Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Classroom Responsibility

There was an interesting story in today's NY Times about a Chinese program to teach English in high schools in the US. It follows some of the  trials and tribulations of a foreigner teaching their native language in a very different country...kind of my situation in reverse.

The Korean and Chinese education systems, both of which had similar origins, seem to have other similarities in the modern day.  One quote that I thought was particularly important is:
“In China,” she said after class, “if you teach the students and they don’t get it, that’s their problem. Here if they don’t get it, you teach it again.”
In Korea (and I think China) there are strict rules about student's appearance and behavior, but students have a lot of freedom whether to learn or not.  This means that if kids sleep in a class, many, if not most, teachers tolerate it.  It is the kids responsibility to learn and the teachers to teach.

One surprise is there is no consequence for not learning in the short term; all kids pass and move to the next grade.  The big consequence comes when they take the entrance exam for a university.

While I think there is a lot of merit to this system when you have highly motivated students, I question how it would work in the US where there is a far wider range of students in the classroom.  I think it is not effective in the low level classes here because you could have a whole class of students sleeping even when you have a great engaging lesson. Then, the students are disruptive in future lessons because they do not understand.

Coming from an American perspective, I feel like I am "giving up" on students who are not learning.  This is a different way of thinking for teachers here.  I think some have really re-thought the way they teach, others think it is not necessary (which is ok).

In the end, having a foreigner in the classroom, makes everyone re-think the role of teacher and students whether it is a foreigner in the US or Korea which is a good thing.

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