Week 10, Tuesday

A weird day after a long weekend.

A third grade student didn’t recognize me en route to school at first because I was wearing a black facemask. Almost after we passed each other he lit up with recognition and did a delayed a little bow.

“Handsome” student knocked on my classroom door before the day started and brought me candy. Ironic, considering she usually asks asks me for candy. Very sweet.

As S was absent due to her son being sick, I went down to lunch by myself and sat with the usual group. G and the subject teachers talked in Korean so I just ate lunch and zoned out. They did share some fruit from another teacher’s parent’s farm.

After lunch on the stairs G told me: you looked so lonely at lunch. I just responded “mm” and thought of the strange relationship between native public school teachers and the odd foreigner assigned to their space. And the strangely important bridge that the begrudging Korean English teacher plays.

It didn’t bother me: there was no pretense of pretending to understand each other’s language. And I once spent a whole year eating lunch by myself so I’ve had plenty of practice. I did wonder again why the government doesn’t require any Korean language skills from its foreign teachers since the dependence on the Korean teacher from the foreign teacher is nearly one way. Weeks ago I found an essay winner on the government website by a foreign teacher that outlined all the ways this program could be improved, many of which I’ve mentioned before. It was dated 2007 (Clarissa McHale).

I also recommend this essay by Constance Defalco. She notes that despite early English education, South Koreans do not score well on the British International English Language Testing System:

In June 2008, “the British Council announced that Korea ranked 19th on the general training module of the IELTS among 20 countries”.

I’ve noticed that S asks pointed questions of me regarding which other teachers speak English well. I’ve gathered that she is collecting information to build her case against being the English teacher next year. And I wonder if other teachers who are English competent avoid talking with me because they don’t want the principal to know their English ability and therefore can avoid being the English teacher next year.*

The third grade students in G’s class told her that before English wasn’t fun but now it is fun. Which makes me think of the effects of having teachers who don’t want to teach the subject in the first place.

Since S was out today I had the afternoon to think about the state of English in public education here. Maybe the biggest immediate improvement would be to remove English questions from the college entrance exam. If you have ever seen English questions from the Korean CSAT, you’ll know why students hate English and never speak it. If they could study English as truly a second language instead of a means to an end to college acceptance, I think a large burden would be lifted. I can’t change the system but I’ll do my best to develop relationships with my students so they see English as communication and a door to the world, not only of subject of school.

I have a nasty cold so I’m skipping Korean class to eat soup and read in bed and listen to the new WayV album (it’s on Spotify).

This weekend I’m debating on a guided tea field weekend trip or meet with friends. There is so very much to see and so very little time.

* I will later learn from coteacher H that in teaching college for elementary school there is only one semester of English, and that class is only reviewing listening tests from the textbook. For middle and high school, English teachers must have majored in the subject.

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