Thursday, May 31, 2007

thinking about teaching in Asia to get away from unruly Western kids?

Think twice before you buy the line that teaching East Asian kids is a breeze. John from Daejeon left the following comment [edited for style]:

YouTube Link 1

YouTube Link 2

My kids say this is actually normal, but that most teachers use sticks. The second is a video showing the opposite, with Chinese kids beating up their old teacher. And I thought it was bad in the U.S. when I had to deal with this nonsense. It's getting bad here in S. Korea, too. The kids know they can get away with more with their native speaker teachers than with their Korean ones. How many native speakers will call the kids' parents? I do so via the boss and it has calmed down my troublemaker kids somewhat. However, my native speaker counterpart in the local public school is having a really tough time because of lack of respect and attention from his male students. My better kids are advising me to stay away from the public school system. My hagwon is in one of the worse parts of town, so the kids are a lot more rambunctious.


John from Daejeon

University work is largely better, unless you're a true kid at heart and love rambunctious youth. I like kids in small quantities-- one or two is my limit, and even that can be too much if they're poorly behaved. Teaching a class full of kids is almost unthinkable for me. By the time the hour was over, there'd be bloody pulp flung all over the walls, bits of bone and cartilage clinging to the toys, and only one surviving kid cowering in a corner, balled up in a fetal position, rocking side to side in his own shit, too afraid to utter a sound.

John also wrote: "The kids know they can get away with more with their native speaker teachers than with their Korean ones." This is also true in university. Some of my students pull shit they would never try with Korean teachers, because they know the consequences would be more severe. I'm thinking of innocently asking my students for their parents' phone numbers, ostensibly to invite them to an end-of-term gathering, but in reality so that I have more leverage than my own department gives me.

Teachers, especially foreign teachers, need a support system. For the most part, expats in the classroom have only each other, and heaven help the level-headed expat who's stuck teaching with freakish foreign colleagues-- the neurotic introverts, the social rejects, the sexually frustrated (or perverse), and so on. I'm not sure what the remedy is for such a situation, but I doubt a union for foreign teachers would even get off the ground in the current climate. Korea's a union-happy nation, but the game here is also rigged against the foreigner, which makes me wonder how far a Solidarnosc movement would get before Big Momma Government decided it was a nuisance.

The best bet is to find a job where the expat staffers actually care about teaching and evince more than a minimal level of training and/or experience in EFL/ESL. This means doing extensive research before taking a job somewhere. The word of a good friend is often not enough to conclude you've found the right job; what works for your friend might not work for you. When doing your research, ask about the things that matter to you.

For me, for example, I now have three deal-breakers when looking for a teaching job in Korea: (1) weekend work, (2) working with children, and (3) working split shifts. Nope-- not gonna do any of that. I've done all three before, and all three sucked. I was a slow learner, too; I should have realized early on that this was wrong for me, but like many Koreans, I told myself, "Be patient; get through it." That attitude is both healthy and noble in some contexts, but it's plain stupid in others. If you're in your twenties, don't waste time fucking around in bad jobs when you could be working a decent schedule for decent cash at a place that doesn't drive you crazy. Such places do exist (yeah, my place occasionally drives me crazy, but overall, I like it here); you just have to do the legwork to find them.

Also, do yourself a favor and be a competent teacher. The expat reputation remains poor in large part because so many teachers are feckless blockheads with no understanding of how to lead a class.* Training and experience are major components of competence, but perceptivity and a holistic sense of the rhythm and flow of the class hour also help.

This is greatly aided by knowledge of the culture you're in. I'm not saying you need to be a Korea scholar, but knowing why your students say and do what they do will both keep you sane and keep you ready for those unforeseen contingencies. A huge side benefit is that Koreans do appreciate people who show honest interest in their culture. If you're always looking around and saying, "We've got this back home, where it's ten times better," don't expect much sympathy from the natives. I wouldn't appreciate such comments from foreigners visiting the States. In my mind, I'd be saying, "So go home, you whiny fuck, before I shoot you."

There are legitimate reasons to complain about certain aspects of life in Korea (and we expat bloggers spend many column-inches engaging in just such bellyaching), but if you've made the basic decision to give this "living abroad" thing a try, then be ready to deal with the consequences of that decision. Because I'll tell you a secret: it's not only the natives who will roll their eyes at your whining-- it's also the expats who've made the effort and paid their dues. Be smart, suck it up, and forge ahead.

*I know that one reply to this is: "Yeah, but there seems to be a market for feckless blockheads here." That's true, but I'm not talking to the language institute bosses; I'm talking to you. That problem-- the problem of stupid and often racist hiring practices-- isn't one you can solve, so don't obsess over it. Your concern is finding a decent livelihood, not reforming Korean society.



Sean said...

I didn't watch the YouTube videos. I agree with everything you wrote here. In addition to being a competent teacher I would suggest dressing conservatively if you are teaching adults. Basically look at how the Korean teachers in your institution are dressing and dress similarly.

Kevin, I repeat the offer I made a couple of months ago. When you want to look for work, let me know and I'll get your resume in at my school - no guarantees on the job, but I should be able to get you an interview.

Anonymous said...

Dammit! I wouldn't have rushed my comment if I would have known you were going to post it in the big league section. I would have spruced it up and used proper paragraphs, fancy diction, and a spell checker to boot.

Teaching children is very difficult, and I can't blame these kids for all their obnoxious actions. If I was attending four extra classes/hagwons (English, math, science, piano, dance, etc.)a day after my regular schooling, I'd be a little upset by it all as well. However, I have noticed that at least 10% of my students have severe learning difficulties, and their problems are not being addressed in either the public schools or by their parents. They just pass the buck on to the hagwons and blame it on unqualified teachers.

I work in a difficult part of town, but for a hagwon with great owners who really care about these kids and me as well. I nearly died due to a burst appendix and the boss was with me through the whole ordeal, and an ordeal it truly was. He even cleaned up my vomit after my emergency operation. Sadly, he's now getting the shaft from the parents of a truly troubled child. Because the child had to be disciplined to keep from hurting himself and others, the parents have taken it upon themselves to bad mouth our institution and make it their mission in life to close down our hagwon.

There are days when I've just about had it with some of our kids, but they deserve the same opportunities that their rich part of town counterparts can afford. I know we probably don't really help more than 25% really improve their English, but some of these kids are going to be first-rate doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers, and caring citizens of this world we all live in. It's when I have these 25%ers in my class that I know I'm doing something worthwhile during my time on planet Earth.

Thanks for providing me with a forum in which to vent. This is my support system. Interacting with those who are literate, intelligent, and who have been through the same situations, and who are not slurring their words back to me slumped over a bar stool smelling of stale beer and urine.

Thanks again,

John from Daejeon

Stafford said...

Be a competent teacher. I couldn't have said it better myself. I teach all ages and there is one thing that all my students get from me: routine. Not that we do the same boring shite over and over, rather there are certain things I expect my students to do even before I enter the classroom.
Sure it takes the young ones a couple of days (weeks...months...!) to get into the swing of things just the way I like it (books out, homework on my desk, the board cleaned etc etc.) but they come around. The adults also appreciate it, and the sense of routine occasionally covers up for when I'm having an off day!

As for the corporal punishment that exists here in The Republic, I was never a fan of it when I was at school, but I suppose it has it's place (Never did me any harm...) but for a grown man to strike a teenage girl repeatedly in the face shows a lack of competency in being a human being more than anything else.

The other method I have employed is "The Child Pacifier" a great plank of pine that makes the most impressive "crack!" when struck against the desk. It's great to bandy and wave about, and by the end of each term it becomes a parody, but Christ it would never make contact with a student!

Anonymous said...

Just thought I'd share a bit of local news with ya:

Mount Vernon teacher chased from class by students.