Friday, March 26, 2010

Closing ceremony

(The pictures of the school were taken on a particularly cold and foggy day)

A continuation to Pillars and Foundations..
So although the entire week of "teacher training" (aka: discussions of how communication or lack there of, works at English village) was full of absurdity, the final day, the closing ceremony, in my opinion took the cake.
At 9:00 am I was informed that I had to teach a class I had never taught before, in exactly one hour. "I'm glad we are still on the one hour notice system." I thought to myself. "What do I need with prep time!"

From 10 am- 11am we issued nervous little ones, and indifferent middle-schoolers through a process we call immigration. Basically, this is where we attempt to simulate an airport "immigration" experience. In actuality, we ask them questions a true immigration officer wouldn't bother with, or care about, but the purpose of the process is to start the day off answering questions in English.
A typical exchange might look like this:
"Good morning, how are you?"
"My name is Lee Eu-gin"
"Oh, that is a nice name, but how are you?"
Looking around nervously, whistling noisily in the Korean fashion, the young boy cocks his head in confusion.
"How are you? I'm fine, I'm happy, I'm hungry" I prompt him
"I'm fine thank you."
"Good job. Where are you from?"
The whistling of the spital noise again, which is uniquely Korean.
"Where are you from? Are you from China? Are you from Japan? Where are you from?" I ask with an outward sigh of languor. I am mentally and physically fatigued from having to ask and answer each of my questions for the last half hour.

Luckily with this group, the teachers stood around also prompting the children in how to answer. Typically we want the kids to be able to think on their own, but earnestly, it was a relief to have the help. I preferred their assistance to blank faces feigning thought which is also part of Korean culture. Evidently it is better to pretend to be in thought, not responding nor planning on responding than to admit not understanding. Sometimes I will wait for minutes, watching and waiting, not trying to push too hard before I realize this child has no intention of answering and I don't even remember the question anymore.

Our first class was a class of elementary school children, eager and willing to participate in any activity the foreigners put in front of them. We played many vocabulary games centering around dance moves. My co-teacher, a very experienced Korean teacher, taught the class, as I stood by occasionally being used for pronunciation purposes. The Virgina reel, a fast paced line dance was the dance of choice for these little ones who squealed with excitement when going through the human archway. Of course, the dosey-doe became a problem when it meant touching a member of the opposite sex, but other than that, it was a success. However our second class, the middle schoolers, although centered around an entirely different line dance without partners, refused to dance.

This refusal to dance is unusual in Korea, where learning pop dances is the most common past time next to computer games. Everyone knows the dance moves to every popular song, even the boys who have no shyness or cultural inhibitions not to dance in an effort to not look gay such as in the United States. Boys and men alike see dancing in an entirely different light here than their western counterparts. Dancing has become an ingrained part of their culture with the emergence and popularity of K-pop (Korean pop), and everyone participates.

My opinion of the failure of the class centered around two girls whom I nick-named "too cool for school." Their behavior was that of typical "popular girls." Their actions and attitude communicated, "I'm not doing that stupid dance, I am way too cool for that." This nonverbal communication domino-ed to the entire female section of the class. Not one girl willingly danced to the song. Later, I was informed by her teacher that the reason for the main girl's refusal was that she had a crush on one of the boys in her class, and was embarrassed by her faulty dancing so instead chose not to dance at all. As much as I understand this feeling and empathize with her, I also loathed the pulling of teeth during this class which seemingly lasted forever.

When I returned to the group discussion in the seminar room, heavy, oppressive silence crushed any happiness in the room. The teachers watched Ronny closely as he sat in deep troubled thought.
"What's happening?" I whispered to Kyle
"He is really getting the gravity of the situation here. I don't know if he didn't believe us until now or just didn't hear what we were saying, but he seems to understand now that when we say that there is a MAJOR break down in communication here, we mean that everyone seriously runs around with their head cut off never knowing whats really going on and it creates an environment of indifference and resigned teachers, which in turn doesn't provide a good climate of learning and growing."

I watched Ronny as Kyle spoke. His eyes were heavy with weariness and melancholy.

He rose from the table without his usual liveliness but in a laborious, somber manner. "Let me think on this, and what we should do. We will have our closing statements in about ten minutes."

The formality in Korea still remains, despite their non-professionalism. I am continuously boggled by Korean culture.

The closing ceremony which I mentioned at the start of this post, and I also consider the center piece, was an experience I will never forget.

Peter, a Korean whose title is unclear to me, but I believe is higher than lower in the totem pole of the hierarchy here, stood up at the podium with the intention of giving a didatic and inspirational speech. The speech began with an attempted reference to "A silver lining"even without proper knowledge of how to express this phrase.
We were encouraged to forget the negative and focus on the positive. He read out a list of the reasons he enjoyed this school and encouraged us all to also make our own lists.
He then outlined three American individuals who overcame hardship, including Eleanor Roosevelt upon loosing a child. All of these examples had difficult situations, but they succeeded in the face of adversity. The ironic part of these examples are that our adversary in this situation is the school. I am sure he didn't mean to make this his metaphor, but it stared the native English speakers straight in the face as obvious as the sky is blue.
There were many problems with his speech in my opinion, the least of which his message: "we should ignore any hardships and complaining only causes negativity and creates a depressed environment. Look on the bright side and don't worry about the problems."
I agree with the latter part of this statement. Negativity is a nagging destructive demon which feeds on inaction. But the teachers here are surprisingly not negative, but rather resigned. Anytime I hear a complaint, a solution is given. But the teachers have stopped complaining between themselves. They see that it has no purpose but to wake the sleeping dragon of anger at being ignored time and time again. In my opinion this resignation is an even more dangerous adversary than negativity. If we believe in earnest that nothing will ever get better, and that our suggestions will never be implemented, change will never transform this school into what it could be. And what it could be is nothing short of amazing. The facilities are fabulous, the teachers passionate. There are so many benefits to this school, but management, at least in our eyes, has moved away from their mission statement: to create global leaders and amazing teachers.
Rather than discouraging negativity, creating an environment of solution-oriented attitudes would be a better solution. And maybe that was what he meant to say. If he did, I didn't hear it. I heard, "ignore the bad and stop complaining." Yet another ironic part of this speech was that all of the people mentioned faced adversity and dealt with it. But the solution I have seen with this school is to hide from it and blame it on someone nearby- possibly the teachers.
The speech in many ways was nonsensical and circled around in an oblique, undirected fashion. In actuality most of his speech was rambling, reaching for sincere moral motivation, but falling far short of the finish line.

However what made this closing ceremony memorable wasn't this speech, although it was remarkable enough in itself. What made this closing ceremony an image burned into my memory forever was the finale. In the end, it was requested that we all stand, say something we liked about this school and what we were committed to. Internally rolling my eyes, the start of the music jolted my cynical voice to laugh with an intensity it had never experienced before. Koreans thrive on the dramatic. Every music video created for the karaoke machines has a cheesy love story ending in tragedy or pure true love. This ending to our week was no exception to the cheesiness rule. Soft lolling music, like what you might hear at the end of a "Full House" episode to wrap up the moral lesson of the day played in the background as each teacher stood to say their positive piece. It literally took all of my efforts not to roll on the floor with laughter at the ludicrousness of the situation. Several people requested that the music be turned off as it made this farce even more absurd, but it remained in the background reminding us all of the travesty of the situation. Despite these events, I am remaining optimistic and fighting resignation off at the helm. On guard resignation, here we come transformation!!


sharon said...

I just assume, since I am a psychologist, that I am unusually empathetic, but these two last posts were excruciatingly painful to read. I felt with the administrators, who seem well intentioned but unable to examine themselves rationally and listen to criticism and experiment with different ideas. And I also felt the extreme frustration of the teachers who see better ways of doing things and feel brushed off.
Obviously, there is an impasse. I believe our friend Confucius has contributed to this mess by his hierarchy of who is worthy of respect, managers being of course far higher in the hierarchy than employees.

Your Mama

Ashton Sanders said...

You guys are freaking troopers. keep on kicking and good luck.