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