Open Class and Pen Pals, part 2

Open Class

After nine months at my school, I had my first open class.

Many ETAs have talked about having open classes, in which anyone can come and observe your class. I started to think that I’d gotten lucky and that my school wouldn’t make be bother with the whole ordeal…until suddenly my coteacher told me that we had one next week.

So Ms. Mina and I sat down to make a plan. Typically I plan my lessons without any input from coteachers – even if I wanted input, I think they simply wouldn’t have the time. The most valuable feedback comes from actually teaching the class, and if time allows, reflecting on it with my coteacher afterwards. With Ms. Mina, I explain briefly explain the day’s topic and activity as we walk to class, and the first time we teach a lesson, she plays it by ear. By the second time she’s good and we’ve set a routine.

In the lesson plan that fell on open class day I planned to pass out students’ pen pal letters from Malaysia. On the surface, this sounds like a great lesson for an open class, right? Pen pals from Malaysia! Wow! No one else is doing anything like it! But actually, I was worried.

After teaching another class with pen pals from Turkey, I found that letter-receiving/letter-writing classes get pretty hectic. However, Ms. Mina didn’t share my anxiety and instead her enthusiasm was infectious. We put together what seemed like a solid plan: a few students would share their letters, as a class we’d discuss and look up unfamiliar Malaysian words on the spot, and finally we’d help students individually as they drafted their responses.

Fast forward to the day before open classes, when I found out…


…that my class wasn’t that important.

I even was told “maybe no one will come.” Various open classes were scheduled for the whole day and parents were welcome to attend, but only one class really mattered. Ms. Nam Young’s third period class. Because a representative from the provincial education office would come to observe that English class.

No longer worried, I entered my open class the next day unfazed. The classroom was rearranged especially for Ms. Nam Young’s class, tables pushed together for group work and a line of no-longer-intimidating chairs in the back for an audience. Contrary to the predictions, one parent showed up shortly after the bell rang, while three or four more stopped by later in the class. They had papers, and sometimes seemed to take notes, but hey, my class wasn’t really being evaluated. However, I was a little anxious by the time class was over.

Despite our plans, this class got chaotic and was Still. So. Loud. I’d expected students to be more well-behaved when they were being observed, but maybe they also got the it’s-not-so-important memo. In my after-school class that evening, my students told me how tired they were because they couldn’t sleep in any of their classes today. I laughed, not having realized that the students in my classes that day had been making this extra effort.

As my after-school class students’ had said, none of the students in my open class slept. But some still refused to do anything. With the new classroom arrangement and relatively unstructured writing time, they felt free to get up and move around as they pleased. I struggled to quiet them down anytime I needed to give more instruction. Of course, some students were focused and finished their letters very quickly, leaving time for revision.

At the end of my open class, parents made some remarks to Ms. Mina (which she didn’t share with me). We then thanked them for coming. And that was the end of it. Although I’m sure the class looked hectic, students had an authentic reason to use their English and were likewise invested in understanding the content of the their letters…which is always a nice thing to see in class.

After I finished my class, I met the representative from the Gyeongnam education office and we chatted in English. He was impressed that I was making an effort to learn/knew some Korean, and we traded some opinions on English education before he was called to go observe Ms. Nam Young’s class. I feel fortunate to have had a very low-stress open class, although I wonder if I would’ve received negative evaluations had this been taken seriously.

Pen Pals (in pictures)

Both classes have finished their second round of letters! Here they’re holding up the letters from their pen pals – from Turkey (girls’ class) and Malaysia (boys’ class) – and working on their replies.

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