My students are good kids, and I had a nice time watching them perform and I was impressed by their pottery, paintings, and model homes on display on the first floor. It must be said, though, that in spite of weeks of practice, a lot of these performances were about as organized as a lesbian clusterfuck.
The students had a month to prepare their dances this time, working on them during gym class. The effort, though, was distributed the same way it is in my classes. A few students are really into it, about half are sort of doing it but are looking around and chatting with their friends, and the rest are just kind of moving around arbitrarily.
I bring that up because it's interesting to think about what goes on in the classroom in light of what goes on at a school festival. At the festival the MC---a teacher on a mic---spent about ten minutes getting all the students to a reasonably quiet level before proceeding. If a Korean teacher, with microphone, giving directions in Korean, is largely ineffective against chattering Korean students, it makes me less ashamed at the rowdiness of some of my own classes. Hell, during the principal's opening speech there was a noticable chatter in the background, and even teachers were chatting and playing on their phones.
Like the chronic aversion to punctuality, I think the inability for many Koreans to be quiet for more than two seconds is cultural difference, and one to which I've had to adapt. There was a thread on Dave's a few weeks ago, "shut up, shUt Up, SHUT UP" that really hit close to home. An excerpt from the original post:
I can't take it anymore. I teach in an elementary PS and all the kids do is talk, talk, talk. Then talk. Shut up. Just shut up. They had to give presentations today and the whole class just talks through it all, I can't even hear anything. When I speak, there's 15 different full blown conversations going on. When the Korean teacher speaks they don't stop. I tell them where I come from, if a 10 year old dared to out volume a teacher in class...I don't know what would happen. Because it wouldn't. I had to sit through 6 hours of school and couldn't speak unless spoken to. Sure, I didn't go to hogwans, but I also didn't talk through them either. No wonder they 'study' for 10 hours a day. Maybe if they stopped talking long enough to listen, they wouldn't need to.
And it's not just the kids. During meetings here, the teachers just chat the whole way through when the Principal is talking. They chat through the national anthem, they talk through weddings and funerals and movies and sleep. Shut up. Just shut up. This is just one indication of the total lack of respect Koreans have for other people. Just shut up and listen. Or just shut up and don't listen, I don't care. The important thing is that you shut your little pie hole long enough for someone else to express their ideas, you ignorant little selfish princes and princesses. Your mothers might tell you you're important, but you're not. You're really not. No one cares what you have to say. Shut up.
LOL, that's awesome. As I said it's not just the students. The teachers are always clucking away, even during speeches by the principal or other dignitaries. During staff dinners when the principal gets up to make a speech many don't even interrupt their meal.
It's also put some of my efforts in perspective. I sometimes get frustrated when my students seem incapable of doing the simplest of tasks. With their Korean English teachers they're reading stories, writing letters, learning pretty complicated grammar, and taking difficult standardized exams. In my class trying to get through a basic question-and-answer session is a chore. But watching the performances and the rehearsals made me rethink my expectations a little bit. A lot of students struggled with their dance moves---what an absurd sentence---even after all that preparation, a lot of the students just weren't into it, and a lot of students just made arbitrary movements with no regard to coordination or rhythm. So maybe it's asking a little much to expect students to come into English class and perform the language, and maybe I'm expecting too much when I want them to do a role play or something after a 30-minute lesson. I don't think it's a coincidence that the sharpest students and the most enthusiastic English learners were also the best dancers---what an absurd sentence. Seeing that at least half of each class was equally indifferent toward English as toward dancing---what an absurd sentence---makes me feel a little better.
For those who haven't experienced a school festival, much of them are devoted to dance numbers put on by each class. They'll pick a song---usually everyone does the same song or chooses from among a couple popular ones---and the whole class does what is supposed to be a coordinated routine. I posted some grainy videos of the Christmas festival, and you can find tons by going through Youtube and Naver. The Christmas festival featured no shortage of "sexy dances" by middle school girls to Ivy's "A-ha," "Tell Me," and Destiny Child's "Lose My Breath." You can also find a ton of those kinds of videos on Naver if that's your thing. This time we were spared the booty shaking. The songs used in the show were Lee Hyori's "Listen Mr. Big," another one I can't remember, and that goddamn annoying "Energy" by Mighty Mouth, complete with that goddamn annoying hoduken everytime they approximated "energy."
I was happy to learn a few things about my students and pick up a few tips for the classroom next year. I was also really impressed that everyone participated. Nobody had the too cool for school attitude that accompanies 86% of North American students. Even if they did it poorly, everyone---the smart kids, the dumb kids, the short kids, the fat kids, the shy kids, the bubbly kids, the nevertalktoanyone kids----got up and did their dance. It was cute that nobody was embarassed to get up there and embarass themselves, because everyone was embarassing themselves, hence nobody was embarassed.The kids seemed to enjoy themselves, but they are of course quite competitive and were really eager to win the 5,000 won gift certificates. Like what happens when you try to play a game in class, the winners are happy and the losers complain and complain and complain, making you question the advisability of trying a game again in the future.
I've blogged a lot about teaching English here, and the challenges native speakers face in the public schools. I think a lot of the problems are endemic here, and you'll find them in hagwon, too. If it's not one thing, it's something else. There are a lot of benefits to working in a public school, though, including the chance to try different things like picnics, volleyball tournaments, and festivals. I don't have nearly as much class time with students as I did in my hagwon, but I'm in the same place with them for eight hours a day. There are also lots of random surprise holidays and cancellations, meaning I often have more days off in a month than I was given all year at my former hagwon, which would count national holidays as contracted vacation days and which wouldn't allow me to take a sick day when I lost my voice.
While I was watching the festival and outlining this post, I got to thinking about the generally-accepted notion that Korean students, among others, have a huge advantage over their American peers because they attend school all year round. It's true that they don't have a two-and-a-half month break each summer, but when you add up all the class cancellations, I wonder how much more instruction they're receiving. For instance, after the final exams in December the students had three more weeks of school---followed by a one-week stretch in the middle of winter break---during which they did nothing but watch movies, practice for the winter festival, and have free time. The teachers usually didn't even attend class because they were preparing the final grades. The week or two between the midterm and the end of the spring semester was the same thing in many cases. There are, as I said, tons of random cancellations for holidays, picnics, and school festivals, plus cancellations for cram time before the major exams. Then when you add the ten weeks of so for winter vacation and the five weeks or so of summer vacation to all this downtime, I don't think you're too far behind what goes on in the US. You do have to factor in the time students spend at summer camps and intensive sessions at their cram schools, but while those are part of the culture those aren't part of the schools.
I still like the idea of attending school all year round, or "all year round," but the three-month summer break is ingrained into American culture---like the importance of testing here---and I don't think you'll see it go away in most school districts.