Today I had an open class. I know that most teachers in the States have one twice a year. Overall, I think it is a good idea, especially if the teacher’s observing your class can give good feedback. We knew about the class for two weeks, so I had plenty of time to prepare, plus I was able to choose the class that would be observed. I also had a lot of support from my co-teacher. She was pretty awesome. We don’t usually co-teach in my classes. I do the prep, and do most of the speaking in front of the class. She has my back and usually does a lot of helping once the students are in their groups or pairs. Today, she went in front of the class, and in front of the observers. I was so grateful.
S.M.O.E (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education) really emphasizes co-teaching in their orientation, but I’ve found that serious co-teaching with both teachers taking turns in the classroom and both teachers working together during the preparation only works if there is only one or two Korean teachers that you work with. This is not practical in my school, and although at the beginning I could have insisted that we all have a meeting once a week to discuss the lesson plans and what each teacher will do when, I don’t think my time in the school would have been nearly as pleasant. Things tend to go much better when you respect your co-workers, and their needs and desires.
And I think respect is an important word for us foreign teachers. We want to be respected as professionals. We want to be respected by our students in the classroom. We want our opinions respected. But we tend to forget that we have to be respectable. I’m not talking about dressing like you just walked in as a refugee from Victorian England. (I tend to wear blue jeans most days) I’m not talking about eschewing fun or a weekend out blowing off steam. I’ve been known to do that too. I’m talking about acting like a professional. It means respecting the time and other obligations of your colleagues. It means going into the classroom prepared. I’m not talking about taking a worksheet off the internet and handing it out. I’m talking about thinking of problems the students might have, how the dynamics of the classroom will work with the different activities and making sure that you have in your mind’s eye exactly how you want the class to go. Of course you also have to think of worst case scenarios for each and every class. Much of this preparation doesn’t need to be written out unless you feel it will help, but you should have them in mind. Each class is different, and each student also is different.
It means seeing your students as unique individuals. And respecting them as well. Because respect isn’t about what you are given; it is about what you give. I think this is easy to forget. We want out class under control and we want our students to do what we say, pretty much when we say it. We need a certain amount of order. It is unfair to the students who want to work and who want to learn to let the students who don’t take over or disrupt the class. We need to respect our students’ desire to learn, and their desire for respect and for success. As a teacher we need to be leaders in the classroom and that means giving our students the tools they need to lead themselves. We have to respect our students and the process of learning. In the end I am the teacher and my word is law for the 50 minutes I’m in the classroom. But if I want respect, as opposed to fear or passive compliance, I need to respect my students too.
In the end it wasn’t just the work of my co-teacher and I that made the open class a success. It was the students. They were really fantastic today. They knew we were having an open class, and even the students that are usually shy or sleepy were on fire. They really put themselves out, and were quite creative and had made the class look like fun. Twice an observer laughed out loud with a student’s dialog. I was so proud of them. I felt I had really earned their respect, and they certainly earned mine.
So I will leave you with the undisputed queen of respect: because she is really just that cool.
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