Continued from Part 1
Day 2: Tuesday 1 July 2008
Day two of the Orientation started with a Q&A session with Dain Bae, the GEPIK co-ordinator for secondary schools. I was a bit worried that this session would deteriorate into a series of gripes, and that Dain Bae would spend the entire time in defensive mode. I’d heard stories of previous orientations that became little more than an opportunity to complain about GEPIK.
Dain Bae did a really good job of defusing any potential tension in the room, and it was as simple as not treating the crowd as unruly schoolchildren. So we all settled down a little and heard about common concerns in the GEPIK contract and working conditions. There seems to be a lot of uncertainty about issues like pension fund and tax payments. For those South Africans who are still not sure: we are exempt from making pension fund payments in Korea, and for the first two years that you work for public schools in Korea you don’t pay income tax.
After this rather fruitful session we had further discussions about life in GEPIK, but this time in smaller groups. I’m not a fan of group discussions, and this session was a bit of a waste of time. The only good thing that came out of this was some cool lesson ideas, though this was a bit off topic from what we were actually meant to be doing. But this ended soon enough and off we went to lunch.
The first session after lunch was a talk by Mark Merzweiler on “My life as a GEPIK teacher.” The title of the session was a little boring, but the talk wasn’t. This was the first of the really useful lectures we had during the orientation week, though lecture probably isn’t the right word. The image that comes to mind is a guy talking about his experiences while sharing a beer in a bar somewhere. It was a really interesting to hear about this guy’s ups and downs in Korea, and why he is still here even though he first arrived in 1993. This guy has seen some really dodgy stuff in Korea, and seems to have had a really raw deal with some of the hagwons he taught at. It was good to put my experiences in Korea so far into this context, and to remember that things could be a lot worse. Not that things are all sunshine and roses, but oh boy, it could be a LOT worse.
I picked up a couple of good tips for lesson plans and classroom management from Mark. But I think the most important thing was to hear how, even after all these years teaching in Korea, he still struggles with many of the same problems I do, in terms of ensuring discipline and keeping the kids interested. So I’m not a shoddy teacher, and my kids aren’t especially naughty – this is just something you need to learn to handle.
The last session for the day was “How to do a lesson plan” by Darlene Delorme (or Darlence Delorme, as she is listed in the programme). The title suggested a snoozefest. I’ve done lesson plans to death, in my TEFL course and at my school, so I wasn’t too sure what I was going to learn here. But, to my surprise, Darlene was able to give me some ideas on how to approach my lesson planning.
The highlight of this session? When Darlene found out that, no, we don’t see our students several times a week. Try once a week. Or even once every two weeks. When she had taught at public schools she had seen the kids a couple of times a week, so her lesson plans were structured around this. And no-one had ever bothered to tell her that things aren’t exactly like that at the public schools where we all teach. The look on her face was priceless.
After this was more Korean food for dinner, and then we watched “The King and the Clown”, a Korean movie about a crossdressing minstrel and his troupe that get involved in the intrigues at the kings court. It was a bit odd, but interesting to watch.
Day 3: Wednesday 02 July 2008
The first two sessions of day three of the orientation were just disaster heaped upon incompetence. They sucked. No, really. That’s three hours of my life I’ll never be able to claim back. The first session was “Using Interactive Activities” with Nick Mitchelmore. I don’t know what this was intended to be, but it ended up being torture. The speaker tried to demonstrate how to use various activities in the classroom to get the students to participate and to speak. Now, almost every single activity he demonstrated I have come across on any number of forums and books on ESL teaching. Nothing new here. But the worst part was when he started getting irritated that we weren’t going along with this bizarre lecture. His mistake was treating adults, native English speakers at that, like a bunch of non-English-speaking schoolkids. Of course your demonstration is going to fail. We aren’t kids, you know, and we speak the language just fine.
His annoyance and frustration were very apparent. That’s the only thing I learnt from this session – that I must hide these emotions while giving a class, no matter what. He lost the crowd as soon as he looked irritated. No turning back from there. Maybe some people picked up a couple of tricks from this session, but I personally feel that he could have approached it differently. He might have shown videos of students using these activities, for example, and illustrated where this was well-managed or not by the teacher in question. I felt that we were all well aware of activities to use in class, but not necessarily in how best to implement or run these activities.
The next session was “Classroom Management” by James Turner. Actually this should have been titled “Classroom Management: How not to do it”. I can’t write much about this session because for the life of me I can’t recall much of what this guy said. He sort of waffled for about 45 minutes, and then opened the floor to questions, most of which he couldn’t answer. Not that he’d admit it. He’d give an answer, though it didn’t necessarily correspond to the question. He thought he only had an hour to speak, but he actually had 90 minutes, so the torture got extended for what seemed like eons. Oh, and what this had to do with “classroom management” I still don’t know.
Thankfully we were saved by lunchtime.
The first session after lunch was a team-teaching demonstration by Koo Yeon Jin & Candice Sue Bolton, from Suwon Foreign Language High School.
Candice Boulton as a culture fairy
I was worried that they’d act as if were students and try and teach us.
I was really relieved to see that they were merely going to illustrate to us how they did their recent demo lesson, with commentary on how they approached the lesson, with some videos showing them in action.I found this session really informative, especially with their discussions on how they deal with the whole co-teaching thing, which is problematic for most of the people attending the orientation. I did have a pang of jealousy when we saw what level their students are at, as they teach at a foreign language high school. These kids could string whole sentences together and everything! But I found their general approach to co-teaching interesting, and I’ll try to apply some of these lessons in the relationships with my own co-teachers.
Darren Ng giving his great talk
The last session of the day was the by far the best of the entire orientation. This was “Why don’t they just get it?” by Darren Ng. His topic looked at the many differences andproblems native English teachers encounter when they teach in public schools in Korea. He basically spoke about how to improve your living and teaching experience in Korea, starting with yourself – your approaches to your fellow teachers, your students and your teaching philosophy. I was expecting a preachy 90 minutes, but instead I was thoroughly entertained by Darren, who definitely has a gift for public speaking. The important bit was that he is actually a teacher in GEPIK, and he was able to draw on his own experiences to illustrate how we might go about improving our situations, and how to stop complaining. Some experiences at the schools in Korea seem universal, and it was good to see this. This lecture definitely lifted my mood, and gave me a lot of impetus to try and improve things at my school. I hope this enthusiasm lasts past the first week back, though…
I’m not going to do Darren’s talk any real justice here, but you can read some of what he spoke about at his blog here: http://jm-english.blogspot.com/2008/06/gyonggi-do-teachers-workshop.html
That was pretty much that for day three. There was a “Korean Traditional Music Performance and Workshop” that evening, but I’d been dealing with TMP (Too Many People) all day, so I hid in my bedroom and read a book.
Day four and five will be covered in Part 3.