On Friday October 17th I visited Josette LeBlanc‘s class at Keimyung University. The class situation is pretty unique to me: 16 school teachers have taken a 6-month break off their jobs to go through a full-time teacher training program, which involves various types of language and teaching practice classes.
In fact, there was no class that Friday, as in there was no class that Josette would teach and I would observe. What happened was a discussion, about English language education, Russia, Korea, me, them, students, geography, and my granny. I think I was too verbose, as I usually am as soon as I get emotional. I’d never been in a similar situation and I wish we’d had more time to share our experiences, especially theirs.
My original *big as always* plan had been to write a detailed and thoughtful analysis-type post based on all my many notes (somewhat like this one). Now I think there’s a different way to do it, and also probably a better one – let the teachers of that class speak about our time spent together in their own words.
We asked the teachers to answer one question: “What was significant to you about this discussion?” The teachers were free to put a check on the paper if they didn’t mind their response being shared in this post. Some also wrote down their names. (I thank all of you, teachers of Josette’s class, for being willing to talk, listen, reflect and connect with me!)
So here are their/ your thoughts. My thoughts and comments will follow at the bottom of this post.
***** What was significant to you about this discussion? *****
… Your personal story about studying English… Taking a glimpse of Russian culture and education system. (Jeong, Hyekyong)
You are jealous of our supportive Korean education system and I envy the huge country of yours. Thank you for your advice. Reading and writing are good for fluent speaking. (Kim Yoomi)
It was interesting to compare the university education for major of English in Russia and in Korea. We have native professors here. And also your hard work for keeping and improving your English was very impressive and helpful for me. The reason why I attended this course was only that I wanted to improve my English that I started slowly losing. I wanted to tell you this.
I checked that there is no royal road in learning English. Practice, practice, practice! Hard work and intensive studying is the only way to improve English. (Choi Jungsook)
I think there’s a big difference between Korean English education and Russian’s. The attitude to English is different. It seems like Russia doesn’t think English is so important. That’s why you don’t have teacher training courses like us. Our government treat English as a VIP language, more important than our own language. I hate this but it is true. That’s why we should compete with each other and develop our ability continuously. It’s a too big responsibility. (Geum Eun Ju)
It’s good to meet and hear from Anna, stories from a Russian English teacher is quite new and interesting. I was surprised that her English was bad when she started university studies because I didn’t know English classes in Russian secondary school were focused on grammar, reading, and receptive skills. That happened in Korea, too. I admire her courage to quit her job and chase her freedom.
I also felt I wanted to teach adults, not kids, because I wanted to communicate with students as well as teach. After hearing your words, I have empathy with you. I’m interested in your experience and your process of thinking. I was impressed with your decision and action.
I’ve learnt that studying English as a foreign language is difficult for everyone. We need to make some effort to speak it fluently. I remember your sentence: “Expressing your thought in English will help improve your English skill.” I will do the same thing from now on. (Sujin)
I considered all circumstances of learning English in Korea as some pressure, but comparing to your situation in Russia, I realized that those are such amazing opportunities to learn a language. We, Koreans, are blessed. Thank your for your insight. :)
The most interesting thing to me is in Russia people who want to be teachers have one whole year training course in their last fifth year. In Korea, we usually just have one month training course in our last fourth year.
It was good to know the different style of English education in Russia. “Hard work helps, always..” I need to keep that in my mind to improve my English. It’s amazing again how important English is in Korea.
The most impressive thing that you said is “Writing in English is helpful for improving English”. I’ll try to follow your advice. Have a good time in Korea. :) (Choi Sukhee)
Thank you for sharing your story. I truly felt your heart. Good luck. (Kwon Jihyun)
***** My thoughts and comments *****
So, there’s no big need for me to go through the nitty-gritty of our discussion as most interesting points can be seen through the teachers’ lines above. I did talk a lot (which I’m not very happy about because I wish I’d listened more), answering questions and oftentimes being carried away. The topics that were touched upon include:
- Scattered bits of info and a really rough overview of English learning and teaching in a Russian school (based on my experience, so obviously it should not be taken for granted as the only existing way)
– How Russian students get into university (exams before and now)
– Importance of English in Russia vs Korea
– My preparatory year for entering university, curriculum and the basic description of what my 5 years at a teacher training university in Moscow were like
– Native speaker professors at a university level *that we didn’t/ don’t have in Russia*
– Co-teaching practice *that we don’t have in Russia*
– My personal interest in Asia, why and such (that was a tough one!)
– Geography lesson and working with the map to find some Russian cities on it))
– Many specific personal stories/ situations from my life that came to my mind on the spot as I was talking about something
– My experience learning English
I guess the comments the teachers shared with me on those sheets of paper are saying more than I could have said analyzing the discussion. If I am to answer the same question as they were answering, I’d say that it was significant for me to feel these teachers’ willingness to learn from whatever that was that I had to say, reflect through the lenses of their context and experience, compare but not necessarily bear judgement of either of the sides. Some things are similar, some are different.
I’m very glad I’ve joined their group in BAND app and can keep in touch. I’m going to write a letter to these teachers, say what I wanted to say but didn’t have time or the right moment, share the link to this post, invite them to leave a comment.
There is one crucial point I never managed to mention in our too short conversation, though, and I want to have it out here.
Hard work is important. Enjoying English is kind of key, though. I sometimes might forget to say it out loud to my students and just focus on hard work (which I do believe is what moves mountains and brings progress) but… You’ve got to love it. I might be naive but I strongly believe that loving what you do (in this case, learning English) is the right way to eventually becoming good at it.
Thank you, Josette and the 16 teachers of this KIETT course. I feel lucky to have shared time in class with you, and I’m still jealous. :)
*** Random but nonetheless very important facts related to this post ***
1. This post was typed using my right hand only. As have been and likely will be all of my posts.
2. This weekend I found out I’m not the only person in the world lacking the wonderful skill of typing using both hands. I’m glad Josette is that other person. If there are more of you, Right Hand Only type writers out there, please let us know in the comments below. Thank you.
3. This post is part 2 of the #livebloggingparty series. The glorious idea and plan I want to try and follow through is to meet a teacher-blogger offline, sit down in some place and blog together. Hitting “Publish” simultaneously is part of the deal. Part 1 of the series can be found here (blogging with @KateSpringcait). This post (part 2 of the series) was written sitting next to Josette on the couch in her home in Korean countryside, listening to the chirping of birds and looking at a praying mantis moving around on the window glass in what I take to be its Kung- fu fashion, scheming an attack. I am forever grateful to Josette for this chance. You can read her *excellent* post entitled Turning Points here.
Part 3 of the series might be coming very soon :)
Final note, added here in order to be very honest with you readers: the post was finished in and published from A Twosome Place cafe area at Dongdaegu Station, Daegu, South Korea. Thanks for reading!