Monday, 23 July 2012

The Second Semester

It’s nearing the end of the school year. As a matter of fact there are only two days left. So, to summarize, I thought I’d write (much like I did last semester) about my experiences with my students in each grade this year.

I’ve had more kindergarten students this semester, there are around thirteen students and I see them once a week. There are a few stars of the class, students that were there last semester have certainly improved and answer questions in English, whereas, new students some of which must be around five years old or younger, have picked up a few words over the course of the semester but remain too young to really learn anything outside of simple words. Names of animals. Basic greetings. I enjoy these classes, I usually dance around and sing some songs, drill some vocabulary and read a story related to that vocabulary. Sometimes we’ll do some colouring. Things are kept simple. Today was my last (possibly ever) kindergarten class, we were learning about food, we ate some fruit that the kindergarten teacher ha prepared to tie in with the lesson, we sang some songs, and then we did some colouring in relation to the very hungry caterpillar, it was a lot of fun.

My Grade 1 students have obviously moved up from kindergarten and a vast percentage of them were totally new to the school. I have seven students in this class and they are probably my second favourite class although nearing the end of semester they are getting a little to excitable to handle. Kim Jae -Min is an ADD student who can sometimes make this class very difficult, he doesn’t really pick anything up as he has trouble concentrating. I feel kind of sorry for the guy as the other students seem to bully quite a lot. He runs around screaming hello for the first five minutes of class and then settles into doing whatever distracting thing he’s decided to do for the rest of the class. The rest of the students here are generally good, their English has gone from next to nothing to a level at which I can have a small basic conversation with them. This is a class where it’s clear to see exactly what I’ve taught them and I’m pretty happy with how far they’ve come.

My Grade 2 class obviously moved up from Grade 1, but there are many new students here, at a class of 9 this is one of my biggest classes. Only 4 students from my old Grade 1 class are in this class, so they are mostly new students. It’s touch and go with them. Sometimes they’ll be well behaved and other times they won’t be, I guess it depends on whether or not there is a co-teacher in the room. I teach all these classes on my own though, as I do with every class this semester, if the co-teachers do show up, they just help out by keeping score during games or reinforcing the things I have planned. There are twins in this class, identical twins that always wear the same clothes, which gets frustrating as I never know which one is which, one is good at English and the other isn’t. Nightmare. There is a shy kid who cries whenever he loses a game, so I always try and make his team win to save any unnecessary tears. In general I have a lot of fun with Grade 2, we don’t use a textbook here so I’ve basically made my own curriculum for them, which has been a lot of fun, albeit a lot of work.

Grade 3. The class from hell. The class I dread. The class that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. During their textbook classes where their homeroom teacher sits at the back of the class they are generally well behaved and I can teach them something. During afterschool classes I’ll spend at least twenty minutes of each forty minute class trying to discipline them, get them to sit down, or get them to pay attention. They run around, they hit each other, they climb on the tables, they play on the computer, and they throw things at each other. A typical conversation will go like this:

“Min-gi, sit down.”
“Sit down.”

You can’t really argue with that when you know they won’t understand anything else that you say. They’ve got better. I experimented with different methods of getting them to focus and what seems to have worked is offering candy to the winning team of whatever game we play that lesson. However, if they get five strikes (I write these strikes on the board with the name of the student) then they get no candy. So now it goes like this:

“Min-gi, sit down.”

I walk over to the board and put my pen on the board.

“5, 4, 3, 2, 1.”

By the time I get to one he (or whoever else is annoying me) has usually sat down or stopped doing whatever irritating thing he might be doing. So, bribery. That’s what works here, but it makes for a much more peaceful and much less stressful class. I won’t miss them.

Grade 4 are a joy. They can often be very loud as they are a big class of excitable students. There are ten of them in total. Yu-Min is a little shit and likes defacing his textbook but when he focuses he really does try. He usually needs similar motivation to that of Grade 3. Shin-hee is a new student who started at the beginning of this semester and is one of my favourite students. Although her English isn’t great she always tries hard and she always talks to me about whatever is going on in her little fourth grade life. The chubby kid who annoyed the hell out of me last year is now another favourite of mine, his English has improved ten-fold and he likes to show me magic tricks. There is a kid in this class who always stares at me. With evil eyes. Everywhere. At lunch. In class. In the hallway. So, I have staring contests with her that she always wins much to her delight. I enjoy 4th grade and although there is never a co-teacher around I always get things done with them, I’ve never had to discipline them to the point of stupidity. Which is nice.

Grade 5 are my favourite class. Strange, as Grade 4 was my favourite last year so this class has consistently remained my favourite class. Their English is the best in the entire school. They always pay attention and we always have great fun in class. I can plan really fun lessons because I know I can explain things and I know they will listen. Min-ji, the daughter of the kindergarten teacher is another star student, I give her some afterschool tuition and her reading has really improved, she’s a fifth grade Korean student but she can read words that I would have struggled with at her age. Good for her. Ji-Sung was a bit of a terror last year but he’s settled down and is improving. Dong-Hou always participates and makes anything we do into some kind of monster or alien activity. Write about your family. “My family are aliens.” Make a menu. “Alien spaghetti.” That kind of thing. It’s kind of hilarious. Yong-Chae and Se-Jin are some of the best English speakers in the school and basically Grade 5 is just incredible and I look forward to teaching them every week. This happened with Yong-Chae last week. “Ok, now we will write about our grandparents.” “Teacher, my grandparents die.” Then she made a slit the throat motion with her hand accompanied by a “ugh” sound. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Then we arrive at Grade 6. Their English ability has remained the same. I can’t say it’s improved outside of learning some new words. We had a new student join the class Ji-Eun, who is no doubt the best English speaker in the whole school, she must have moved from a city school or have gone to hagwons (private English academies) for years. These classes are generally fun but there is an apathetic tone across the whole class. They would rather be somewhere else and whenever I ask them how they are I get the same monotone responses. “Teacher, I am sleepy, angry and hungry.” Everyday. For the whole semester. Sleepy, angry, hungry.

So, that just about sums up my experiences with my students this semester. We have two more days left of school before I start my camps which will last one and a half weeks and then I’ll be on my vacation. Things can still be up in the air here and things always happen at the last minute. Surprise classes or surprise class cancellations. I’ve gotten used to it now and tend not to worry about it so much.

A year has been enough for me. I’ve had a great experience and have had plenty of highs and lows. Plenty of clarity and plenty confusion. Lots of good classes and some bad ones. Days when things have been exciting and fun and days that have been boring and monotonous. I’m not sure I’ll miss school for a while once I’ve left but I’m sure there will come a day when I do. I won’t miss being in the dark, not knowing vital pieces of information, I will miss the relationships I’ve formed with some of my students, the jokes and the compliments. I’ll even miss the school lunches. Shock horror. I’m getting excited about my camps now I’ve got them planned. The first day we are doing make your own superhero. This all starts on Wednesday. Although, saying that, there are some things written on the staff room bulletin board which make me question whether my camps actually do start on Wednesday. I guess, much like with everything here, we’ll wait and see what happens.

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