As DukeEngage South Korea approached, I was probably most worried about teaching at Jiguchon, a school run by a Christian organization that was primarily designed for multiethnic children. I accumulated a good deal of teaching experience during high school through teaching a writing class for middle school students, but this would be the first time I would be teaching to students not only of different grades and English levels but also to students who could potentially not understand a single word I was saying. Unlike Mulmangcho, the school for North Korean refugee children we would be teaching at for the latter four weeks of the program, Jiguchon consisted of a much more rigorous teaching schedule and environment; we would all be teaching classes of approximately 20-30 students and four periods a day. Processing the responsibility of providing informative and interesting material for these students ended up making me really stressed as I was preparing to come to South Korea. What if the students didn’t like me? What if they weren’t interested in the activities I had planned?
When we were observing at Jiguchon at the beginning of this week, all these questions were suddenly magnified. I wasn’t as worried about the students who were making noise as I was about the students who didn’t show any interest in what was being taught and resorted to doing what they wanted. As I sat in the classes, I realized that even the teachers also had trouble getting the students engaged and interested, although they were doing the best that they could given how underfunded the school was. However, if these teachers, who have already spent a couple of months with these students, couldn’t gain their attention, how could I with only three weeks?
As much as I was concerned, when Wednesday finally came around, I felt weirdly calm and excited as I watched the students come into the classroom one by one. It was then when I realized that instead of focusing so much on my performance, I should be catering to what the students are interested in and doing the best that I can to increase their participation. Yes, things didn’t go exactly as planned, but that’s okay. I had expected that there was going to be a lot of noise and distraction, granted we are teaching elementary school students. I had expected that not everyone was probably going to pay attention, but I’ll attempt to do the best that I can to develop mutual respect with my students and have fun learning English with them in the next three weeks.
This week went by faster than the first week. From Monday to Tuesday, we visited the Jiguchon school, and observed how classes are taught by the teachers there. All of the teachers seemed genuine and passionate, and the students were excited to see us. From Wednesday to Friday, we taught students English for 2 periods and our assigned extracurricular activity for 2 periods.
From sitting in on English classes on the first two days, we saw how difficult it would be to teach English. Students, being young kids, struggled to stay in their seats or pay attention in class, but their behavior became noticeably worse during English classes because many of them simply did not understand the instructions given in English or because they were tired of watching English-learning videos. To clarify, I have so much respect for the teachers at Jiguchon. I truly believe that the teachers are doing everything in their power to teach the students well. However, it seems like Jiguchon does not have all the resources that it needs because it’s a private institution. Given that students at Jiguchon need more academic assistance than an average Korean student, it was sad to see how underfunded the school was. Also, we noticed that Jiguchon had a high teacher turnover rate. Even on the day we started teaching, two new teachers came in, replacing the ones that left earlier.
On Wednesday, we started teaching. Michelle and I are in charge of Class B, so we went in with materials that we prepared. As expected, teaching students was very challenging because of how uncooperative the students were. Trying to size us up, the students behaved in a rude manner for the first 10 minutes, shouting expletives or coming up to the blackboard and writing them. Having had previous experience teaching kids, I knew that I had to be assertive from the beginning to get their attention and respect. Although my firm instructions got most students under control, there were some who just wouldn’t stop leaving the class or reading books. I’m still unsure what to do with them. I’ve already spent too much time trying to get the attention of those few, when I should have spent the whole class periods teaching the rest of the class.
We ran into other issues in class this week. In class B, we had 27 students ranging from the first grade to sixth grade. Sixth graders being more dominant and louder, they distracted the rest of the class. They also knew more English than the rest. Realizing that their misbehavior partially stemmed from being bored, Michelle and I sent the older students to class C. Another issue we encountered is that some students leave after the first of two English periods for other classes, and we have other students coming in just for the second period of English class. In addition, the class members change depending what day of the week it is. Thus, it’s not easy to teach the students one material for a week, let alone a day. Michelle and I are going to deal with this issue by reviewing past materials often. Our Friday class went very well. We taught the students about human body parts through using Powerpoint, dancing to the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes”, and going on starfall.com for an online activity. We were able to engage the 20+ students for the whole time.
We also had to make adjustments for extracurricular activity. Annie and I are in charge of sports. When we prepared lesson plans, we assumed that we’d have access to the school gym anytime we wanted. When we got to the school, the coordinator informed us that the gym would be occupied for both extracurricular periods on Mondays and Fridays, and for second extracurricular period on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Thus, we had no choice but to merge Sports group with Games group, led by Joy and Justin. Another issue is that students in extracurricular activity group change too much and often. For example, on Wedneday for Games, we had 6 students in fifth and sixth grade. The next day we had about 25 students mostly in grades 1 through 4. The last problem we face is creating activities that teach students English while engaging the students.
DESK 16 group activities
- Monday was Annie’s birthday, and we celebrated her birthday at a local Nore-bang (Karaoke-room) singing songs for two and a half hours, but we forgot to pay for her when we split the cost, and we also forgot to buy her a birthday cake. We tried to make up for it by surprising her with a birthday cake on Friday.
- five of us +Josh + two NK refugees that visited Duke last semester went to Lotte world. It was eight hours of fun.
- Six of us went to see the new movie X-Men. It was very well made.