Saturday, June 26, 2010

World Cup Break and Things White People Like to Do

World Cup is keeping me busy. I'll be putting a series of posts out about lesson planning at my high school when classes break beginning next week. Until then, it's crickets time in dagSeoul. We're watching football.

I thought it's worth mentioning. If you're a white girl living in Korea who likes Japan and fancies herself an apprentice courtesan and dresses up in white face for a photo session and posts those pictures for all to see on Facebook as if it's simply wonderful and innocent and amazing that you got to do something that cool, I'm the person on your friend list who's going to burst that white bubble and ask if I'm supposed to take you seriously any more.

Just saying.

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Monday, June 21, 2010


After some consideration, and friends' good points on the subject, I've returned anonymous posting to my blogs. I have reinstated moderation. If you post a comment, give me some time to moderate before posting again.

I agree that my readers' internet privacy is more important than the few minutes it takes me to moderate.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Teachering: Useful and Useless Teaching habits

[edited twice as of this morning, 6/17/10)

I've been thinking about my role as an English teacher in Korea more often lately. I know it's likely due to my approaching contract renewal. I should probably just relax. I know I'm a good teacher, but we don't get much peer review in Korea. Certainly not as much discourse as I'm used to in the US. So, I am anxious.

I took a little time to reflect on my work the last week and discovered, since my 2008 arrival in Seoul, I've weathered a strong revision of my teaching practices yet a strong reaffirmation of my pedagogical principles. My principles are renewed and my practice is more vital than it has ever been in the past. I feel like I know what I'm doing yet I'm doing something new.

I think a lot of Native Speaking English Teachers (NSETs) arrive in Korea with vague notions about how to teach English and little experience. That's problematic and for what are obvious reasons: new teachers, little support, no training, rigid contract, et al. However, many people coming to Korea to teach are dedicated teachers looking for work in a country that respects teachers and looking to teach in Korea, a place they want to know more about. Many teachers arrive here already trained, with strong pedagogical principles and practical experience. As one of the latter, it's often painful and frustrating to be compared to the former. Teachers should be able to gain experience, certainly, but I do believe that experience should be developed at home and in conjunction with the direction of their own teachers. That's for another post.

I'm tired of hearing from my surprised Korean colleagues that I'm such a good, dedicated teacher who has good ideas and loves Korea. (They're always happy I don't show up late, smelling of soju and kimchi, with my shirt untucked, dead tired and unable to teach. Koreans seem to expect the worst as a rule.) I always want to crack wise and stand up for myself. I don't. I just smile and say, Thank You. It's the Korean way, for sure.

I've always thought English is useful as a global language because it's capable of assimilating essential everyday language from other languages without much of a hassle or misunderstanding. However, the teaching of English can be much less democratic and accepting of difference than the language is. For many reasons, many teachers act as if they are guardians of the English language. It's not enough for them to teach it; they like to act as if they own it and are protecting something they bought with their knowledge of it.

One thing I've learned in Korea about English instruction and that I'd offer to anybody seeking advice about teaching ESL and/or EFL in a foreign country is that a teacher must have the ability to strive for excellence while setting classroom standards and expectations appropriately with respect to the students' current needs and demands in contrast to the teacher's own desires. Teachers really do have the power to set this conflict between desires and demands aside, to disengage from it for the benefit of the class by stepping down from doing things for the students and actively engaging with them in classroom discourse. English language instruction and acquisition can be a coming to terms with the language rather than enforcing it: a negotiation rather than a standard.

What I have been coming to terms with in Korea is a strange disconnect between my radicalism (pedagogy) and my pragmatism (my objective). I have learned that balancing the desire to express ourselves in the classroom and department successfully and meaningfully is not the same as managing a classroom in a manner suitable to the students. Only the teacher is in a position to assess what the students need and this gives teachers a lot of power. We know that government is always seeking to proscribe this power. And students often like to rebel against it. Regardless of the situation outside of the classroom, a teacher can make the decision to empower student participation and activate learning in useful and meaningful ways no matter what interference exists.

Judging from the bulk of lesson plans I see circulated and the general discourse about teaching (in Korea,) the less-experienced teachers seem to make the wrong decisions for what may seem like very practical (read, good) reasons. Teachers tend to decide that the requirements of the lessons and demands of the culture are so significant that they must insist students accept a classroom environment the teacher thinks will work best for them to meet curricula-determined goals. I disavow this practice. I guess this could be my reaction to useless lesson planning practices. After all, how long have teachers been composing plans based upon concrete goals that are met only after imposing a strict outline of timed classroom activities? It's stale; it ignores students.

A good lesson plan illustrates a teacher understands how to define an attainable goal. A good plan never addresses how and what students think about it. Moreover, detailed plans always determine how students should approach a lesson. Therefore, plans limit creative and critical discourse. Nowhere in these lesson plans are students visible. Students are unnecessary to its implementation, and they will be present when a lesson is discussed and assigned. They will be given a lesson. I know many teachers who can compose wonderful lesson plans who cannot teach, aren't interested in teaching. They are good plan implementers. And the students' grades are merely numeric representations of the quality of implementation. In fact, that's how both the US and Korean Republic see education. This is the prevailing theory of education: if students receive high test scores, then they are learning.

My Korean colleagues often sadly approach me and apologize because I have had to "lower my expectations" since coming to Samsung High School. When I first arrived, I thought this was because my school's Principal had read my CV to the teachers in a faculty meeting before introducing me. It was embarrassing. I'm proud of my work but I don't brag. And some teachers were intimidated. What was I doing here? They asked it; I asked it. But I have learned that they're thanking me for working hard and trying to be respectful. I'm not good with gratitude. I have a real problem seeing myself as good. And it's even harder for me to figure out how to return gratitude. I'm terrified of obligation and never quite get it right. This, too, is for another post. But it shouldn't be overlooked that when I first arrived, were it not for my experience, I would have been shocked to discover that it's close to impossible for me to properly complete my contracted tasks--that much of my work, in the traditional sense of teaching lessons, is pointless.

But I have learned to stay focused on the students. To love my students and not necessarily their work. And so, when I'm reminded how sad it is that I have to lower my expectations, I respond with a smile and say "No problem." What's the point of explaining that I find such apologies demeaning to the student body? It's not worth it. I know how my colleagues think about my most recent approach to developing lessons: they see my newest take on teaching students here as a lowering of expectations. It is decidedly not that at all.

The level of English in my working-class district is lower than you might expect. I have 2 or 3 out of 35 to 45 students, in 20 classes, who can listen to a question in English and answer using complete sentences or meaningful clauses and phrases. That's about 60 out of 600-700 students I regularly see. As a result, the first thing I ditched was the English-Only Classroom. For me, that was the easiest part of the environment to change.

Even before arriving in Korea, I wholeheartedly disagreed that enforcing English-only in classrooms encourages and supports the students. Now I can say without a doubt that it's merely wishful thinking to suggest a classroom can be English-Only. It's a ridiculously limiting conception of language as well, as if language were only spoken. The students are not thinking in English. No matter what they say or think, the English language is always already in context with Korean language and culture. We might as well use that to our benefit. English-Only classrooms in Korea are much more about making English teachers more comfortable. I hate classroom power trips. Thus, my classrooms are proudly bilingual.

I would suggest that newer teachers in Korea think about ways to assert themselves in the classroom. Co-teachers will attempt to dominate younger and inexperienced teachers. They'll attempt to police your classrooms. If you need help and are a brand new teacher in search of guidance, this might be a happy coincidence. On the other hand, many teachers have practical experience and will find that Korea's classroom culture is odd, possibly alienating. One of the first things to learn while teaching here is how to fairly and positively manage a Korean English classroom. It takes some work. But the conflicts that will arise and headaches that follow are worth the stress. If you're a good teacher, they will respect your different style. If the students dislike you and you can't teach, they're going to get rid of you as quickly as possible anyway. And I agree with them. Korean students shouldn't be the lab rats for Western teacher wannabes. (I don't mean to be overly cynical or rude to younger teachers, but using another culture's student population as a tool to explore your options back home is unethical to say the least. It's something a teacher wouldn't do.)

The second thing I have learned is how to see the classroom as my students do: a boring, uninspired series of lessons about how to properly answer multiple choice questions based on reading, listening and thinking about ideas in English. Korean English teachers handle this aspect of the job. It's a teacher-stands-in-front-of-the-class-and-tells-you-what-things-mean kind of situation. And Korean students are often much more accepting of receiving such lessons from a Korean than a foreigner. Korean education culture mandates this approach as necessary to teach the students how to prepare for their standardized tests. The advanced students take notes and passively listen and the students who are slightly behind sleep or daydream. The issue for me, as an NSET, is a matter of role: What is my role in the Korean high school classroom?

I've decided my role is to be the one consistent English-speaking presence necessary to acclimate students to the sounds and logic of the English language. By using English with them, I'm performing what it sounds like, how it acts, what it means, and when to use it. In addition, I am what it looks like. This role is in opposition to how most foreign teachers work. This is not to say that they aren't well-meaning teachers with strong lessons. But who are they kidding? I have seen videos of lessons about idioms that drive students mad with laughter. But a PowerPoint presentation with videos and an active classroom is still a lesson about an idiom that relies on a stupid comparison between Konglish and English usage of English language words. It's simply not teaching language. It's teaching jokes. At best, it could be referred to as "reaching an understanding" about a routine. And, in many cases, a teacher risks reinforcing bad habits and lazy routines.

Many NSETs attempt to improve on the Korean English teacher's work and talk about teaching as a competition between co-teachers. At times, they wish to correct the mistakes and to encourage more contemporary usage. Many of the lessons online are based on improving the language the students already know. I think this approach almost gets it right but the flaw is in the pedagogy. NSETs like to be The Expert English Person on Campus. They like to own the language. They complain about the mistakes Koreans permit in their lessons and textbooks. They like to correct cultural errors. They like to transmit Western cultural lessons via language lessons. And as a result of playing the leader, they often find themselves very much an outsider in their schools. They become English Language Informers--the tool in their schools to illustrate who knows English well and who doesn't: somebody who is approached only when the locals can't answer a language question without an expert's help. I want nothing to do with this role. It's a means to alienate myself from my students. In addition, I may be an English teacher, but I do not own the language.

All NSETs should meditate on this mantra: I know I am not in Korea to change Korea.

On the other hand, I love Korea. So, why is it not enough for me to simply be myself using the language and being a teacher being myself using the language? It really does boil down to being a teacher or being like a teacher. Am I teaching or teachering?

I do everything I can to work with students on improving classroom discourse to permit as much student participation as possible yet insist that we maintain a useful direction. After all, we must succeed at focused study with a purpose. In my classrooms, even when I'm evaluating the students, I try to encourage them to use the language they have already learned in order to practice it and become more familiar with it. I insist they attempt to speak in coherent sentences when possible.

You may think I have set the bar rather low. I'd disagree. I have renovated the English classroom. Once a week the students feel at ease when an English teacher walks into the room. At ease because I am the Native Speaker, not in spite of it. (Although my co-teachers often feel alienated in my classroom. Yet again, for another post.) This serves an important purpose. I'm the guy you can speak your lousy English with because I'm patient and kind and want you to succeed. I'm not here to inform you that you're incorrect. Quite the opposite, I'm the one who will tell you, "I understand." I'm not concerned with your ranking nor your grade. I'll insist you use English, but I'll support your attempt. In addition, I'll not cater to you nor insult your intelligence. I'm the teacher who knows you know the answer but can't figure out how to say it. We'll figure out a way to say it together. Consequently, I'm the teacher who will insist that English is only possible in conversation with others no matter how much the government and anal Westerners insist it's about correctness.

I'll give you an example. This month we're working on illustrating six themes from the film, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. While some of my students are preparing to find jobs and begin a life of hard work, many students are working towards University life. So, it's important that they begin thinking critically about ideas they encounter in texts. They need to be able to generate reasonable statements about those ideas. They need to know how to use examples from texts to support their statements. And they need to improve their English speaking skills.

I don't have enough time with them to work on reading and discussing texts. I do have time to screen films. We watch a film; I hand out vocabulary. We discuss the language in the film and homework is to familiarize themselves with words and phrases that are new to them. I encourage them to use dictionaries but require their answers in class be in their own words. They aren't permitted to speak in dictionary-ese. The following week, groups have to stand and answer questions about the new words and phrases. We spend one week writing sentences about the meaning of familiar words from the narrative. I assign homework to group leaders who must organize their groups and get them to present a discussion about one of six themes. In their presentations the following week, they must use the language from our earlier vocabulary work. Again, I assign homework asking the students to draw an illustration of their group work about a theme. Their illustration must contain a slogan that captures the spirit of their chosen theme. I sneak a little practice on writing a summary into an art project. The following week, group leaders present their work and the class evaluates the presentations.

It sounds like difficult work, doesn't it? It is and it isn't. These are smart lessons that permit duplication. In other words, in any given school year, I can help the students develop comfort with new vocabulary and English language culture using a format that entertains them. The material in each lesson is new, yet it recalls prior work. The students can become comfortable with my teaching style and a classroom routine without me having to give up the complexity I think is necessary to actually promote learning. I have a lesson ideal and a general direction that maintains a focused and accurate purpose.

The most time-consuming part of the preparation is putting students into groups because I make sure the groups contain high-performers and low-performers, students who both know and don't know English. The students teach one another by listening to their group members discuss how to complete the work and other groups present their work. They become the experts. Students learn who to trust and ask one another for help. I encourage the groups to routinely give others the answers. I encourage students who know the answer that a person standing doesn't know to share the answer. Students know there is nothing wrong with hearing an answer and then repeating it. Of course, they must learn to hear the most correct answer. As a result, I have discovered a way to permit a noisy classroom.

It's much more complex and demanding than anything they're accustomed to as students of English, yet they enjoy it. The difference is that we work in groups and share our results and discuss our problems understanding the meaning of the English language in both Korean and English. The classroom becomes less about the assignment and a teacher's evaluation than it does about the discourse needed to address the questions at issue within each stage of the assignment. Moreover, the students are involved with evaluating their performance as the final lesson requires classes to discuss group performance.

Ultimately, I'm satisfied because this is a practice I'd use with Seoul's most privileged students. It's not something developed with my students in mind; it's something that works regardless of social class. The lessons permit useful participation from all kinds of students, and their participation is required to be in concert with their classmates' work. I'm engaging with them on what can be thought of as their terms. In other words, I'm not reinforcing the stupid ranking system where the best and brightest are rewarded as they shame their classmates who haven't scored as high on their tests. (This is a problem in US classrooms, too, where teachers use the smart kids to motivate the kids who aren't doing as well. It's demeaning. As far as I'm concerned, it's a kind of training for corporate life that should be banned from the classroom.)

I've been using a word lately to distinguish between useful and useless teaching practices. Teaching is always useful teaching. Teachering is when what you do in the classroom fulfills your obligations but does not necessarily have anything to do with your students. Teachering is always useless.

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

잔소리 (jansori): Scolding, Nagging, Grumbling

This morning the girls in my first class were more interested in applying make-up and chatting than they were in forming their assigned groups and beginning work. They simply ignored me for the first five minutes of class. They looked at me while chatting, or with one eye still in a mirror. The disobedience was supposed to be a cute challenge to my authority. We had a lot of work to accomplish today, so I was not pleased. I returned their challenge with some rare anger.

Something about the way the girls ignore the teachers is much more of a power play than the way the boys do it. In fact, the boys aren't necessarily ignoring their teachers. They are playing and are always ready for their teacher to join the fun. It's hard to get them to settle down. In my opinion, scolding is useless in these situations. I'm not talking about a sexist "boys will be boys" moment. The girls can be energetic and playful, too, but there is something in the Korean high school classroom that the girls do to invite a particular kind of interjection into their social scene that the boys do not require.

This morning, the girls were evaluating how far they could go without getting in trouble in a way the boys wouldn't experiment with me. In fact, the boys expect to be scolded. (One reason I don't do it when they misbehave: not scolding them confuses them.) The girls will misbehave until they are scolded and then return the scold with practiced contempt. I say practiced in the sense of rehearsed: several minutes after I scold while they regard me with contempt, we are back to full cooperation and an active, well-functioning classroom. If I was to do this with the boys, they'd quit and be silently sad that their teacher is actually mad at them. Maybe it's a maturity thing? I haven't quite figured it out.

Today, I scolded the girls for five minutes. I've been practicing. A good scolding has to have a good pace and consistent tone. There should be well-placed pauses that last from a few seconds to a minute and a half. It can be slightly insulting but never rude. It must put the listener in his or her place yet requires an attempt to illustrate Care. It must require a response, even if only a nod or affected sob or sigh. Some teachers scold students and it sounds rehearsed and fake; good scoldings are sincere and represent a style unique to the scolder.

At school: when I interject, the girls always respond. Today's response: scowls, frowns, open-mouthed disbelief, sighs, slumped shoulders. Some girls nodded their heads, which was a sign that they understood I acted appropriately and at the right time. They were participating in it. Therefore, I can tell you they were scolded. I didn't nag them. I didn't grumble.

Jansori was the first thing I noticed after my arrival in Seoul. I had never heard of the word nor encountered discussion about Korean rhetoric. I got off the plane at Incheon Int'l on a Monday morning and was driven to my school. I was teaching less than two hours after arriving. And though I understood nothing, I was asking about jansori on my second day.

I didn't know the word for it; I didn't know what was being said. I had no context. All I had was a sense that there was some sort of rhetoric being used by the teachers and students that was different than regular discussion. I really did have to ask, What is that?

Jansori is a complex rhetorical system that often gets oversimplified by bloggers, tourists and expats. They (and Koreans) have a stock English language answer. Jansori is nagging. What's worse is the responsibility for the transmission of jansori is given to older Korean women with the ridiculous Konglish phrase, "mother's nag". Jansori is nagging, but it's so much more. And though mothers famously implement it, everybody in Korea participates.

The following are my notes on jansori (so far and minus some notes on scolding because I discuss it above):
Scolding is not nagging. Nagging is not grumbling. Although nagging and grumbling are useful when scolding. Jansori is scolding, nagging, and grumbling.

Nagging is both intentional and unintentional, and it may not serve a purpose other than to relieve anxiety. Scolding has a purpose, a direction; scolding is precise and accurate. Though nagging may be inaccurate and imprecise, it must have a subject and an object. Scolding can be desired and necessary, and so the right to scold can be abused. Nagging tends to be passive-aggressive. Nagging is always abuse.

There is grumbling, too. Grumbling need not be specific and needs neither subject nor object. Somebody might be grumbling near you at a bus stop. Grumbling is grumbled around and about not always at, to or for. Grumbling is small-talk jansori. It can be cute. It's often funny. However, it can be incredibly sad to see somebody alone and grumbling. Especially if you can understand the grumble. Grumbling may endear you to an older friend, stranger or colleague. Grumbling needs no language. A person can grumble with his eyes, eyebrows; her lips curled into a half-grin or quarter-scowl. Grumblers click their tongues, sometimes rudely spit. Grumbling has direction whether or not it's comprehensive or easily received. Grumblers displace and project. In other words, the grumbling might be directed at you even though you did nothing to receive it. This further distinguishes grumbling from nagging.

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Monday, June 7, 2010

In Media Res: Neither for nor against, forever with my students.

On teaching to the middle: I entered my first class this morning with no expectations, demands, concerns, or anxieties regarding the beginning of 150 minutes ( three weeks) of exercises designed to help my students acquire commonly used English regarding "hard work" and "feelings about belonging". Even though the next three weeks include the language work Korean students least enjoy, I'm confident about my lesson plans and tend to enter class ready to find a means to solve one problem: How do I reach the students with the least English knowledge yet encourage the advanced students to learn something new about English they already know?

Some teachers like to talk about teaching to the middle. I abhor the practice. I believe it's an important aspect of anti-intellectualism in the classroom. It resists conflict and complexity in most discourse and does much to insist that the teacher is the sole guide to classroom discourse, which could be called The Status Quo. I only mention this because Arne Duncan's and President Obama's educational policies are on my mind. Maybe I'll write more about this later.

I like to encourage group work in my Korean classes for two reasons. First, when Korean students do not know an answer and/or are confronted with a difficult series of complex tasks, they may decide to quit participating in class and will sleep if permitted. They simply give up. Second, critical thinking is not required in Korean classrooms where following directions and repeating correct answers is more highly valued. I've had to come to terms with my desire to make every thing and space look like me and admit that my job as a Native Speaking English Teacher is not to criticize Korean education culture, which foreigners often purposefully choose to ignore is a public education system with a complex pedagogy developed over many centuries. On the other hand, I am not required to give up my principles and practice simply because I am a guest from a different culture.

Creating groups that contain high, middle and low performing students and designing lessons that focus on specific skills that students should already possess is one very reliable method to insist that critical thinking skills remain a necessary part of my classroom work. I'll discuss my current assignment in the next post.

Monday Class & The Big Picture: My first Monday class is with second grade boys who are at an intermediate level. It's hard to accurately judge my students' English knowledge: they're purposefully reserved when they participate in class and, as a result of study methods, they often know many more words than they can use. It's easy to say they are low-performing when they have more knowledge or high-performing when they have little knowledge. There are maybe ten students in each class who are behind, yet the majority of the class can understand about 80% of what I say to them without needing an explanation from their Korean co-teacher.

My task is to find a way to activate the knowledge students already possess in order to encourage them to acquire new knowledge. I talk to my Korean co-teachers about language acquisition all the time. Korean students are inundated with English everyday yet encouraged to keep it at a distance via signs, fliers, TV, Internet, radio, classroom, homework, and hagwon. English is always something they are in the process of learning and it's implementation involves an objective ranking based on an exam or a promotion or some other opportunity to succeed. Therefore, English remains technical and foreign, always institutionalized and never satisfyingly realized. They're mostly overwhelmed with English, and oppressed by it. I refuse to implement strategies in my classroom that might reinforce this unfortunate, mindless and alienating process.

There are few opportunities for students to daily work on understanding the language in lieu of memorizing meaning. I use my weekly 50-minutes with them to encourage acquiring skills necessary to recall and recognize English they already know to address things using English they may not yet completely understand. It's like I'm teaching them how to construct a complex puzzle. They hold all the pieces in a semi-transparent bag that permits them to see and feel the shape of the pieces yet mostly obscures the images. They have an idea what I'm talking about but nothing approaching clarity.

I'm teaching them to put the puzzle together by teaching them to (fore)see what the final image should look like when the puzzle is complete. I describe the image and not the process of putting it together. They can remove pieces from the bag but are prohibited from putting them back. The pieces accumulate much quicker than an accurate and useful image is constructed. It's a difficult task that requires trial and error because many of the pieces look the same yet have easy to miss differences. No two pieces are alike yet some of them can be used interchangeably.

The key to solving the puzzle is learning to understand how the pieces fit together, understanding how they feel, as much as understanding the bigger picture. Some days it feels wrong and the overall composition of our classes deteriorates and the students can forget what they know for the difficulty in seeing the bigger picture. They don't have a picture of the completed puzzle; they have me. Because of this, I fear abusing their faith in me.

The problem with everyday language: In an attempt to permit them access to what they need in my classroom, I resist using convention to teach. I insist on working together to approach speaking English in everyday situations without insisting that English belong to me. For example, it's easy for Native Speaking English Teachers to teach idioms to their students. It's easy to entertain younger and older students with fun discussions and presentations about common and uncommon idiomatic expressions in English. I wouldn't mind if my students were advanced English speakers learning to fine tune their usage, but my students don't understand what makes the words used in common expressions work they way they do in English sentences. I'm not doing them any favors by skipping the basics in order to make them smile. In addition, teaching idioms is easy work and the first crutch for a lazy foreign teacher.

The longer I teach here, the more I understand why so many people either love or hate their English teachers. The love for teachers always comes from students who learn from energized instructors who attempt to communicate something more than English and its rules in an orderly and entertaining manner. The hate, often a mixture of contempt and frustration, is a reaction to teachers who resort to implementing methods of discipline and punishment through boring lessons that reaffirm the teachers are the masters of English rather than help students find a means to better use English.

I can predict your success as a teacher in Korea in one step: you will not become a better teacher and will not help Koreans speak better English if you teach them to speak and use English the way you use it. I have had to figure out a way to approach teaching my language that permits me to see it as something I need to learn more about. Once again, I insist that we resist finding ourselves in the language doing what we've learned is correct in order to see our students using the language as they will want or need to apply it. Then we should see ourselves in discourse with those students using English. The difference here is that our common perceptions we take for granted in everyday English are no longer there. Rather than teach the accepted cultural conventions for those perceptions to be held in common, we should focus on teaching the English language.

A wonderful moment: I was frustrated this morning when I asked students to get into their assigned groups and quickly discovered that they were not doing the work I had assigned them. They appeared to be working but were actually playing. As I encouraged them, they further ignored me. The students want to please me; sometimes they'll tell me everything I want to hear while doing nothing much at all. It can be infuriating because of the language difference. They address me in English and return to their other Korean conversations. They do this even though I'm studying Korean. They know I can understand them. It's a power trip: at moments like these, I can either compete with them or I can permit the refusal to cooperate until I find an opportunity to steer the class in a more productive manner. Anyway, the students used enough English this morning to move me on to the next group and, once I was out of earshot, they returned to gambling, playing, telling stories, and grooming each other.

I tend to let students help me guide classes. If they take us off course with good reason and we are actually learning something, I let them take control. American students tend to understand this liberty and will take advantage of it: class leaders will step up, understanding their classmates' desires and interests sometimes better than the teacher. They'll take the class into more engaging territory. Sometimes the students you'd least expect to see leading in the classroom take the opportunity to make a point or move classroom discourse somewhere more engaging. It's very empowering for them; it builds trust; it activates critical thinking. A well-prepared teacher can move with the students steering the class discourse to maintain focus on lesson objectives.

Korean students lack the training to create focused critical discourse in their classrooms. This morning my students reminded me of this. More importantly, they did not want to do any work whatsoever. I would have had trouble getting them to focus on an entertaining language game. Anyway, I scolded the boys and they apologized. I assigned them the classwork as homework and we covered two problems together.

While we worked together, I noticed something new. They trust me. I don't know when this happened. After all, I've only been here two years. My reputation as a good teacher, both in the school and community, is a new thing. When I first arrived, I was popular with the kids. I play soccer; I know music; I'm fashionable; I like Korea and the language; I know a little Korean history; I'm not a know-it-all foreigner; etc. My "kind eyes" and style went a long way to promote a welcome spirit. It wasn't hard for the students to like me.

I worried about it, of course. If they hate you, you can't last here. And when the students rebel against a foreign teacher, it's not pretty. There are many horror stories of teachers ruthlessly chased from Korea. It feeds the cynical blog and ESL site culture where critics like to troll. Anyway, my students liked me just fine, yet I didn't have their respect. My co-teachers were in control; I was tolerated. And, I admit it: it hurt my feelings.

This morning after I scolded my students, they quieted down and did the work with me. They actively participated. They smiled at me. They encouraged me. They were trust-ing me. I was touched. It's a rare moment worth sharing: my commitment to my pedagogy and consistent effort in practice was quietly rewarded with public regard not for the work but in spite of it in order to appreciate my effort as a teacher. I don't know if I can tell you how good I feel right now. (Yet, I'm editing this paragraph several hours after writing it and letting you know that this feeling was fleeting. Today was been a very difficult first day of a week that will be filled with frustrated students trying very hard to understand a difficult assignment. See next paragraph.)

The current three-week assignment I have developed is difficult. It requires a lot of classroom work from teachers and students. Though I love an opportunity to teach challenging material, it's not as if I'm looking forward to the inevitable frustrations that accompany attempting to take this job seriously. I think my students get this about me. I was very frustrated and their care transformed that frustration and a poorly functioning classroom into something that works.

The power a student has in difficult classroom situations is the power to (not) cooperate. I believe it's not a bad student who refuses to cooperate. I believe to refuse is an important liberty. Furthermore, my students seem to know that I'd permit their refusal.

Often when my classrooms get unruly, I'll step away from the center of things and silently stand in a corner. I'll patiently wait. In the US, these moments don't last too long. On the other hand, I've stood for two or three excruciating minutes in Korea: stood waiting for the students to be quiet and look my way. All of them. They eventually figure it out. Here, the recognition is often followed with nervous laughter. "What's he doing?" is often asked in Korean. I don't have to tell them they're upsetting me; they decide to participate. Anger is never an issue. Control? Well, you could say "Gary is always in control of his classroom" as my evaluators do say. Actually, I'm waiting my turn to participate. When I get my turn, I make it count. In the worst cases, a class leader will assert authority and invite me back into the class. When I continue, I don't have to raise my voice.

This is not a silly mind game. It's not about power. It's about wanting to talk with students about their work. After all, we both have important roles to fill within the classroom community. It's good that students understand what my role is by discovering that I actually do have one. The younger the students, the easier it is for them to forget. But I spent my first 8 years lecturing in the College and University classroom. I can tell you that they're as bad as the 15 year olds on many days.

Korean language: Tonight, I'm beginning my next class at Seoul National University. Looking forward to it.

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