Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Raising Stakes on Learning English?


Sometimes I wonder if I suck as a teacher. My Adult English class attendances are already falling and its barely been a month. I started with around 10 parents (9 women and 1 man). This past Tuesday ( class session #4), I was down to 3 parents! Whoa! Major blow to the ego. I think... Maybe they'll cancel the class. No? Just checking...

It's like my Teacher's English class which only has an attendance of two (with my co-teacher being one of them)! Occasionally I drag in one or two other teachers from time to time (my co-teacher practically has to solicit them to show up just to keep the program running); mostly, it feels like a waste of time and energy to plan lessons each week for
two-ish students. Still, I can't help but want to make my class interesting for the few that still attend. Damn me...

and damn, them!

If I only had that same luxury to bail on my own language lessons...instead I am terrified of falling behind or not learning. My Korean language YMCA Beginner B class this past semester had around 5 students.  I think we all missed not more than one or two classes each. Everyone is pretty dedicated to learning Korean; it's mostly out of a basic survival. We want to improve the quality of our expat lives and secretly, I'll like to be able to a) call my students on their shit and b)understand what my co-teachers are saying when they talk in Korean and mention my name in front of me.
Photo of our class on the last day making Songpyeon.

How committed are you... to survival?
It all "dwindles down" to stakes and incentive goals. If you don't think you're going to need to use a language or have a reason to practice it, why learn it? You're trying to learn it so that you can support your child's education in English or you want to learn a bit of English.. just because...  These aren't strong enough reasons.

You want to learn English because ...
-- You're a fan of English films.
-- Your goal is to travel.
-- You want to date western English teachers.
-- You need it for business relations.
-- You dream of some day marrying Brad Pitt should he ever divorce Angelina.

These are motives which which will lock you into a goal because they're all necessary to the survival of something. These are called stakes.

From reality shows to the English classrooms:
Having produced stories for reality shows, I know a lot about stakes. It's the seed of the formula and the main component a story is often built around. Without stakes, we don't have an interesting story and our character falls flat.  Why? Our hero or heroine has to want to succeed in achieving their goals, endure the painstaking challenge, the risk of shame and failure...all as if their life depended on it! This is what people want to see, be inspired by- people making their dreams happen at all costs. Stakes are that one money factor, which will draw ratings as audiences root for their hero, even if their hero is a villain.

Offering free classes... for failure.
Okay, so not all my students will fail at their goal, but what does FREE get a teaching program but soggy attendances and a general lack of commitment? Offering free English classes to busy Korean teachers and house mothers is great and very noble idea, but it doesn't really work. Not in this case (I'm ranting- there are always exceptions...). What it can't instill in adult students (who don't really feel they need to learn English for their lifestyle) are strong self-directed goals... and whaaat?...stakes!  It stands to reason that if someone pays for a class, chances are they're serious enough about learning to invest in it.Meanwhile, "free" means "Take me for granted, please".

Anyways, this filtering out of attendances is what I predicted and what I've been told by other NETs teaching the same classes. Of course, a part of me can't help but take it an eensy bit personally. Afterall, what if I truly do suck or am not interesting enough as a teacher? I guess we'll see what next week's class brings.

On a positive note, my second teacher gift in the past 6 months.
One of my parent students arrived and brought me a bouquet of flowers! Wow! (and finally!) A lot of the EPIK teachers say they get showered with gifts on a daily basis. Me? Try not even one.... Well, no...two.  My first week of teaching, one of my students made me three miniature paper cranes (which I've taped to the top of my school computer).  That's my sad little trophy corner. My school hasn't been big on gifts, heart-felt sentiments or social outtings. It's been for the most part, work. This bouquet was nice and even though she's only been to my classes twice, it really made my day!

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