Goodbye Video Message

I don’t think I have it in me to express what I feel to my students in person so I made a video. I’m really bad on video too – I can’t talk properly, I look away from the camera every other second, it’s chaotic. So I wrote my message… and translated it since I don’t think my students would understand me entirely.

Truth? It’s going to be awkward and uncomfortable playing it for the 14 different classes and having to sit in the same room. But I’ve always been the type of teacher who gets a little sentimental at the end of the year and I’ve chosen this way to release those feelings this year.

It’s end of two years. They were a special two years for me.

Well… without further ado, I present my goodbye message.

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Working on My Weaknesses

Ever since I was a student teacher, my mentor teachers (and students at the end of the year on my teacher feedback) noted two of my weaknesses as a teacher. It’s been the two things that I’ve been working on the most ever since five years ago. Working as an EFL teacher for the past two years has really challenged me when it came to these two weaknesses. One – my tendency to talk and teach too quickly. Two- my attachment to the students.

I talk too fast. I’ve known this ever since I was a student teacher. Perhaps even before then. When I was a student myself, I noticed that I would talk a lot faster and quicker when I was excited and nervous. During presentations and speeches, this was something that I had to watch out for. I could turn my 10 minute presentation into 5 minutes. Not exactly the best thing ever. But I think my teachers always noted how enthusiastic, passionate and knowledgeable I was about what I spoke about and that counted for more. However, as a teacher, I definitely needed to start catching myself when I was speeding up. As an EFL teacher, even more. The communication between myself and my students is already complicated enough without me speeding off in English when they’re already having trouble with the language. It was hard. I got 40 minutes a week with each class. And sometimes there was so much I wanted to teach. But I think I’ve definitely improved on my speed and delivery of lessons in the past two years. My co-teachers have also remarked on the improvement. But it’s still something that I need to constantly be vigilant about. It’s still something that can run away with me when I get caught up with a lesson.

I love my students. In the most affectionate, and professional way that that can be expressed. I don’t know how else to explain the bond I have with them. I care about them. About the progress in the classroom. About the lives they lead outside of my classroom. About the kind of people they will become as they grow up as individuals. In Canada, students at the end of the year have expressed how much they liked me as a teacher- to the point of calling me a sister or friend. And I knew that I shouldn’t have allowed them to think that as a teacher. In Korea, I thought it might be harder to make those bonds because of the language barrier. But in fact, the language barrier becomes evidence of how much I adore my students. The fact that I’m constantly trying to understand them and vice versa. I have students who love to talk to me in English and wish to know more about my life in Canada, a country they wish to visit. I have students who love to talk to me in Korean despite knowing my inability to understand them just because they really wish to communicate me nevertheless. And the past two years, I have had amazing students. I have adorable students. I have no idea how much difference I have made in their lives. I will also be the last foreign English teacher they get at the elementary school. I hope they remember me as a kind and friendly teacher. And feel that foreigners are approachable and English isn’t scary based on their experience of me.

So how is this a weakness? It’s the possibility of crossing the line between what is professional and what is not between a teacher and students. And I’m constantly checking myself to make sure I don’t cross that line. I love teaching. And I adore my students. I don’t think that will change. But I do tread more carefully and make sure the students don’t think of me as a friend.

I’m still working on how to be a good teacher. And sometimes I’m scared of how I may be starting from the beginning again as I head back to Canada to officially (attempt) to start my teaching career in Toronto. But I’m heading back with some experience and more awareness of my abilities and limitations as a teacher. I’m hoping that the school board interviewers and principals recognize my efforts in the past two years – even if it was not in a Canadian school board. I want to be able to do more as a teacher and starting at home seems to be a good place to start, again.

Halloween with My Korean Students

Happy Halloween!

It’s been such a crazy week at work. I’ve been stressing out over open class, meeting with the principal, lesson plan changes, preparing for Halloween, and Halloween itself. It’s been a week of loss of appetite, lack of sleep, constant headaches, and chaos all around. Even so, it is one of those weeks that I will remember. For the bad and the good. Honestly, the stress and headaches doesn’t end today – so much to worry and figure out next week as well. But the weekend allows us to temporarily leave behind the work at work.

The pros and cons of organizing Halloween as a native English teacher.

Let’s start with the cons:

– money; all the expenses of the candy and prizes comes out of my personal income, which is not something to be taken lightly when you have over 700 students

– organizing all 26 classes so that they all get a chance to participate

– time; I started planning for this two weeks in advance, both the logistics of all the events, costume preparation, and prizes

– no break time; class and trick or treaters kept me busy from the moment I got to school till after lunch

Pros:

– getting the students excited and happy

– seeing their smiles and enthusiasm

List of pros is definitely shorter than the cons but it was all worthwhile.

So what exactly did I have planned for them? It was a 3-event Halloween.

1. Guessing Game 1: What will Carmen teacher be for Halloween?

2. Guessing Game 2: How many pieces of candy are inside the jack-o’lantern bucket?

3. Trick or Treatin’ at the English classroom on Halloween

Halloween Prep

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Buying a bag of candy and counting how much is inside to figuring out how many bags in what combination I needed to buy to have enough for all my students to have two candies apiece.

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Carefully counting and calculating how much candy can fit into the bucket.

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Making my Mickey shorts.

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Mickey hands with white gloves and black pipe cleaners.

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Ballots for the two events for all the students.

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Decoration on the whiteboard to countdown and get the students excited for the upcoming events.

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The evening before Halloween – figuring out the winners of the events and preparing the prizes. There were two winners for the candy guessing and I had to run to the store after work to buy a new bucket and split the candy in half.

Halloween Day

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The first winner of the jack o’lantern candy. I was super surprised that anyone could guess the exact number of candy (213).

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Second winner of the jack o’lantern.

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The first break time – my first Trick or Treaters. This is before it got crazy.

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I had only asked the students to wear Halloween colours (orange or black) – but some students went all out. So awesome.

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A cute little wizard.

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My complete costume – Mickey teacher for the day.

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My beautiful co-teachers who assisted me with maintaining order (as much order as was possible given everything) during all the chaos. Thank you!

Students Speak Up: “English is…”

English classes started on Thursday this week and since the students have just returned from their summer vacation, I did a welcome back/warm back into the English routine with them. Just some simple English activities to use the language that they probably haven’t used in the month that they’ve been off. The last ten minutes of each class, I asked the students a question – what is English to you?

I gave them my own responses. And how it’s changed from before and after coming to Korea. Before, I would have told you that English is easy, English is life, English is what the world speaks. And now, I don’t think that way anymore. English is hard. When you have to teach it as a foreign language and communicate with young students. English is life in Canada but definitely not in Korea and many countries in the world. English is but one of hundreds of languages around the world. And I use all the skills I have to communicate- English, Chinese, Korean, body language.

I encouraged my students to be completely honest. There are no wrong answers. That I truly wanted to know what they thought.

These were some of their responses.

English is…

Hard
Very hard
Crazy hard
Fun
A piece of my language
Not fun
Freedom
My life
USA
Grammar
Something I like
Something I hate
Bored
Angry
Study
Language
English
Good
Strange
Crazy
Interesting
Important
Beautiful
My dream
Mystery
Apple
Future
One of my test
Speaking
Money
Big
World
Game time
Something confusing
Test machine
Hell
A basic tool to communicate
Something you have to learn
Special
My second world

To wrap up the activity, I read some of the responses out loud. And told the students that I agreed with all that they wrote. And that I was so proud of them. Why? Because despite how many students wrote that English is hard, they all wrote it in English. The very language that they have trouble with. And that made me so proud to have such good students who are trying their hardest.

I can only do my best now as their teacher to assist them as they learn the language. And hopefully, make the hard lessons more fun so that they can enjoy themselves too.

English in Korean Middle School

I have loved and still do love my job and experiences teaching here in Seoul. And while there are moments of doubt – am I teaching my students properly, do the students really understand me, am I making a difference at all, what if I’m not teaching to the best that I can teach – there comes a time when I really do wonder about English education here in Korea.

At one point during my first year teaching, the principal told me that my main objective while teaching here at the school was to motivate my students. To teach students in a fun and engaging sort of way that encourages them to learn English. They really don’t have a choice – English is such a vital part of their education and ticket to a better future – but the idea is that at this age, they should find it something fun and enjoyable, rather than a task or something to fear. Because there is an English phobia here, the stress and pressure that surrounded English education is so great that it’s become something that most Koreans shy away from. Many of the Korean teachers working at my school have yet to say anything to me for the past year and a half because of their fear of using English.

Back to my job though, I understand. I get it. I realized early on that this wasn’t like teaching back in Canada. My focus was on natural English conversations, pronunciations, and bringing culture into the classroom. I love making fun lessons for the students. My biggest achievements are getting the quieter students to speak in English to me. There have been numerous students who seems to be afraid or wary of me in the beginning, and who are now actively engaged in class and love to be around me. It makes me feel like I can make a difference. That with me, they’re learning that foreigners – waygook – aren’t that scary, that we’re approachable, and English is not something to be feared.

And then a few of my sixth graders from last year returned to visit me from middle school. I asked them what their English classes are like and this is what I learn:

– They don’t speak English in English class anymore. (Say, what?)

– English class is “easy” now because there is more reading and writing.

– English class is “easier” because they don’t have a native English teacher (like me). Most middle schools and high schools now do not employ native English teachers and pretty soon, they’re going to get rid of the ones in elementary schools.

And it was a shock because one of the two girls who were telling me this was all of a sudden more shy and not willing to use English with me. Even though she used to love talking to me just a few months ago.

So, middle school English education. What is going on there? I have seen in my experiences here that the third and fourth graders love speaking in English – they are so much more motivated as they begin to grasp the language. And then somewhere between fifth grade and sixth grade, they start to become more frustrated with it. They start to lose their motivation and it’s a lot more work to engage them in class. I would only assume that it’s worse in middle school. And so, wouldn’t it make more sense to continue encouraging them to speak more in middle school? To actually keep the native English teachers there, while they learn the English required to get into a good high school and still feel like it’s something fun to learn. Because that’s how it starts – they begin to find it “easier” to learn English, but they never move beyond their books and writing. And as time goes by, their fear of actually using the language in conversations increase.

So now I worry about my students because it feels the little that I can do for them during elementary school will be wiped away and forgotten once they leave. The students who genuinely like English will continue to excel and do well – their speaking improves because they seek to improve it. But for all the other students… well, I try to understand. The pressure for English education is so intense that students cannot help but think of English as stressful. And so I would rather them focus on other parts of their education. But the reality of the Korean society is that you need English to get into a better school, and then a better career. So it becomes something that they don’t really use much of once they’re in the workplace, but it’s something that they need in order to get into the workplace at all. It’s all very contradictory and confusing. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to be them. All I can do… is my job. And hope that I can make English a little more fun for them while they’re still motivated and their motivation can carry them further in life.