It was my first day at the training center. Some woman (I was never introduced properly to her) who spoke impeccable English was telling me about what South Korean public school teachers are like and what they like and don’t like (it turns out she is a public school teacher). She was giving me some tips on how to work best with Korean public school teachers. I was to be both teaching English and doing teacher training and she was telling their expectations and needs. It was all a bit overwhelming at 9:00 am on my first day on the job, especially because I had no idea who she was or how she was connected to the center nor what her work relationship with me was or was to be (in the end it was revealed she is a public school teacher who is friendly with and has done some work for the center director.) There was a bunch of tips and a bunch of information giving in that short and confusing meeting. The tip that stood out the most was how it is imperative to write the aims of each English lesson and training session on the board. Even better would be to make a special location on the door upon which I could tape a piece of paper with the aims for each day. *1 Even though it was my first day, I still wondered if this was necessary and wondered where this belief came from. Where these grownup educators incapable of learning and developing if the aims were not written on the board (or door as the case may be)?
In an “award winning” Korean high school English class I saw online there was a very clear focus on what they called objectives. After a warm-up activity students were immediately asked to repeat after the teacher as she stated the “objectives” of the class in English. “We can use past tense” they shouted. “We will be able to distinguish between situations when we should use present perfect and past tense” they roared in chorus. “We will know irregular past tense forms” they cheered. “We will play a game” they excitedly echoed. As a viewer I was perplexed. Why were they so excited about these grammar points? Were they actually so excited? Were they reading something aloud before they understood it? And if they did understand, why did the teacher then take the next 3 minutes to explain these “objectives” in Korean? I also had to wonder about the wording of the objectives. The chorally drilled statements started in different ways. We can…We will be able to… We will know …We will play… Who were the objectives for? Was there a reason they were worded this way? Was there something I was missing? I couldn’t help but wonder if I was missing out on some sort of cosmic logic. Anyway, I was confused. I was also wearing my judgmental pants that day was thinking this chant objectives in English then have them explained stuff was not a great use of class time. Mostly I was wondering about reasons behind these moves. *5
He was one of my many mentors who happen to be younger than me. We agreed on a lot, but not everything, which was great. I think it was just the right amount of disagreement to help us both learn and develop. We were both generally quite “go with the flow” and very much against the old “do it this way because this is the way we have always done it” type of thinking. So, I was surprised when I noticed how careful he was to write what he hoped to do each class on the board before starting. To my eyes, this seemed a bit out of character for him. His answer was pretty simple. “I think it can help a few people just feel relaxed that they know I have planned something and sort of situate and locate themselves in the lesson. I don’t feel I need to follow it and 80% of the class doesn’t even notice it or care anyway but I figure, why not?”
I only saw her teach a few times but I thought she was fantastic. I was really impressed with her flexibility and her connection with her students. She happened to speak English very well but the lesson I saw wasn’t for or about her, it was for and about her students. I was a bit heartbroken when I heard about how the demo class she’d been preparing went for her. Actually, the class was not the heartbreaking thing. According to her criteria it went pretty well. It wasn’t perfect and she had some things to work on and think about but she viewed the class as a qualified success. The disaster was in the post demo feedback session. The assistant principal spent 10 minutes of out the 20 minute session belittling her about not writing the aims on the board before the class. From her view the aims were obvious to students by the end of the lesson because she culminated with a task that would require them to show what they knew or had learned. The assistant principal was not having it and just kept saying how the act of teaching requires teachers to write the aims on the board. She was devastated on many levels and decided she would follow the rules from then on out, at least in demo classes.
*1 I actually kind of like this idea. Never done it, though.
*2 Since I wrote the question intending to get people thinking about how much they deal with objectives in their usual classes it would stand to reason the question sounds this way to me. I honestly don’t know how to word it any differently.
*3 One might be surprised at just how many teachers don’t really plan much and how even fewer think in terms of objectives and what students will be able to do by the end of the lesson. I sure was.
*4 You might say that if teachers write the objectives on the board that surely means they have thought about objectives and this is a silly question. I would not agree with that. My question (even if not worded as well as I would have liked) was intended to be about teachers thinking about/writing student learning objectives. Not all the “objectives” we see on whiteboards are student learning objectives. I am not suggesting they need to be, but just saying I think they are different things and stating how I don’t believe writing any old thing on the board magically turns it into an objective.
*5 I took some creative liberties with this one (the others are 99.2% true) But, it is not so far from things I have actually seen with my own two eyes. I just combined a few lessons and exaggerated the wording a bit.
I hoped and figured these stories were enough on their own to share my thoughts on this surprisingly divisive issue. If my own thoughts are unclear I can go into more in the comments.