On Friday Jess and I returned from a four and half day English camp. It was intense. We would arrive at the camp shortly before nine in the morning and would leave at about nine in the evening. What is more, the breaks at lunch and dinner were short so there wasn’t even time to recuperate during the day. The only lengthy break that we had were two additional hours off on Wednesday when the students watched Ratatouille.
We had a great time but it was not easy. We attended the same camp last year, so we had an idea what to expect. Unfortunately this year only four foreign teachers attended the camp. Last year there were eight of us and I honestly feel that I had to put in twice as much effort. It’s a pity that there were fewer foreign teachers since the camp was intended as a week of English immersion, and to immerse students in English one needs as many fluent English speakers as possible.
I had a Korean coteacher that was supposed to assist me, but he was more hindrance than help. The kids lacked confidence, and although he meant well, my coteacher’s tone and choice of words knocked their confidence rather than built it up.
Like many Korean teachers he thought it was alright to sit at the back of the class room and read books rather than get involved. I guess I could have made an effort to involve him more, or perhaps I could have spoken to him outside of class, but it is difficult to sum up the energy to micromanage kids as well as an adult when you are working a twelve hour day with precious few breaks.
I’m glad that the camp ended early on Friday as my patience with my coteacher by Friday morning was thread bare. I really don’t understand how this person thinks. I mean for example he would come into class three-quarters of the way through a lesson, see that we were behind schedule, loudly announce that the students have to hurry up, and then sit down to read. It’s not enough to simply announce to students that they have to hurry. They hear the message but they don’t move on with a sense of urgency. As a teacher one has to get involved and help the students.
A real pet peeve that I had regarding this teacher was that he would walk in, make an announcement that the students should speak English and then sit down to read his book as if all of sudden the kids would magically switch to speaking English. The kids spoken English was relatively low and they lacked confidence. What they needed were teachers who would speak English to them and prompt them to reply in English. My coteacher could have filled this role, his English was adequate, but he didn’t take the initiative.
My worst moment with this teacher was during the skit rehearsal only a few hours before the performance. I was in the auditorium helping the students, my coteacher was no where to be seen, and I was watching the kids go through their final skit rehearsal when he entered. The play that my coteacher walked in on was by no means perfect, but it was as good as it was going to get and the kids were really doing their best. I had given the students a motivational talk before the rehearsal and told them that this would be the final run through before the actual performance. As soon as the play ended I leapt up and applauded the students, they were looking nervous and I sensed that they were looking to me for affirmation.
I told the students that they had done an excellent job and then my coteacher stepped in. He lectured them about how they needed to be more confident, that they had to learn their lines and how the play needed to be perfect. He really shook their confidence. I could have strangled the man on the spot. Afterward he told me how he thought the play was good, but that he wanted it to be perfect so that we would win. He had little to no idea how effort how much the students had put in; and that at this late stage the play was as good as it was going to get. I was so angry. Even now, two days later, recalling his absolute lack of finesse with students makes me angry all over again.
The actual skit performance did not go as well as I had hoped. By this point the kids were tired as well as nervous which caused them to forget lines that they had previously recited without effort. We came third out of the four teams which was disappointing. I had hoped that this would be our team's grand moment. Still the kids seemed to have a good time and they were happy enough that they had not come fourth.
When we returned to the classroom after the play the students shared some of their sweets, which they had won, with me which I took as a sign that I had been an effective teacher over the week. The students did not learn a great deal of English, but I feel that their confidence in their spoken English improved over the week. I believe that I played a large role in this.
The first class on Friday morning was set aside as a period to say goodbye to one another. I was supposed to go to class say goodbye to the students and spend the period with them writing messages to one another saying goodbye and wishing each other well. I was really looking forward to the lesson as I felt this was my chance to end the week on a high note. When I got to class the students had already completed the exercise as my coteacher had handed out the sheets of paper, that the students were to write their goodbyes on, before class. Not only was I disappointed, but the students now had nothing to do -- as if to put a cap on a difficult week my coteacher had royally fucked up.
I said goodbye to the students, it wasn’t the grand moment that I hoped it would be.
In terms of my teaching I felt that this years camp went much better for me than last years. Teaching has really brought out a more spontaneous and fun side to me, which I think is very important when teaching a difficult foreign language. I enjoyed playing MC even though it was exhausting. I felt that I ‘managed’ my English well at the camp, this is to say that I spoke English at a level that the students could understand. ‘Managing’ one’s English when teaching is a skill that has to be worked on, it is not something that comes naturally. At one point a student told Jess that I don’t speak English well, in reply she asked why the student thought this; his answer was that I can’t be a very good English speaker since I am easy to understand. I had a good laugh when I heard this. I guess the logic for the student was that his English is poor; that my English was understandable to him must mean my English is poor as well.
My group sung "I Will" by the Beatles for the talent show.
Jess and her students at the "party." Each group had to come up with a theme party and do a presentation on it. The activity did not go very well. The kids had already had loads of sweets during the week and we did not have enough time to get our presentations ready.
The foreign teachers at the camp took turns playing MC. Moments before this picture was taken Jess asked two boys how many pretty girls there are at the camp, they said there were only three pretty girls so Jess called a group of girls to the front of auditorium to confront the boys.
At the outset of the camp the students were asked to choose an English nickname which they then used for the week. Two of my students chose the nicknames A4 and B4. This is B4 taking part in the Golden Bell competition.
My original idea for my 'immersion' lesson was to have the students create and decorate soccer balls as part of learning about the soccer world cup. The exercise proved far too difficult for the students.
My students and myself on the first day. They were shy, and it took a lot of effort on my part to get them to liven up. Incidentally South Korea had very heavy snowfalls on Monday. The whole country was blanketed and the snow fall was close to the heaviest on record. Traffic ground to a halt, students were late for the camp and we battled to get transport back to our motel on Monday evening.