To be a real teacher

I’m pretty much set on not renewing my contract next year.  And here’s why:

1.  I’m not appreciated at my school.  I work harder than any other teacher here.  I’m pretty sure i’m the only one who brings work home everyday and never gets enough sleep.  I spend countless hours planning and editing lessons to continually challenge my students while taking into account their varied abilities and interests.  More importantly, i teach because it’s always been my dream to teach.  I love what i do, and i’m grateful that i was given this opportunity.  Teaching is emotional for me.  Whatever happens at school can make or break my day; so much of my emotional well-being depends on how i do at my job.  And when you are this dedicated to your work but no one recognizes it, it just hurts.  My coworkers have no regard for my schedule and workload.  They keep piling on more work for me (unrelated to my classes) because they know how hard-working i am and that i wouldn’t refuse.

2.  This job is becoming meaningless for me.  I realized last night that i’m a trainer, not a teacher.  How do people teach EFL?  I hate not being able to talk about open-ended, thought-provoking topics with my students.  I hate that it’s a struggle just to get them to understand me.  I hate that i can’t communicate with them on an intellectual level.  I hate that they can’t express to me everything that they want.  It hurts to see them give up (i know how it feels).  I hate that they feel dumb because they can’t communicate with me, and i hate that i can’t help them improve.  Why are they not improving?  I want to teach them about the world, other people, other ways of thinking, other possibilities, but my role is to train them in a foreign language, which considerably limits how much you can do with any given topic.  I’m obviously failing at improving their English, so i feel like all i do is train them in responsibility.  And that’s exactly what i resolved to never do as a teacher.  I learned in my Youth Media class that schools are designed to produce working citizens, and that this can have a hazardous effect on a child’s personal growth.  I’m at a loss as to what to do.  I think i’ve reached this point because it’s all i can do, but i should stop.  But then how else would i grade?  I don’t like to take too many points away for bad English, because if their English is bad, that’s my fault.  When they don’t follow instructions, however, i penalize them, but i’m starting to think i shouldn’t.  All i’m doing is training them to not make mistakes in the future and to follow instructions whether they like them or not, and that’s not healthy.  It might help them in the workplace, but it’s not healthy for their creative development.

3.  I miss America.  I don’t like Koreans’ working style.  I like rules and i like to follow them to a T, but no one does that here.  I don’t like that they don’t take deadlines and schedules seriously.  I don’t like how they don’t respect other people’s privacy.  Basically, all the things i expected to have difficulty with, i am and can’t accept on moral grounds.  Plus, there’s no future for me here.  It’d be impossible for me to survive in a communal, Confucian society.

I wanna do things differently next semester.  I’m starting to introduce philosophical topics in my lessons, and i’m going to find a way to make these lessons work if it’s the last thing i do.  Eventually, i’d like to teach straight-up philosophy in very simple but engaging terms.  I don’t know how i should change my rules and grading system, but i’ll figure it out over break.  I kind of wish i wasn’t in charge of the grading now.

Next semester, i’m going to be a real teacher, and if anyone at this school has a problem with that, i’m quitting.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “To be a real teacher

  1. Eve

    most of the teachers i’ve talked to here cite work as their #1 problem. weirdest thing is that for me, my job is the best part of korea.

    i’m rooting for you to make the job work for you or, at least, not drive you batty. good luck.

    • n

      i’m not as unhappy as i sound here. i’m actually very happy with how everything is going, and i like my job, but i want more. i want to teach more. i’m just dissatisfied with the parameters of this job, of EFL teaching in general. thanks for the kind wishes, though.

  2. Strigiformes

    is EFL similar to ESL? does F stand for foreign?

    I can’t really remember my childhood English teachers anymore. You are right that they don’t really “teach,” but rather train you to be proficient in something. Only when you are proficient in the language enough do you get to learn the literature of that language, and that’s where the fun begins.

    Which is also probably why I never really liked language teachers. However hard they try they just can’t make their classes as fun as the others. And I truly feel sorry for them since they are all really really nice people. I liked my ninth grade ESL teacher because all we did in that class was reading different classics, which made it more like a real English class rather than an ESL class. So your switching to teaching philosophy may be a good solution.

    As for the culture, it does seem that Korea is not for you 😛

    • n

      Yeah, F stands for foreign. That’s an idea; i should find short stories that are easy enough and have them do writing activities with them. And i really hope they like the philosophy lessons.

  3. Dan

    damn. You got a lot of problems in South Korea =/

    Just wondering though, even though you know where all the problems are:
    -workload pushed onto you
    -lack of girls’ success in English
    -clash between your personal ethics and what your work is leading you to do

    Can’t you tell them that your workload is too much, so that you can politely refuse it?

    Is it too unrealistic to expect girls there in South Korea to pick up on English like a pro? I mean… were we any better in Hammarskjold, 6th-7th grade? (I still laugh when I remember my Spanish classes with Snra. Quintana) Hell, Even in Churchill (8-9), Mrs. Franco was teaching German and Spanish, so I was never interested because she was never focused. Mrs. Franco also teaches at the EBHS, so I had her then too.

    If you look at the pattern, it shows that all these teachers, based on our personal experience, weren’t so much about getting us to speak the language fluently. Personally, I felt that they were more about getting us to be interested in the language so that we could see ourselves taking the language in college.

    As for the third one… what will you do? I mean, what will you do when it comes down to your own choice if it’s a choice between the growth of your students (teach them responsibility) or fighting an evil you learned about in your Youth Media class?

    That’s seriously a tough call. Hope you get back to us all via this blog about what you actually do.

    • n

      As for the workload, most of it’s for my students (speaking and writing contests and such), so i don’t mind doing it. I just don’t like teachers coming to me with personal things, like how to order something from Amazon or if an exam question is OK. I understand why they’d come to me with it, and it only takes me a moment, but when i’m strapped for time with work to do for my classes, it just gets aggravating.

      I’m not expecting my students to pick up English like a pro. Many of them can’t even form simple subject-verb sentences, and they literally don’t understand a word of what i say. Most of them don’t even try. We did much better with foreign languages, i think. And my French teacher, Mme Rodrigues, definitely got us to learn the language and its intricacies. Granted, i’m good at languages, but these girls have been learning English since elementary school, so i just expect more from them. I expect them to at least not be afraid of using the language.

      I still don’t know what to do for the third one. For the rest of this semester, i’m going with the responsibility thing because that’s what i’ve been doing, but i need to seriously rethink things over the break. I also taught my first philosophy lesson this week, and it bombed. It was an obedient class, so they did the work, but the co-teacher kept having to translate everything cos the students didn’t understand it. It was the easiest thing i could think of, too. I really think it’s an attitude problem. All they had to do was focus on the simplified sentences (i mean really simplified) if they couldn’t understand the more complex ones. I always give several options to suit the different ability levels in the class. But as soon as they hear “Aristotle,” they give up.

  4. Jingjing

    I really like the thoughts that you express in item 2. I wish more teacher’s were as thoughtful as you in terms of creativity and a young person’s role in the future. It’s hard, I feel as if all school has taught me to do is follow rules. Engineering is made up of a set of rules…Newton’s law, laws of thermodynamics, etc. People who like engineering, can function within these laws and rules. I can’t. I have to be specific with one term because describing in another way could mean something different. Nobody in engineering reads into Syntax. Misalignment means assembly misalignment. Slope means what happens to a shaft during operation. If I were to use misalignment as a description for operation, people get confused and worse, at meetings, it turns into an argument. I’ve lost the freedom of language. I know most engineers probably liked school and learned how to solve problems, but for me, it made me feel like I was just learning a bunch of right or wrong things to do. I don’t know where I am going here. I like that you are so brave and so set in your thoughts. It’s strange how I quit my job, only to return to it for a higher salary. Now, I want to quit everyday, but I can’t because if I did, I would have to give up my bonus. I

    • n

      Your job would make me miserable, Jingjing. I really hope you’re either finding a way to cope with it or finding an escape route. Keep me posted on how things go! I never give up on my values, but i’m not always brave…

  5. Stay safe, buddy! Though I don’t know you personally, and it’s kinda weird to say this, but been followin your blog for some time now…and…umm…the North Korean attack and stuff…so just felt like sayin!

    • n

      Thanks! I checked out your blog a few days ago—i’m going to have a better look when i have more time.

      • Haha! Cool! Anytime…

        I need to know a lot of things too! Like I am also planning for a transition outside, maybe teaching, or journalism, or feature writer, or PR…etc…but being from India, I don’t know which ways to explore, and how, and who or which channels to contact, if at all…

        So maybe, sometime we can have a chat on that!

        Keep up the good stuff! 🙂

  6. Pingback: What to do from here? | thoughts on the loo

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