Monday, August 02, 2004

postal scrotum

Scott writes:

Hi Kevin,

A couple of thoughts on your good piece about teaching english at a private school. You summed up my feelings on the overall private school pretty well. I want to add that the 'modular' system wasn't so bad in my case. I know you are in a different company/country/etc, but I think it will work better than you might expect.

"K, the founder, made it clear that he was trying to apply a "lesson" approach to language learning."

I work at a school that uses a similar system, with the key idea being: modular learning sections makes it easier to swap out teachers. This sounds a bit cold, but the non-cold justifications work out alright for most folks.

As for the idea of '100 lessons makes you an expert', I think that reflects more of a cultural difference than any other specific belief. By that I mean, Mr. K doesn't understand the 'art' aspect of language - he only understands the 'science' aspect (rote learning, and so on). And as a word of encouragement - remember that he is the big boss, and his talent should be in running the company, not necessarily in dictating the texts (I know he does anyway, but I'm trying to be helpful).

I work at a school that uses a similar system. But I don't get a dedicated room to use (which would be nice). Overall I have found my modified modular system to be pretty good for most of my students. I think the folks who really want to learn the language do a lot of studying at home, and use the face time to ask specific questions and practice with a 'live' person.


I agree that K doesn't get the "art" aspect of language learning. I think there's a lot that happens in those liminal spaces in the curriculum where you're not exactly following the agreed-upon plan. Personally, I'm the temperamental opposite of K in terms of curriculum design: I think that exposing the students to a wide variety of teaching methods, accents, etc. is better preparation than a rote method that relies so heavily on itself. I do appreciate the disciplined approach to phonetics in EC's system; most students get away with murder in typical hagwon classes, develop bad speech habits and carry their heavy accent with them until it's impossible to erase/undo. EC's maniacal focus on pronunciation is actually salutary in that respect: a lot of the more advanced students I've encountered in previous jobs can put together decent sentences, but sometimes they mangle the pronunciation and this is what keeps them from being understood.

K wants his EC system to be more "FL" than "SL." The problem is this: K's system doesn't take the notion of "I + 1" into serious consideration. "I + 1" is a corny way of expressing the idea that a language learner should be receiving input from the teacher that's always a notch above their actual level of competence, thereby always forcing them to struggle upward. It's conventional wisdom in most language programs: students should be a wee bit behind. If they're not, then the level's probably too easy. K's method asks them to reach a level of complete comfort before they move on. This isn't entirely bad, as approaches go, but it's freighted with problems.

[NB: for the benefit of those who don't know the terminology: FL refers to "foreign language" teaching while SL refers to "second language" teaching; the major difference is that FL learners, once they leave the classroom, do not speak in the target language, whereas SL learners are usually living in a country where the target language is spoken. Students in America take ESL; students learning English in Korea are, almost by definition, taking EFL classes.]

I agree with Scott that the modular nature of the EC curriculum has its good points. For me, lazy bastard that I am, it's nice not to have to plan lessons-- ever. I simply stroll into class and teach according to the exact procedure they fed me during training. I guess what bothers me about this is the McDonald's-like atmosphere this creates. One wonders whether this isn't a formula for assembly-line mediocrity.

re: dedicated classrooms

I was just ejected from my previous classroom and placed in a new one. Since I started a split shift today, I now have two partner teachers instead of one, and apparently, we're supposed to be physically near our partners so that, once a student finishes with the Korean teacher, s/he is simply shunted next door to me. I think this is silly because the entire school is so small that a student's longest trek would be twenty steps down the hall.

In other news...

I also feel like a heel today because I told a few of my new students that their previous foreign teacher, A, had finished out his year's contract and that's why I was their new teacher. Then A himself appeared (d'oh!) and told me that no, he was still on for another three weeks.

Oh-wa Tagu Siam.

Am on break right now. Gonna go take down my laundry and take a nap. Then it's back to the grind until 9:30 this evening. Today's schedule's been fairly merciful; tomorrow's promises to be a bit more strenuous.

Have a fun.

UPDATE: and Typepad blogs remain blocked (at least from this PC-bahng), along with MuNu and the Winds of Change site. Go figure.


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