I’ve been an English as a Second Language teacher in South Korea for nearly seven years now. I’ve taught all ages and levels of students, from little kids learning their ABCs to grandmas that want to understand American movies.
Most of my students are forced into these classes because of class, job or parental requirements, but a handful are just curious to learn. In some of my university-level classes I have students from Brunei, Indonesia and Russia that speak English just as well as some Americans I know.
Luckily, my current university separates students based on their skill level rather than age. In the past, my students in the same class would vary from barely being able to say, “Me name Casey, me like pizza,” to students that lived in the United States and were basically fluent.
So, well, what do we do in my classes? That really depends on the class and the day, but I’ll do my best.
I start off with attendance and ask the student how they’re doing. In Korea, teachers are kind of like bosses and not always interactive. By the time students get to college, they’re so sick of school and strict drill instructor-like teachers that some Koreans just don’t care any longer. But I try to make sure my students know I’m not like their boring Korean teachers that stand in front of the podium and sift through PowerPoint slides.
Universities hire Western teachers because we can speak English, but also because we want our students to ask as well as answer questions. However, Korean teachers think students should sit in their chairs and memorize everything. I am not going to fight which way is better, because both have their places.
I do my best to have a conversation and at least get to know a few of them. I’m competing with Twitter, Instagram and smartphone games, so a lot of times I’m taking second place. After gabbing for a bit about boyfriends, girlfriends, movies, drinking and whatever college kids talk about, I’ll pick up homework — if we had any.
Then comes maybe my favorite part of class, which came about because of a complete disaster. Have you ever heard a standup comedian try to discuss his biggest failure on stage? He thought all his jokes were hilarious, but out loud not one person chuckled. That’s kind of what happened to me.
A few years ago I prepared a two-hour lesson I thought was interactive and going to be a blast. However, about two minutes into it, I could tell my students just weren’t getting it. I needed to pull something out of my ass, so I started teaching American slang like “ASAP,” “under the weather” and more.
Guess what? The kids liked it. It was something different. I started calling this part of class “New Dictionary” or “ND.” During Halloween we’ll talk about spooky stuff, during Migook Chuseok (American Thanksgiving) we’ll talk about turkeys and pilgrims and American Indians and sometimes we’ll just talk about why you might see an asterisk next to a word while texting with a spelling-Nazi American.
After ND, we usually move onto Talking Time or “TT.” I sort of stole TT from my high school Spanish teacher Senora Schmidt’s “Noticias” (News). She made us give one-minute speeches in Spanish. Therefore, my kids give one-minute speeches on any topic. It’s great. I don’t grade them on their English level or any of that, only if they practiced and paid attention to my Talking Time Tips.
“Talking Time Tips” or “TTT” is next . We talk about how to be a better speaker — not just in English, but in all types of ways. I’ll give advice on how to go on a job interview, shake a hand, write a speech, stuff like that. While this may sound hokey, some of these kids have never given a speech or been on a job interview and I believe this is a helpful life lesson.
Once that’s finished we’ll get into a book. The books have certain grammar, vocab and reading hopefully based on the students’ levels and interests.
When the book is done, I try to get the kids to discuss our topic of the day. Or, if it’s getting to be midterm or final exam time, we talk about our topics. For most of my classes, we do speeches with just the student and me for our midterms and a debate between two or three students for the final. The kids get to pick their topics. That’s always fun. Beer vs. soju, single life vs. couple, beach vs. mountain, reunite with North Korea or not?
Not to pat myself on the back too hard, but my students enjoy having me as a teacher. Sometimes I teach very basic things, but sometimes my lessons veer off in odd directions. I think that is how a good class should go and that is why I’m proud to be a teacher.