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

Term 1

Test 1 = 2.5 points

Test 2 = 2.5 points

Term 2

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.