The Doubting and Believing Game

Korean teachers of English have the need to be heard, to be understood and to be valued by their employers, especially by the Ministry of Education (MOE). The MOE seeks to create English communicators of its students, but principals still ask classrooms to remain quiet; test scores still take priority over being able to carry on a conversation. Many of these teachers feel limited in their English ability, and can’t imagine how they could be role models of English communication. But we press on; we ask them to reform their ways, and so they feel exasperated, confused, and alone.

So how can we ask these teachers to change when it seems that they receive so many signals saying they should hold on to their old ways? This question has been haunting me all day as I attempt to plan a lesson on teaching techniques, namely on the concept of “eliciting“.

And the clincher is we can’t ask them to change. They have to believe that this change will work out for them and for their students. This is the only way that they will reform the way they teach.

A successful implementation of any educational reform is closely related to how teachers perceive the reform, and their perceptions can be influenced by their beliefs about English language education. Therefore, the success of reforms in English language education is contingent upon ESL/EFL teachers’ beliefs. (p. 2)

This quote is from Cheong Min Yook’s dissertation, “KOREAN TEACHERS’ BELIEFS ABOUT ENGLISH LANGUAGE EDUCATION AND THEIR IMPACTS UPON THE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION-INITIATED REFORMS“. I’ve been reading it today as a source of inspiration for tomorrow’s lesson, and really for a kind of reformation of my own teaching.

The results and findings of this study reveal complex relationships that are formed between the teacher participants’ beliefs, perceptions, and practices and the realities of English language education.  These realities (e.g., teachers’ deficiency in speaking proficiency or lack of confidence in their speaking proficiency, the washback effect of the national college entrance exam, an overload of teaching and administrative work, and large class size) function as constraints on the implementation of MOE initiatives. The complex relationships in turn reveal gaps and mismatches among the participants’ beliefs, perceptions, and practices. (p. 147-148)

Of course, the answer has always been right under my nose, or in the case of my blog, right at my fingertips:

… EFL teacher education programs in Korea, particularly those for in-service teachers, should help teachers learn how to reflect not only on the theoretical and methodological aspects of their teaching practices but also on the consequences of their beliefs, perceptions, and practices. In other words, EFL teacher education programs should provide opportunities for teachers to become reflective practitioners, who can reflect on the beliefs they hold, teaching practices they conduct, and perceptions they have toward reforms and innovations, check whether there is any gaps between them, and, if any, find solutions for the gaps. (p. 154)

So does this mean that I need to scrap my lesson on eliciting, and simply focus on reflection? Although I am a firm believer in the power of reflection, I’m not sure how I can reform myself. I too have time constraints and program expectations to meet. By the end of 10 weeks — and I only see them once a week for 75 minutes — my participants are supposed to be able to use popular — practical — language teaching techniques. But will they believe in their usefulness? As the study shows, they probably won’t, not without taking the time to connect them to their beliefs.

In writing this entry I have discovered something unnerving about myself: I seem to have a belief that I can’t help these teachers change. I connect their change to reflection, but I am having a hard time making time for reflection in my class. This is a huge revelation. If I don’t think I can change, how can I ask them to? Perhaps the MOE needs to ask itself the same question.

It’s time for me to check into my own beliefs. Stay tuned to see how this soul-searching, belief molding quest turns out.

I’d like to thank Leonie Overbeek for sharing this article with me.

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5 thoughts on “The Doubting and Believing Game

  1. Thanks for the credit, and yes, the thesis was a challenge to me as well – how do I adjust my beliefs to the demands of my Korean colleagues and the curriculum instead of giving students talking time? And as for the whole culture thing – I think someone needs to investigate the feelings of the population towards the continuing American military presence in their country. It could be that the reluctance to speak English stems from the fear of merely becoming another American sattelite?

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    1. Thank you for stopping by Leonie! I apologize for not replying to your comment earlier.

      You ask some thought provoking questions. I also have wondered about the connection between the Korean relationship to acquiring English and the possible fear of losing their culture. It makes a lot of sense to me, but I haven’t found the research yet.

      The exploration of beliefs and language/teaching/learning/culture is endless. I am happy to have found someone else who enjoys exploring these beliefs. I look forward to continuing the dialogue.

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  2. We learn to speak by speaking, just as we learn to ride a bicycle by riding a bycycle. Amazing concept that all people know.
    It is my belief that the MOE has secret reluctance about imparting English language skills.
    However, if they are sincere, has no one heard of a sound-proof language lab?
    Preposterous!

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    1. Thank you for your empathy Katharine :) I know, right? Speaking without speaking? What’s the deal? You made a profound point here, “It is my belief that the MOE has secret reluctance about imparting English language skills.” I have often thought that. Learning English is such a craze here, yet it is hard to find people who speak it confidently. Why? Because English is taught to the test, and as a result, the culture is stripped from it. Could it be that really bringing in English, and as a result, its culture, could be a threat to Korean culture? Is there a subconscious, or even conscious, push back by the government? An interesting concept, non?

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