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Dear Professor Gus,

Ask Gus: Teaching Advice


Dear Professor Gus,

I teach English to elementary school students at a hogwan here in Busan.  It’s my first teaching experience, and it isn’t going so well.  The kids never seem to listen to me. When I ask them to speak or answer a question, many of them give me the deer-in-the-headlights look. They constantly talk to each other in Korean, and my dreams are haunted by children chanting Teacher, game!"  I try to teach them to the best of my ability, but they never seem to care or respect my authority. When I see the same students in classes with Korean teachers, they seem much more behaved and less demanding. 

Am I doing something wrong, or are these kids just spawns of Satan? What are the Korean teachers doing that I’m not? I really need some help here.

Tales of a fourth grade teacher accomplishing nothing



Dear Tales,

As to your question about what the Korean teachers are doing that you aren’t, the answer is two-fold:

1.    They are implementing some kind of corporal punishment or physical punishment, like holding out your arms or the threat thereof. When I was in school back home, there were several teachers you just didn’t mess with. 

2.    Secondly, they are speaking to the students in Korean. The students understand what is being taught and what’s expected of them in a language and format that they are comfortable with (or at least used to).  I remember taking language classes when an over-zealous teacher tried to teach only in that language (didn’t work so well with me either).

The good news is you don’t have to do either of those things to connect with your students (although some days you may feel as though Satan’s little helpers deserve a trip out to the wood shed). In a nutshell, your primary objective is to focus their energy towards the goals you want them to accomplish. I find that a good way to do this is to let the kids make noise, but on your terms. Here are a few examples.

The kids most likely know what ‘Be quiet’ Cho-yong-hee hah-say-yo(??????) means. Instead of barking it at them 100 times until it loses all meaning, I let them participate in the command. Say the following:

“The teacher says, ‘be’ and you answer ‘quiet’.  Let’s try it.

Son-seng-nim-ee ‘be’ lah-go hah-myun, yaw-raw-boon–ee ‘quiet’ lah-go dahp hah-say-yo. Hay-bope-she-dah.???? be ????????quiet ?? ????.  ????

“Be”  (students will respond with) “quiet”.

Then say:

“Oh, you can do it louder than that!”  Daw kuh-gay hah-say-yo! ? ?? ???

(then raise your voice significantly) “BE” (despite their diminutive size, the students will respond with a “quiet” that may rattle your bones).

Then… silence. The first few times you might get some kids talking to the person next to them about how cool or loud that was. Look at or go up to those kids and press your finger to your lips. They’ll get the picture. From that point on, any time the kids are getting too noisy, just give them a big “BE”.

When general class attention seems to be waning, I like to give them ‘the clap’. I say to them:

“Do you know ‘clap’?” ‘Clap’ moo-sun mahl in -jee ahl-lah-yo? Clap ?? ? ?? ???

Some kids may say “Bahk-soo”??. If they don’t know, then you tell them “Bahk-soo??”.

Then say, “Clap once”(hold up one finger). Bahk-soo hahn-bone chee-say-yo. ?? ? ? ??? And then clap once.

Then say, “Clap twice” (hold up two fingers).  Bahk-soo doo-bone chee -say-yo. ?? ? ? ??? And then clap twice.

Then say, “Clap three times” (hold up three fingers fingers).  Bahk-soo say-bone chee -say-yo. ?? ? ? ???

And then clap three times.  “OK, let’s do it together.” Got-chee hahp-she-dah. ? ???? Repeat the exercise together. The first time you teach them the exercise, you may have to use the Korean.  After that, all you need to do is shout, “Clap once!…”

I also like to do it several times in a row and vary the length of the pauses in between claps as it seems to please the students. 

These exercises also have the added benefit of periodically annoying the teachers next to you who think they know so much more than you. 

As far as games go, use them sparingly as a reward for good behavior.  Remember games are like crack to kids. If you keep giving them a taste, their fix becomes insatiable. If your kiddies already have a 10-game a day habit, it’s time to wean them. Tell them that if they say the word ‘game’ they will not be able to play any games:

Game ee-lah-go mahl-hah-myon oo-ri-nun game moat hay-yo. Game ??? ?? ??? Game ???

Or you can tell them, “Maybe at the end of the class and only if they are good!”

Chahk hah-myon soo-up goo-null-tae aw-chaw-myon game hahl –koy-yay-yo. ??? ?? ?? ? ??? ?? ? ???

And then simply conduct class until it ends.  That’s how I got Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston to mow my lawn every week.

Have a question for Professor Gus? Email him.





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