Extra! Korea

January 17, 2010

Foul-mouthed teacher encapsulates what’s wrong with education here

Filed under: education, idiots — extrakorea @ 1:16 pm

First and foremost, the author of this article is not given, and since it’s a Korea Times article, we should take everything with a big grain of salt, since they have reporters like Kang Shin-who under their employ.

Now, onto the story of an “exceptional” teacher.

Woo Hyung-chul, 46, teaches math at a private institution or hakwon in Seoul that prepares students to get into colleges.

There are many teachers like him in Korea where education is a religion. But Woo stands out among them because his pedagogical approach is different.

“Don’t throw an unrealizable goal to students on the first day.” That’s one of the lessons he shares in an interview with Donga Ilbo on Saturday. “Students will find it beyond their reach and give up.”

Wow, what a revolutionary idea. In all of my years of teacher training and attending teachers’ conferences, I have never seen such “thinking outside of the box.” Amazing.

Most of Woo’s students are “problem kids” by some definition.

No, they are not. He teaches at a hogwon (private education institute), not at a public school. To attend his classes, you have to register, pay money, and go to class in your spare time. B.S.

They don’t do well academically.

How do we know that? Every school kid is dissatisfied with their marks (or at least their parents are).

Their attention span is short.

Thanks to computer games, cell phones, TV, and being spoiled rotten, this describes just about every kid.

But when they come to Yoo, their grades improve. If not, they at least have a good time laughing a lot.[1] And as days go by, these students’ grades also tend to pick up eventually.[2] So, he’s special.[3]

(Numbers are mine.)

1. The students grades improve. Unless they don’t. And if they don’t, at least their parents paid top dollar (or won) for their kids to laugh a lot.

2. Again, their grades tend to improve. Unless they don’t. Gee, that describes just about every teacher except for the most incompetent ones.

3. No, he is not.

Woo believes that when students don’t do well academically, it’s partly the teachers’ fault.

More “blame the teachers.” That’s always popular. No wonder people like him.

“You need to understand the teen culture to motivate them. When you motivate them, they do better academically,” he said.

More revolutionary ideas. I have never met a teacher who tried to learn about, say, Big Bang, to better understand their students. Nope. Never.

The secret of his approach lies in his three-step formula of “first apply sticks, then carrots, and show a vision.”

OK, so what would that vision be?

Being a good deliverer of knowledge isn’t enough, he says. “Students are not a memorizing machine. You should guide them to help find a life goal by meeting them on their terms,” he said. “Creating a common ground of understanding between you and students is critical.”

Wow, this guy has truly opened my eyes. I have never heard teachers criticize the over-emphasis on rote memorization in eduction here. Never. Neither have I ever met a teacher who asked their students about their life goals or tried to foster understanding with their students.

He prepares his lecture by watching a comedy program. He uses the jokes he picked up from the comedy show in “disarming students and opening their hearts.”

I’m all for using humor in the classroom to relax students, but it should be somehow related to the task or topic. Using class time to play a comedy program that’s not related in any way to the lesson? They can watch such comedies in their own time.

He also uses “shock and awe” strategy. This includes intentionally cursing them and an exaggerated gesture of beating them with a shovel.

To be fair, the wording is ambiguous, but suggests that he pretends to beat them with a shovel, and doesn’t actually do it. But even pretending is not cool. And cursing with vulgar language is definitely inappropriate behavior for a teacher.

If it were in the U.S., he would be probably in jail for doing so. But yeah, it’s Korea.

Yeah, and there are reasons for that. Corporal punishment is one thing. Beatings with a shovel are another. And a foul-mouthed American teacher wouldn’t be a teacher for very long.

The chemistry he creates with such non-conventional methods is formidably effective and his income proves it.

Wait a minute. His income proves his effectiveness? His income ?! They admitted above that some of his students have their grades improve, but some do not, just as with most other teachers. But he’s special. Because he plays comedy programs in class.

Sadly, this encapsulates a lot of what’s wrong with education here. People equate popularity with being good, so there’s a race for the lowest common denominator. At the university level, no one demands academic excellence from their students (who are capable of such) because no one wants to be unpopular. Students want to come in hungover, sleep, play with their cell-phones, go on dates, and participate in club activities, and woe to anyone who impedes that with, say, homework. A teacher who taught in Korea and then Japan said in a podcast that (I’m paraphrasing) the Japanese want teachers, while the Koreans want expendable, short-term entertainers. Koreans keep saying that they want qualified teachers, but they don’t really mean it. Actions speak louder than words.

1 Comment »

  1. I would just like to solidify what the teacher said in the podcast. I am far from a “certified” teacher. I have a BS in BS and it took me about 2 weeks to fully comprehend what the “podcast teacher” stated about the Korean education system.

    Comment by Reprobate — January 18, 2010 @ 9:27 am

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