Thursday, November 04, 2010

Questioning Teaching

I've had several days teaching this week unlike many others I've had.  I stopped and wondered if I could continue.  Mainly I contemplated continuing at my current school, but also continuing teaching in general.  My fourth graders have pushed me to my max and it took me a couple days to bounce (what's a slow version of a bounce?) back.
We are mid-way through second semester.  As in many schools our semester is a bit lop-sided due to the fact that the year doesn't end on the last day of the semester.  All the grades and evaluations have to be in well before the last day meaning they are done weeks before so that the reports can be written, certificates printed, etc. That means we're really in the last 4 weeks of school.  By the end of the first week of December all of the work with the kids is done and we enjoy coasting to the finale.  Non-contact teaching time is filled with LOTS to do.

Until then, this month is very busy.  We (my teaching partner Ben and I) gave two tests this week which  consequentially had to be scored, recorded and returned, then recollected and stored. I am constantly collecting/correcting/returning diaries as kids work towards completing all ten entries. Next Thursday is Parent SOSE day.  All the science integration classes prepare something for parents to come in and see.  Most classes are doing some kind of presentation since this is supposed showcase not only science knowledge but use of English.  We've got each class of 24 kids broken into 6 groups of 4. Each group has a different chapter we've covered from the book (bones & muscles, soil, water, USA, symbols, diet & digestion). They have to make a visual presentation (poster) and a spoken presentation (they are free to read from a script they prepare).  That means all of our semester plans went on hold so we could get all of this together.  Lord help us, I think we'll be ready with time to spare.

The kids have decided that they are ready to be the inmates running the asylum.  There are several factors outside my control working against me; I started mid-year and wasn't able to start grade four with these kids.  There is always a bit more chaos when things are changed in the middle.  I am the only female teacher in my department. Most of the primary school homeroom teachers (85%) are women, but they are also Korean.  I think being a foreign female (no jokes please) means there are different interactions and expectations.  It is a bow to the elders, give way to the men Asian culture.  Third, the parents are so much tougher on these kids that I could ever be that any threat I throw out can't rival their folks.  Some kids have written in the diaries that they are hit at home if they get a bad score, don't study incessantly or misbehave.  There are moments that my visceral instinct it to smack the smirk off a kids face but I know I could never do that.  I've been told there are a few teachers at the school who use corporal punishment.  I haven't seen it and don't know which teachers these are, but it wouldn't surprise me.  I've blogged before about the physicality of these kids and from what I extrapolate, the Korean culture. Unless I'm ready to whack a student, I'm a shadow of a deterrent.
courtesy of  This tranquil scene is the goal.
I am the only teacher in my department to couple rewards with punishments.  About a third of any class are highly motivated for rewards.  Students grades 1-4 respond very well to stickers.  These stickers are about 1 cm x  1 cm for the most part.  I have some bigger, special ones for special work.  To some degree I've quieted a class by simple walking through the chaos and silently giving three or four stickers to students who were in their seats, quiet and ready.  This doesn't work with the four to six kids who feel they must be the center of attention.  The attention seekers play the class clown card, the "do something not permitted" card, the 'smart' remark card, the out of your seat to get the football card. These are generally boys and they don't give a lick about the stickers.  

I received an observation feedback form (that's a whole other blog) that mentioned I should institute some class rules.  What teacher in their right mind would run a class of any age, any level without rules?  It also recommended that I use punishments to deter bad behavior.   DUH?!?! I didn't know whether to laugh or fell highly insulted.  I have. I have. I HAVE!  This is my problem, it's not working.  Nothing I've tried has really successfully worked. I returned the observation for with a request for suggestions, I'll mention that the observer is Korean.  She just said to keep trying and hope for better kids next year.  Great, what do I do until then?

I've resorted to giving a ridiculous number of lines for the time being, both the "I will stay in my seat and listen in class" variety and the "copy a chapter from the book" variety.  The next step is standing in a corner, I'm weighing a dunce cap. I don't like to give punishments that take away from their learning time.  If they're writing lines in class they aren't learning.  I was sending lines home as I'd been told kids will reform at the mention of lines at home because their parents will see them writing them (see above punishment). The kids would bring their lines in completed and continue to misbehave.  Ben said he uses lines to immobilize students and I get that now.  If they have ten minutes to write ten lines it means they have to get to work. They can't be out of their seat or disturbing other students. It keeps them from setting the whole class off.  I didn't grow up writing lines, I think it's mostly gone by the wayside in the States.  The threat of lines in Spain was usual enough to curb the behavior.  I think I gave lines maybe a dozen times in a year.
courtesy of
I know some of my friends who teach occasion to read this blog.  Please send suggestions.  I can't isolate the kid much because of the size and arrangement of the class.  I will not resort to violence. Some of the boys have underlying rage issues as it is. Parents have their own ways, but these are not my kids regardless of how many times I call them that.  I am not wont to take them to see the assistant headmaster as we share no common language and this is more work for me than I can suffer though (again, more on the disaster that is the staff at the school later).  I am working on getting a form letter written in Hangul (Korean) that I can send home to parents.  I could organize extra homework but that's as much work for me as for them and I've already got plenty to do.  Ideas?  Suggestions?  Tips, hints, tricks?  I can't keep screaming myself hoarse to no end since they are much louder than me.  I consider myself a motivated, experienced teacher but I'm at rope's end.
courtesy of  I guess it could be worse.

1 comment:

  1. I'm no kid pro like you. It sounds like a class that will never achieve total equilibrium... accept this and keep doing your best.
    After a "bad" class, I tended to make myself sit down and evaluate how "bad" it really was, because while they misbehaved, I could still say they all listened to new English words and tried to respond to them in their own ways. Just being there and being an English exposure is better than nothing. And usually, despite the fact that half the class misbehaved, I reached nearly all my lesson goals, and most of them said the words I wanted them to. So it only rarely as bad as I thought it was.

    As to actual teaching techniques, I refer you to the latest episode of "How I Met Your Mother" online (, or you could play a calming song or just rest one hand on each of the trouble kid's shoulders while he sits. He wants attention? Well, he's getting direct physical comforting contact from the teacher. She's probably looking at his work. Maybe that'll help.

    Sorry if it's all stuff you've tried before.