Recently my high school dog, Julie, died. She was a beautiful white ‘Pyrenean Mountain’ dog. We soon became friends and I used to take her for walks twice a day. (Many students at first wondered why). She lived in a caged area. Although it was comfortable enough with a large kennel, all dogs need exercise and we soon developed a daily walking routine. As a result, I have made many friends in the area surrounding my school.
We carried on this routine until recent times when Julie’s health deteriorated. My personal sadness at her death is eased somewhat with the awareness that Julie provided me with much happiness and interestingly proved to be an invaluable teaching assistant in terms of South Korean students developing confidence in speaking English. Yet, how could a dog possibly assist in improving the conversational skills of students? There are some basic reasons.
I am fortunate to be the teacher at a high school where academic levels are high and the attitude of students is overwhelmingly positive. Yet, English teachers must always seek ways to facilitate English conversation with Korean students. Encouraging students to speak English requires patience and encouragement. To this end, a teacher’s work outside the classroom can be incredibly beneficial.
At lunch times and dinner times, I would spend time with her. I noticed that many students would come over to see Julie. Consequently, they would talk to me. Some students, who were very shy in the classroom, gained confidence in Julie’s relaxed company. Over the past couple of years I have taken my own dog (Lando) to school and he became good friends with Julie.
▲ Jangseong High School’s special club
As time went on, many students made enormous strides in speaking English. Their conversation outside the classroom complemented their work within the classroom. Having two lovely dogs there gave the students an unthreatening environment. unlike the classroom environment, where they can sometimes feel pressure and self-conscious, there was absolutely no pressure. Many students told me that they really wanted to have conversations with me, but they felt too shy. The presence of the dogs removed this obstacle.
So, what are the lessons from this? If you are a school teacher, extra curriculum work can be of enormous benefit. Also, many students changed their opinions of dogs and learned to consider the needs and sensitivity of an animal. To this end, we created our own extra-curricular club, ‘Footprint’. We consider dogs as creatures with sensitivity and think generally about how we can help not only dogs, but also cats, in South Korea.
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