Thursday, August 29, 2013

almost done with the first week

On Wednesday morning, I had two classes in Building B1, a.k.a. Thaddeus Cho Hall, Room 210. I had heard that this building was new and very hi-tech; when I went there earlier, it certainly looked the part, all shiny glass and modern interior. Today, I went to my office in Aquinas Hall first, cooled down, then went over to B1 for my 9AM session. Unfortunately, I had forgotten my necktie, so I stuck with my loose black button-down shirt—the one I'd worn during my sweaty walk to campus. The shirt didn't seem all that sweaty, so I decided to risk wearing it to class. (I did change from sweatpants to slacks, though.)

Room 210 had a glamorously panoramic set of windows on one side. With sunlight angling into the room, the greenhouse effect was in full flower, so of course, I started sweating again. A limp, chugging air conditioner set at 28 degrees Celsius (I understand that that's warm, based on the behavior of my studio's A/C, which I maintain at a cool 23) was doing its best to keep the heat down; a pair of custodian ajummas, just leaving the room, clucked in amusement at the way I was sweatily shaking my head.

Both of my classes that day were in Room 210. Afraid to sit because of how much I was sweating below the waistline, I stood the entire three-and-a-half hours. By the end of the second class, my feet were killing me. Luckily, both classes of kids were pretty good—again, better than I had anticipated—so the time went by quickly. Perhaps the worst trouble I had was in getting the students to choreograph the round-robin activity referred to in the previous post. It was amazing how clueless the kids were: they understood perfectly how to "count off" and divide themselves into four teams, but when I asked them to combine into pairs of teams, then recombine into different pairs of teams, the result was a hilariously confusing mess that took a few minutes to sort out. Again, I assume this inability to self-organize has a lot to do with the Korean sense of diffusion of responsibility: you're not truly focused unless you feel you're responsible for something, and in a crowd, no one person feels particularly responsible for moving the group toward a goal.

It's tempting to attribute this confusion to youthful stupidity, but I'm more inclined to see the problem as cultural. American students, given the same task, would know exactly what to do, and would self-organize instantly. I doubt this is because of the lack of a language barrier; the concepts in question aren't hard to grasp, be the students American or Korean. In my case, today, part of the problem was that some of the goofier students would simply forget their own team number and not know where to go. Their more knowledgeable friends would have to point out to them where they belonged. Being able to self-organize requires situational awareness and a sense of engagement. Whence this forgetfulness? How can someone forget something as easy to remember as a single-digit number? It's all psychological: people who shy away from responsibility often have decision-making disorders, and once a person divorces himself from a sense of responsibility, he's lost and unable to function. I could almost read some of these confused students' minds: I don't know what I'm doing... I don't know where I'm going... whafuck?

But once the hard work of choreographing the round-robin was done, the rest of the activity proceeded smoothly, thank Cthulhu. As I had done with my other classes, I explained that, in two weeks, the students would be using this format to teach each other material from their textbook. I advised them to get to know their teammates, and to meet with them to discuss how they planned to teach. I made myself available to anyone who might need extra help in figuring out how to approach their lessons.

So despite the initial difficulties of implementing my method, I'm optimistic that the long-range results will be worth it. If today is any indication, my Wednesday 9AM and 11AM students will fare well, confusion notwithstanding. I believe I'm doing something not being done by any other teacher; I've seen, from my colleagues, some excellent and impressive examples of lesson plans and worksheets (one colleague in particular deserves kudos for some truly amazing planning and prep), including some innovative, multimedia-heavy (and thus teacher-centered) lessons, but nothing like the round-robin. Here's hoping my gamble pays off, and my students end up empowering themselves without even knowing it.

On Thursday, I've got one more class to teach, and that's technically the end of my work week. It's felt like a long week even though I've taught so few hours. I'll spend my free time doing lesson plans and such, and I've got to hit the local immigration office this coming Friday, but I'm planning on just resting for much of the weekend.


1 comment:

John said...

You make me almost miss having a job. Almost.