Wednesday, December 12, 2007

job description

Randomata: Subtle status hierarchy. Upon entering the school, students remove their shoes and place them in shelves of cubby holes in the entrance room. A teacher stands outside this room greeting students as they enter the school proper. After the bell, the teacher walks among the shelves and makes sure that all the shoes are facing the back of the cubby (cause it's rude to point your shoes at people) and are not sticking out too much or sitting messily. This is a testament to the importance of appearance surrounding entering people's homes or buildings.

Also, I've just realised that the person who most often volunteers for this duty is the teacher with the lowest status/seniority. Previously, this was a young teacher with a temporary position at the school. Now, a returning teacher, fresh off maternity leave, who has not spent much time at the school takes the post more often than any other. I don't think this is imposed upon her externally, nor do I expect it will last more than a few weeks or a month, until she has slightly solidified her position.

"I wish I could give the students more time to talk to you, but we can't." - JTE to ALT, the closest I've heard any of the teachers at my school come to commenting on the education system or my role here.

I understand her comment. The teachers have to teach a very specific grammar and textbook based curriculum, and they must teach it in its entirety. The students will write a standardized test taken directly from that curriculum, so any deviation from that course will actually harm the students' performance. A test at the end of junior highschool determines students' eligibility and placement for high school. This test is said to be the single most important test in life, since choice of highschool supposedly has a huge and lasting effect on reputation and employability. What this means is that learning the textbook is more important than practicing conversations with a native English speaker who happens to be in the school at that very moment. Hence, the central contradiction of my position. The government pays for me to be here but enforces a curriculum prohibitively strict and dense enough to limit my use. That's why I said my most useful time is simply wandering in the hallways, attempting to stimulate natural conversation with the students. Briefly, hopefully, this strange thing forced upon the students by their teachers becomes a fun and active and real tool.

I don't mean to disparage the grammatical focus (as opposed to a more conversational approach). In fact, I struggle with the thought that I'm not able to teach the kids in the hall much new information - perhaps a word or two here or there. It's hard to pick up language that will stick in the memory just from casual conversations like that. The grammar needs to be taught, usually in the learner's natural language. So, our conversations are more a reinforcing of speech patterns they've already learned than an attempt to expand their competence. We rely on the grammar taught in class, through which they find their only means of understanding me. Their vocabulary needs fleshing out, but the grammar does provide a frame, without which we would at best exchange one or two word spurts of communication. So, not so much as teaching English, my role here is more to be there to show it is worthwhile for the students to learn the English that their senseis have been trying to teach them.

So, (it feels, perhaps overly pessimistically) I'm here not to create or originate knowledge, but to initiate conversation and instill a sense of purpose to learning the knowledge taught by others. I do this by means of existing.

Self-Discovery: I don't like too easy a job. I don't necessarily need a job to pour my whole identity into, and I definitely don't want a job that I have to take home with me every day. However, I do want a job where I am leaving at the end of each day happy with what I have accomplished.

Job Description:

Average 2.5 classes/day.
-With breaks and classes and lunch, maybe 4.5 hours/day spent with or around the kids (on a good day).
-3-4 hours/day with no expectations, no tasks, no smallwork (thankfuly), but also no real reason for you to be there.
-Please come to class and speak on command.
-Please roam the halls and strike up random conversation.
-that's all

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