I was so pissed off. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t understand it. How could they be so rude? There I was, busting my ass to make the sessions as good as I possibly could and there they were continually sauntering in late and turning 10 minute breaks into 20 minute bonding sessions. I sat there at the front of the room in despair, wondering what I was doing with my life.
I had recently returned to Korea to work on this teacher training course. I came from the US after spending a nice time with my family. In fact, I cut the family visit short to come train these teachers. These ungrateful teachers who didn’t respect me or the hard work I’d put and was putting into the sessions for them. It was all very defeating and frustrating.
It was defeating, frustrating, and confusing. Koreans are supposed to be diligent.Koreans are supposed to be value education. They are supposed to respect authority. How could they so easily and happily flout the rules like this?
It was all the more strange to me to see the participants be friendly, productive, active, eager (and all one would want from a group of teachers) during the sessions themselves. I’ll never forget a discussion I had with with one participant who remarked this was the best course she’d ever experienced and said it was much better than the one she’d taken last year. When I pushed for details I discovered her training course the previous year was more like simply English practice with an inexperienced teacher who happened to be white and a native speaker. I was pleased with her observation and disclosure but it didn’t help me solve the mystery of the continually late participants.
Their lateness ate away at me day by day. Standing at the front of the room ready to go but forced to watch people slowly file in was killing me. The waiting was the worst. It was slowly destroying my soul each minute. What about the children? Every minute we wasted was another missed opportunity for these teachers to capture my wisdom and then use it back at school with their students and peers. I was ready to change the world, only if they’d let me and only if they could be punctual.
I’d been planning this course for 6 months. I’d been teacher training for a whole 6 months. I had a CELTA! How could they disrespect me so blatantly? I couldn’t imagine it was anything but rudeness and arrogance. I questioned my choice to be there and wondered if maybe teacher training in Korea with in-service teachers was not for me.
I wasn’t sure what I could do to get out of this terrible situation that repeated itself thrice daily. I decide to suppress my rage and hurt and just talk to the participants. After all, they were teachers who have classes of their own. I thought maybe they could relate to what I was feeling. I tried not to blame. I calmly explained that I was ready to go on the hour and I’d really appreciate it if we could all start at the same time. I mentioned how I’d ensure there plenty of breaks but starting on time was important to me. I told them for me it was a matter of efficiency and I prefer not to keep people waiting or to wait myself when I am ready to go and I’d much prefer to follow the official starting times. The participants listened with interest. One person mentioned she had no idea I was ready to go at the scheduled times and another said she thought I preferred to start a bit later. Nobody seemed to have had any sense it was so important to me.
After this 2 minute talk everyone was on time every time.
Through this experience, I felt like I’d learned a few valuable lessons. As I am wont to do, I’ll let you, dear reader, take and make your own lessons from this story if you wish. Thanks for reading. Recent experiences blogging tell me I should state I don’t actually believe much of what I wrote above and I don’t think I was very reasonable till end of the tale. Exaggerations might have occurred. A tongue might have been firmly in cheek while writing certain parts of this.
As luck would have it, I have a presentation/workshop coming up this Friday. The title is Cultural Explorations for Teachers: Beyond Confucianism and Excuses and this story might even get mentioned. Details on the workshop and event are here.
I don’t even know why I cared so much. Yet, I did care. It bugged me then and it still bugs me. It is an already established fact I don’t care what you do in your classes but perhaps I am a fraud and a liar. If I had to describe my feelings in that moment I might say it was a mix of frustration, embarrassment, confusion, anger, pity, and superiority. It was quite the cocktail of feelings to have when talking to a stranger I’d just met in a breakout session in a conference workshop. He was a nice guy as well! What could he have possibly said to draw out my ire, judgment and the above feelings? He told me and my friend about how his teaching of greetings and his related policies in his college English class. That’s all he did.
He told us that he doesn’t allow his students to bow. No bowing. “This is English class. We don’t’ bow here,” he continued. He stated his case about preparing his students for life and they need to know how it is done in Merica. “They need to learn how to shake hands, firm, you know? They need to make eye contact when doing it. They need to learn to shake hands properly.” I got the sense it was a major focus of his course and there was plenty of time spent on mastering the fine art of the American handshake.
I didn’t have the nerve to ask why his students needed such things. I didn’t ask if maybe students joined class to improve their English language skills. I certainly didn’t ask if they needed to use English in Korea or needed English for their major courses. Or if they needed a certain TOEIC or TOEFL score to get a job. I didn’t ask if this extended greeting practice was the best possible use of students’ time in light of all the other things pulling on their time. I had so many thoughts and questions but this was one of the very rare cases where I was speechless. An army of cats had captured n my tongue.
Somehow, without asking,since I was mostly frozen, I did find out how he viewed his class. He said he likes to tell students his class is America. A little mini-America. Outside the room is Korea and they can do whatever they like there. But, inside his classroom he’s in charge and he wants to create his version of an American cultural zone. “This is something students are missing in their daily lives” he reasoned. He might have invoked the magic of immersion. He might have talked about the deep and inseparable links between language and culture.
In the oasis of freedom
fries he created, students are not allowed to use the greeting that comes most naturally to them. You know, the one they are trained for from an early age. I don’t think I have such a problem with experiencing, discussing, and even practicing various aspects of culture. What I find problematic and find myself having a problem with is the insistence on NOT doing something. The banning of Korean cultural practices from an American in Korea is something I just can’t be comfortable with or get my head around. At best, it strikes me too much as either/or.
I return to my original question of why I cared so much about this. Maybe part of what bothered me so was the fear of similar things in the past and had my own blinders about them. Even worse, maybe I still do. As I analyzed my discomfort, I was stuck thinking this was some sort of a reflection of me and this is why it made me feel so damned uneasy. I didn’t enjoy this feeling. I remembered the intensive handshake training I’d found myself engaged in so long ago. Was I an imperialist then? Am I now? Who the hell was I to judge this near stranger anyway? Was I prepared and pure enough to cast the first stones? It was all very unsettling. I tried to see things from his perspective and tried not too be overly judgmental and failed. I successfully pushed it to the back of my mind. Then I watched some more presentations, ate a burrito, had a few beers and went to sleep.
Notes: This is mostly a true story. I took a few creative freedoms. Also, I might have had tacos that night.
Photo: From here. Is a news article from ABC and is quite interesting in light of the above.
Update: I might have considered previous classrooms a little America and fancied myself as Governor of them.
All within the last 12 hours…
(which was actually 6 hours of class)
- I answered a student’s (factual) question incorrectly and another student looked it up and shared the correct answer with everyone and I thanked the second student and didn’t feel embarrassed at all. Just moved right along.
- A shy and quiet student I had last term is no longer shy nor quiet.
- I learned that a former student was (allegedly) in Psy’s Gangnam Style video. I have seen the video 20+ times but I was never looking for him. I might have to revisit this.
- Three students from another one of my classes decided to audit (= attend without a grade) my Monday class just for the practice and experience. That was nice.
- This list of tips on Korean culture for foreigners prompted quite a bit of discussion.
- I introduced the word and idea of “podcasts” to a student who wanted listening practice at home and she seemed really interested in giving it a go.
- I saw a book published in Korea for Korean learners with lots of Korean explanations that actually seemed pretty decent and reasonable.
(Perhaps I am becoming a less harsh critic of such materials?)
- I somehow wrote the phrase “heavy petting” on the board. So that was cool.
I then told the students I have actually never said this and I didn’t think it was actually very useful. We settled on “beyond kissing” to refer to what the student was talking about.
- I survived my first 3 hour lecture as a lecturer on “Korean and Global Politics”
(mostly for foreign exchange students). If you have any questions about the Shilla Dynasty please let me know.
- One student was shocked to hear my thoughts/feelings when I hear the phrase, “You’d better” and it seemed like this was a nice learning moment for her. I don’t think she will be telling people what they’d better be doing so freely in the near future.
- One student was shocked to hear about tipping culture in the US.
- Some interesting vocabulary that I never would have dreamed to
(pre-)teach came up.
- An interesting discussion about DVD rooms and the implications of going with others sprung up.
- Zero students that are not registered for the class randomly strolled in late expecting some extra English practice and entertainment.
- Some Korean students seemed legitimately shocked how “You are good at using chopsticks” might not be such a great compliment to a Westerner. For more on #chopsticks you might want to read my very short story.
- I thought of some small changes that can make things better next Monday!
Update 1: At some point it occurred to me that this might be a nice blog challenge.
I think the exact moment was when Tyson Seburn (@seburnt) over at 4C in ELT shared the post on Twitter. You see, Tyson previously suggested that my Movie quotes/Big Lebowski in ELT post could be a nice blog challenge. I wasn’t really so familiar with the process at that point. It seems that there will be a few takers. The blog challenge is something like: Why not list a few cool things that happened in the general vicinity of school for a day and share them? I am really keen to read more of them and it is quite a bit of fun. I will be sure to update any takers on the list below.
a) Carol Goodey (@goodey) took the challenge and her lovely post about her experiences teaching (I think) recent arrivals to Scotland can be found here.
b) Another interesting list of cool things was provided by Tom Randolph(@tomtesol) from his experiences right up the way here in Seoul.
c) Gemma Lunn (@GemL1) also supplied a golden list of cool things from her interactions in the past few days at her middle school in Busan.
d) In her new blogging home the gifted, talented, funny and optimistic Ann Loseva shared several cool things she recently experienced teaching in her native Moscow.
e) Tyson also shared his list of (mostly) cool things and shared lots of insights about what is going on in his EAP classes in Canada.
f) Though nobody suddenly belted out an Abba tune Kevin Stein (@kevchanwow) had a plethora of coolness today (much more, in fact, than yesterday).
g) The first person to publicly accept the challenge might have been my friend Yitzha Sarwono (@yitzha_sarwano). I was waiting patiently and excitedly for Icha’s post all week and her post was well worth the wait.
h) Ava Fruin (@avafruin) joins the band and jumps on the bandwagon in style with one very cool thing (which can also be seen as the avoidance of uncool things from my view).
i) Ratnavathy Ragunthan-Chandrasegaran shares some awesomeness and her cool groove with the world here. Best of luck, my friend and a well-deserved congrats on the coolness surrounding you.
j) Here, Laura Phelps shares some cool and interesting things that recently occurred in Tbilisi as she winds down her time there. I am extremely happy that the blog challenge “tricked” her into posting this because I love her writing.
k) There is no such thing as too late when talking about cool things. Here is Dave Dodgson’s very cool list of cool goings on as of late.