Elwood 5566

The Rantings of a Real Teacher – Music to my Ears

Posted in Blogging, Comparative, Education by 노강호 on April 4, 2011

This weekend, I stumbled across excellent posts on corporal punishment in Korea and the  meltdown occurring in schools and education in the USA (where the experience is not much different to the UK). Both posts were in Shotgun Korea.  All too often K-blogs berate the Korean education system and occasionally try to claim Korean students are much the same as they are in UK or the USA. Rarely are such authors professional teachers or have had experience teaching in mainstream education in their native countries.

lack of homework in my class – 20 press-ups

It is refreshing to read posts by an experienced, professional teacher, given that most foreign ‘teachers’ or ‘professors’ in Korea are neither.  And who is equipped more than most of us to reflect on the realities of education in the USA and subsequently gives some opinions on education and educational issues in Korea.  I have subsequently added Shotgun Korea to my list of recommended blogs in: Beyond the Blog.

Common Sense Corporal Punishment

Wicked Educational Values Rant

For the background on the corporal punishment issues in Korea, see the following link from Brian in Jeollonam-Do

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.


15 Responses

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  1. 3gyupsal said, on April 4, 2011 at 2:32 am

    Just a quick point. I think that berrating the Korean educational system is fair when pointing out how disorganized or without clear goals it is. English textbooks in public schools that are published by Korean publishers make absolutely no sense, and national project for getting native English speakers in ever Korean public school was done seemingly without much thought or planning. The national education boards did very little to set standards or goals or have a clear picture of what they wanted students or foreign teachers to achieve. Or if there was anything like that they sure didn’t tell anybody.

    The same is true with corporal punishment. Corporal punishment is often administered one the whims of the the Korean teacher’s feelings. If the Korean teacher is in a good mood, the class goes well, if they are in a bad mood, kids get hit. What I think makes Korean school successful is the general attitude towards education. Parents and students in both the U.S. or Britain would probably never pay 100 quid a month to send their kids to a private school.

    There is an issue in America right now that the conservatives want to push forth that would give public money to parents to send their kids to private schools. Conservatives are dressing this issue up and saying that it gives parents a choice in education for their children. I feel that argument is complete nonsense because if you want something bad enough you pay for it, and the choice already exists. (There is also the issue that so called charter schools really aren’t better than public schools, they don’t have the resources of big public schools and teachers don’t always have to be certified by the state.)

    I do agree with the post that schools shouldn’t be run like companies. The former Washington D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee, a Korean American lady, used to like to close schools and fire teachers who underperformed. People involved in the school reform movement seem to want to apply quality management to schools by using standardized tests as a way to judge if something is failing or not. The problem is, is that people like Rhee never really used quality management principals that quality management gurus like Deming put forth.

    Rather than closing schools and fire teachers, a true quality manager would look for problems within a system and try to address hindrances to people doing their jobs. Also they would look to see if there were things that could be changed. Was a teacher teaching out of their area of expertise? Could the teacher benefit from retraining. Did a school’s discipline system be reevaluated. There was a case where a student wrote a letter to Rhee. He complained that his school had holes in the floor and that his computer class only had four computers. Did Rhee send funding to fix the floors and buy new computers? No she fired the principal. Great problem solving skills.

    • Nick said, on April 4, 2011 at 2:54 am

      Yes! There are certainly points to criticise in terms of Korean education. And I do agree, teacher’s can hit kids on a whim and I’ve personally seem some shocking examples.

      However, I think there should be some recourse to punishing students and I occasionally hit mine, but never excessively. I am worried about removing all forms of punishment – as we have effectively done in Britain.

      What annoys me most is that schools in the UK and USA are without any effective discipline and society is the worse for it. Indeed, when a British student walks in a school they are given immense and broad ranging powers by which many then abuse staff and disrupt the learning of others.

      I would hate to see Korean schools going down the PC route that Britain, the USA and many other countries have taken. And I am not suggesting hitting a student solves social problems. I suppose it is about compromise and balance as well as the ideological package – respect, valuing learning, responsibility, etc, etc.


  2. shotgunkorea said, on April 4, 2011 at 4:36 am

    Aaahh!! Thank you so much for mentioning us!
    Just a quick thought on Michelle Rhee–
    I heard her speak in New York a couple years ago and honestly, I was really impressed. I went to the lecture prepared to hate her for firing teachers and shaking up the system, but after I heard her, I was about ready to quit my job and move to Washington D.C..
    Before we can say that she fired teachers, it would be more accurate to say that she forced several teachers to go on permanent (paid) leave. These were teachers who were NOT performing as they should be, and let’s be honest, in whatever country you go to, there will be these people. Rhee also attempted to give teachers a choice: For an increase in pay you will be placed under probation. If at the end of a year (or two, I can’t remember right now), if you were under performing, you would be fired. If you chose not to enter into this agreement, you did not have to and could remain safe with your tenure.

    Rhee DID fire several principals however, but this is a different issue– too many principals (in my opinion) remain in schools that could function better under the guidance of someone else. I have worked with some pretty inept administrators in my day, people who belittled students and teachers, and people who should have been recognized as ineffective from the beginning. I’m sure there are some principals who lost their jobs unfairly in D.C., this is just the nature of education reform, I also know that there were probably many others who deserved to get fired and didn’t.

    While she was the public enemy of the union, she was a breath of fresh air. Instead of just spouting a bunch of bullshit like so many others, she had real (albeit not perfect) solutions to the major problems D.C. was facing. I wish we’d had someone like her in NY when I was teaching there.

    As for corporal punishment… sure, some teachers overdid it. Probably a lot of teachers, but I promise that no matter the steps taken to protect students, there will always be teachers who overdo it and make children’s’ lives miserable. It sucks but it’s true.

    And lastly— is Korean education perfect? Not by a long shot, but in my opinion it’s got a leg-up on the American system in many, many instances.

    • shotgunkorea said, on April 4, 2011 at 4:37 am

      sorry for the mistakes! Typing fast in between classes!!

    • Nick said, on April 4, 2011 at 1:35 pm

      Doesn’t it just piss you off that the rhetoric about teachers who don’t do a good job is so prevalent. And never any mention of the crappy system that might have soured them. A few years ago the British Head of the Schools Inspectorate (or whatever it’s called) claimed there were 15000 bad teachers. I know we vote for politicians, but I wish their efforts and abilities were put to the test with equal vigour.

  3. 3gyupsal said, on April 4, 2011 at 8:23 am

    Sure those are all good points, but I think that the leg up that Korea has on America is the fact that the population is predisposed to education.

    • Nick said, on April 4, 2011 at 1:27 pm

      Yes, this is probably the most significant difference between the UK and Korea. Anti-intellectualism is rife in Britain and this is evident in everything from the most popular newspapers and television programs, what subjects are available in universities and suppressing academic prize givings while promoting sporting ones, etc. My university no longer makes graduation degree classifications public so as not to embarrass those with mediocre marks. The irony here is that at one time even a low mark was an achievement. The bullying of intelligent students in school was common but when I last taught in the UK, anti-‘boffinism’ wasn’t even recognised. Thanks.

  4. Roboseyo said, on April 4, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Thanks for bringing Shotgun Korea to my attention. I’ve added them to my sidebar.


  5. wetcasements said, on April 6, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Sorry, but Michelle Rhee is a complete fraud:


    The final report isn’t finished, but it’s looking like a) she lied about being a super-teacher in an underperforming school in Baltimore and b) the “DC educational miracle” came about because many people — either teachers, administrators, or both, falsified test scores to make the kids look like higher performers than they actually were.

    I’m all for real school reform, but the push for vouchers and standardized testing will go down as a huge wrong turn for the US educational system. If you put a profit-motive in place for teachers to raise test scores (which is exactly what Rhee did) you get teachers who end up lying, and kids who learn nothing except how to take tests.

    I’m all for firing bad teachers, but you can’t do it based on standardized testing. That only creates an incentive for deceit.

    Good riddance to bad rubbish in the case of Mrs. Rhee.

  6. shotgunkorea said, on April 7, 2011 at 1:32 am

    I completely agree with the idea that you can’t fire teachers based soley on test scores, but in Rhee’s plan test scores were not the only factor in the decision to remove an educator. I am also not surprised by the high number or erasures on the standardized tests in D.C., we had the exact same thing in New York. It happened in my school as well. I would estimate that 80-90% of the teachers cheated on the state tests, and it was encouraged by the administration. I actually had to fight each year to not cheat and ended up getting a fair amount of harassment from my principal based on this decision.

    I also took part in grading the 2010 state ELA tests in New York, and the amount of cheating we encountered (whole classes that had wrong answers erased and write answers written in on essay portions etc.) was extreme. The tests are flawed. Hugely flawed. Until 2010 the NY state ELA test was also very biased against urban children, it was always full of references to canoes, waterfowl and the trials of growing a garden. 2010 was the first year that I noticed the test writers had made a concerted effort to include more references to city life. Regardless, the tests are not a perfect measure by any means. I had students who read on a first or second grade level attempting to take a seventh grade test, even if that child advanced a lot during the year, they didn’t stand a chance on the state test and their growth was not accurately reflected.

    All that being said, in my opinion, the average seventh grader should have been able to pass the test, and in fact students really only needed to answer about half of the test questions right to get a passing score. The issue isn’t that the test is impossibly difficult, or that the students are incapable of passing it at some point, the issue is that many students are years behind in their education, learning disabilities and language barriers aside. The U.S. school system is as close to being completely broken as it could be. New York, in my opinion is one of the hardest hit areas.

    Being a “super teacher” is something that is often lied about, and also something that is very difficult to prove. Was she a good teacher in Baltimore? How would you judge it unless you looked at the standardized test scores? It’s sick but true. Teachers in the U.S. are up against a wall. Being honest and trying your hardest might not get you anywhere. I think the true test of being a great student is asking the students. This is also something that the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has discovered. All the tests in the world are not as accurate as the opinions of the students.

    No. Rhee is not perfect, and I agree, I found her past as a teacher a bit suspect (a few years does not qualify a person to become a leader in education in my opinion, no matter how bad of a school district you worked in), but I appreciated that she was trying something new. After years of Bloomberg touting the state tests as the holy grail by which all teachers and students could be accurately measured, I still prefer Rhee. She made a point of listening to parents and students, she visited schools and she at least attempted a change. I’m not saying it was successful or without its problems, but at least she wasn’t this woman:


    (A link to the NY state math test drama of ’09)

  7. Jaim said, on April 7, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    “Being a ‘super teacher’ is something that is often lied about”

    Does that make it OK with you?

    “How would you judge it”?

    With test scores. They very thing she demanded. And she’s a fraud:


    “Being a ‘super teacher’ is something that is often lied about, and also something that is very difficult to prove.”

    No, it’s very easy to prove — she’s a liar. Game. Set. Match. It looks like she was an OK teacher, but hardly a game-changer deserving of high salaries as a “consultant.”

    “Rhee is not perfect, and I agree”

    She’s a fraud and a liar. It’s so obvious now to everybody.

    “She made a point of listening to parents and students”

    I’ve been teaching for over ten years. I’ve always done this.

    You are trying to apologize for lying, and that’s wrong. Try being a teacher for a change — truth matters.

  8. julieloukim said, on April 7, 2011 at 10:55 pm


    It’s always nice to meet someone who knows how to argue so politely. You seem very upset with me for having an opinion. Whatever floats your boat.

    • Nick said, on April 7, 2011 at 11:26 pm

      Britain also has the ‘super teacher.’ Most teaching staff were totally opposed to them when they were a possibility, claiming they would be divisive. When they were introduced, they clambered over each other to get the designations. I’ve also known teachers get ‘super’ status with less than two years teaching experience – and that included the compulsory one year induction. Naturally, those teachers most opposed to the idea and who are now themselves ‘super’ are the most ardent supporters of their credibility. Further, to ensure ‘super teachers’ looked super, most schools allocated top sets to the super teachers and bottom sets to all others. And guess what? Super teachers got better results! The point, and it’s an irony, is that you don’t have to teach the smarter kids, they teach themselves. Indeed, I’ve known classes were you could substitute a monkey for a teacher and the kids would have excelled. Which I guess means the monkey must also be a ‘super teacher.’

      • Jasmin said, on February 10, 2012 at 5:35 pm

        What’s wrong with tanpig the yute’s mouths shut?Children should be obscene and not heard.

  9. Jaim said, on April 7, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    According to recent information, Michelle Rhee ruined peoples lives by being a liar and/or encouraging other teachers and administrators to be liars. I don’t see any reason to be polite to her or her supporters. What’s a shame is that people bought into her lies in the first place.

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