Thursday, June 05, 2014

ups and downs

This past Tuesday was the final session for my Veteran Beginners Korean class. The students—five of whom showed up out of the original seven—had apparently gotten together and bought me a gift: a very nice ornamental folding partition covered in lovely calligraphy on one side and reproductions of Korean landscape and folk-life scenes on the other. This was thoughtful: I had once expressed my love for brush calligraphy in class, and the students obviously remembered that. They also gave me a signed card on which each student had written a short message in Korean. I was touched. One student came up to me after class and privately gave me yet another gift: W30,000 worth of Lotte gift certificates, which she said I could use whenever I wanted to go see a movie. Wunderbar! I'll miss this group. The Veteran Beginners had a 71.4% retention rate (in terms of their attendance); my Absolute Beginners, alas, had only a 33% retention rate (out of six students at the beginning, the class dwindled to two). Still, I was happy to teach both classes, and I hope my students will continue to pursue, and eventually master, Korean. They've done me proud.

On the not-so-bright side, today's Thursday-afternoon beginner-level English classes were a pain to teach, especially the 3PM class. I don't know what it is, but both of these classes are filled with slackers and students too goofy to remember to bring along even the most rudimentary of materials for class: I've got students (not just in my Thursday classes, truth be told, but also in my Monday classes!) who neglect to bring paper and a writing implement. Several students routinely forget their textbooks. I chewed out one Monday girl, who's cruising for an "F," for not caring about the class, for constantly talking* in class, and for never bringing her textbook. "But I brought it today," she said lamely. On the day she said that, we were doing presentations, so there was no need for a textbook. I shook my head in sincere wonder at her empty-headedness. I used to think that Korean college kids had the social and sexual maturity of a typical American high schooler; these days, I wonder how many of my kids have progressed beyond elementary school, so lacking are they in basic common sense. This is what comes of a culture in which children are spoon-fed everything: there's no motivation to actually learn anything—let alone to learn how to think.

On top of all that, there's the sheer childishness of some of these kids. They're not shy about moaning and groaning aloud when they're told they need to do just one more exercise, and they visibly drag their feet whenever they have to perform any sort of task that involves getting up and moving about the classroom. Some kids, maybe one or two, attempt to nap in class, but I won't let them. But it's the talking while I'm talking that bothers me the most; many students are damn rude and need to learn some manners. They also need to grow up.

Be that as it may, the semester is coming to a close, and my eyes are set on the far horizon. Not all my kids are bad; I don't mean to give that impression. But there are enough who are so goofy and unmotivated that I sometimes question the utility of what I do. I'm not sure how many of these students will, years later, have gained the wisdom to understand their current unwisdom. Maybe some will. Most won't. And that's too bad.

Life is full of ups and downs. Sometimes you get well-motivated adult students, fellow professionals who appreciate your efforts; sometimes you get equally motivated undergrads who are sharp and driven; sometimes, well... sometimes the munitions factory churns out duds. Not enough duds to make you lose all hope, but certainly enough to notice.

*Obviously, you're supposed to talk in an English class. But you're not supposed to talk in Korean; you're not supposed to talk while the teacher is talking; you're not supposed to talk off-task.


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