Sunday, November 26, 2006

the final week

This has probably been the worst semester I've had at Smoo in terms of student cooperativeness and motivation-- quite a contrast to the amazing way 2006 began. I've been wondering, lately, how much of this is my fault.

I can't say that I've changed my teaching style all that much over the course of the year; if anything, I'd like to think that I've learned a lot from my colleagues, as well as from brute experience. And yet... this past semester sucked. There's no getting around it.

The first half of the semester featured my bugbear, Freshman English. My previous FroshEng class went quite well, actually, as did the sessions before that, but the Level 4 group I was stuck with this time around seemed brain dead. It didn't help that the students were placed improperly-- that's partially our fault, I think, for not having done things as systematically as we'd done them before. Still, the girls didn't help by constantly speaking in Korean, acting princessy, and being openly defiant on occasion.

My normal conversation and reading classes started strongly, and one Level 3 conversation class has been excellent all semester, but my other classes have gone rapidly down the tubes. Student attrition causes problems. It's a pain, for example, to assign teams to work on projects at the beginning of the semester, only to have two-thirds of your class missing by the end. This results in an ad hoc reassignment and somewhat disjointed presentations. Students in these classes have also neglected (to my mind, refused) to do the blogging homework I'd assigned them-- six short entries per week, so most of them will be receiving zeroes for their laziness. On top of that, my Level 3 reading class has proved to be unbelievably lazy, complaining about the difficulty of the reading assignments, and whining to my partner teacher (of course they lack the courage to say this to me) that there's "too much" reading. I wrote the class an email encouraging them to be there en masse this week; it's probably not going to happen. For a while, I was seeing six students in class; that number has dropped in the past two weeks to only one or two.

The Level 3 reading class bothers me because, in truth, they have not had much to read. The assignments they are given each week are no more than four pages long-- usually less. The class meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so they have five days from Thursday to read up on the next assignment. Most of them prepare nothing. Some of them skip class, then feel ashamed about having skipped, and thus skip more to avoid my baleful glare. Their immaturity creates a vicious cycle.

This Level 3 reading class is the one that motivated me to think about going Gandhi. I'm extremely disappointed in them. We had a rocky start during the first few weeks of term, but the class then performed strongly for a while, which gave me hope-- false hope, as it turned out. I'm thinking that another motivator might be to host a Parents' Night, in the tradition of American high school-- a "getting to know you" session in which students, parents, and teachers can all intermingle... and teachers can acquire parental phone numbers and email addresses, to use later on when students try to weasel out of coming to class. Most of my students' hometowns are in or near Seoul; a small proportion come from far-flung places like Busan, so those students would have to provide me with parents' phone numbers directly.

[NB: You folks teaching for-credit courses at uni probably don't have nearly the student attrition we hagwon-style teachers do. I'd love to hear from teachers of non-credit courses about what positive and negative measures they take to minimize attrition. No airy-fairy, vague stuff about "find out what interests them," please. I'm looking for specifics.]

I've got a ton of planning to do for next semester; we're trying a twisted version of Content-based Instruction (CBI) for the intensive courses during January and February, and we're also teaching those damn freshmen again (as you know, they're actually high school seniors who've received early acceptance into Smoo; I've never liked teaching high schoolers). FroshEng will be for seven weeks-- the longest we've ever taught the course. I'm definitely not looking forward to that.

But first things first: this is the final week of term for us, then we teachers will be on vacation during December. For my MWF classes, this week will be about final review sessions on Monday, followed by final exams on Wednesday, and the de rigueur jjong-p'ati (end-of-term party) on Friday. My Tues/Thurs classes will have their final exam on Tuesday, with the jjong-p'ati on Thursday. My Level 3 conversation class (not the awful Level 3 reading class) will have a large party on Thursday; they've had by far the best attendance and participation, so I'll be cooking for them (fondue appetizer and spaghetti bolognese as main course; students are bringing salad, drinks, and dessert).

Ae-gu,* as some Koreans say. One more week to go.

*That's a form of "a-i-go," the sigh or wail of despair, exasperation, or even surprise.


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