English Judge

Korea: the queen of last minute…. anything, blessed me with a last minute notification today: “so who do you want to go to the camp?”

Oh, hey there. Uhhhh.Wait. What? 

“the camp? who? we have 2 boys – you must pick one. And 5 girls – you will pick 2 of them. So who should go?”

Whoa there. Slow down. 

“I will come at 1:15. You can ask them questions and then pick who goes.”

Okay. Super. Great.

Later – “okay, just kidding. The boys are taken care of. You must just pick the girls. Here is a list of them.”

The chart shows 6 names and 3 spots for grading: Speaking/Listening 10/10, Understanding 10/10, and Total (20/20). 

The suggested interview questions are “Why do you want to go to camp?” and “How is this camp different than our school’s summer camp program?”

Yuck. That last question is a big fat trap. It’s like: how well can you balance saving-face and having loyalty to your school – and your want for going to this camp? Please elaborate.

Also, knowing how high-pressure school is in Korea, I’m actually dying to know which of these 5 kids actually wants to go and which are doing it because they have to. 

1:15 The interviews start, I barely have any questions and I’m supposed to make them last 2-3 minutes. 

Girl 1: Before I can even ask her why she tells me she wants to go and thinks it would be a great opportunity. Because I am absolutely lacking in information I ask what the camp even is. She explains that it would be a role play/English camp. I ask her how it’s different from our schools camp. She, at first, doesn’t understand but then starts to explain that there would be more students who all want the same thing, and different teachers. She tries to explain that you sleep there. I ask more about that and confuse/fluster her. I ask why she wants to go one more time and how long she has been learning English. For seven years. 

Girl 2: She says she just wants to go. It seems like a good opportunity. I ask her how it is different than the school’s camps. She says it’s different people – more people. It’s games and role play. I try to ask about if you sleep there -she just says “yes” How long have you been learning English – she tells me a little about her parents teaching her. I ask her if she likes learning English – yes. Are you sure, you don’t have to say yes. “Yes!” Okay…

Girl 3: Almost the exact same as girl 2. She just used more words to explain it.

Girl 4: She cannot answer any of the questions. I ask in the same speed as the others and she asks me to slow down. She became very flustered very fast, I told her it was okay and asked slower/in different ways. She didn’t understand that it was a sleep-away camp like the others had said/confirmed. I change the subject to how long has she been learning English, she gets flustered again and says she “can’t English” She buried her face in her hands a bit. I told her it was okay. I’m sorry – you can go.

(now I feel like shit)

Girl 5: .She talks about it the same way – that it’s a good opportunity, a chance to make friends and do games. She explained that she can’t compare that camp to the school’s camp because she has never been and it makes her mother very disappointed. So now she wants to go to make up for the camps she missed. I mention if she wants to go or if her mother wants her to go. She says she does, her parents agree. “But you don’t have to go?” “They say I should go”

I barely have time between the girls to write my __/10 score down. At the end of it all, the other teacher, who is very sweet, unfortunately rushes me for an answer. Looking it over, I pick girls 3 and 5. “ooh, me too” she says. I think they understood me the best and they had the largest use of vocabulary. The teacher gives me chocolate bars for helping out and thanks me a lot.

Why this was a big fat mistake

“Girl 1” deserves it the most: she explained the most to me and she had to go first. At the time, I didn’t know what I was grading on and didn’t have a comparison. I learned more about the camp from her even though she didn’t use perfect English. She didn’t have the same vocabulary as the other girls, BUT she could communicate more and tried harder.

And thus begins the debate of what matters more.

What matters more to Korea? Probably using more words more accurately.

What matters more to me as a person AND as a teacher?  Communicating more even if you don’t know the right words. That’s more brave and more lifelike. This ability to have a conversation one-on-one without stopping and thinking of the words is more seamless and is a more realistic goal to have. She didn’t know “sleep-over” camp, she didn’t even know how to say how many consecutive days it was – she did make a motion with her hand and emulated “English, sleep, English, sleep.” “oh, so you sleep there?” “yes!” Rather than taking half a second to think about it she jumped in and explained that it is an overnight camp without breaking the conversation. She also told me she didn’t know too much about the camp because she didn’t have the “paper” (itinerary or brochure – but very clever to say “paper” I knew exactly what she meant). 

Runner up: girl four: she was all kinds of flustered and so she shut down. But she had been brave enough to ask me to slow down and repeat what I asked. Which is damn brave I think. 

I don’t understand the purpose – why send really good English speakers there. Shouldn’t the first girl and the girl who couldn’t do it at all (and is possibly crying now – she looked near tears at the end of the interview) — shouldn’t they go to have the bigger opportunity, rather than the girls who could do it more?

So now I’m bummed because I single-handedly disappointed 3 girls. Possibly made one cry. And flustered all of them. Also I made their families very disappointed -most likely. On top of it all, I feel like I made the wrong choice. But I still don’t even know what happened. What exactly was I grading them on? Probably who knew the most English – which was girls 3 and 5, the ones I picked.

So that sucked. I’ve considered finding the teacher and telling her I changed my mind, that the first girl should go, but it’s too late. She told them after I picked. So I have to live with that regret now and hope that I didn’t scare the rest away from English forever. 

 

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