Time to break the long silence! I’ve been really busy lately which is why I have not updated in a while. I went to a teacher’s workshop today which was pretty good. I heard about this workshop and thought I couldn’t go because the Foreign English teachers association is only open to Middle and Elementary school teachers. But I got an invitation and of course I will jump on any type of training workshop available in my area. To be honest, even though the workshop was focused on elementary and middle school, a lot of the things covered applied to High school. I met some new people and when some found out I was a High School teacher, the usual reply was: “Wow….High school. I heard that is tough!” or “Wow….HIGH SCHOOL????? I’ve never met a High school teacher. That must be hell!”
Because of that, I think there’s some misconceptions about teaching at a high school. So….without further ado, I am going to summarize my first three months as a High School teacher.
In the U.S., more teachers tend to want to teach Elementary school kids rather than High School because there is this idea that the kids are more “managable” and high schoolers are “incorrigable.” In Korea it is more or less the same. Many people believe that High School teachers have it the worse out of all the schools. To be honest, from the few(and may I emphasize FEW) High School teachers that I met, they all voluntarily chose to teach High School. Why? After I list PROS and CONS, you decide for yourself. I will start out with the PROS since everyone focuses more on the CONS anyway.
The biggest Pro about teaching High School is the fact that if you hate little kids, you are not dealing with them. I find little kids to be rather annoying to be honest. One fellow high school teacher told me “I’m scared of the little ones.” I cannot relate with little kids at all. Many people choose to do high school is because they feel they can relate with teenagers more than they can do with little kids or kids that are in that “in-between” age. Even though I teach at a low level English school, there are a number of kids that can speak English decently. I have a group of girls come in now and then during lunch break and we talk about Korean and American pop culture. I’ve had another student ask me about discrimination in America, cultural differences between America and Korea and so on. Also, if you need help with a little task and you don’t want to bother one of your co-teachers, just ask them and they’ll help you out! I’ve had students tell me how to get to the hospital and how to use the heat in my apartment. By doing this, it makes the students more confident in using English(at least in my opinion). I get a lot more communicative interaction with kids outside the classroom than inside the classroom. This could be due to the lack of pressure to perform. I remember one time I ran into a group of kids in one of my baddest classes on the subway(bad class overall but good kids). I ended up having a good conversation with them! Because the kids have a “higher” English level, you are able to talk to them more.
Another Pro with teaching High School is the number of “off days” you have. When it’s time for those midterms and finals, kids are going to want to study rather than go to class. And because of that, the co-teachers or the kids will request that they don’t have class and they have a study period. So that’s more or less almost a week off of class….and then there’s the midterms which is more or less another week off. So that is two weeks of free time! Of course some of it you have to spend at school…but if you have a good school, they will give you some of those days off. For example last month when there was midterms(from Tues-Fri), I had to come to school from Monday to Wednesday and then I the rest of the week off. Also the high schools have various tests throughout the month and class will be cancelled for the whole day. And of course there’s the biggie which is the KSAT(college entrance exam). Most High Schools usually will not have class that Wednesday or Thursday and many schools don’t require their ALTs to come to school on testing day.
This last pro can be either a PRO or CON depending on who you are, but it’s a PRO for me. The thing with high school is that most schools do not require you to use a textbook, so you can literally teach them anything you want. I use a combination of creating my own lessons from scratch and getting resources online. I have done lessons on comics and cartoons, scary movies, extreme sports, natural disasters, and so on. The majority of my lessons have been a hit with the students….ESPECIALLY the scary movie and extreme sports lesson.
So now the cons. High school students can annoy the hell out of you sometimes because they can be loud and annoying. They can be disrespectful towards you but on the other hand be respectful to the Korean teacher. Or they’re just disrespectful to all the teachers. I’ve had a few classes in which some bad boys started to wrestle each other and they had to be broken apart. They also will swear like a sailor. They have issues with authority(what teenager doesn’t) so if you try to tell them to be quiet or try to punish them, there’s a chance that they won’t give a damn. It will take you getting extremely mad for them to get the point. This is also contingent on the co-teacher or if your co-teacher even shows up for class. The classes in which are the hardest to teach are the ones without a co-teacher. There have been one time where both the co-teacher and I could not control the class and I said “forget it, I’m not teaching anymore, you’re getting punished.” There’s seriously no point in continuing to yell over loud kids. That got the kids attention and some of them felt bad and said “No! No! Teach, teach!” Then when I punished them, of course some of them didn’t listen and laughed it off. It got to the point where I just told their homeroom teacher and he/she ended up punishing the class. The next week, I got an apology from that class.
Also, high schoolers have a “brain drain” for they are in school until 10PM. Then I told my class that my high school ended at 3:15, they said that they were jealous. Because of this “brain drain” there is a high tendency that they sleep in class or just don’t pay attention at all. The way this can be dealt with is tricky for I’ve heard some high school co-teachers just tell their native English teachers to “let the kids sleep.” Others make their kids wake up. The one reason that they do sleep in class and act up is because they get no grade for this class and many see no point in paying attention really. At least this is the case at many schools. That is when a teacher needs to get creative. For high schoolers, giving them a “carrot” is absolutely important. Candy is usually what teachers revert to, but I recommend that one tactily give out candy. I use an incentive program for the kids in which they recieve stamp cards. A certain number of stamps equals a certain level of prizes. And they can get stamps for various things…for participating, cleaning the classroom, and being the first ten to finish my worksheets. By doing this, it motivates those who are not keen to volunteer for a verbal activity to do these activities or motivates them to do things within their comfort zone(like trying to finish their worksheet first) to recieve a stamp. For the second year students I have an “English Idol” competition in which each class are competing for the most “X”s on this chart I made. They can recieve up to 5 “X”es for 1)coming on time 2) bringing pens 3)participating 4)good behavior and 5)cleaning up the classroom. The class with the most “Xes” at the end of the semester recieves a movie and pizza party. Ever since I have implemented this incentive program, students have been bringing their pens, participating, and cleaning the class more on a regular basis. Another high school teacher implemented the same program at her school and she is seeing some positive results too.
At least in my area, there is no support for high school teachers due to various administrative reasons. In other cities, this might be a different case. I only know one other high school teacher in town and met another on some trip. I know a few others outside my town though. There’s no workshops or training tailored towards high school teachers. I sometimes think this is the case because when kids enter high school, it’s all about those college entrance exams and less about them getting enthusiastic about English. Thus there is no need to train native high school English teachers to be better teachers. Luckily I have made some friends in the Foreign English teachers association in my city and they have been kind enough to invite me to some of their events, for example, this workshop I went to today. Also, the support I get from my co-teachers at school is really good and they have been giving me “on-the-job” training and feedback from my lessons.
Anyway, those are the pros and cons of teaching in High School. I hope this gives some insight on teaching at a high school. It’s not a piece of cake, but it’s not entirely as bad as people make it out to be either.