A tale about rapport and changing teachers during the same course

A long time ago I worked in what was called an immersion program at a language school attached to a university (a unigwon, as it’s sometimes known) in Seoul. The program lasted 20 weeks and students were there for around 30 hours a week with 4-5 different teachers for 4-5 courses (with reading, writing, fluency-focused speaking, “practical English,” and media English as courses that come to mind). With this schedule and system it was perhaps inevitable that burnout would be a factor for all involved. I remember teachers discussing how weeks 13-17 were an absolute slog and how students completely lacked motivation and interest in those weeks.. As I rose up the ranks and accumulated power When I had some ever so slight say in how things were done around there I suggested that after 10 weeks we could change teachers to help prevent burnout. I also thought it would be useful for students to have different teachers for a variety of reasons.

Question break: What are some non-burnout reasons for changing teachers in the middle of such a term?

This policy of changing teachers was not universally lauded but some teachers liked it. Students were generally on board with the policy but there were some growing pains and learning moments. Issues like “This is not how Bob did warm-ups!” and “Can’t we play more games like we did with Suzy?” arose from time to time but were mostly well-handled by explaining that we had a range of teachers and that students will benefit from experiencing this range in terms of practices and perspectives.

Question break: What additional issues would you imagine in such a situation?

An issue that came up from time to time was one of rapport. Sometimes students and a teacher just click and it can be hard for anyone to be not that teacher. Even if everything was fine with the new teacher the students might just miss their teacher, or who they were with the former teacher, or the whole vibe of the class.

For whatever no reason, the administration in this language school believed that fostering a competitive atmosphere (including big bonuses for teachers who had the highest scores on highly subjective student evaluations from students and getting rid of those teachers with the lowest scores). This caused some problems in general and caused specific problems related to changing instructors mid-course. Teachers ended up angling to avoid replacing the teachers widely thought to be popular. Some teachers were excited to replace teachers perceived to be less talented/popular because it would improve their rankings. Those sweet sweet rankings were very powerful factors.

When I suggested this mid-course change of teachers policy it was mostly as a way to prevent burnout for teachers and students alike. Along the same lines, I thought it would be a good chance for teachers to re-use materials and activities for similar levels which I thought would reduce the workload. I hadn’t really counted on the evals and competition being such a big issue. That was not even my biggest mistake.

I still regret my biggest mistake (biggest mistake in this very limited context of the teacher changes at that particular institution). While chatting with co-workers I said something like, “I feel bad for whoever is going to replace me in class 1B as I get along with them very well. It’s going to be tough going.” I think that was an immature and probably arrogant thing to say (or even think). It was true that I did get on well with the group but there was no need to say that to others. When the next teacher heard an amped up version of what I’d said (maybe the grapevine twisted it to “She is going to struggle with that class because they love me so much mhahaha!) she was not pleased. I was clearly in the wrong.

I think I was also a bit in the wrong to frequently pop by that class during their breaks. I did miss them and get along well with them but I don’t think I needed to make appearances so frequently. I think they would have been better served if I was simply friendly in the hallways and such but was less of a common presence in their actual classroom.

I still believe that the idea of changing teachers mid-course was a solid one but I am not sure how well it worked out in practice. I know that my personal actions related to this one group were less than ideal.

2 comments

  1. Thomas Topham

    I had the (almost) reverse situation, when a training course for teachers was designed to include a mid course switch. On the day before it was supposed to happen, one of the trainers suggested we stay with the same groups throughout. He really liked his group! And they liked him! As the lead trainer I tried to push him to accept, but when it came time the next day to move classes, and I entered “his” room, the teachers were totally mopey and in semi-revolt. He would not enter “my” class, and we had to meet in the staff room. The third trainer (three groups that we were rotating around) was kind of ambivalent, the one guy was dead set on not wanting to change, I just wanted to follow standard procedure and not make us look like random morons making shit up on the fly.

    “Let’s vote.” says the guy wanting to stay.
    “It’s not something to vote on, we had this schedule planned from day 1.”
    “I don’t mind, we can stay as we are.” says ambivalent guy.
    “It has to be unanimous, won’t you agree?” says guy who wants to stay.

    No, I will not agree, it is not unanimous, but if you are really going to be this much of a roadblock here, if you have your group all whipped up to fight the power and rally to your cause well what can we do. We stayed with our current groups.

    I am still not 100% sure what that guy’s deal was, but there was something hinky going on… it was one of the most uncomfortable training experiences I ever went through.

    Thinking time: As the lead trainer, what would you have done in this situation? What do you think were the possible motivations for the “let’s stay” trainer to act as he did?

    • mikecorea

      Hey wow that is an interesting case. My first thought was to try to get to the bottom of why someone would take such a stance but I suppose it doesn’t really matter if the stance has already been taken and the teachers were in semi revolt. It seems to me that if it was agreed upon at the start there is not really much of anything that could reasonably justify changing the decision midway through the course.

      The fact that ” On the day before it was supposed to happen, one of the trainers suggested we stay with the same groups throughout. He really liked his group! And they liked him!” seems quite irrelevant from here as I am sure it did to you as well. I can surely understand your desire to “follow standard procedure and not make us look like random morons making shit up on the fly.” It seems so odd to try to separate from the original decision at such a late stage for many reasons and I think the opinion of the teachers/participants is a good reason as well.

      Interesting that you ended up following his request/demand though I can see that your hands were pretty much tied.

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