaching environment they find themselves in, always have to adapt and be flexible to schedule changes, and to having students walk into their classes who have been absent and need to be caught up . . .

But I think that Korea must be at the far extreme end of the scheduling and lesson planning continuum.

More to come about Day 1, Winter English Camp #2.