So there are a lot of peculiar aspects about the Korean school system and granted, I know I am only a visitor so I try not to be TOO judgemental or anything. However, there are just some things that I seriously ponder, “You really can’t do better than that?”.
Four *Hmmm..* moments I’ve had while teaching in the South Korean public school system:
1. Set up to FAIL from the start = My classes are divided between High, Intermediate, and Low levels of English. These are all based on tests (the midterm and final) and they change after every testing period. Which, honestly, caught me way off guard because after a month or two of getting to know my classes — everyone got mixed around again and I mean everyone, except the low levels. What I’ve noticed is that the lower level kids are just set up to fail. Now, I don’t have a lot of teaching experience, hell, I don’t have any! But, what I do know is that the way they test for language fluency here is just kinda wack. There’s no way you can give the same type of grammar, writing, and speaking test to kids on COMPLETELY different levels. I’ve seen the midterms here and it’s no joke, that junk is hard. It’s kind of a hopeless if you ask me, and it explains why my most difficult classes to teach are lower level students because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to them anymore. I suggested to the teachers that maybe they should offer different tests to really gauge where the different level classes are, but they said it’s just the way it is = Same test of every student and if they cared enough, they would study harder? Wow, that’s tough. Imagine trying to take a college level Spanish exam when the only thing you can say is ‘Hola!” — no, I am not joking.
2. Running Round and Round = Riddle me this, why is it that Korean students have so much freedom at school? I made a comment to another Teacher the other day asking why on earth do these kids get to run around so much. I mean, seriously, theres a kid smoking there, theres a couple of kids over there, and there another group over there — WHY is no one telling these hoodlums to go to class?
The answer = we can not control them.
Hmm, say what now? I told her that in the States, you never roam around. Get caught in the hallway? Detention. Get caught out side? In school suspension. Get caught smoking? Special date with the principal and you’re parents. I mean — KOREA! where are your consequences?! The only thing is that you were able to do before was to hit the kids and now that has been banned, it seems like teachers here have lost hope in curving bad behavior. There’s just a lot of yelling and no real action.
Which really makes me curious on what it’s like to teach in the states.
3. Pass! Pass! Pass! = In Korea, everyone passes. Yep, you read that right — every student passes, but not every student succeeds. So, let’s say that you are a student in Korea and you never do the work, you never study, and you never come to class? You still pass. They don’t have students repeat grades here and what you are essentially doing is building a long academic record as an individual. It’s like having a really long transcript following you around and you only get evaluated when you move on to the next level of grades (i.e. elementary, middle, high, and then college). I’ve discussed this with my cousin as well as other teachers and really, the students are usually separated into groups of being successful or not at a young age. Those on the successful path are treated differently, put in different classes, and encouraged more. Those on the path of academic darkness are really only tolerated. I mean, they just run around everywhere because to them, what’s the point? They’re gonna fail anyways. The real test in their lives is after highschool because getting into college is really tough (only one national test per year — you make it or break it) and if you were gonna be going for higher education, you were expected to make that decision and go on that specific path in elementary school. Whoa.
4. USA has the fire drill, Korea has the war evacuation strategy = So, today I came to school (Monday … ugh) expecting another regular day of teaching and my CoTeacher informs me that my classes will be cut short as well as my last class being cancelled. “Oh, really?”, I replied without much hesitation because this is normal in Korea, things change whenever and for whatever reason. I ask, “Well, what’s going on today for the schedule change?”, while yawning, and she goes, “Civil Defense Drill in case North Korea attacks”. HAHA! Wow, that was not the answer I was expecting at all! Apparently, each school must conduct these types of drills in order for students to know what to do if Korea was ever attacked by the North. The drill includes sirens and telling students were to line up or hide — but no actual evacuation plan because point blank, there’s no where to go. Yep, that’s what my CoT said. LOL.
Disclaimer – this is only my observation at my school. Like I wrote before, I don’t have any experience in teaching except how I struggle as a foreign teacher in Korea compared to how I felt as a student in the states. These are only a couple of things that I ponder about often.