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Packedin teaching Korea

SOUTH KOREA | Friday, 11 December 2009 | Views [899]

Packedin Teaching, Korea


           Teaching in Korea is a totally different experience to teaching in England. Many people who go to Asia to teach usually have done an ESL course but may not have had any teaching experience before, so wont have anything to base it against.

           In England our teaching systems rely on good teaching methods to control the students. We have to engage the students in the work or the subject  to keep them well behaved in the classroom. Usually, and I mean that lightly now, students have a little respect for the teachers so normally dont talk when the teacher talks. Here in Korea the students are often talking all the time during the lessons, depending on which Korean teachers they have. The students sometimes sit asleep at their desks unchallenged by the teachers. The teachers still use corporal punishment, which usually means having the student on all fours, on the floor and giving their backsides three of the best. I dont think officially this is allowed in the country, but many of the schools still do it. I have many a time asked the teachers not to do it in my classes as it is so disruptive to my teaching and a little uncomfortable for me too. The students are not phased by this either. In fact they take it as a bit of fun or a game. They sometimes seem to get it done just to show how funny they are in front of the class, which totally undermines why it is being done in the first place.


We have this idea in our heads when we go to Asia that all the students are very well behaved and that they will all be very intelligent and well educated. That was my stereotypical thoughts of what teaching here would be like. I found that quite often exam results are very low in my schools, the students often dont pay any attention at all in classes and this is usual in a lot of schools here. The students talk when the teachers are talking which means they are not listening at all, so the teachers quite often then go and get their portable microphone and just talk more loudly over the top of the students instead of getting the students to pay attention. This makes teaching English very difficult as they have to be listening to how to pronounce words.


The punishment system in the schools here seems to be based around humiliation, making the students look silly in front of the class. I quite often see students crouched down walking around the school due to some punishment. Often the students are punished for getting questions of tests wrong or doing work wrong, which in England would be seen as the teachers fault not the students. I had it explained to me by a Korean teacher that they try to humiliate them as punishment.


One thing I like here in the schools is how affectionate the students are towards each other. In the all boys school, the boys often are walking around school with their arms around each other like brothers. They sit on each others knees on the bus home from school and often hold on to each other to keep someone else from falling on the bus. In the UK students would give each other a black aye if someone put their arms around somebody let alone sit on their knee. You see the boys arranging each others hair and cuddling which is totally alien to me from customs back home.


Even the adults are very tactile here too, which can seem a little uncomfortable at times. I knew about this before I came but still have had to stop it sometimes as I felt is was getting a little inappropriate. I do feel there is a lot of homosexuality hidden in amongst it too, which is never really talked about, especially with some of the older men. Having your inner thigh stroked by a drunken male teacher isnt what I call just being friendly. There seems to be different thoughts about this here too. Some people you ask, say it is normal that people touch each other a lot here and other Korean people say that its not normal for men to be touching other mens legs or thighs. I have known of western men having to ask some of the female teachers to stop touching them as much as it sometimes gets to the point of stroking legs or the patting of bums.


Often I would find my arm hair being pulled by students on the bus as I am hanging on for dear life as the bus drivers have no regard to the fact that their bus is full of passengers and most are standing. Lots of elderly woman here end in hospital with broken bones or fractured ribs all because the bus driver cant drive smoothly. They leap on the accelerator and then jump on the brake which makes the ride very uncomfortable.


I do find that although the students arent behaved that well that in general its not like the bad behavior of students that teachers face everyday teaching in England. I now have a lot of respect for the good teachers in England that can teach well and all with no means of controlling the classed all due to litigation. The teachers that I can remember that had me so interested in certain subjects and all because they were just good teachers, have now gone up in my opinion as many teachers here, even with the stick, still have great difficulty controlling their classes. Students here are not the aggressive type that we have England now, where they will threaten to knock your lights out if you try to teach them anything. They are naughty here, but it is never done with malice or with anger. All the naughty things they do are just childish things like throwing bits of paper at each other.

One funny incident was a day I had sideburns, and while I had my back to the students they had all fashioned themselves sideburns out of black sticky tape. When I turned around they were all sitting there like Vic Reaves dressed as George Best. You cant help but laugh sometimes which is much more pleasant than feeling your temperature and stress levels rise because some grubby persons kid has promised to knock you out and steal your car.

Teaching is in fact very easy here in Korea. The hardest part is the interactions with the other Korean teachers. The are often very shy people who become very embarrassed when faced with talking to a westerner. Asking a question often results in the Korean person covering their mouths and giggling or trying to make a quick exit. I often find some will try and walk past you in the corridor and pretend you are not there or they havent seen you so they are not faced with the task of having to say hello. At times the staff rooms can feel a very lonely place and no matter how hard you try with your Korean they sometimes will simply not understand what you are trying to say. No matter how correct you think you are they may still have no clue of what you are saying or be able to work out what you might be saying.

If someone said in England I am looking for Blondon you could work out that they are looking for London but in Korea the sound of the word is very important and also the length of the sound. The same sound long and short could be a different word. So it may seem hard for us to understand why they cant understand our Korean efforts at all. It took me about 2 months before I didnt have to say to the taxi driver that I wanted to go to Chungmu middle school more than 4 times before he knew what I was saying.

We have to realize that we may have read and learned as much as we can about someones culture and customs, before we go, but it never quite prepares you properly for what you will experience. Be prepared for people to not really be aware of your culture too and to realize that you are different. Often Im looked at funny because I dont like something or because I do something a certain way and they just dont understand that I am different to them. I always try to remember that what I am about to say or do could be the wrong thing or offend someone so I try to do things that I know will be accepted. Often this doesnt happen the other way around as in areas Korea foreign people are still very alien to them, so they may not change the way the act or the things they say as what we do as travelers in new cultures.


Often people will be very racist towards you without ever knowing they are being racist as they arent really aware of what racism is fully. Sometimes I will challenge things people say as I think that is right to do that, but a lot of things you have to just let go and bite your lip as people do think differently about things and that is something I have learned over the last two years traveling around this colourful and interesting planet.


Hopefully this will sound more light hearted than negative as teaching in Korea has really been a good experience. Yes I have faced racism, misunderstandings, sometimes very lonely times but I have also gained so many experiences and memories that I will take with me for ever. I think that if I had known about the area I was more I would have maybe taken a position in Seoul.

Tags: esl, iainob1, korea, packedin, teaching, tongyeong



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