On Friday the students of Oyu Middle School wrote their final to exams of their scholastic year. The final, final exam was English. One I suspect most of them had no desire at all to write. They needed have worried. Mr. Hong, my co-teacher, had them well and truly prepared for the exam. I’m not sure how much practical knowledge of English they’ll maintain but for the duration of the test most seemed to do fairly well.
It was the only exam I monitored, on the off chance they tried to cheat in English instead of Korean, because if they went with Korean Mr. Kim would have been able to catch them out. Not that many, or any tried to cheat. I’m not certain it could even be called a final exam, the test was thirty questions long, twenty-six of which were multiple choice. I never saw any of the other tests, so I can’t verify if this was the average length or short by Korean standards. Without being able to read the questions, I could still guess most of the answers. Yes, many of the questions were in fact in Korean.
The four ‘essay’ answers, weren’t even that. The students had to write up to four words to complete a sentence or question. Do you want to go shopping? Help yourself to some food. Not the most taxing of questions. Still, I was very pleased with the results of the students. The First Grade (Grade Seven) averaged over 70% and it would have been much higher if not for the one male student who isn’t stupid as much as lazy. He just doesn’t want to try (in any subect) his 25% really dragged the average down, since there are only 10 students in the First Grade. He’s a frustrating, but fun, student since he’s sociable and he can speak English, when he wants, usually he defaults to his standard, “Me, no Englishee.”
민윽 (Min-uk) amazed me by completing the test in ten minutes. Of course, he didn’t bother to try to answer the four written questions (see above.) Apparently he does that in every exam, just whips through the test as though it were a timed obstacle course. Then he folded up his test paper and took a nap for 20 minutes. He’s not a good student. Funny though and very amiable.
The surprised kept coming on Monday when I learned their scores on their English exams. Much to my expectations, the top student in First Grade (영은 – Yeong-un) and the top student in Second Grade (반희 – Ban Hee) both just happen to clean the library where my desk is. Ok, a quick aside, every school day the students spend ten minutes (or more) doing some manual labour as Korean culture believes it helps instill a work ethic. I think. I don’t fully understand it but some sweep, some mop, some clean the bathrooms, some serve lunch, some clean classrooms, some take out recycling. These two come to the library every day and for those 10 minutes, I ask them questions in English. When I started Yeong-un would answer with “Why!” when I called her name, now she answers with “What!” My co-teacher caught her responding with a “What!” and went to chastize her to be more polite. I laughed and informed him “What” was a major step forward in my opinion. Yeong-un ended up scoring 91% while Ban-Hee, who was already good at English when I arrived, made but one mistake for a 97% score. Neither are tops in any other class.
That’s the real difference English teachers can make in South Korea. More than anything, by interacting with them, I’ve boosted the confidence. I don’t let them escape until they’ve found a way, in English, to make their point or answer my question. When I arrived in April it frustrated them both, especially Yeong-un, but now, while they might struggle for a word or a moment, they trust me enough and have the confidence to work through the impasse to deliver their answer or ask their question.
This is one of the real benefits of working in a tiny school. They students have more chance to practice English with me than they would at a school with 800 students. Some are taking advantage of this opportunity.
Mr. Hong focused on the grammar and structure of English for them. Me, I’m trying to teach them pronunciation and, in some cases, confidence.
The days like today, make me realize the effect I can have on some young Korean student’s minds and egos. Today, it was a very rewarding feeling of accomplishment I felt for them. For what they had achieved and I had helped them with.
But I still have two weeks of teaching before winter break for the students. This week, after a week of Final Exams. English class is… watching The Nightmare Before Christmas.
They earned it.
Especially Yeong-un and Ban-Hee.