Today was Club Day, and my co-teacher invited me to join her club (the English Reading Club) on a walking tour of historical sites in downtown Daegu (no, it has nothing to do with English or reading, but several clubs chose this activity for Club Day and I don’t think any of them are History of Daegu clubs).
It was a hot one here (a sunny 82 degrees), so my day consisted mostly of sweating, listening to (but not understanding) the Korean tour guide, sweating, being hit on by high school boys who were also out with their classes for club day (“Hello! Hi! High-five!” – one even left his class and joined our tour for a couple minutes so he could talk to me, LOL – eventually my co-teacher shooed him back to his group), sweating, helping my CT keep track of the kids, and oh, did I mention sweating? The best part was lunch break, when we released the kids to fend for themselves and find food, and my CT and a couple Korean teachers and I went out for kimbap. The second best part was finishing at 2 p.m. and being allowed to go home instead of back to the office.
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I was impressed by the following vocab/responses from my kids this week:
Me: “Why does he think that the girl is Molly?”
Student: “Because she resembles her.”
Me: “What can you say about Jane?” [There’s a picture in the book of Jane laughing with her friends]
Student: “She is humorous.”
Me: “Do you think students should wear school uniforms?”
Student #1: “Yes. We should not have to think about what we will wear in the morning.”
Student #2: “No. We look like prisoners.”
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This week something clicked, something changed, something shifted in the atmosphere of my classes. Not just one, but every single class. Every class. For the better. The classes I thought were low level and apathetic are now responding to me. More and more kids are talking to me, both in front of the class while I’m up at the front and one-on-one when I come to check on their groups.
Have I changed? Have they? Or have we changed together, adjusted to each other’s styles, become comfortable with each other? Most likely. Obviously they can’t have suddenly just gotten better at speaking English; they can’t all have gone from low level to high level in 2 months. Clearly, I am at fault here for underestimating them just because they were quiet and reluctant to speak at first.
I am not kidding you when I say that in every single class this week, I watched more and more kids open up to me like flowers blossoming one after the other. They humor me when I attempt to do something cool with the PowerPoint or reference Korean pop culture, applauding my efforts. One class even claps now just because I started the lesson. They pretend English is their favorite subject when I know it’s not, but it’s cute that they do.
They grit their teeth and get through the boring parts like troopers, and when we finish the textbook work, they ask “Game?” hopefully, excitedly. Yes, it’s a routine, but it hasn’t lost its luster. Most weeks I use the same basic game format – they choose a picture, it hyperlinks to a question, they answer and they get a surprise result – points, steal points from another team, lose points, etc. – but because I switch up the pictures, the rewards, and the pitfalls, it stays exciting for them. I’ve also learned not to try to make 25 minutes of the class a game (horrible idea) and just save 10-15 minutes for one at the end.
I’m sure there’s a direct correlation between my improvements in teaching techniques and their response to my classes. I also think we’ve built a rapport and trust, a safe environment in the classroom so that they feel more comfortable speaking up now.
For example, this week the lesson was on opinions and explaining your reasoning for that opinion (hence the school uniforms question mentioned above). In every class I had great participation with answering open-ended, no-right-or-wrong-answer questions like “Which animal is a better pet, a fish or a parrot? What makes you think so?” and “Which movie is better, The Avengers or Frozen? What makes you think so?”
Had I asked those types of questions to my classes even a month ago, I’m quite sure I would’ve been met with stony silence, then maybe get one or two murmured answers after some prompting. This week I had enthusiastic responses and even heated debates about which was better. It’s really amazing, and I was absolutely delighted by it.