Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Open Classes for ESL Teachers in South Korea

Here's the question:

I just arrived in Gimje about two weeks ago and I'm the only native English teacher at my school. I was just told that I have to do an open class next week. I have no idea what to do and since I don't have much experience yet, I'm really worried. I don't even know all my students' names yet!!! Any advice for a new teacher?
Thanks a million.

First of all, I had to look up Gimje. I had never heard of it before. And judging by its size, I'm not at all surprised that you're the only NET at the school. Okay, well it sucks that you're being thrown into an open class already. Usually schools give new teachers plenty of time to get comfortable standing in front of a class before sending in the mothers. In this case, I wonder if the teacher you replaced was not very good or had some problems which angered some mothers and so now the director is putting a lot of faith in you to carry the class and make the mothers happy again. I know you don't want to hear that and I'm sure it only ups the ante, but if you know why you're being put in that situation, it should help.

Open Class is something that most of us have to deal with at one point or another. To a new teacher, the thought of them can be terrifying and there's nothing I can say that will make that initial fear go away. However, I can offer a few tips.

Open Class is not an impromptu lecture that you conjure up during the actual class. It is a practiced, staged exhibition designed to appease mothers and make them believe their little Johnny Seung-ju is just as good better than the rest. In most cases, teachers will suspend regular classes and focus almost exclusively on the material that will be presented in open class. Every aspect of the open class is essentially manufactured. From the excitement and hand raising to your jokes and segues, all of it is totally scripted and ready for the mothers to eat up.

Now, don't be foolish enough to think that the mothers aren't onto this trick. They know it, but still treasure rote memorization and any opportunity to elevate themselves though their children. However, it is the mothers who truly define whether or not your open class was a success. The best way to ensure that is to carefully craft the class and manage your time so that each student gets to speak for roughly the same amount of time. Bribery and favoritism is rampant in Korean education and if a mother sees that her son/daughter is not the teachers favorite, then she will complain that the teacher ignored her child. Do yourself a favor and balance it all out. They don't expect their child to answer every question or even get them correct, but they do expect you to call on them.

The term "dancing monkey" often gets tossed around playfully among teachers on the peninsula. Another personal favorite would be the "biological tape recorder". Well, for open class, being a dancing monkey (especially with the young ones) is something that is almost expected. While we might view it as insulting, degrading or just plain embarrassing, parents view it as energetic, enthusiastic and caring. I never was too great at dancing around. Singing songs and having the kids repeat after you is always a solid route and a pretty good time-killer. I would just try and smile, laugh and pretend that I hadn't practiced the same routine for the past two weeks. I had a friend who was the perfect stereotype of the dancing monkey. He had greasy hair, was slightly overweight, would run into the wall and fall on the ground and do anything he could to make the mothers like him. It worked too. You might discover your inner-monkey. Also, since you don't know your students names yet, go around the room and ask the to spell their names. As they write them on the board, intentionally misspell them. They laugh, the parents laugh and you win (or die inside).

Your hagwon or school expects a few things of you as well. They want you to make sure all the kids are well-behaved, have their books out and are comfortable with you. You should dress smart and at least look presentable. Remember, most private school directors do not care about education. They care about money and a successful open class or demo class is easy and effective advertisement. Perception is king in Korea and knowing how to tune into that ideology will save you time and stress. Good luck!

If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at asktheexpat@yahoo.com or leave a comment.


Chris in South Korea said...

Open classes are a perfect chance for the parents to see how their hard-earned won is being spent - and boy do they know it. Seconding the recommendation for treating it like one big script. Pretend as though you're putting on a play, and you'll be closer to what to expect.

John from Daejeon said...

Holy crap! In three years at the same hagwon, I've had two open classes, and I treated them as regular classes. Luckily, the textbooks I chose are all good, and each student participates equally when called upon.

What's even better is that I had a grand total of one parent show up, and he left after ten minutes to get back to running his business. That's half a parent per open class. It seems that our hagwon is used more for a form of after school childcare than an actual English institute while their parents are still at work. It does pay to work in a poor neighborhood where both parents work for the most part.

The Expat said...

That's a good point, John. Location does have a lot to do with it. When I worked in Daechi-dong, every mother (and sometimes father and/or grandmother) showed up with cameras, gifts and food. The wealthier the family, the more time they have to dedicate to their childs English education. I worked for a kids hagwon for over two years and had at least two dozen open classes and maybe half a dozen demo classes. They were constant. I got used to them pretty quickly. What choice did I have?

However, when I taught in a lower income area, less than a third of the parents showed and of them, over half were grandmothers.

The questioner lives in Gimje. I'm not sure what the socioeconomic situation is there, but it certainly isn't southern Seoul.

Rich Chan said...

I just arrived in South Korea. I am teaching in Gimje. It is a small city surrounded with rice paddies. I have to agree that it doesn't seem there are other foreigners here. And it is very far from Seoul or Busan. A plus here is it is very quiet, I feel very safe and fresh air. If there are other Americans or foreigners here in Gimje, please contact me. You can find me on Myspace at www.myspace.com/rich21