Sunday, October 9, 2011

Essential turnover

It's been a rough two months here in Seosan.  In the span of two months it seems like half of the veteran teachers here departed for either greener pastures or headed back home.  In the span of these two months I went from one of the longest tenured teachers, to the longest (visible) tenured foreign teacher in Seosan.  I say visible because there are a couple of teachers here who are married, or never venture out, and a few of them have been here longer than I have.  However, as far as someone who is active in the social scene, I'm now the godfather.  It's a weird position to be in.  Before the role has always been filled by multiple people, but by sheer attrition I'm not the longest tenured public school teacher in Seosan that I know of. 

Yet, with all of this, it brings to light an interesting problem.  How can an education system expect to succeed when it replaces it's teachers every year or two.  It really does begin to boggle the mind.  Considering the expense, I don't know how the schools are making any money off of having a foreign teacher.  I understand the visible image of having a foreign teacher, and how the improves the status of the school, but if we're truly trying to make a difference how can the school expect any tangible results with such high turnover.  Every teacher has a different style, different expectations, and different beliefs on what is important and how to run a classroom.  These things take at least 6 months to implement and considering the language and cultural differences they may take even longer.  I guess it goes further to illustrate the perception of foreigners are interchangeable parts, and not really essential educators. 

While this may seem like a negative assessment of our impact and bring into question the necessity of having a foreign teacher, the simple truth is that a foreign teacher can have a genuine impact in their schools.  In one year, you ability to positively impact a school and your students is very limited.  With two years, you can begin to see noticeable improvements.  I understand the necessity of a one year contract.  Most people would be hesitant to commit to two years of teaching in a country they know little to nothing about.  It's a catch 22 really.  If they require two year commitments they will not be able to fill their quotas.  However, if they do require two year commitments they will also weed out those who are coming here with the impression they can do nothing and get paid for it. 

Either way, turnover is an essential part of the Korean job experience.  Once you've been here longer than two years you assume pretty much everyone is going to leave at some point, and that your friendships, while important and potentially life changing, do have an expiration date on them.  Once we leave Korea, we end up completely scattered across the English speaking world.  We come from all over the place and it's rare to find someone with the same home town.  I guess it's all part and parcel of life here once you stay for a long time. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Book Cafe

This past summer vacation my classroom underwent a dramatic renovation.  It went from a classroom which looked like it belonged in a museum to a classroom that feels and operates like on in the 2st century.  Part of this renovation also included setting up a book cafe (library) at the back of my classroom for students to be able to use and enjoy.  The cafe is an offshoot of our school library and is stocked entirely of English books, DVDs and books on cd.  The awesome thing is that these books are registered as part of the school library and the students can check them out like a regular book at the library.

Today was the first day that we officially allowed for students to take books out.  Two of my better students were up here before I even knew the cafe was open for business looking for books to take out.  I hope that the cafe will serve two purposes.  The first is to provide an place for my students to be able to find and to read English books.  My school right now might have the largest collection of English books in the city.  I have no facts to back this up but I know that you cannot find English books for sale in this city.  The second is to possibly inspire students to achieve higher.  Simply put I'm going to start using the movies as rewards for students who achieve above and beyond.  We have 4 DVD players and I think I will start using coupons that allow the students to go to cafe and to either read a book, or watch a movie.  I may even allow them to do this during certain classes due to the fact that they probably already know what I'm teaching them. 

All in all I am excited to see how the cafe works.  Simply put I think that exposing my students to these materials will help those students who want to study at their own pace or want to come here and learn on there free time.  This also gives us a tool to use for motivation.  Some students will want to come here and spend time, if they do, I can use access as a motivation tool in class.  Already today I have one of my students who has trouble focusing in class watching a DVD.  If I don't sit him up front he can't pay attention, yet here he is quietly watching a DVD in English.