Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Khan I kick it?

Though on reflection I feel quite lucky to have ended up at the Khan Academy (see previous post), there have been plenty of times when the combination of tedious course materials, sullen students and lack of any kind of discipline system have made teaching there for a year seem quite a bleak prospect.

The most dispiriting moments come from feeling not quite up to the job of teaching the more challenging/irritating pupils, who are mostly middle school kids. Most of these lessons remind me that I don't have the necessary experience to even know what constitutes a successful 'speaking' lesson with a class of sarcastic teenage boys, let alone deliver it. I haven't exactly lost my temper with any of them yet, but I did manage to accidentally send one of them home (he was 30 minutes late, and his excuse was 'TV'), and don't think I'm particularly good at concealing my personal dislike for the snottier boys. Their proscribed course materials are also extremely dull, and my attempts to liven them up a little hit and miss so far (another sign of my inexperience).

In my more idealistic moments I feel that there has to be some way to get through to these pupils - an illusion I'm sure I share with most novice teachers. Realistically, though, I guess that as long as they are doing something approximating work, vaguely listening to the occasional instruction and not breaking anything, then I'm not doing a terrible job. I also realise that a class of seven smart-arsed, dead-eyed, disrespectful, but basically passive teenagers would be a vision of heaven for many UK teachers, although I'm still thankful that I only have to see these classes for 45 minutes a week.

One of the few groups I do see more than once a week also happens to be my favourite of the more advanced classes - though they aren't necessarily brilliant students, they are a pleasant, usually attentive, though still quite lively, bunch. They generally put in a reasonable amount of effort, and it's been very rewarding to start building a rapport with them, especially when they correct my mistakes (which are very rare, of course). I've also found that my ability to explain concepts in concise, relevant ways is improving a little, and feel quite humbled when they actually remember things I've said in previous lessons.

Another group similar level are far less conscientious, and seem to collectively suffer from a surprisingly provincial attitude, with a bit of a gang mentality thrown in for good measure. The book they are working through deals with natural wonders, cultural festivals and exchange students, and has revealed a streak of small-mindedness, even mild xenophobia, in the class. I've tried to tackle this - although not terribly successfully so far - but hopefully it doesn't point to much more than a somewhat isolated upbringing in a largely homogeneous society.

Despite being part of Changwon, Anmin is separated from the city centre by a large mass of industrial sprawl and squashed against the base of the small mountain range that surrounds the city. It certainly has a small town feel, despite being dominated by clumps of tower blocks, and does feel rather cut-off. With little open space, the town is also slightly claustrophobic, and seems to offer few distractions beyond the various academies and the odd PC Bang (internet cafe).

I asked the girls in the particularly cliquey class about their hobbies, and apart from shopping, they seem to spend most of their time online, decorating and networking in Cy-World (a cuter version of Facebook, as far as I can tell) and tackling quests in Maple Story (a cartoony online roleplaying game, which refused to install on my laptop).

As someone who spent countless hours playing Sensible Soccer, Mario Kart and Super Bomberman in my school days, I don't feel that these 'addictions' are particularly unhealthy, especially as there is a social aspect. If these kids are a little alienated, it could be argued that the hagwon is a more important cause than the internet. After all, excessive extra schooling robs kids of the daylight hours that they may otherwise have used for non-digital entertainment, and piles a lot of extra stress on their slumped shoulders.

Though I'm currently finding the lessons with the older pupils the most interesting (in a complete reversal from the last post, as predicted), some of the younger groups are still keeping me amused. For some reason I found the way one class chanted 'but there's a little problem' particularly joyful, and it's great to see the concentration and co-operation that naturally evolves when a group is asked to learn a section of (mostly excruciating, and often quite bizarre) dialogue.

The kids occasionally
even surprise me with their progress. This week, one particularly shy, and possibly dyslexic boy (who for some reason decided to call himself Gilbert) has somehow had a real confidence boost; another group of girls who initially seemed aloof and bitchy became involved in class discussions with apparent sincerity; and Rose, a completely haywire, but oddly engaging 12 year old, scored ten out of ten in her weekly test for the first time. Small victories, but the kind of thing that can get people hooked on education, I suppose.

Photo album:


peggers said...

yes you khaaaan!

Andrew said...

Sensible Soccer? Get back here this second, you darn fool. We need to play against each other.

Also, don't teach them too well, young man. We don't want them finding this blog whilst on their online scooting sessions