Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Learning: It's what schools are for

Disclaimer: These are really just my own ideas from personal observation during 11 months of teaching in Korea and having completed K-12 in the American public school system. (Back in the 80s-90s, admittedly. It’s entirely possible that U.S. schools have already adopted some of these suggestions, but I doubt it.) The list is far from exhaustive, the ideas are not studied or polled, and they are far from scientifically proven. In addition, it should be noted that I, myself, am about as far form being an expert in this area as I can be. I am also an extremely talented bullshitter. Take that as you will.

What American schools can learn form Korean schools:

  • Metal lunch trays. Yes, they conduct heat and you sometimes burn your hand, but kids learn pretty quickly. And they are the most durable things EVER. Buy them once and you’re set until doomsday. Plus no questionable plastic-y chemical content!
  • Give students an hour break for lunch. Encourage them to play soccer or badminton (or something a bit more American) when they finish eating. It’s like recess for middle and high school students, and it’ll keep them from being so fat.
  • At the end of each day, have students clean the classrooms themselves. It teaches them responsibility and helps them feel some ownership of their environment. Theoretically (key word there), this means they will take better care of the school.
  • Turns out uniforms aren’t such a bad idea. I would’ve hated them as a student, but they really do level the playing field a bit.
  • Require more formal respect for teachers and authority in general. Small acts of formalized respect provide a far less serious line for rebellious students to cross when they feel like testing their limits.
  • Require every student to study a foreign language, beginning in early elementary school when they have a better chance of becoming fluent. The fact that we are lucky enough to have been born speaking the international lingua franca is no excuse for willful ignorance of other languages and cultures. Also, studying a foreign language helps students better understand their own language and culture.
  • OMG, we had some seriously crappy and generally unhealthy school lunches compared to Korean schools. Work on it.
What Korean schools can learn from American schools:
  • Have professional cleaners come in at least a couple of times per semester. Honestly, the kids just don’t cut it in the long run.
  • Never require uniforms that consist of plaid pants and striped shirts/jackets. It’s just not right.
  • Encourage your students to question authority, find their own answers and problem-solve. (This can be done in a respectful and productive manner. We just have to teach them how.) Creative, free-thinking adults are much more beneficial to society than memorization robots.
  • 14 hours of school per day, plus occasional Saturdays, is just too much. Give them time to be children (and pre-teens, and teenagers). That way they’ll be ready to actually be adults when the time comes.
  • I’m pretty sure it actually takes less energy to heat/cool a room and then keep it at that temperature than it does to constantly turn the heat/air conditioning on and off all day. It also helps to keep the temperature in the hallways regulated as well, so there’s not a blast of cold/hot air to fight every time a student opens the classroom door (which is very often). Even if all that’s not true, it most certainly does not help to have the windows open while you’re running said heat/air conditioning.
  • Students who are not sweating or freezing tend to pay attention better during their lessons. And teachers teach better. And we all think better.

Friday, July 8, 2011

I'm leaving on a jet plane.....

...but I do know when I'll be back again!

My exploratory committee has informed me that I have enough support to secure another contract with EPIK, and I have decided to embrace that opportunity. In order to win over the hearts and minds of the people, I will be home for a 3-week visit in August before coming back to start my new contract/finish out this school year. (Korea runs on a calendar school year, so summer break is really mid-year.) The Caity Teacher Non-Korean U.S. Tour will be making stops in and around Northeast Tennessee, Washington, DC and Maryland's eastern shore. Please see Facebook for dates and times of public appearances. Campaign donations will be accepted in the form of Mexican food, nice cheese and alcoholic beverages. (And of course, actual money. Plane tickets to the U.S. in August are no joke, y'all!)

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, "Why should I support this woman? She's really been letting me down when it comes to regular blog posts recently." Well, I have heard your voices and this is what I have to say: I've been really busy preparing myself to be the best Native Englishee Teacher, and the best person, that I can be. Here's what I've accomplished in the past month or so:
  • I planned and executed what I firmly believe was a successful open class. Feedback was positive from all arenas: Office of Education representative, Korean teachers and other native teachers. Well, I'm kind of guessing that the feedback was positive from Korean teachers because, though they can all presumably speak English, they of course gave their feedback in Korean. For 15 minutes each, followed by a 2-sentence translation from my co-teacher. Not sure what got left out, but at this point I don't really care.
  • I paid a diplomatic visit to the Demilitarized Zone and subsequently drafted a motion to have all South Korean breweries taken over by North Korean brewers. Daily life might generally suck for North Koreans, but at least they have decent beer to knock back after a hard day at their state-sponsored jobs. I believe that this privilege should be extended to all citizens of the Korean peninsula. Good, affordable beer is a basic human right, and Cass and Hite just don't cut it.
  • I attended two Native Englishee Teacher retreats at Myeongsasimri Beach in Wando. We discussed superior teaching strategies, how to keep the peace within our borders, and ways to improve and expand our territories....sort of.
  • I conducted historical research in the city of Gyeongju, learning about leadership from the Great Shilla Kings.
  • I attended a summit of EPIK teachers in Boseong, inspected some green tea fields for their efficiency, and acted as a mediator in the disputes between local crabs and mudskippers.
  • I signed my new contract and successfully navigated the bureaucracy of the Gwangju Immigration Office on my own. The strange thing is, it was significantly more difficult to get the required drug test done at the hospital than it was to navigate the red tape of visa renewal. In fact, the immigration office was a remarkably timely and not-unpleasant experience. Kudos, Korea.
  • I kicked off the season of goodbye parties for those brave and honorable folks who have served their schools well and are now returning to their respective homes. They will be greatly missed.
  • I attended an international celebration of American Independence Day, forging lasting bonds with representatives from England, Ireland, Canada and South Africa, and introducing them to the American wonders of deviled eggs and apple pie.
  • I completed my second Korean language course, thus allowing me to awkwardly communicate with Koreans in a slightly more effective way. We shall see on Tuesday whether or not I will get official credit for this (i.e. whether or not I passed the damn final exam).
As you can see, I have been working diligently to become the best that I can be. I hope that you will be able to overlook my blogging delinquency, and throw your support behind me once again!

In a future post, I will explain in detail my positions on certain key issues related to English education in Korea. In the mean time, may God bless the pilots who will be flying me home.