Please teach them English: The even fuller story

In July the crack research team here at ELT Rants, Reviews and Reflections reproduced some emails from a language school manager to a new teacher and a few weeks ago (with the help of Steve Brown) we were able to share the teacher’s perspective through her replies. Last week , with the help of Maria Theologidou we were able to share the learning journal from one of the students in the class. Today we are honored to share the learner diary of another student in the class. Thank you to Mark Makino for his help with this. I took the liberty of adding some links to Wikipedia for topics readers unfamiliar with Korea might not know much about.

Please be sure to read the previous posts for  context if you have not already done so. What follows are excerpts from Pill-Soo’s (Bill’s) blog. 

We met our new foreign English teacher today, Ms. Susie, and she seems very energetic, not nervous like a lot of our teachers from before. She brought in a bunch of games the first day and had us play with a big ball she called a beach ball. I guess she really wants us to like her.  It is cool that she plays Minecraft too, I didn’t know it was popular abroad. It was a good first day. I wonder what she’ll be like when she starts teaching for real.

OK, again she seems nice, but so far we’ve talked about (or at least she’s talked about) like 10 different Big Important Issues and only when she seems like she’s bored does she teach us grammar and vocabulary. We did a project, which she called a poster presentation, on our hopes and dreams, and mine was about getting into SKY. She was really confused by that because she doesn’t know any Korean universities. I was reading out loud my notes for my presentation (which took hours to translate) and when I said I really wanted to do well on the Suneung (CSAT) she made a face after Maria explained to her what the CSAT is.  It was a really hard project, and I learned some words from working it, but not from Ms. Susie.  All she did was tell us what to do and although she didn’t criticize my pronunciation or anything I could tell she didn’t like my speech. Should I have talked about my hobby instead?

We talked a little bit about music in class, and again Susie wanted us to say what we liked about our favorite bands before she gave us the grammar and vocabulary to do that. She does this a lot-waits for us to make a mistake then teaches us the grammar we needed afterward, like springing a grammar trap. People know I’m shy, and even though Ms. Susie wouldn’t criticize my grammar or pronunciation in front of the class other students did after she left. I know she thinks it’s important we speak without worrying about mistakes but my classmates here and at my regular school made fun of me for giving such a bad answer. I hate it when she forces me to embarrass myself. I get a stomachache whenever she uses the word “task” since I know I’m going to make some mistake or someone else will which she’ll write on the board for review. She doesn’t say who made the mistake but of course we all remember! I think if she could hear and understand what we say to each other in Korean, she’d stop putting us in these situations.

I feel like I’ve learned some things from Ms. Susie’s English classes, but it’s all floating up in space and not tied down to anything real or useful. My words come out more naturally and I’m less scared of talking. But I’m not going to use these skills and I can’t explain them to my parents or anyone else, so it’s like they’re hidden from everyone and everything that matters. My mom asked me to speak like I do in class to prove we weren’t just “playing” but I couldn’t, not that I can’t but in front of my mom?  Anyway she got together with some of the other moms to complain about Ms. Susie.  I think she’s nice but her class is really hard for me and a bunch of us and I think she thinks she can solve all our difficulties with just positivity.

When this year is over I don’t think I’m going to have another teacher who does classes like this, so it’s like I’m practicing a sport that I’m never going to play again. Yes, if I went abroad this year I would probably have an easier time, but I’m not, I’m going to study hard to pass the entrance exam for Yonsei, become an engineer, and after that maybe use English for email, not to make Youtube videos or speak in front of the UN or anything. Ms. Susie acts like she has an allergy to tests. She just doesn’t know what we do in Korean schools and I don’t think she cares. It’s like she flew in from abroad to save us from being Korean. I know Korea has a great education system and I don’t see how Ms. Susie thinks she knows better than us, like we’ve been doing it wrong this whole time and only she can see that. I don’t feel like Ms. Susie hates Korea but she definitely thinks her foreign way of teaching is the best and she only does things our way when Mr. Lee makes her.

We have been doing more grammar and vocabulary in class now because Mr. Lee has started giving Ms. Susie worksheets and lesson plans to follow. I’m glad we can finally work on something useful but Ms. Susie still doesn’t check our work properly. It’s like she doesn’t believe in mistakes. She just says, “What did you mean by this?” like there was some deep reason I put “been” instead of “was.”  If I could answer questions like that I should be the teacher. I know I’d be able to explain more clearly than she does.

Mom and the other parents are pushing Mr. Lee for a new teacher next year. I think Ms. Susie is still too young and maybe not flexible enough. With more time in Korea I think she’ll learn to teach better. Our school English teacher Mr. Park is just the same as her but the opposite way-he never uses English in class but explains the meanings of English words and grammar very clearly. I don’t think he could do well on the CSAT listening sections now but he knows a lot and I like listening to him. I feel like he at least respects our ability to be good students and knows how we like to learn. Ms. Susie thinks the only way we can learn is by doing, and anything else is old-fashioned or not Real English.  I need to do well in school now, and if I want to speak to foreigners I’ll practice that after I finish college. Right now I need Mr. Park more than I need Ms. Susie. He’d never ask us to say something unless he’d said it first.

Some of my classmates want Ms. Susie to stay. The students who like her classes are the ones my parents don’t let me see outside cram school-most of them go to the public junior high in the city and don’t study hard or like school. Maybe she’s a good teacher for them since they don’t like studying and she doesn’t make them! Some of them are way happier in her class than with our other teachers. I don’t think it’s good for Ms. Susie to encourage kids like that to neglect working hard and say their own opinions too much.  Like I said, if we knew enough to have opinions on all these topics we should be the teachers!

I feel a little bad for Ms. Susie, but you can’t keep a job that you can’t do. Some of my classmates are making her a big going away card with our signatures. Sure, I’ll sign it. I don’t want her to have bad memories of Korea. Maybe she can do a better job teaching in a country where people think like her and are used to talking before they have any idea what to say. I don’t think she’ll have much success in this country unless she works in a really rural place where the kids don’t care about success in school. Then again, those kids probably don’t care about Justin Bieber either.


Just like the previous entries in this series these learning logs are invented. Mark Makino was kind enough to take up the challenge of writing from a second learner’s perspective and I am thrilled to share it here and I hope you enjoyed the post as much as I did. My sincere thanks go to Mark for taking the time to write up a different perspective. Check out his very interesting blog here


  1. mariatheologidou

    Wow, Mark, you did a phenomenal job as Bill – it’s exactly what I had in mind about the other side of Susie’s teaching methods! Thank you for the 4th part of this series, really really interesting!

  2. Marc

    This is brilliant, Mark, and I do feel it’s a bit like some of my students at an old job thought about my lessons.

    Also, I spent far too much time reading your blog last night for the time of night it was.

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  5. Hana Tichá

    Wow. How come I missed this wonderful post. It sounds so realistic! I think many Czech students might produce something similar – even about me. 🙂 This really made me think. Thanks Mike and Mark.

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