Here is a picture of one of my many classes. I teach at two schools, Ilshin Middle School and Ilgok Middle school. The schools are only three blocks from each other. I walk to work each day.
Both schools have some five-hundred students. The students’ day officially starts at 8:30 am, when they report to homeroom where announcements are made, assignments are completed, and they prepare for the day.
My day officially starts at 8:45 when first period begins, although I show up earlier, at 7:45. I have my own classroom with adjoining office. I fire-up the computers, do basic cleaning, open the windows and make coffee. Koreans and Americans view “on time” much differently. In the US, on time means early, in Korea, well, if you show up at some point, you’re on time.
Middle school students are crazy people, but I use their crazy energy to propel the class. Until recently, classes were segregated by gender. Now, most of my classes are blended. Also, until recently, students and teachers had class every other Saturday. Fortunately, I was exempted from this. Korean teachers never got enough rest during the week to think, recover and plan. Funny though, the removal of Saturday classes has been compensated for by adding seventh period to Monday, Wednesday and Friday. These are typically school club activities, anything from movies, to sports, reading or hiking.
Korean society has a deeply enmeshed problem with bullying and regular school violence–to the extent that I do not allow any touching in my classes. Korean students like to cuddle and hug, and hold hands–boys with boys, and girls with girls. But I have found that not everyone wants to be cuddled, and that not every boy wants to wrestle or horseplay. It is never (NEVER) allowed in my classroom. They can play in the hallway if they want to, but my classroom is safe. I’ve seen too much violence at school and most teachers are indifferent.
Korea has recently banned corporal punishment in school, but did not empower teachers to deal with violence, rude students or personal attacks. Female teachers need to be empowered to confront boys’ classes, as they are nearly impossible for them to handle. I recall most teachers, male and female, carrying a bamboo stick, or some sort of club to class. I don’t see them anymore.
I also do not allow any toys, candy or gum, and I strictly forbid any student to write on my desks. Any contraband is immediately thrown in the garbage. In my class, the student is only allowed to have a pencil and a book, nothing else. Consequently, my classes are quiet and enjoyable. The kids are gaining confidence, having fun and learning English.
Ring, ring! Time for class!