Thursday, September 11, 2008

More English-Only classrooms, more gimmicks.

The number of English-Only classrooms will increase, according to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.
The classrooms will allow children to study English speaking and listening or read English books during or after their regular classes. Five elementary schools operated pilot English-only classrooms last year, and the Lee Myung-bak administration aims to expand such English-only classrooms to all schools by 2011. Due to the lack of budget, the ministry expects to initially build about 440 classrooms this year.

Every school I've been in has had a separate English room, and this year it's designated an "English Only Zone." LOL, of course the only time it approximates that is when I'm alone and talking to myself. I lead my classes in English, but neither the students nor the Korean teachers have the English levels necessary for an English-in-English class. And, as I've tried to argue before, there are obstacles in place that hamper English education, including how foreign languages and foreigners are presented and perceived, the ambiguious role of the native speaker in the classroom, and unclear motivations for studying the language in the first place. Given all these barriers---I'm inclined to call them cultural factors, but that brings out the haters---I always shake my head to see more money thrown around, more gimmicks. How about just sitting there, shutting up, and studying? Not everything needs to be fancy and fun.

More from that KT article:
``We'll develop a manual for the design of the classrooms through discussions with teachers who have operated similar classes before, so that the rooms can be used for various programs, including small-group discussions or plays in which all students participate,'' a ministry official said.

``We'll collect good examples of English classroom operation and encourage other schools to adopt the models, so that more students can learn English through more enjoyable programs,'' he said.

I'll bet you three thousand won that the manual for the English-Only classrooms will be written in Korean. Let's make it an even five thousand and bet that native English speakers will not be consulted with the use of these rooms and the implementation of these classes. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it, a lot of us---me included---don't have Education degrees and, most importantly, don't have Education degrees from Korean universities, thus making us our opinions uninformed and unwelcome. Not that we're to be blamed, considering they're now hiring white people who haven't even finished college yet, and that a even a person with a Ph.D. would still be little more than decoration in the classroom.

Funny anecdote, a colleague came back from spending a month at the teachers' training camp in Damyang. You know, the one where twentysomething white people show Korean teachers with twenty years' experience how to teach English? Yeah, anyway, she really enjoyed it and learned a lot, but told me that she won't use any of the activities at our school because her students don't like speaking English. Nice, a month of free training that amounts to little more than upward mobility and promotion points.

These same paid training opportunities are not available to foreign teachers, and I've said frequently that there should be a system in place where we, too, can gain points for doing demonstration classes, extracurricular activities, summer camps, and training sessions. Teachers who evaluate well would be entitled to more money, better job security, and most importantly the respect of their Korean peers as established, qualified teachers. It would also give us a greater stake in the process and in the communities, and might dispell the belief that we're mercenaries set on one-year deals and ready to go when something better comes along. Moreover it would show a true commitment to effectively using native speakers in the classroom, rather than just throwing them into a classroom alone or using them as ambulatory tape players. Few, I suspect, are planning to teach in a Korean public school for their whole lives, but people who plan to stay for at least a few years might benefit from such an evaluation system. Unfortunately there is little incentive to acquire more qualifications, as our roles are greatly trumped by the importance of grammar and test-taking, and the burden of education is pushed from the public schools onto hagwon, from hagwon onto private tutors, and from private tutors ultimately onto overseas study. Yeah, people should want to do their jobs as best as they can, but what message does it send when the people who can actually use the language are relegated to the backrground, in favor of domestic teachers who, let's be honest, too often aren't interested at all in attempting English in the classroom?

But that was all just an exercise in thinking out loud, as since I've just filled out, again, a form listing my address, my schools, and my job experience for the local school board, implementing and keeping track of a larger policy like that won't be happening anytime soon.


ESL Daily said...

I could not agree with you more. The amount of money that the Korean government is throwing on English education, but not addressing the real problem is unreal. Throwing a bunch of money into a classroom, tossing in a foreign teacher and now saying... it's English only is not going to work. Especially when the Korean teachers teach 90% in Korean, does not care and spends most of the time doing paper work or speaking on the phone... or using that one program to chat with other teachers about some pressing issue with the principal. Then the Korean teachers turn around and say (to the foreign teacher), "you are not a real teacher. I am your manager... we do things Korean style."

In my honest opinion... (Korean) teachers need to be re-educated: Students come first. The goal is language acquisition and NOT your promotion. School results DO matter not just the UNIVERSITY ENTRANCE EXAMS. B- is not the lowest grade given. But most of all, English should be extended out of the classroom... and not just written homework.

Ms Parker said...

*If* Korea wanted "real" teachers to come here, and stay, and teach with up-to-date methods (instead of grammar translation and rote memorization), they would have to pay us a lot more. I do make less here than I did as a "real" teacher in Canada, with the caveat that the cost-of-living is lower, and it's easier to travel while here.

There is nothing wrong with hiring people who don't have teaching experience, or Education degrees. The problems arise when those teachers are not given adequate support once all the speeches and suppers and fanfare are finished.

Finally, any ESL teacher here who has ever taught a class without a Korean co-teacher, or with a co-teacher who is reading, sleeping, watching TV during their class has taught English in English.

Brian said...

My colleagues have always complained about the prospects of teaching English in English, and I said to them that I do this every day. I mean, for my first two years in public schools I taught nearly every class on my own, and when a coteacher did show up it was to sit in the back, do their own homework, or open and close all the cabinets in the room. I do use a little Korean once in a while, but yeah, by and large it's English in English. I put my foot down this semester and said the coteachers need to show up. It's easier for me, easier for the students, and ultimately it's another few hours' a week of free English lessons for the teachers. I'm wary of them speaking too much, simply b/c they often interrupt with the wrong answers or with pronunciation I can't understand, but they certainly need practice with classroom English.

English is not just a language, it's part of my culture, so I cringe when I see so little genuine thought going into teaching and using it. Yeah, it's their country, their schools, but how about some consideration for members of the target language community. Oh, that's right, the language is used almost entirely for domestic consumption, for domestic tests, for domestic entrance exams, for domestic job interviews.

I get especially cranky when teachers or the media complain about foreign teachers, about how we're ineffective, a waste of money, and so on. Yeah, I get that we---I---don't often have "credentials," but you know what that's not really my problem, the country doesn't require them, doesn't reward them, and doesn't provide any incentive for getting them. What never seems to come up with all this fault-finding is how we're used. Thrown into classes with no preparation, no advice, no tips, no support . . . sometimes no books or attendance sheets. Or paired with coteachers who are bothered by having to spend time in another teachers' class.

I'm scheduled to see each class once every two weeks. With tests, trips, and other random cancellations that works out to once a month, or sometimes only three times a semester. The Korean teachers, on the other hand, see each class four times a week. The two weeks before finals my classes are cancelled so the students can review with the Korean teachers, and the two or three weeks after finals are used to show movies or do other random stuff. Bitch all you want about having to pay me 2.whatever, provide housing, provide assistance with the necessities of daily life, and so on . . . but at least stop setting us up for failure.

Ms Parker said...

Well said.

Andy M said...

I've got an Elementary Education degree, and was teaching in Australian Elementary Schools for 2 years before I came to here.

Boy was I surprised when I found out about their "educational" methods.

The main problems aren't being addressed. It's just another exam here. Lately, I have been teaching PELT to students, and it's the same old shit, but with a new improved smell.

But, it doesn't matter how good it smells, it's still shit ^^

quixote84 said...

Thanks for such an informative post. I'm not an English teacher, but reading your post, I now understand the situations of English teachers better.
The way the Korean media portrays ESL teachers is almost always negative. I wonder if there were any serious approaches on the problem in Korean media in the past (I subscribe to Hanyoreh, Chosun, and Donga and haven't seen anything)