The teacher is insignificant: part 1

Authors note: This is a two part description/analysis of an event that occurred in my school that I think highlights some of the differences between cultures and classrooms in America and South Korea. Keep in mind that this is not scientific, or carries supports other then my own ideas and observations. I believe what I say to be true, but in the truest sense of a blog, I’ll let the reader decide if they agree with my perspective or not.

Originally, I intended this to be kind of a short, simple post. However, as I continued writing this piece got longer and longer. I thought of ways I could edit it down, but no ideas came to me. So here is part 1, expect part 2 either Sunday or Monday depending on if I get over this fever. Now on with our show.

part 2 is now up


“I like being in large groups like this. I like feeling like I’m doing what other people are doing.” – Rachel, as we walk through a crowd on the way back from the fireworks festival.

I thought this statement was odd, because I wished there was absolutely nobody else around. My mom told me I was special, and that I should not jump off a bridge if other people are doing it. I hate doing what other people are doing.


The other day, all the teachers were gathered together to take the group picture that would end up in the school’s year book. At least I think that’s what it was for. Anyways, this sounds all well and good except for when you take into account these few facts.


A. They summoned us in the middle of class

B. They did not tell me they would summon me until right before they actually did it

C. Every single member of the faculty/staff was out in the middle court yard of the school, in the middle of class, leaving every single student inside the school to themselves.

As for that last point. Now, I have only a few years teaching experience, back in the states, but I seem to recall this exact scenario being seen as not only kind of stupid but on the border of criminal neglect. Whatever, I suppose.

I do understand the necessity of having a faculty picture, but the whole process reeked of the inefficient nature of my school that I discussed here. This is especially true considering that every day all the teachers have 2-3 hours of down time at the end of the day. At this time the students either go home or onto some private institution or club, leaving the teachers this time to plan lessons and gather materials. It seemed to me that it would make much more sense to schedule this picture to be taken during this time.

I asked some of my co-teachers about this and the initial reason they gave for the timing was that the photographer was only available at this time. This excuse upset me.

“So, in a city of over 10 million, this was the only photographer we could find?” I asked them.

Eventually my logic won out and they proceeded to give me a number of other excuses for the timing. I won’t subject you to reading about them because they are so utterly idiotic and ass backwards that I want to club a baby seal just thinking about it. Please, can’t they just admit that this photo was poorly planned and someone at the school screwed up, so I can go on with my day happily?

Having all the teachers in the courtyard while all the students sit inside the school gives me the same feeling that a prison guard must feel when he suspects a prison riot. I keep looking over my shoulder, expecting to see rocks flying towards my head. Luckily, no such riot happens.

Instead, less than nothing happens. When I went back to my classroom, I had expected to find chairs and tables strewn about. Papers thrown all over the floor and posters ripped off the wall. I expected several students to be playing Star Craft on my computer.

But what to my wondering eyes do appear? A perfectly clean classroom, materials put back in order, trash thrown away and the chalkboard even erased so that I could begin my next lesson. I’m not sure what it says about my teaching style when the students actually behave better when I am out of the room, but it is an understatement to say that I was surprised to find my classroom so neat.

I can safely guess that this would not have happened this way in America. So why here? I figure there are 1 of 4 options:


A. This was an isolated event and this would never happen again.

B. They were afraid that down the line they would get in trouble, or that we would walk in on them before they fully left the classroom

C. One student, or a small group did all the cleaning

D. They really are that respectful of the classroom when nobody is around.

I’m taking out B, because class was almost over when I had to leave and the students could watch us through the windows to see when we were coming back and we obviously weren’t moving through this picture very quickly.

C is out because I came back too quickly after the bell rang for only a small handful of students to do all this work. The time I was gone gave the students the perfect amount of time to finish their work and clean my classroom as a whole group.

So this leaves A or D. For the sake of argument I’m going to assume it was D, they really are that way. Which leaves us with the question of, Why?



Filed under Culture, Education, Narratives

4 responses to “The teacher is insignificant: part 1

  1. sa821to

    It sounds as if you have a little culture shock. I lived in East Asia for 4 years and never experienced culture shock because I completely understood the culture. The key is being able to see things from their perspective. The Eastern perspective is 180 degrees from western perspective. I like to describe it a looking in a mirror. This ability causes me to have culture shock when I return to the USA. A little advice, take your “studies” there more seriously so you can apply what you learn here in the USA and make our culture more respectful. How are you going to translate what you learn to create a respectful classroom in the USA?

  2. I’m also teaching in a public school… as are many of my friends. For them picture day happened just the way you described it. But at my school they thought enough to schedule the faculty picture during the 10 minute break between classes….but still every teacher is out of the building, leaving all the students to fend for themselves.

    Then there was the day where a teacher had his “open class.” EVERY teacher in the school come to watch his lesson, leaving all the students to do “self-study.” UNBELIEVABLE! But I am less and less surprised now that it’s nearly 18 months into this adventure…

  3. Marina

    Or E) the kids really like you and knew you’d be expecting total chaos, so they cleaned it instead as a surprise for you.

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