Thursday, October 21, 2010

Growing Pains of Co-teaching Relationships: A Ticking Time Bomb? (Part 1)

I've been going back to some of my old posts in an effort clean up and revise information I posted earlier. Reading old posts, got me thinking-- things look a lot different after you've safely crossed the initial growing pains of working out your co-teaching role in the classroom. My relationship with my co-teachers, the school system,...; things begin to make sense and become more manageable. But initially, when my  Korean co-teachers and I were both, new to the co-teaching relationship the growing pains weren't simple.

One of my very first Crazy Kimchi blogrants back in April:
I felt like my co-teacher was doing a last-minute lesson plan ditch today; she had grand and creative schemes for lesson plans, but is now just concerned with following the
textbook simply, so that she can get to her other more pressing work outside of class. Sometimes this annoys- I only have my 9 day EPIK orientation and when I contribute, I come up w/ Powerpoint presentations and last-minute, on-the-spot modifications to sculpting lessons in a way I feel students can relate to. She, on the other hand, has more experience and training that I feel she's not implementing.  When we get together to plan a lesson, she wants to hear my contributions, yet when she does, she shoots them  down with  silence; there's often no word or reason. Just silence and a cold dismissal as if acting like I never spoke.
Also,  I get to feeling there's something else that's unsaid in the classroom. A game of silent maneuvers and territory; this has to do more with power play than teaching. 

A Shaky bridge, followed by the Game of Tug of War.

It's easy for you and your co-teachers to feel your initial sense of balance as wobbly as you're both searching for a working formula by way of the dark. No, there's no textbook manual to tell you how this is supposed to work (read my post Decoding my Korean workplace: an NET’s Class Schedules). It's a bit like marriage. You may have come seeking an even cultural exchange; but you quickly find, the language barrier and cultural gaps often lead to frustration and friction.
What is your grand role in the classroom? Who does the teaching? The lesson planning? Who leads which exercises? Who is the main teacher your students will look to and respect more?   
Before answering this, you should know--  you wobble before you learn to walk.

Korean co-teachers may feel threatened by the NET's injection into the system.
Any power or extra attention a Korean teacher senses or sees you getting may result in a slight shade of jealousy; this is human and unavoidable.  If you step inside Korean shoes~ these teachers went to school, took exams, studied for a profession and worked at it for years. Then one day, you arrive F.O.B (aka "fresh-off-the-boat"), you get equal pay, a free apartment and now, you're that brand new, shiny toy to the students! Your only requirements: you need to speak a mother tongue of English!

I can't say I'd react much differently; if the shoe were on my foot, I'd be pretty pissed. Thus, it's possible from time to time, your co-teaching relationship may feel like a power-play.

Teachers will be a territorial at times. 
American or Korean, they're all the same in regards to "popularity contests" and we're all innately, dogs who want to pee on what we think is territorially ours. In the co-teaching balance between KT & NET, until it's been acknowledged as to who the alpha male is, it's hard for the NET to navigate that fine line of doing well but not too much.

Navigating Korean Politics in the Work Environment
What's it like? It feels like walking through land-mine fields, where bombs go off in silence. There's a delicate web:  networks of power, territory and seniority. Crossing any of these, you will be punished-- just not outright. Koreans are non-confrontational in their approach, but they will let you know when they don't like something, in a way that feels like you're being beaten with silence. It's a very Asian practice of "Saving Face". 

This can feel a tad annoying, if not tiring for a westerner with more straight-forward and cut-the-crap tendencies.  For instance, as an ex-New Yorker, I appreciate when someone tells me directly what they like or don't about me; in fact, I respect them even more for it. Why? At least I know where I stand, what the problem is and what I might be able to do on my part, to correct the balance.  This not what happens. Instead, it's this~

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