Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Testing, Testing

It's tricky. My students' English is below average for high school students in Seoul. The standard lies about their potential to use English. Many have as much English education as the high-performing students, but are not as good accessing it, using it. Their confidence, as a result, is rather low--lower than it should be.

In Korea, the poor kids at the lowest-ranked high schools do not feel smart, are not comfortable being treated as intelligent, are in no way what an American teacher would call entitled. In fact, their teachers talk about them as if they aren't capable of anything better. Their lack of confidence creates a difficult environment for English conversation in the classroom. I know at least 40-50% of the students in each class, around 300 students at my school, simply see no reason to try any longer. A good portion of those kids will not attend university.

I'm a teacher who respects a students' choice to not participate. I'm not happy about it, but I know it doesn't create a better classroom community, better discourse when ten of the thirty to forty students aren't interested and, quite frankly, need not be interested. The kids know more than anybody else that high school is not mandatory, university is for privileged Koreans, and they'd likely be better off doing something more productive with their time. The difference between conversation with and about students is strikingly different here. There's a pragmatism about the future in Korea that, though it may have been useful in the past, serves to paint a rather thick line of boundary between the privileged upper-class and everyone else. And my students are woefully attuned to it without protest.

This week and next, I'm conducting 750 or so two-minute conversation exams. I'm halfway through the first week and have seen almost a quarter of my students. It's tiring, a little boring, yet I find these tests an interesting commentary on the value of the work I plan and complete with the students leading up to our tests.
I'm working on two posts that I'll soon publish. Maybe I can complete them this evening. The first will explain the work I planned for my classes and illustrate  the expectations I had looking ahead to the tests. The second post will illustrate the test and discuss the results, student reception, and their apparent study habits. I'll try to offer an honest evaluation about the success of the lessons and exam. I try to be as self-critical as possible. It's too easy as the only English-speaking teacher on a campus of 1200 students, teachers and staff to become over critical to the point of pointless dwelling in shit.

I often feel unfocused, un-implemented, if you will, here. And it's natural to blame my colleagues, the rather rigid dogma of Korean culture, even the idealism in my pedagogical perspectives. Fact is, my presence here is an imposition on everyone, me too. I've had to come to terms that I'm over-qualified for this job and improperly placed. I was put at this school by request from a principal who wanted an experienced teacher for the school's first appointed Native Speaking English Teacher. I'd likely be much better used at one of the top-ranked schools where the kids could get much more out of me and my skills.

Yet, and it's a strong yet, I am over-joyed to be working at a school with kids Korea has more or less written off. I hate the rich with a passion, and since arriving in Korea, have grown more peaceful with my basic opposition to the upper classes. In the US, entitlement and privilege are often hidden because the middle classes delude themselves into believing they can one day gain elite status, and the poorest believe that hope is not futile. In Korea, the wealthiest people are assholes who flaunt their status as if they were born righteously privileged and any challenge to it is and will always be immoral and rude.  I hate wealthy Koreans; they are disgusting, mean, irritating, arrogant pricks.

In other words, I love my school and look forward to seeing the students each day.

And speaking of tests, here are my students.

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