11 October 2007
Teacher Annalog 선생
A T-shirt in Edae.
Warning: This is another long, wordy post with no additional pictures. Annalog is not liable for any extreme boredom or disinterest. Read at your own risk.
I've refrained from writing very much about my teaching gig, because my blog is linked to my facebook profile, and given how web saavy that many of my students are, I don't want to share too much. I know, I know. And yet, I'm okay with people stumbling upon my random musings about milk and eggs. Yes, sometimes I can be inane. I ain't denying it.
I'm a part time teacher for a hagwon in Daechi-Dong, an affluent neighborhood in Seoul, close to Kangnam. It kind of reminds me of Palo Alto (in spirit). Hagwons are specialized, after-school academies that train student in different subject area. We have SAT and college application prep services in States, but you don't really see the same range of academies as they have in Korea. Most of the extracurricular programs in the U.S. are meant for remedial help. In Korea, however, the motive is not so much to help a student in need, but rather, help a student get ahead. For example, some of my sixth grade students attend math hagwons, where they learn eighth grade algebra! In addition to my hagwon, many of my students are taking lessons in music, art, logic, and science.
I should note that my students are a little different from the average hagwon pupil. Most of my students come from affluent families. They're the children of lawyers, doctors, bankers, and international businessman. Most of them have lived at least one to two years abroad, have traveled extensively outside of Korea, or attend an international school, and thus, speak English fluently. That is why my teaching experience is atypical of the hagwon teaching experience. I'm not teaching students to speak English. I'm teaching students to analyze literature and write an effective essay. I'm definitely glad that I don't have to teach students the often frustrating, rudiments of English. I mean, if you've read much of my blog, you can see that my attention to grammar is deplorable.
I should also mention that in addition to being fluent English speakers, my students are incredibly bright. On occasion, astoundingly bright. I'm constantly both amazed and frightened by their intellectual maturity. I'm teaching sixth graders who can analyze a Hemingway short story, read classical literature on their free time, and roll their eyes when I have them read something as "simple" as Ray Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day." I teach junior high students who question the literary prestige of Amy Tan and reveal, out of their own volition, that they have up to three to six hours to work on homework for my academy (on top of all their other work from regular school and other academies). Even if the student had free time up the wazoo, your average American kid would never own up to having six hours to spend on homework; they'd admit to two hours, at most.
Though such intensity from such young people is rather foreign to me, I understand where they're coming from. These students have their eye on the prize. They are determined to get into a prestigious college in the U.S., and they know that in order to compete with students born and raised in America, they need to be well-read, with outstanding writing abilities. Frankly, I think they're waaaaaay ahead of their American counterparts.
Needless to say, teaching these students can be quite a challenge. As daunting as the task may be, I really try my best to aid them in their goal, as well as to challenge them and get them excited about the material and have a little fun. Unfortunately, I can't say that I always succeed. Despite my degrees from the Farm, I feel that I'm completely under-qualified* to teach. Teaching is not just about knowing the material, or occupying the class for two hours. Teaching is an intricate process that involves extensive preparation, personal knowledge, a teacher's inherent charisma and people skills, and an understanding of the varying levels of ability and development of your students. I have always admired and have great respect for the teaching profession, but my admiration has increased exponentially. I've always thought that the teachers of America need to get paid more, but now I demand it!
My boss says that there are three different types of teachers in the hagwon industry.
1. Teachers who don't prepare, but possess a lot of charisma and personality, and thus, thrive.
2. Teachers who lack personality, but prepare extensively, and thus, do a solid job of teaching.
3. Teachers who neither prepare nor have charisma, and consequently, suck.
My boss then commented something along the lines of, "Annalog, you are always very well-prepared." Based on deductive reasoning, am I to assume that I lack charisma, but am an able teacher since I am well-prepared? I don't know if I lack charisma, but I do know that I work really hard to find engaging material and help my students develop in their reading and writing skills. My lessons may not always be a hit, but you can't say it's because of lack of effort.
A part of me felt bad about helping the strong to get stronger by teaching at a school that caters to the privileged, but after teaching for the past two months, I've learned that these students work extremely hard, and for the most part, are eager to learn about literature and writing. Despite the fear that your students may be smarter than you, they just may be the ideal students. They're incredibly bright and not afraid of challenging material. They're eager to learn. Respect for the teacher is ingrained in them. They almost always do their homework. Or, if nothing else, fear of their moms is motivation enough for them not to displease the teacher.
I do hope that at some point in my year in Korea, I'll have the opportunity to balance my aid of the privileged by teaching some kids from underprivileged backgrounds.
My teaching experience, thus far, has made me think a lot of education, society, and adolescent development, but I'll spare you a long, boring analysis. Friends and family, if you're curious about what's going on in my noggin', you can just email me.
*In case my boss happens to come across this post, I just want to note that though I may feel under-qualified, I am definitely worth what I am being paid, if not MORE! In fact, with the effort I put into teaching and my name brand diplomas, I'd say that I'm quite the bargain :)