Friday, July 24, 2009

Keeping Up Appearances

I should preface this post by saying that my job is mostly pretty easy/awesome, and that this is less griping and more just neutral observation. I'm also grateful that Sherlock Academy doesn't really screw us over like I've heard from other hagwons. But sometimes things can be frustrating.

I have a listening class from now until November or so. These are kids studying to get into a foreign language high school and so their command of English is pretty remarkable. They breeze through the classwork in no time.

The fact that they're too smart is really the crux of the issue here. I've tried to explain to our manager that the textbooks we're using are too easy for these kids, but he seems to have taken my concerns and filtered them as: "These kids are too smart and so they make running the class difficult because I run out of material." Which yes, is true, but I also mean: "These classes are a waste of their time and their parents' money, this is material they already know well, you should find another curriculum that address their more pressing English needs." The second meaning, however, seems to be lost on Michael. Either that or his hands are tied as far as what kind of materials he can obtain for us, so he'd rather just avoid discussing that issue. Could go either way.

Sometimes I (and the other teachers) are lazy and once the textbook finishes, we just let them have free time. Other times we try to talk to the students and engage them in conversations about whatever the lesson was, but that can be hit and miss (what kind of discussions can you have about prepositions and locations, for example? not very interesting ones). Their Korean homeroom teachers are annoyed about this (probably because if the parents heard that their kids had fifteen minutes of free time in class, they'd be pissed), and so Michael gave us a brief reminder today that we need to make sure we fill up the entire class time. "If you finish early, give them a word search or some kind of crossword puzzle, so they don't think it's free time."

"So they don't think..." This is really what the hagwon mentality is all about: the illusion of education. Don't get me wrong, the kids do pick up some English at Sherlock Academy, especially if they stick with it for however many years it takes to work through the material we have. But at the end of the day, sending your kid to a hagwon is about social status and class at least as much as it's about education.

For the people who run it, it's just all about the Benjamins. If a student tells their parents they had fifteen minutes of free time in class at Sherlock, and the parent angrily phones up and informs Mrs. Kim that they'll be withdrawing their child because they feel Sherlock is a waste of their money...well, you see how it is. Parents don't want to feel like their money's being wasted, and Sherlock Academy wants to make sure nothing happens that would provide evidence to the contrary, so they can keep their paying customers.

To make the point even clearer, one student recently left Sherlock Academy. Mina said it was because his family was moving away, but what his mother told Mrs. Kim was that he was "too stressed" about tests in class. So Mrs. Kim sent out a memo to the Korean teachers to tell them to make sure the students are having fun in class, and to make sure that they don't worry too much about tests and other things. Never mind that sometimes stress is the perfect catalyst to get you off your dupa and studying.

So I've decided to supplement the fluffy, worthless textbook with stuff of my own—reading along with the lyrics to American music, maybe watching movies (since I have a few Korean movies with English subtitles). It may be equally useless, but until they give us a better curriculum, that's what I'm doing.


  1. go for it --- music is a good choice (any American TV shows that you'd want to use? .... for which I could find 'season' DVDs)

  2. I've had a similar problem in the academy where I teach and thankfully, the Boss decided to bring in some new books based on a recommendation by me.

    It's outrageously painful to have children that are obviously bored with the work >_<

  3. well teh movies sound like a good idea. want any science videos? they could learn science and english at the same time. You could also try and play hangman. How about having them write a play in English and performing, or make a video about something they are learning in another class, only done in English (interdisciplinary, love those buzz words). Maybe even make a turkey launcher ha ha. Games though are also a good diversion, scholastic scrimmage format or Jeopardy format.

  4. I play so much hangman, it's ridiculous.

    I might try the writing plays idea, like the Oral Proficiency assessments we had in language classes in high school. I just remember hating them so much...I suspect with these students, it'll be like pulling teeth.