Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Great Debate

One of the highlights of my new job is that I'm no longer a puppet teaching 'fun' English classes, these kids are here to learn and my classes are no exception.  My schedule rotates between reading and writing lessons but I also have a few debate classes thrown into the mix. It took me a few lessons to get into the swing of things with the students, understanding what their level was at, their debate style and of course personalities, but now things are going along great.  While not all the topics are received with high praise, most of our lessons have went pretty smoothly, sometimes students have surprised me with strong arguments and unique viewpoints, while other times I've been left in a slight state of shock.  Let me give you some examples...
The great hagwon debate

There were the standard con arguments of cost, time and overall effectiveness, but these were easily outweighed with the students eagerly expressed pro arguments.  
  1. We must prepare for the next grade, we can review and preview things we have not learned at school, hagwons make up for the things we miss at school.  So basically public schools in Korea are failing at their purpose?  Kids tend to treat school as play and hagwon as school...
  2. If we don't study at hagwon we will fall behind in our class and do bad on the exam, and then not get into a good high school or university and not get a good job. Elementary school decisions will forecast the rest of your life, no pressure though. 
  3. If we don't go to hagwon where would we go after school, our parents are still working. Why did I not realize this job was a glorified babysitter? 

Are Native English teachers worth it? 

I was genuinely intrigued to see what the kids had to say on this one and was not so surprised when I had mulitple students begging to be on the 'con' side of the argument. After all my previous job was cut after years of the government talking about cut backs, but what was the students perceived value?  Pro supporters were in favor of a natural pronunciation, learning of different cultures and overall interest in learning English, but again con dominated. 
  1. Native teachers are expensive, costing the government much more than a Korean teacher who could fulfill the same job (50% of the English budget goes to Native teachers). I'm just happy to be getting a paycheck, oh and a free apartment.
  2. Often times they only teaching speaking and listening, classes that many students treat as play and either ignore or sleep through. True.
  3. Most aren't even properly qualified teachers.  You shouldn't seen the shock on some faces when I confirmed that no, Korea does not require a teaching degree (or certification).
  4. These lessons could easily be replaced with skype, youtube, or other online formats. 

Writing prompt: What is the best age and why
An overwhelmingly high number of students argued that five years old, was in fact the best age. This proves one of two things, either the kids have little imagination capability in guessing that maybe 20, 30 or 70 might be fun, or it's all downhill from here.  The reasons to support their claim? 
  1. We get to go to kindergarten and meet friends, but there's no homework and we also don't have to go to hagwon. 
  2. We don't have to study yet. As you shouldn't at five years old. 
  3. It's okay when we make a mistake. Which leads me to believe it's not okay soon after...
  4. We can take a nap
Soon after I followed this up with: What is the worst age and why
This time encouraging them to be creative and think outside the box I hoped for a few different responses, but alas creativity is not key with these kids. The resounding answer was eight or nine years old, and the reasons are not that hard to guess. 
  1. We have to start first grade and have lots of homework. Despressing
  2. We must go to academy and study more. Also depressing.
  3. There is no time for play. Depressing. 
While my intent with these two writing prompts was to encourage kids to think about their future, fun opportunities that lay ahead, what I got was a sad look at reality.  It seems that for these kids, at least in their minds, life peaks at 5 with fun, games and new friends, but goes downhill not soon after.  By eight years old you're enrolled into your first hagwon and from that point on it's just work, work work.  From elementary school to middle, where you must study to prepare for high school, and then the ever important suneung test which will hopefully get you into a good university, so you can study to get a good job, at which you hope to work at until retirement, without getting laid off to make room for the new, younger, smarter fresher batch of robots I mean graduates.  

Incase you were wondering my rose colored, everything is great here - I love this country glasses have been removed, and I'm seeing a first hand account of the darker side of the coin.  These are only a few examples of the eye openers I've come across, but I promise to share more soon, and not only from the classroom. 

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