When we are contacted with inquiries as to our tutoring services, we always hold a preliminary “interview” before agreeing to start lessons. In fact, it’s not any kind of an organized interview: whoever is being requested as a teacher sits down with the student or students in question, and we chat for about half an hour. We sort of try to get to know one another, and along the way try to figure out of the kid is right for the way we teach, among other things.
When it comes to kids, normally the parents come along, and it becomes necessary to separate the parents from the kids during the “interview” because the parents seem to think it’s necessary to answer the questions on behalf of the kid. In cases like that, we usually split them up, and the potential teacher chats with the kids while the other one of us runs interference, basically chatting with the parents, or taking them out for a walk around the complex or for a coffee or whatever.
Half an hour of chit-chat sounds like a very short time to form a sense of a person, and it would be, if you didn’t know what you were looking for. We, however, know exactly what we’re looking for. We ask questions about school, hobbies, interests, and so on, but what we’re really trying to find out is this kind of stuff:
- How interested is the kid in learning English, really?
- How much of the motivation to learn comes from parental pressure?
- Does the kid have interests or hobbies or passions of her or his own?
- How much as the kid succumbed to the spirit-killing effects of the school-hakwon-homework routine?
(And, yes, if there’s a kid we feel is too far gone for us to help, we usually recommend he or she–usually he–be sent to a hakwon, because frankly we think hakwons are the last resort of the overschooled… useful for kids who cannot learn any other way than memorize-and-regurgitate, though they’re toxic to any other kind of child.)
Anyway, in the course of these interviews, and chatting with parents, we’ve discovered two trends that, however anecdotal they are, have been consistent in almost every case we’ve had so far. (We can think of exactly one exception.) This is more notable since, within the circles we’re getting recommended through, the parents are specifically mentioning us as “innovative” or “unusual” in our methods.
(Which is pretty sad, really: our methods basically aim and undoing the damage done by schooling by making learning English fun, and by using English to help the kids explore what interests them–in other words, using English as a “Language of Instruction” rather than focusing on studying English grammar, the way most Korean-preferred instructors do. Which, incidentally, is why we get results. It doesn’t take much. In the land of the rote-memorization-and-regurgitate instructor, the one-iota-of-humanity teacher is king. Or, well, able to have a little fiefdom.)
But anyway, I mentioned two trends we’ve noticed, which ought to give anyone pause: Continue reading