Saturday, September 21, 2013

Teaching in Korean, Part II

The second class meeting of the Korean Culture and Society class had 9 students in attendance (with 16 on the roll book). There had only been four the previous week because the class was listed online only one day before it was first offered. Apparently some students who are on my roll book can drop the class (but there is no adding classes at this point). Conferring with Sanghyeon, a sweet student assigned to assist me by the Ukrainian Studies Department, I have learned that students take between 12 and 20 credits per term, a credit roughly equals one hour in the classroom, meaning that my two hour classes net them two credits. I am guessing, then, that students may register for a larger number of classes and if they can handle all of them, earn credit for all, but if second week slams them, then they just don't show up for the other classes.

I was very nervous about the Korean Culture and Society class, since I'm teaching it in Korean.

I had assigned the students to read two articles (academic articles) written in Korean (and for those more comfortable in English to scan the articles, but read a third English article closely). I had assigned two students to give a brief overview and summary of the two articles, and had prepared a quiz (my new assistant even checked the Korean to make sure that my bilingual quiz wouldn't screw up anyone based on an improperly phrased question). The entire class was centered around the idea that I would not do all of the talking, but rather I would encourage them to talk. They had been instructed to ask their older family members about how Chuseok and other traditional holidays had changed (the focus of the articles as well), and so in my mind's eye I envisioned them sharing these stories together. Then one hour before class one of the students assigned to present on an article sent a text message claiming to be sick.

Twenty minutes later I printed the roll book. Looking at the list of enrolled students online (admittedly I did not look very closely), I had one Chinese student and 15 Koreans. However when I printed the roll book their names were written in Roman letters next to the Korean. Whoa! Hidden Chinese! Perfectly normal looking names like Geonhun became Jianxun, when written in Roman letters. I had presumed that Helen (헬렌) (majoring in English Translation) was a Korean-American or something like that. Nope. Hong Konger (is that even the correct term?). Seeing the four Chinese names (there are five including Helen, but at that moment I still thought she was K-American) contributed to a rising feeling of panic. To top it off, I slipped on some water (it was raining outside) and fell hard in the hallway, seriously injuring my notebook computer, although I didn't know it until after class.

I started off the class by reviewing a few ground rules, then passed out the quiz.

Yep. One student had done the reading. Another had started, and even brought the print outs to class. That was it. I talked to the Korean students (the one with the print out and the one who had read) and they assured me this was much too difficult for them to understand and that it was unusual to be given an academic article in their other classes. Later colleagues warned me that students don't really take their distribution classes (my class is a distribution class) as seriously as their major classes.

So, off the cuff and without a powerpoint I lectured on the two articles and changing customs in Korea. And somehow managed to make it through two hours without running out of things to say.

After class I felt horrible. First of all because I'd spent more than a week scrambling to prepare a good syllabus and find readings (since all mine are in transit to Korea, not to mention the fact that I don't have enough in Korean to cover all topics). With the combination of 5 Chinese students (all with less Korean than I have) and the lack of ability to read academic articles, I knew I'd have to re-plan the entire class again. I couldn't even rely on exams and class presentations as my two primary grading elements. Second, I felt stupid because various people (people teaching in Korea at other institutions and colleagues here) had hinted to me not to have such high expectations and I hadn't listened, and I could have saved myself some work. Third, I felt overwhelmed by the knowledge that for the rest of the semester I'd be doing essentially two hour lectures in Korean.

I spent much of the Chuseok (Harvest) holiday rethinking my class (this also coincidentally meant we didn't have a class in third week). I drew up a plan to have 7 short assignments (writing less than a page, or giving a brief oral report), one group project (requirement to split the Chinese students up), and the two exams (reduced in importance). I dug up news articles for students to read for the 4th week (demographic changes in Korea). And spent time (but not enough to finish) on three future PPTs for the class.

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