The teacher is insignificant: part 2

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. This is part 2, if you haven’t checked out part 1 here it is.


I honestly believe that it goes back to the way culture affects student behavior. In America, students are taught to act as individuals who happen to be in a group. In Korea they are just more of a group.

Bell curve logic dictates, for the American student then, that since each student will act in a different, unique manner that if I were to leave the classroom unattended about 6 would clean the room more than I expected, 6 would do exactly the opposite of what I asked them, and the rest would just worry about themselves and neither clean extra nor destroy. I’ll give you a guess as to which groups actions would be the most noticeable when I came back to the classroom.

In Korean classrooms there is no such bell curve logic. Or if there is, it’s much thinner and less spread out than its American counterpart. As displayed in the opening quote, following the crowd can be a valued social goal here. It lets you know when you are doing wrong and when you are doing right (at least according to your culture). This would leave all but maybe one or two of the students in the outlying groups that would either do extra cleaning or do extra destruction. And it would seem that if only one or two students would fall into the group of extra destruction, then group dynamics and pier pressure would quickly reel them in.


The saying in America goes, “it only takes one bad apple to spoil a bunch.” I always thought that was crap, I think it takes at least 6. The 6 students who would quickly ruin the classroom when I was away.

This brings me back to another question I’ve had though. The students actually behaved better when I was out of the classroom then I stay in the classroom when they leave. I routinely am pushing back in chairs and picking up garbage that students leave behind. So what about my presence triggers them to act differently?

I have thought about this for a while now, because I was honestly so surprised at the classroom when I came back. It literally looked as clean as the day they gave it to me.

So do the students assume that when I’m there that I will pick everything up? Could it be that since I’m an American, students assume that American individuality applies in the classroom when I’m there, but when I leave it’s back to the Korean rules?

I doubt the students think I will pick everything up. And I doubt the second theory, since Korean teachers face the same types of behavior when they are in their own classroom.


So this is what I came up with, and maybe theres a theory to support this or maybe there’s not. But I think that in this group dynamic that we find in Korean classroom that the teacher acts as the only individualistic component. The students are all arranged in nice little lines and do the same work and are expected to act the same, but the teacher is the X factor. The teacher is the only individual in the classroom and it seems to me that, like a virus, their individuality is spreading.

In American school a leader is necessary to reel in those who wouldn’t otherwise do anything, push those in the middle towards greater achievements and cultivate new leaders out of those who already excel. It feels to me that in a Korean classroom, the group dynamic is actually reacting against the intrusion of individuality into their group setting, even when at the same time without the teachers presence the whole class is unnecessary.

It would seem that their should be really creative ways that the teacher could harness this group dynamic for it’s own good. Setting them off on their own path, while the teacher prods them and encourages them in their journey rather than dictating what the class will do next. Or maybe, something like that is completely pointless and eventually the larger Korean society group will swallow the classroom whole. Reeling in, and placing each person into their designated societal roles itself.

Ever since I got here I’ve had the feeling that my presence in the school is incidental. I spent five years of college learning how to create classroom environments and expectations that foster creative learning only to be given 22 separate classes that I only see one time a week here at best. Try establishing routines or working on group projects that harness a variety of learning strategies when you only see the kids for 40 minutes every two weeks. So I wonder, how important I really am here?token.jpg

This could hold true for other teachers at the school as well. Maybe not to the same degree, since they see the students more often than I do, but I get the sense that society will eventually choose jobs and roles for the students to take regardless of what the teacher does. In America the burden of education is placed on the teacher. If the classroom fails then the teacher is to blame, whether this is true or not. Here it is the opposite, if a student fails it’s the students own damn fault. Then, even if the student does fail, they’re is still a place for them somewhere.

So here I come to my conclusion. The students acted the way I did in my absence because their greater societal instincts took over. The same instincts that one day will determine their future in this society. It really highlights how little influence I have over the classroom, which makes me question how much teaching I am actually accomplishing.

Why was I brought here, since it appears I am really not that important to the overall classroom/school setting? I am getting the increasing sense that I am a personal relations move more than I am a teacher…that’s not how they made it sound in the brochure.



Filed under Culture, Education, Narratives

2 responses to “The teacher is insignificant: part 2

  1. You should read this book: “The Geography of Thought” by Richard Nisbett
    I bought it last year at “What the Book?” in Itaewon.

    Basically it’s about the thought processes of Westerners (Western Europeans and North Americans) and Asians (Chinese, Korean, Japanese). It will fuel your efforts to understand this strange classroom culture that is so different from what we were trained for in the states.

  2. Hi,

    I believe we have similar problems when it comes to education. I’m a former American public schoolteacher. I’ve decided to pull my kids out of the public school system and decided to send them to private school in the Philippines. The cost of private school education in the United States is outrageously high, and most parents can’t afford it, although private or home schooling is the trend of the future. It’s unfortunate but this is the direction the world is going. Check out my site sometimes. Maybe we can colloborate on a few projects–perhaps even a book on Asia. Regards

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s