Saturday, December 5, 2009

What's doing at the hagwon.

Since I haven't talked about my actual job here in a while, I'll take a moment to get everyone up to speed.

The end of the school year is fast approaching; winter break begins December 14th or so. Now, that doesn't mean any time off for hagwons, of course—a hagwon's work is never done—but public schools have off (if I recall correctly). What that does mean, however, is that my sixth grade students "graduate" from Sherlock Academy and move up to the companion hagwon, Watson Academy. No more English classes with foreigners; now their classes are all with the Korean teachers of the sister school with whom we have little to no interaction. Some of them speak and teach English—I actually give them "conversation classes"—some of them do not. Schedules also get rotated around, students change classes and teachers...things get reset. Of course some of my classes stay the same, which is both good and bad. But even in the case of the bad, I now have less than three months left here. Three months! The light at the end of the tunnel approaches, for good or ill.

One of my classes, my students unanimously decided to abandon their English names. There are no words for how much that thrills me; while I understand that for us foreigners English names make life a lot easier, it smacks a bit of cultural imperialism. It's a small class, and committing everyone's names to memory took all of about one minute: Su-ji, Min-ji, Ji-hyun, Gun-hee, Joon-ho. The only one who didn't change his name—Isaac—has a Korean-ized version of an English name to begin with and just uses the English version of his real name since they're pretty close.

Mrs. Kim has also been coming down pretty hard on the Koreans lately. Apparently the Sherlock Academy kids didn't do so hot on their English placement exams for Watson Academy. Even though the scores are an improvement over last year's,(for the most part, one of my girls got like, 12%, but she's an insipid ditz who's more interested in Mean Girl shenanigans than academic pursuits) overall they were not spectacular. Mrs. Kim called them into a meeting to bring down the hammer and insist that they push the kids harder and challenge them more...never mind that probably about four or five months ago she sent out a memo saying that they should make classes fun and not too stressful so that kids won't want to quit.

Hagwon owners are not really the best school administrators. It's all about keeping warm bodies in the seats, about the bottom line—about the Benjamins, as it were. Or in the case of Korea, the Shin Saimdongs.

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