A Sad School Story
By Cho Jae-hyon
Tens of thousands of foreigners are teaching English here. They became an important ingredient on the Korean education front. Many of them have experiences teaching students in different countries. They will eventually come to develop their own views of the Korean school system in an objective manner during their stint in this country where education fever runs high.
They may get frustrated with various incidents happening in classrooms, which are overlooked or taken as trivial by Korean co-teachers or school principals. Cultural differences are simply not enough to explain their distress. Something is seriously wrong with Korean schools.
I have a friend from Florida. Let me identify him just as Mike. He had taught English at an elementary school here over the last four-and-a-half years before leaving for his hometown last month.
We had dinner together days before his departure. When Mike first came to Korea, he couldn't eat kimchi and had many other problems every other foreigner would usually have. He later became a fan of dweonjang jjigae (soybean paste stew) and other Korean foodstuffs. I guess he is already missing lots of things and people he experienced and met here.
Mike is one of those guys who likes teaching and kids. However, in the later days of his stint here, he seemed to have grown tired of students getting out of control. Compared with his earlier years here, students are becoming more impolite, he recalled.
He told me a story that upset him so much during his final days of school here.
In November, he was teaching sixth graders with his co-teacher, a Korean. Students often write on the teacher's table with pencils, pens, markers or knives. So, Mike and his co-teacher instituted a rule that, if students are using an ink pen or a knife in class, they will confiscate them.
During a class, a student was writing on the desk with a pen. Mike walked up to him and told him not to write on the desks and took the pen. But he glared at his teacher and, in less than a minute, took another pen from his pencil case and again started writing on the desk.
Mike told him not to do it again and took his pen. The kid, however, immediately took another pen and continued writing on the desk.
Mike took his pen and the whole pencil case and told him if he did it one more time, he would be asked to leave the room. Despite the warning, the kid took another magic marker and started writing on the desk. Mike took the marker and told him to leave the room.
The kid simply sat there with a snotty look on his face and didn't move. The teacher raised his voice and told him two more times but he wouldn't move.
As he walked back over to him, he darted up, pushing the table into the teacher's legs. Then he stood inches away from Mike's face and told him to return his pencil case. Mike told him to leave his class. His co-teacher, who had mostly taken an onlooker's attitude, then began to yell at him in Korean to leave the class.
The student started swearing at Mike and uttering other extremely rude comments. As he approached the door, he turned to his teacher and gave him the middle finger with both hands and then threw two pen caps at the teacher's face.
One hit his arm as he blocked his face. They were thrown hard enough to leave a welt on his arm for a whole day. The co-teacher was then with him outside the door and she asked Mike to go back in and teach the class.
She then took him to the homeroom teacher and came back at the end of the class. Later that day, the homeroom teacher spoke to his co-teacher and told her that the student was right to refuse to leave the class, so there was absolutely no support.
The next day, the mother came in to talk about the issue, and she apologized, but her main concern was how to get her son's pencil case back. He was the class president.
``So, there was absolutely no support from the parents either. The student was back in class the next day having had no punishment at all, other than what we could do to him in class, having him write, ``Sorry," on a piece of paper,'' Mike said.
If this is really what's happening in classrooms, and schools are doing nothing about it, what's the use of all these moves by the education authorities to whip teachers and schoolmasters into chasing higher academic records for their students? How to put this malfunctioning school system back in order should be the primary job concerning the authorities.