Getting to know your students isn't always easy. There's a definite learning curve to figuring out how to walk the line between authority figure and someone the kids feel comfortable with. From the outgoing class clowns to the moody, exhausted teenagers, I've found that part of teaching is finding a way to relate to each of them. As Chungdahm's spring term begins here in Korea, I am revisiting my top tricks and go-to topics for breaking the ice with my new classes.
1. Brush up on pop culture
Initially, I had written "Korean pop culture," but that's an unnecessary restriction. While knowing a thing or two about the latest K-drama or the hip new K-pop group definitely can't hurt you, pop culture in general is an excellent way to start conversations with your students.
As an example, I'll use the movie "Frozen," which almost all of my students are completely bananas about right now. Being able to chat with them about Olaf's humor or how they can incorporate "Let It Go" into their CTP has definitely won me some points. They love that I know what they're talking about and we can make jokes and references to the movie together.
2. Find ways to personalize praise
Finding the strengths of your students will sometimes be obvious -- some are good test takers, others read aloud well. As the term goes on, you'll start to learn other, less apparent things. This student is a talented artist. That student really loves writing and dreams of being a novelist. Use all of this.
Comment on their drawings for CTP, pointing out the parts you like the best. Give praise to the kid in the group that does the bulk of the creative writing, especially if writing happens to be their preferred hobby. Find something each student does well so you can be sure everyone gets a chance to be praised. Bonus form of praise that students love: Politely ask if you can take a picture of their art/writing/etc. with your phone to share with others. I've genuinely enjoyed collecting what students have created and they enjoy knowing that you want to keep a picture of it.
3. Ask them questions
As you know or would assume, you will be absolutely inundated with questions from your students. One thing I love doing is turning those questions back around on them. Find out what they did on the weekend. Ask them about their families. Some of this can easily be incorporated into your classroom discussions -- finding ways to help them relate a lesson or experience to their own lives really helps with their understanding of a subject, and you also benefit by learning a little more about the kids which helps to understand why they do or act in a certain way sometimes.
Also utilize the down time to talk with them. Before class or during break times are perfect opportunities. Find out about their hobbies, their pets, and what books they like. Then, ask follow-up questions periodically about the pet hamster or new baby brother. It's a little thing that goes a long way with kids. This ultimately makes it easier to manage a classroom of crazy kids when you better understand them, especially when you take the time out of your schedule to do so. The kids see it, trust me.
4. Share parts of your life with the class
This is where a smartphone comes in super handy. In seconds, I can pull up a picture of my sister, my dog, or my parent's house. They want to see how blonde my hair actually used to be? (Or, they want proof that my hair is naturally blonde and not dyed?) I can show them a picture.
Their innate curiosity means they will love seeing pictures from your outside-of-Korea life. Even when some students don't seem particularly engaged, as soon as I show them a photo relevant to my experience, they all want to see it.
In addition to seeing old pictures, my classes have loved seeing pictures of my adventures around Korea. Since I'm wary of adding students on Facebook, I've turned instead to KakaoStory, which is related to the popular messaging app KakaoTalk and is kind of like a cross between Facebook and Instagram. When I do something interesting, from my fancy Halloween makeup to sightseeing on Jeju, I'll upload a picture or two, which always sparks comments and conversations both on the app and in person.
5. Let them teach you things
The amount of Korean I've learned from my students makes up a significant amount of my vocabulary. Granted, it's mostly really odd words that don't come up in everyday conversation, but they enjoy getting to explain words to me too.
Sometimes they teach me silly things, like origami or clapping games they play with their friends. Other times, my students have given me explanations of cultural customs or activities. With everything I teach them each day, it's fun to give them the opportunity to teach me something as well.
Between studying Japanese and Asian culture in university and setting her sights on a teaching career, it came as no surprise when Zannah Smreker announced that she was moving to South Korea to teach for Chungdahm Learning. In November 2011, Zannah accepted a position through Aclipse with the Songdo branch in Incheon, just southwest of Seoul. When she's not teaching, she keeps herself busy with exploring Korea, eating all the street food, and hunting down strange Engrish shirts. Check out her blog here for more of her adventures!