Friday, December 31, 1999

when people say good things about you behind your back

[Originally posted on November 11, 2014.]

I thought, when I got to Dongguk University, that I would just mind my own business, teach the way I wanted to teach, get my midterm and end-of-semester evals, earn my money, and hear nothing from anyone about my work.

Turns out people are talking about me and my teaching style.

We've been doing small-group feedback sessions as part of Dongguk's professional-development efforts. This is a multi-step process that begins with one class of students being given surveys to fill out. The students rate the teacher and the course (the form includes the dreaded questions "Would you recommend this teacher to a classmate?" and "Would you recommend this course to a classmate?"); the results are tallied in some office and emailed to the teacher. In my case, this meant a tally of fifteen questionnaires. 14 out of 15 students thought the teacher and the course could be recommended to classmates, which immediately made me wonder which butthead didn't want to recommend me to others. I won't dwell on that issue in this post.

After the survey and results are given, the next step is the SGFS: the small-group feedback session, in which several teachers sit down with one of the head teachers and talk about how things are going, what methods the teachers are using in class, etc. I went through my session this past Friday and thought no more of the matter. The session went about the way it had been described to me by the veterans: it lasted about an hour and was pretty informal. I found it educational, which was, I imagine, one of the reasons why we do SGFS at all. During the session, I discovered that one coworker places an impressive amount of emphasis on task-oriented activities; I could learn from her.

Today, however, when I asked a coworker, B, how his own session went (with the same head teacher who led my meeting), he said flat-out: "We talked about you!" That brought me up short, and at first I wondered whether I was in some sort of trouble. But my coworker elaborated: "We were talking about teaching styles, and P [the facilitator] mentioned that you've got your kids teaching the course." Another coworker in the office, A, was listening to B and me, and he got curious as to how I was teaching the kids, so I quickly explained my Bruce Lee-style "teaching without teaching" method.

B also noted that some teachers who regularly pass by my classroom have observed that "Kevin's almost never at the front of the class." Yes, that's quite by design. And although it's a bit creepy to know I'm being spied on and talked about, I'm glad that this is the sort of talk that my teaching is generating. My students might not approve, but A joked that I might be in the running for a Teacher of the Semester award in the spring. As proud as I am of my method, though, I highly doubt there are any awards in my future: less-advanced kids, for one, see my method as a lot of work—which it is, obviously, but what they're not seeing is that, in taking responsibility for the course material, they're learning it better because they have to teach it.

One of my goals, in teaching this way, is to break through a deeply inculcated passivity that makes Korean students see themselves as empty vessels waiting to be filled with information, and to help them realize how much more enriching and productive their circumstances can be if only they would act more proactively. So yes, there's a good measure of cultural imperialism in what I do, and I think such imperialism is inevitable: to teach a language is to teach a culture, and one of my goals as an expat educator is to get the locals thinking outside the box. My advanced students understand and appreciate what I'm doing; some of them have been telling their friends about how I conduct my classes, so I'm hoping that word of mouth will lead to more enrollment and, eventually, to decent evals a year or two from now. (I have a feeling that my sleepier classes are going to ding me this time around. They don't want to be pushed, and evals are the place where they push back.)

In the meantime, it's good to have a bit of validation, even if that validation wended its way to me via the grapevine.



John said...

I can't think of a greater compliment than this kind of unsolicited feedback.


Charles said...

Congrats, dude. Good to see that your method is being recognized.


"I thought, when I got to Dongguk University, that I would just mind my own business, teach the way I wanted to teach, get my midterm and end-of-semester evals, earn my money, and hear nothing from anyone about my work."

It's good to see you haven't lost your ear for humor. That cracked me up.

Kevin Kim said...

Alas, I wasn't trying to be funny. But I'll take whatever credit I can get, deserved or undeserved.