Lesson plans, or one big game of 20 questions?As a university student, even if you’re supported by your parents, you are, technically, an adult. And for adults, it’s embarrassing to ask mommy or daddy for some cash every time you want to go to a movie or buy a new CD.
Since I’m a native English speaker, I have a skill that’s coveted by the parents of many Korean students. Often this is more than enough reason for them to leave their children in my custody for hours with the hope that the kids will learn English while they’re with me.
Tutoring kids in English was the perfect vacation job. It allowed me to earn money while visiting Korea and seeing my family in between grueling semesters abroad. The flexible hours and cash inspired envy among my friends staying in America, who mostly had minimum-wage part-time jobs. I was on cloud nine, earning my own spending money doing something that came naturally to me.
Little did I know that with the title seonsaengnim comes a lot of actual work ― making lesson plans, assigning and checking homework, thinking up essay topics. And all the while I have to keep the interest of middle school kids who resent the added study session and would replace me with a computer game cartridge in a heartbeat.
But all the lesson plans in the world couldn’t prepare me for the questions that would pop into the kids’ heads. Many of the students I taught moved to America with their families after finishing middle school. This reality turned a lot of my carefully planned lessons into a game of 20 questions.
One of the boys I taught, I’ll call him Benny, was only interested in one thing: whether he might actually be able to play on a competitive soccer team. I told him he probably could, but maybe not on the varsity team, at least not as a freshman. Explaining the difference between varsity and junior varsity was a whole other lesson.
A girl I taught, I’ll call her Beth, on the other hand wasn’t too interested in sports try-outs. She wanted to know how Korean and American fashion meshed, and if her clothes were appropriate enough to fit in. Actually, a lot of the boys wondered about fashion, too.
It took a lot of work to gain and keep the affection of increasingly hard-to-please students, while at the same time pleasing their parents with visible academic improvement.
by Josephine Hojean Lee
Ms. Lee is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an intern at the Joong-Ang Daily.