Teaching During a Pandemic

For the last week and a half, my hagwon has been holding online classes via Zoom. While the director was initially against this (due to logistics and whatnot), with the 2.5 lockdown being extended past the first three weeks, he decided to go ahead with online classes.

Each teacher has a classroom to themselves, a computer with a dual monitor system, two webcams (one on top of the monitor and another on an extendable arm which we can use to show students books or write on a small whiteboard), and a stand microphone.

Prior to holding online classes, we prepped two weeks in advance and had the bus drivers drop off the files that we prepared for our students. As an afternoon teacher, much of my work is already in their books so I mostly just prepped blank vocabulary quizzes and updated lesson plans. The teachers who teach kindergarten had to prep a ton of material, whereas I spent most of my time prepping my assignments for the two weeks (whereas normally I prep for each day when I arrive to school).

All of our books have been scanned and uploaded to Dropbox, and some of them are also on an interactive website. Rather than reading the script for mp3 files or fiddling around with an mp3 player, I can simply share the screen and play the files, which has been incredibly convenient and helpful. I’m hoping to take this aspect of my work and continue using the files in in-person class if I can.

Read on to find out more about my individual classes:

  • Class A is an intermediate class where some students are more advanced than others, e.g. one student always scores perfectly on vocabulary quizzes and another misses the majority of the words. They are bright and funny and sometimes will teach me a Korean phrase or two off-the-cuff. For example, once I had to tell my student who always gets excited and stands up to “sit down” and he sat down and proceeded to tell me what “sit down” was in Korean and made me repeat it a few times. I enjoy teaching this class a lot. One student did have his mother tattle on him and call the hagwon to let us know that he was watching YouTube videos during the class and she would make sure that he didn’t do it again. It’s unfortunate because he is at the lowest level in the class and would benefit the most by paying attention.
  • Class B has several 8-year-olds and they are usually ready for class as soon as the bell rings, cameras facing them and microphones on. One student in particular has used this time to shine, volunteering to read and trying his best to talk to me in English. He is not the most advanced in the class, but his eagerness is appreciated. Only one student is not attending this class and he is fairly good at English so I don’t think he will have too many problems catching up once in-person classes resume. For this class, I like the ability to easily show videos to them, as they are the right age for many beginner ESL videos. (Normally, to show videos I have to first stand on a chair to turn on the computer sitting on a ledge close to the ceiling and then turn on the projector, all of which takes a lot of time.)
  • Class C is an interesting one because there are only two students: a teenage boy and a teenage girl. Naturally, they tend to joke around with each other to the point I would consider it flirting. They can be a bit uncontrollable at times, but they are smart kids who have a lot of potential. I just wish they would apply themselves a little more, as sometimes certain areas (such as vocabulary) are really lacking.
  • Class D is my chattiest class. They are 11-years-old and their level is really low, despite working with intermediate material. They struggle with basic things like writing complete sentences and knowing what tenses to use. My Korean co-teacher and I managed to level down two students, both of whom have unfortunately left the hagwon (one went to a winter camp and the other did not mesh well socially with her new class and I think this is one of the reasons why she left). We have broken down each lesson into two classes, so we can review the homework and work on anything else they struggle with (usually grammar, but sometimes vocabulary). This class also has their cameras facing them and microphones on, but they frequently break into Korean during my class.
  • Class E is my quietest class. They’re at that awkward stage of puberty, 12-years-old, so most of them try to get away with not showing their faces. Two girls actually wear their masks during online class, another focuses her camera on her open books, and a boy focuses his camera on his shoulder and side of his face. All of them turn their microphones off so I have to ask them to turn them on. I’m not worried that this class is doing things like watching YouTube videos while I’m teaching, but I have used the online class to force individual students to read entire paragraphs, since doing round-robin sentence-each isn’t feasible. (I’ve been keeping a list of students who have read so I can make sure everyone gets a chance to read.) I’ve been experimenting with this class and allowing them to write their answers on my shared screen—basically, I’ll pull up the practice book page or vocabulary homework and let them type in the answers. This is particularly helpful for the activity where a passage is written with numerous errors and students have to find and correct them.  One student might stamp an X on the mistake and another will write the answer. This class I worry about, as their speaking skills are lackluster and it’s hard to coax them to speak.
  • Class F is my most advanced class, and they’re the ages of 14-15. All but one student are quiet, and they’re filled with curiosity. One thing I’ve noticed that I didn’t notice before is the tone of voice used when students at different levels say “Teacher…” In this class, they’re looking for answers, whereas my younger students want my attention and want to give me the answers. This class is working on an intermediate TOEFL book and they don’t like doing it because they find it tedious. I would rather them work on speaking as their writing skills are already pretty advanced.
  • Class G has one student. I feel bad for him because originally there were two other students but they left to go to different elementary schools (I think?) and now he is alone. It’s been an interesting experience learning how to go from teaching classes of 6-12 students to tutoring just one, but he makes the class enjoyable. He’s goofy and intelligent and I can’t say enough nice things about him. He’s a joy to teach. We do one in-person class once a week and the rest through Zoom. (The restrictions say that there can be in-person classes so long as the number of students is less than nine, so he is able to go to his math academy one day a week and come to my hagwon afterwards.)
  • Class H used to be one of my chattiest classes until everyone dropped out. There are only two boys left, around the ages of 13-14, and they’re goofy. Sometimes I will come into the room and one of them will have their coat on backwards. Zoom class is difficult with them as they tend to be a little distracted and this class features a lot of writing. They also almost never do their homework so I have to find time during class to let them do it verbally, or have them stay late to catch up.
  • Class J is my “false-beginner” English class. It grew from five students to ten, and they are all very vocal and boisterous. The youngest, at 9-years-old, is the loudest, whereas the others are 10-12. I admit I struggled with this class because they already knew the alphabet and random English words coming into the class and they were very bored the first few months while we reviewed that. Zoom has enabled me to play English-speaking videos and have them repeat what was said, so we have been talking a lot. I hope to instill fearlessness in them, as our hagwon is very focused on reading and writing and not speaking, which is the area most of my students struggle in.
  • Class K is comprised of three teenage girls around the ages of 13-14. They are one of my classes where the students code-switch a lot, speaking a mixture of Korean and English (and not Konglish). They are an absolute blast to teach as they are very interactive and the material I’m teaching them is a lot of fun to teach. I love these girls. They all have their cameras and microphones turned on but with filters applied to “touch up [their] appearance.”

Overall, I’ve been pleased with the results of teaching class over Zoom. I’m glad that my hagwon finally decided to do it, as it not only means income for myself and the other teachers, but the kids can continue their education. As I’m finding out while learning Korean, if you don’t use it everyday, you really do lose your momentum.

That being said, I can’t wait until we can hold in-person classes and I can see my students again. Now I know what everyone looks like under their masks!