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Mar 4, 2010

South Koreans learn with locals: Visitors working on English get chance to share their culture


S. Koreans learn with locals

Associated Press | Posted: Thursday, March 4, 2010 12:00 am |

Associated Press

POWELL — A seven-week practicum for 40 Korean teachers provided learning opportunities for them, and for teachers and students in Big Horn Basin schools.

The practicum is the culminating experience for the teachers from Incheon, South Korea, who began studying English and American education in March 2009 through an agreement between the city of Incheon, Eleutian Technologies Inc. and Northwest College. The practicum began Jan. 4 and continued through last month, with teachers working with mentor teachers in classrooms throughout the Basin.

When the teachers return to Incheon, they will use their improved skills to teach English in Korean classrooms. Southside kindergarten teacher Holly Howell described her experience with the teachers as “fun and enjoyable.”

“I’ve enjoyed Saewon. She’s another helping hand in the classroom, and she’s very inquisitive. She’s gaining confidence in herself with English and working in a small group of kids.”

Julie Riding, second-grade teacher in Burlington, said a cultural exchange takes place every day sometimes through formal presentations, but often just through daily contact among the Korean teachers, their American counterparts and the students.

“We’ve had such a great time with them,” Riding said. “We’ve had them in our classroom, not only teaching about their culture, but they also teach lessons. They study and work so hard. ... They try to teach like you would do.

“I think the thing that I like the most is, it helps our students understand another culture. It’s amazing to me how attached the students get to those Korean teachers. They’re just very kind and very accepting.”

Riding said watching the teachers work on understanding and speaking English has given her a new perspective about how to teach English to students who speak other languages. Coming from a city of 2.5 million people, Yoonyung Lee, one of the two teachers assigned to Burlington School, said she was a little anxious about living and teaching in such a small town. But her fears soon vanished.

“They have a good system for education, and people were very nice. Teachers say hi to me; we have a rapport. ... I can get a lot of tips for teaching English by observing them.”

Lee said she enjoys working with students as well and has developed a bond with the teachers and students she works with.

“I will feel a little bit sorry to say goodbye to them soon, because they were very nice to me,” she said.

Jiyeon Byeon, who also was assigned to the Burlington School, said she has grown to love the teachers and students in the school, and she has no problem being in a small community.

“I really like it,” she said. “I experience everything from K-12.”

Byeon noted that the Burlington School was built about three years ago and is equipped with some of the latest technology.

Amanda Johnston, social studies teacher at Powell Middle School, said she has enjoyed working with the two Korean teachers at that school. She noted that all the Korean teachers in the program have several years of experience in teaching, and they are assets in the classroom.

Korean teacher Sunkyoung Keum recently made a presentation about Korea to seventh-grade social studies classes, and Yeonho Kim taught students about Korea and its culture. Following their presentations, both teachers showed students how to write their names in Korean.

“I liked how they gave us our name cards and taught about Korea,” said seventh-grader Rowdy Gard. “I knew nothing about Korea. Now I know it looks like a tiger. They just nailed it. It was very cool.”

Student Shelby Gatlin said she liked learning about schools in Korea.

“I liked the part about class periods, classrooms and subjects,” she said. Learning how to write her name in Korean “was pretty cool,” too.

Seventh-grader Emily Campbell said she wouldn’t care to stay in school until 10 p.m. to complete assigned work, as Korean high-schoolers do. But there would be advantages, she said.

“It’s kind of better,” she said. “You can ask your teacher for help. You can’t do that at home.”

Keum said the practicum is a good experience, and she’s finding ways to use what she learns in her classroom at home.

“Here, they focus on writing a lot,” she said. “In Korea, they only read a lot. They don’t have a lot of chance to express themselves in writing in English.

“When I go back home, I really plan on teaching writing to my students, integrate writing with reading.”

Teachers here have more flexibility in how they present their curriculum, Keum said.

“In Korea, we have a national curriculum. Here, teachers can plan their own schedules ... They can use a lot of different materials that can help their students better.”

During the practicum, the teachers stayed in homes in the communities where they teach. Consequently, they spoke English at home and at work.

“The goal is for (them) to be totally immersed in English, 24-7,” said George Miller of Glacier Bay Training, the Eleutian subsidiary overseeing the teachers’ training through Northwest College. Having Korean teachers study and teach in the Big Horn Basin provides unique opportunities for small communities, he said.

“I always joke that someday, there will be an anthropologist who says, ‘Hey, why, in this little corner of Wyoming, did they know so much about South Korea?’ ”