Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Teacher Dork!

I'm a big teacher dork.

Yesterday was my last writing class for the gifted students last night and am buzzing high on how much progress they made with their writing in just two short months. I inherited this class from someone who clearly didn't give a darn about them (but of course didn't let that get in the way of his inflated ego regarding his own teaching abilities) and about half of them were ready to quit the class. Even though I worked them about to death, they actually appreciated having learned so much in such a short time. They wrote the most amazing letters to me for their final portfolios. I am deeply touched and honored to have taught them, even if for a short time.

Also, I am *so* excited about getting to teach To Kill a Mockingbird to the second grade students (American grade equivalent: 11). This is the reading class I co-teach with a Korean teacher. We had originally planned to do Of Mice and Men, but the bookstore ordered some kind of stupid ESL version for kids at the second grade ELEMENTARY school level. (Seriously, who does that? Who "dumbs down" a book as accessible as Of Mice and Men? It's only 110 pages. You could freaking read it aloud in a class if you wanted to! I used to teach it in TWO WEEKS back in the states to kids with half the brainpower of the dumbest kids at the foreign language high school. Shoosh. /rant.) We scrambled to find a replacement text and finally settled on Harper Lee's only novel. My co-teacher and I were both really excited, even though we knew it would be a huge challenge.

And then my "boss" (the head of the English department) had this conversation with me:

"Um, Diana?"

"Yes?"

"I heard that you are teaching To Kill a Mockingbird, but I think that maybe it is too difficult for the students."

"Really? I don't think so. It's taught in middle schools in the U.S."

"Yes, but, well, I read it a few years ago and I remember it was so hard. Because there are lots of references to U.S. History and I did not understand."

"Well, I think they don't have to understand every part to enjoy the story."

"And it is very long."

"Well, we tried to get a shorter book, but the bookstore didn't carry the real version of the novel. I don't want to use a modified text."

"Couldn't you maybe use a novel for teenagers?"

"Like a young adult book? But they are reading a young adult novel in first grade. I think it's important for them to be exposed to some of the same classics they would read in an English-speaking country's secondary school."

"Well, maybe they will not be able to finish it."

"That's ok. We just want to help them get started. They can read it over winter vacation [editor's note: about a month and half long]."

"But they will be third graders. They need to study for their KSAT."

"Ok. So, some of them will read it, and some of them won't. That's ok."

She paused, finally understanding that I wasn't backing down. "Well, you will have to help them understand."

"Of course! That's my job!" I laugh and smile.

The conversation ended.

However... if you understand Korean culture you will realize just how bad of an employee I was by repeatedly defending my choice of book when my boss "suggested" that I choose another book. In Korea, people do not directly contradict one another. When a person who is in a position above you (or hell, even a person older than you who is officially equal to you) makes a "suggestion," that is an order. You are supposed to comply.

The thing is, my boss (as you can tell) speaks excellent English. She earned her TESOL certification in the U.S. She has dealt with foreign teachers and other foreigners for years. Yet she still has this awful habit of saying "maybe" or "I think" with everything she says in English even when she is IN CHARGE of the event and knows the answers to my questions for sure. It annoys the crap out of me.

So if she wants me to do something different, she's going to have to be direct (at least in English). Because my pedagogical choices are solid. Frankly, I'm kind of sick of having them questioned by people who have either never seen me teach in a classroom or who have no training/experience in education.

I don't know if this is me being brave, stubborn, or unrealistic about asking someone to go against their inborn cultural training... but if it serves the interests of my students, I'll risk mild alienation from the next staff party or two.

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