Thursday, March 5, 2015

The End

Last week was among the most bittersweet of my life.  I don't think I can put into words the emotions I am currently feeling, but I will attempt to.  I am feeling a bit sad after saying my final goodbyes to my final group of students of my final contract during the conclusion of four years as a teacher in Korea.  But it's more than just that.  I am feeling a combination of sadness, excitement, happiness, and gratitude.

I am a teacher who puts everything into my craft, emotionally and intellectually.  I am a teacher who demands that my students learn.  I am also a teacher who resolves to love my students, and show them that somebody cares for them, especially if they aren't cared for at home.  I don't know how effective I was at it, but I did my best.

Being that I am a person who is guided by intuition and emotion, I didn't know what exactly I would feel on my last day of school, but I resolved to allow myself to feel freely, without suppression.  I went into my final week thinking I wouldn't be emotional, because I've done this teaching thing for a long time, and I've taught a lot of students, so maybe what triggers me has hardened and grown numb.

In my school, the younger kids have class first, and the older and upper level students come later in the day.

When my last class with my little kids was concluded in the morning, I was fine, until after the children walked out of the door of my classroom, and two of the little girls were looking back waving and softly saying "Good-bye!" over and over again as if they knew what was happening, until they turned the corner, and they were no longer visible.  That was difficult.

The classes in between were pretty much the same, until my last with the sixth graders.

Sixth graders are the most difficult students to teach.  They are at an age when they first realize that adults aren't perfect, so they have a tendency to be rebellious.  They also have the exuberance of children, coupled with fact that they are no longer cute and small, so that can sometimes make them rather difficult.  And many times, I handled situations with them in an impatient, or an unfair manner.

In the final lesson with them, I exhorted them to chase their dreams, and I gave them some final advice.  As it came time for that final class to dismiss, I commanded the attention of every single student in the class, and I proceeded to apologize.  I apologized, and told them sorry, if I was ever unfair, or if I ever said or did anything hurtful to them, especially to the boys.  In the middle of my apology, I again became emotional.

With the other classes, I did so after the kids were gone, so none of my children saw it.  But I couldn't hold it in this instance.

Probably my biggest motivation as a teacher is not that my kids learn as much as possible, although it is a wonderful one, and a significant one for me.  My biggest motivation is to be remembered favorably when they look back on their time as my students.

This past year was one of victory.  I make no bones of being a spiritual person, and I prayed very hard over my students, my school, my coteachers, and myself as a teacher.  This was a year where I saw so much improvement in my students of all levels.  This was a year where I grew so much as a teacher.  And this was the best group of students that I've taught.

Today is the first Monday where I didn't make that daily one-hour commute south to my school, and I feel sort of an emptiness that is almost similar to breaking up with a girl friend.  As I've stated earlier, I put so much into my teaching, and my philosophy as a teacher is to first love my students to the best of my ability, because when a teacher uses love as a motivation, he/she will certainly have their highest welfare possible in mind, whether or not they, or people around them, understand it.  There is not a higher, nor a stronger motivation than that.  So when there is no longer an avenue that you've once had to channel all of that, I guess that emptiness can be natural.

This is now a time of transition as I move on from teaching to the next calling that is upon my life.  And pretty soon, I will say goodbye to South Korea in the teaching realm.

As a high school student at Slidell High School who was once "too cool for school," when it came time to graduate, and move on to our new lives, I heard my principal, Mr. Joseph P. Buccaran, say sincerely to us graduating seniors, "Good-bye, meaning farewell..."

When it was time to leave my last school here in Korea on my last day of teaching, upon the conclusion of erasing everything in my computer, upon packing up all my personal belongings that were in my classroom, and upon locking the door for the last time, I was able to make the connection to my old high school days, and it was then when I truly realized what "farewell" really means.

To my students, I may never see you again, but I wish nothing but the best for all of you in Incheon, Anyang, Gwangju, and Seoul.  I pray that blessings will be poured out on all of you.  I pray that all of you achieve every single dream that is upon each of your respective hearts, and are truly successful, prosperous, fulfilled, and happy in all that you do.  I wish you strength and determination when things become difficult, especially during your upcoming middle school and high school days.  I pray that you will truly feel loved unconditionally, and that you will love unconditionally also in all the days of your lives.  God bless all of you.  Thank you for being blessings to me.  I will always think of you as fondly as the word is able to express, and I will never forget you.  Truly  ay  to all of you, good-bye, meaning farewell.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Advice for New ESL Teachers

I've taught at three different schools, two of them being public for their respective after school programs, and one for a hogwan.  I spent two years working for the hogwan, and nearly two working for the after school program.  I've realized that a lot of you who read this blog are teachers who are just getting started here in Korea, or even people in the English speaking world who are looking for a job, teaching English in Korea.

When I first started, I had absolutely no experience teaching.  I took an online TEFL coarse, and it helped a little.  With that, I went from being absolutely clueless, to knowing a little, but I knew solely about methods of teaching English, not how to control a group of children, in order to implement those methods, or the methods that the school trained me to implement.  I was sort of "thrown into the wolves."

I am feeling the urge to share what I've learned as a teacher throughout my time here.  So this post is for those who are like me when I first started.  This is for those who have never taught before, and have just landed that first job, or are currently looking, and are preparing to move across the Pacific Ocean, across Eurasia, or into the Northern Hemisphere.

Without further due, here you go:

1.  Be firm, and take charge of the class.  Children will run over you, if you allow them to.  Do it from the moment you walk up to the front of your classroom during the first time you teach your first lesson.  Demand their attention and their respect when you take attendance, and it will set the tone for the rest of the class.

2.  If you work in a school setting without established rules, it's important to make your own.  Keep them short, simple, and easy to understand.  Even if you teach in a hogwan with an established system, and rules, I would even suggest doing this, to show the students that you are in charge, and that you are an authority.  I would suggest rules, such as

"Respect the teacher."
"Respect your classmates."
"Be Kind."
"Be clean."
and etc.

If you make them too complex, they will never understand them.  Make learning the rules your very first lesson with each class.  Even if they don't initially know exactly what the rules mean, teach them how to pronounce them properly, and they will understand that you are in charge.

Throughout your time teaching, when a student breaks any of the rules, point to the one that was broken, and briefly make them say the rule as a class, and they will begin to understand what they mean.

3.  Be firm with the little children, and be willing to compromise with the older kids.  It's sort of counter-intuitive.

Little children generally follow the teacher, and feed off of the atmosphere that the teacher sets.  My natural inclination is to want to play and be goofy with them, and many times, it causes them to lose focus, and chaos ensues.  You can be goofy and playful with them, but there is a thin line between having fun, and losing control, so I would suggest being more focused in the classroom.

Your goal with the little kids should be for them to learn through loving discipline.  Most of them will love you and smile throughout the class anyway.  For little kids, generally, English is easy and fun.

Older post-pubescent students are different.  For me, it is my natural inclination to be serious with them, but they actually respond well to being goofy, and humorous.  Your goal should be to make them smile, while teaching them at the same time.

With that particular age group, the lessons become difficult and boring.  Most of them begin to dislike English, and all of them begin to realize that adults are not perfect, so they begin to question authority, and many of them can be downright rebellious and rude, and that behavior becomes more likely, the more firm and unmoving you are.  They work well for a teacher who is able to make them smile, who lightens the mood, and gives them a little freedom.

4.  It is impossible to force anybody to learn.  There will be a few who will absolutely refuse to follow along, and buy into the lesson.  I am generally ok with it, as long as they are quiet, and not being disruptive.  But many times, that is not the case, and a large percentage of them tend to be rather disruptive.  Those students are cancerous to a proper learning environment.

With little kids, I find that making them stand in the corner, nose facing the corner for a period of time works well.  If he/she refuses to stand still, or is continually disruptive, then send them to the Korean teacher, and let her discipline the child how she sees fit.

With older kids, I simply kick them out of the class when they get out of control.  It's a funny coincidence how the class environment instantly improves.

5.  If a little kid refuses to do something that you tell him to do, or refuses to move somewhere that you tell him/her to move, be calm, and physically pick him/her up, and/or drag them, to the place you want him/her to move, or physically force them to do what you want them to do.

You are stronger than they are after all.  Do this unemotionally, and do it gently with a certain matter of firmness.  Most of the time, they will get the message, but in the instance that they don't, simply repeat the use of force in the same exact manner, as if you were a machine.  When this is done, other kids notice, and usually they move where you tell them to move, or do what you ask them to do.

6.  With older kids, I play on their desire to be acknowledged as adults, so when they are uncooperative, I simply open the door of the classroom, and express to them that they have a choice whether or not to be there.  If they don't want to be there, they have the choice to walk through that door, and leave.  I show them that if they want to talk and socialize, they will have to do it outside, but when they are in the classroom, they have to learn, and buy into the lesson.  If they continue to be disruptive, kick them out.  If they refuse to leave, gently grab them by the wrist, and show them to the door.

If a class is falling behind, because they are being too rowdy, I make them stay past the allotted time to finish what needs to be done.  They hate this one, but sometimes it's necessary, and when you start cutting into their time, they focus begrudgingly.

7.  With the older kids, for the most part, many times, they will intentionally try to make you angry for no reason.  It amuses them.  You have to be bulletproof, and you shouldn't take yourself too seriously.  It's ok to fire back, as long as you aren't vulgar, and as long as you aren't downright insulting.  Just a small amount of condescension and a quick whit is required.  The goal is to make other students in the class to laugh at the student you are targeting.

8.  With that being said, things that I will absolutely not tolerate:  laziness coupled with loudness; continued disobedience pertaining to disrupting the people who are buying into the lesson; bad language; students being rude to other classmates; and students being rude to the teacher to the point of undermining your authority, and your ability to teach.

Those things must be prevented as much as possible from happening.  Obviously you can't prevent everything, but if any of the violations mentioned above happen, the child must pay in some way for what he/she did.  Nothing disrespectful/rude/disruptive should be free.

9.  Don't take it personally when children are disrespectful.  The moment the day is over, I forget it.

10.  Second only to the children's safety is maximizing what the children are learning in each class period.  Make that and finishing the lesson your first priority.  If anything is preventing that from happening, quickly remove it in any method that is efficient and appropriate.  

11.  The most important thing to remember when going into your first lesson is speak loudly and authoritatively, but keep a kind demeanor.  If you do that, the children will respond well, and learning through experience will be easier.