Tuesday, September 05, 2006

the new semester

I've had the chance to meet most of my students now. Next week, we get another six hours per week dumped on us as our "freshman English" (shin-ip-saeng yeong-eo su-eop) program starts up. I never look forward to teaching high schoolers, but in truth, the FroshEngs I've done haven't gone badly. In their own way, they've been quite enjoyable, even if the program itself is something of a joke.*

As in the spring, it appears my sleepiest class this semester will be my 7:50am Mon/Wed/Fri Level 1 conversation class. That's quite a contrast with my 9:30am summer intro-level class, which was pretty energetic. Two students from that class are in Level 1 now, but the current group is shy and tentative overall, which makes for something of a dull ambience. That might change as students loosen up. We'll see.

The workload doesn't feel impossible yet; it's going to be heavy once FroshEng starts up, but that program lasts only five weeks. It's possible we'll be teaching our "staff English" program again, though that program, too, is something of a joke.**

I'm encouraged by my Tue/Thu morning Level 3 reading class, which seems to be composed of cheerful, thoughtful people. The only problem with that class is the arrangement of the chalkboards: the room is a narrow rectangle, with a chalkboard on one of the long walls. When the students sit around the long table, half the class has to turn around to see the board. Another chalkboard, this one on a rolling frame, is inside the classroom, but it's a pain in the ass to move the tables and then block the sun when we place the board in front of the class's only window.

I'm tentatively predicting that this'll be a good semester, all in all. While I enjoyed my lower-level classes during the summer term, I was still disappointed by the lackluster performance of my lone advanced-level intensive class. I'm expecting bigger and better this time around.

Ah, yes-- no one came for the first day of my free French class. If no one shows up on Thursday, I'm cancelling it. Why end the day at 2pm when you can end it at 12:30?

*Five weeks of English conversation that somehow get the students "acclimated" to what classes in a foreign language might be like. The FroshEng classes are for credit, however, so there's rarely an attendance problem.

**Another 4- or 5-week program, this time cramming university staffers of multiple skill levels into a limited number of classes. While my own experience with this wasn't so bad, it was apparently a nightmare for some of the other teachers, who suffered when they were evaluated. I scraped by with a 93% approval rating; one teacher admitted to an 86%, which I didn't find so bad considering the students we were dealing with.

What confused me was that that teacher did a fine job: I observed one of his classes and saw excellent technique. His class was well-planned, the students were actively participating in the activity (a debate); everyone was on task and smiling the entire time. For the students to turn around and bite the guy this way was, to put it mildly, ungrateful. Students often fail to appreciate the role of planning, an important ingredient for a good class. Planning is the invisible glue that, while not exactly guaranteeing perfect results, keeps a lesson coherent and minimizes the probability of failure.

And I suppose that's one more reason not to trust the ratings we receive, be they high or low. There have been times when I've felt I didn't deserve the ratings I received, especially when a student's comment included the Korean word "jeong" to describe what made the class such a good experience. I'm a bit suspicious of the way that "jeong" (roughly: emotion, compassion, kindness, etc.) can cloud one's assessment of a situation or person. Korean students tend to develop loyalties and often become groupies of Teacher X; this is to be avoided.


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