It’s dawning on me how close I am to the end now: only three Mondays of regular school remain; and two paydays. Yes, that’s how I measure time, in Mondays and money – two ‘m’ words firmly at opposite ends of the ‘how good stuff is’ spectrum. Their alliteration is perhaps not something I would’ve noticed before but I think like a teacher now, and having spent five hours of each week for the last 10 months with my group of 6 and 7 year olds sounding out words I’m now really good at phonetic spelling, and I’ve been hardwired to inwardly and appreciatively doff my metaphorical cap in the direction of any outstanding orthoepic occurences.
Attitudes are changing at school. By this I’m mainly referring to students’ attitudes towards a particular co-teacher; a particular co-teacher’s attitude towards me; and, circuitously, my attitude towards students. I think a lot of relationships begin with tentative feeling out, cautious attempts to ascertain stances, viewpoints, beliefs, tastes, reactions to certain situations, senses of humour – the nature of the other party. Such gradual exploration I have witnessed in the lessons I co-teach with one particular guy, all fifth grade classes and one sixth. They’ve had 16 weeks together and the students’ repect and cooperation has declined in direct proportion to the amount of time being taught English. I’ve been trying to work out recently if their Korean teacher hasn’t noticed, doesn’t know what to do about it or just doesn’t give a damn. His attempts at discipline are sporadic, half-hearted and seemingly random. They’re also unfair, because he’ll allow the same group of kids to get away with the same kind of behaviour for weeks and then suddenly turn around and punish them for it.
His lessons are all wrong and the students control them: any textbook work he just finishes in silence by himself (often incorrectly); each class consists of at least one game (something that should be a reward) and 5-10 minutes of whichever one of the Spiderman films the students ask for on the day; he allows students to walk around during class, sit on each others’ laps and throw screwed-up bits of paper at each other – if he decides to punish more than one student at a time he’ll send them to a table at the back of the room where they sit together and chat, if he tries to remove kids on their own they just tell him no. He’s cultivated a classroom environment in which kids can do what they want – and they know it. Since this has happened gradually as students have realised they can get away with more and more I have little authority and it’s often undermined – I confiscated a tipex that was all over the desks and my co-teacher returned it immediately to the culprit. I’ve offered suggestions outside the classroom more than once, but these have been ignored.
He’s anolder male, and his attitude towards me has become more stereotypical. He’ll often get me to do his photocopying, return his lunch tray to where it gets collected from (our canteen’s being renovated so we get little lunch boxes delivered), or other menial little chores that are too worthless to argue about or question.
It’s a peculiar situation though, because I like the guy. I struggle to hide my contempt when he asks me to do something that really should be his job to do, but otherwise we get on when not teaching together. He grows little plants in the English room, and he gave me one to take home the other day. He leaves little sweets on my desk when I’m out of the office (that’s another thing – his overuse of candy in the classroom). He responds to every powerpoint I present with a smile and an “awesome job, can you save PPT my computer?”. I talk to him about weekends, holiday plans, feelings about Korea, progress with Korean than all my other co-teachers put together. He just seems to lack a good deal of common sense. I hate it when people feed their dogs at the table and then slap them on the nose for jumping up at mealtimes when they suddenly decide its wrong or for begging when guests are round, and that’s kind of what he’s done with these kids. The vice-principal walked in to one of his lessons the other day (I wasn’t there) and observed how ridiculous it was – now he’s been warned about his teaching and he seems to realise something needs to be done. Hopefully things can change, or both these students and their next English teacher are going to have a horrible time when they meet next year.
My attitude towards teaching is changing too. In these lessons I feel really bad for the handful of kids who sit quietly, earnestly listening to what you’re trying to teach, so I’ve been focusing on them, chatting to them rather than chastising others during revision or individual work time. This has extended to my other classes too, for better or worse: when I introduce a topic I spend my time having conversations with the interested students and inviting questions, rather than trying determinedly to coherce every last person into another listen and repeat exercise. Instead of games where teams have to repeat a textbook phrase for points (“Nami is stonger than Jinho”) I’ve been doing quizzes or debates (“who would win in a fight between Spiderman and Batman?” Spiderman, because he is stronger”). I know I should aim for maximum participation but I feel like the kids do enough mindless repetition when I’m not there, and practise of “real” conversations with a “real” foreigner is priceless.