Friday, February 5, 2010

Korean teachers going to the US for further training.

A few articles found via the twitter account of The Jeonju Hub on Korean elementary school English teachers visiting schools in the United States as part of their training. The first article is from January 26th and is about a group of teachers who visited San Bernardino, California, after completing five months of training in Korea.
The 16 instructors, who teach in the Seoul area, spent Tuesday morning at Cal State San Bernardino where they were welcomed by campus educators. The South Korean teachers are scheduled to follow Tuesday morning's activities by visiting San Bernardino area elementary schools and studying how local teachers teach English to students who are learning the language.

"We hope that after these four weeks, you will come out as better teachers," said Tatiana Karmanova, interim dean of Cal State San Bernardino's College of Extended Learning. "You will have better class management, better language skills, (be) more fluent."

One of the visiting teachers, Jee Yeon, said learning English is compulsory in South Korean schools. Yeon said she and her compatriots were lucky to have an opportunity to visit the United States to hone their language skills.

"We have a duty and they (our students) are waiting," she said.

The government pays for teachers to undergo these lengthy training programs if they wish, which consist of five months at the Korean National University of Education and usually one month abroad.

The next article is from Thursday, about nine middle school English teachers who visited New Jersey:
"They are not only so intelligent and professional of the highest quality, but they communicate with a beautiful grace," [Superintendent] Dr. Arilotta noted. The visitors attended classes for nine days and had four weeks of training from Jan. 6 through Feb. 2. They also joined the teaching faculties for staff development activities on the Jan. 18 when students had off for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

The guests have indicated that their expectations have been exceeded by the overwhelming welcome they have received: "The administrators and teachers have been incredible. They go out of their way to make us feel included and at home. And the children are so respectful. These are clearly the best schools. The students work intensely with the teachers all day long. Everybody is blessed to have such superior schools and teachers. We are learning so many methods to bring back to Korea where we will mentor other teachers to improve how we teach English to Korean children."

The teachers underwent a "rigorous selection process," according to the director of the placement agency, who said:
"They needed to have at least seven years teaching experience, over 800 hours of staff development training and to pass a classroom teaching performance in front of a panel of judges."

The article concludes by mentioning these teachers were awarded "Teaching English in English - Masters" degrees by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (I've written about those here and here). There are two TEE certificates---"Ace" and "Master"---with a prerequisite of the latter being at least seven years' teaching experience.

I've been wanting to do a post on teacher training programs for a while, and am still collecting opinions to flesh it out (feel free to email me yours at the address on the side of the site). Elementary school teachers could benefit from overseas experience because the curriculum doesn't focus on grammar or writing---well, it did when I saw really shitty homeroom teachers do it---and have accompanying CD-ROMS that essentially do all the work for you, they can thus be taught entirely in English, even by teachers with a very limited command of the language.

On the other hand, observational and anecdotal evidence, together with what Korean English teachers have told me, indicates that these programs for secondary school teachers are probably not the best investment. In spite of these TEE certificates and the experience abroad---which, remember, supplements a lifetime of exposure to the language, decades of study, and four years of training in university---they are still placed back into schools that teach English entirely for standardized grammar tests which make spoken English a sideshow at best and a hindrance to comprehending the subject at worst. Teachers who have attended month-long intensive English programs at the Jeollanam-do Educational Training Institute (전라남도교육연수원) in Damyang county told me they generally had fun and learned a lot, but can't apply any of these skills because:
1) Their students aren't interested in speaking English.
2) Their students' English levels aren't good enough to understand spoken English.
3) The activities they learned in Damyang can't be applied to large class sizes like those in public schools.
4) Teachers must follow and complete the textbooks and teach toward standardized tests, and don't have time to waste on speaking English.

And keep in mind that since in these programs all teachers "pass," regardless of performance, there is no accountability. Just like there's no accountability when native speaker English teachers [NSETs] aren't given the opportunity to evaluate their Korean co-teachers, meaning nobody except blog readers and Facebook friends know when teachers don't participate in lesson planning, don't participate in class, or don't show up at all.

I've posted those thoughts before, and I took those four items from a post in December about a a National Assemblyman complaining about how expensive NSETs are. Similar points were made a few days earlier, in a post about a Seoul National University of Education professor bitching about NSETs for, among other reasons, how much they cost. When looking at the costs of English education, and criticizing the relative costs of imports, they're going to need to look honestly at what goes on in the English classrooms here and whether their training programs are working toward that.

17 comments:

brent said...

Agreed and agreed. I am at a high school and the students don't match what they are already expected to have learned by what goals Gyeonggi has set out(the minimum requirements). It is really up to the elementary schools to give these students the basics they need. What can I do with them with a high school curriculum when they need elementary level material? The Korean teachers grumble about the elementary teachers and say it is not the middle school teachers faults for low student quality.

The middle schools have the kids for 3 years and have developed really poor studying habits and strong plausible deniability skills (e.g. Someone stole my book, so I don't have it. Well, then you should tell me before class so I can tell you what pages to photocopy. You need to learn about responsibility.).

Students have other bad habits developed from middle school like sleeping in class or bringing mirrors, makeup or whatnot to class instead of materials.

If any middle school or elementary instructors want to share, please do.

Peter said...

Brent,

I worked for 2 years in public elementary schools in Korea, and I can tell you that students really aren't effectively taught the basics there. This is not a failure of the staff at these schools, but is a direct result of the elementary curriculum.

The curriculum focuses almost entirely on "conversation", meaning that students are expected to parrot common phrases or expressions in English, and use them to mimic common social situations. Most of what I would consider the "basics" of language learning (ie. learning how to actually put a sentence together, instead of simply memorizing and repeating it) seems to be left up to the hagwons. I was often left with the feeling that the public elementary English classes were really only meant to supplement students' hagwon classes.

In fact, the elementary curriculum doesn't even introduce the alphabet until grade 4 (!), and that's just reading; writing doesn't enter the equation until grade 5. I thought this was ludicrous, since I had previously worked at a hagwon where 3rd- and 4th-graders were expected to write sentences, paragraphs, even essays. But, while I was able to play with the curriculum and challenge the students a little, any significant deviation from the curriculum made my co-teachers and supervisors very nervous, as they were afraid of parents complaining that the classes were too difficult, or that students weren't getting enough use out of their textbooks.

Also, each school's idea of an "ideal English lesson" is often defined by the school's principal (who often can't speak English at all), and not by the actual English-teaching staff. Therefore, we would spend a great deal of our time playing games and singing songs. Games and songs are fine, if they're used as a way for students to make use of target language they've already learned; but considering that students studied English for 40 minutes twice a week (40 minutes ONCE a week in grades 3 and 4), we had very little time to actually teach the target language in the first place.

So the problem runs deeper than a lack of Korean teachers who are proficient in English. The crux of the problem lies in the fact that the whole system lacks consistency; the elementary curriculum doesn't match up with the middle and high school curriculum, so students are essentially set up to fail. These TEE courses won't do a thing about that.

Peter said...

Sorry for monopolizing the comments section, but I just have one more thing to add: I think the true purpose of this TEE training is not to improve the quality of English education in Korea, but to appease parents if and when NSETs are removed from public schools altogether.

sonagi92 said...

The Education Ministry could achieve the same results for less money by recruiting experienced ESOL teachers as trainers during the summer vacation. A multilingual ESOL classroom in an English-speaking country is a very different environment than a monolingual EFL classroom in a non-English speaking country. The students' language needs are different. Most of the kids I teach have basic oral competence. They need academic language and literacy. Korean kids have literacy and background knowledge. They need more oral language development. Paying for Korean teachers to spend time in the US chatting up locals and visiting schools is nice, but that same amount of money could provide training to many more Korean teachers in Korea.

Benjamin said...

"Teachers must follow and complete the textbooks and teach toward standardized tests, and don't have time to waste on speaking English."

I have a feeling these standardized tests are the major problem with a lot the English education in Korean secondary and high schools. These tests don't seem to reflect an end goal of effective communication. Perhaps if these tests examined the ability to write and speak something in a meaningful way, English conversation classes wouldn't be seen as such a waste of time. This might be a better starting point in any future reforms.

kushibo said...

The 16 instructors, who teach in the Seoul area, spent Tuesday morning at Cal State San Bernardino where they were welcomed by campus educators.

The 16 instructors, who teach in the Seoul area, spent Tuesday morning at Cal State San Bernardino where they were quickly told to get inside before they got shot.

There. Fixed that for you.

fattycat said...

1) Their students aren't interested in speaking English.
2) Their students' English levels aren't good enough to understand spoken English.
3) The activities they learned in Damyang can't be applied to large class sizes like those in public schools.
4) Teachers must follow and complete the textbooks and teach toward standardized tests, and don't have time to waste on speaking English.

I call B.S. on 1-3. These are excuses used across the globe by teachers who cant, dont want to or dont know how to teach. Sure it makes things more difficult but it can be done.

Walter Foreman said...

The government pays for teachers to undergo these lengthy training programs if they wish, which consist of five months at the Korean National University of Education and usually one month abroad.

To be clear, while Korea National University of Education (KNUE) offers a six-month intensive English teacher training program, it is no longer the only place in Korea to do so (but used to be).

None of the trainees featured in this story are from the KNUE training program.

Mike said...

I agree with Peter. I teach in a public elementary school in Seoul (a very poor area) and the English education is a little... off. Not terrible... in fact I'm impressed with my coteachers and administration. Everyone immediately involved speaks English, for one. The admins (including district admins) have a basic proficiency and impress me when compared to the people who used to hold their positions.

That being said... the problems stem from the focus on testing that matches up with a truly ridiculous book series (which has been updated for the coming school year... although I've heard that the content is nearly identical).

I feel bad for my students who go to hagwons or have lived in places like Indiana, Singapore, and Australia because they can't understand why the book is making them learn such strange English that doesn't make sense. The students who haven't had extra learning experience are so far behind the rest that, even at level, they appear below average and are embarrassed to try.

I don't think throwing heaps of money into NSET's and TEE in the U.S. is a bad idea... if it helps to solve these underlying problems.

yehjee said...

I can totally understand how native English speaking teachers are frustrated with students; I was one of those students myself in elementary school, and my English skill almost entirely came from the dreaded hagwons.
Oh, how I hated hagwons and English classes. I hated the classes with PASSION, I tell you. No wonder teachers hate teaching students like me! Haha.

Only when I moved to California I actually started to learn something, because I WANTED to learn.
Now I consider myself fluent in English and Korean, and I'm learning Spanish-this is my fourth year-.
Learning Spanish in school really showed me the difference between Korean language education and American education system. I love my Spanish class; it actually makes sense, because they have a set curriculum that works, and I don't have 10 different weird textbooks written by who knows who.
But I am truly surprised to hear that Korean students' spoken English is so poor. I heard from others who visited Korea that kids in Kangnam speak in English daily, and have Harry Potter translating contest or something.

Benjamin said...

"I can totally understand how native English speaking teachers are frustrated with students; I was one of those students myself in elementary school, and my English skill almost entirely came from the dreaded hagwons."

No yehjee, I ‘m not sure you do understand entirely just yet. If you ever come back to Korean and attempt to teach English in either the public school system or hogwons then you will have the opportunity to grasp the frustrations we face. Most of my frustrations don’t stem from the students, btw.

Darth Babaganoosh said...

And the children are so respectful. These are clearly the best schools. The students work intensely with the teachers all day long.

Great. They see what a well-run classroom with top-notch students looks like. What happens when they go back to Korea where curriculum is far from perfect, students have zero motivation or their ability is far from where it "should" be, and they encounter situations where they "must" resort to the stick?

Will they really use what they saw Stateside in those perfect classrooms? What they should actually see are classrooms that are less than perfect, and see how they are still run successfully despite the unmotivated or lower levels or behavioural problems.

Darth Babaganoosh said...

But I am truly surprised to hear that Korean students' spoken English is so poor. I heard from others who visited Korea that kids in Kangnam speak in English daily, and have Harry Potter translating contest or something.

Yeah, but Kangnam is a different animal. It's the Mecca of the top hagwons where you can buy your way to a good education (to the complete sacrifice of your childhood) if you have the money to do so. Very few middle class families can afford such hagwons for long without going into massive debt.

The rest of the country should not be based upon what the Kangnam students are doing. They are not typical of Korean students by far.

When I get my students in their sophomore year, they will have had English education, both in PS and in hagwons, for 10 or more years by that point and their ability to put together a simple sentence is atrocious.

Thank god the program they are in puts them through a full year of intensive English: per week they get 6 hours of communication skills with me, 3 of grammar, 3 of reading, and 3 of listening; the latter three classes by Korean profs. At the end of their intensive year, the difference is like night and day. They learn more in that one year than all the years they studied combined.

With such a massive improvment, their junior year is quite a joy to teach. More noteworthy because I don't teach them English in their junior year, instead teaching one of their major courses IN English. Quite impossible only 12 months earlier.

Brian said...

Walter, thanks for that bit of information. Regaring KNUE I was just relaying what a former co-teacher said.

Sonagi and others are right that these teachers will find very different environments and contexts in New Jersey and California than they will back in Korea. The elementary school teachers have the best chance to succeed, but even in elementary school the pressures to conform are still there. I tried to teach the 4th and 3rd graders how to write some things, including their name, but was told I couldn't. Then, of course, when a Korean teacher did it she was lauded as being smartly ambitious. I hated that fucking school.

fattycat brings up a good point, calling bs on three of the things I brought up from Korean teachers. But the reality is you have teachers who aren't even willing to try, and who don't seem to possess the basic classroom management skills to implement new ideas in a new language, making these classes for appearance only.

yehjee, not all students are bad at speaking. I taught for a year in Bundang---a few months at the same school as Peter---to elementary school kids who were basically fluent in English. The worst kids in that school (Peter, remember Joe/Big Pun?) were light years ahead of the best students I encountered in Gangjin county my next year.

Benjamin is right, and I'm not sure what exactly he's getting at, but I'll say that the best part of my schools has always been the students. What makes teaching unbearable sometimes are the asshole co-teachers---who, in Jeollanam-do, more often than not are not proficient in English---and the organization that wants nothing to do with you.

mack said...
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mack said...
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Peter said...

@Brian

Agreed -- the frustrations an NSET experiences aren't caused by the students themselves. Kids are kids, no matter where you are and no matter what you're teaching them, and like you Brian, I usually found that dealing with the students was the most enjoyable part of my workday.

Korean students are certainly capable of learning English. I sure do remember Big Pun -- I miss those kids -- and I also had a pretty steep learning curve when I went into the public system in a less-than-affluent area in Incheon and found out that my lowest-level students at the hagwon were more proficient in English than any of my sixth-grade students at the public school.

Any frustrations I had with students' grasp of English, or with their attitudes toward English (constantly writing English words phonetically in Hangeul in the margins of their textbook, for example) were not caused by the students themselves, but by an English curriculum that was failing those students. These are systemic problems; a student is only as good as their teacher, their curriculum, and their learning environment.