Category Archives: teaching in the Republic of Korea
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 6.d
Graduating Teachers promote a learning culture which engages diverse learners effectively.
I speak Korean. I don’t speak the language particularly well, but alongside living in the country for four years I also attended night classes at Seoul National University. As a result of my study I can read and write 한글, the Korean alphabet Hanguel, and can also hold up a basic conversation. Since I moved back to New Zealand a few years ago, my Korean has largely laid dormant, except when I was ordering food at Korean restaurants and very occasionally at my previous job.
However at my current placement I get to speak Korean every day. There are a number of teachers visiting my current school to study about the New Zealand education system (which has a very different pedagogy from the Korean one). I love surprising the visitors when I start speaking to them in Korean as I’m usually the first non-Korean they’ve met who will natter away in 우리 말 (our language).*
If you had walked into the classroom yesterday, when the student-led conferences were taking place, you would have heard languages from across the globe being spoken not only by the students and their families but also by my Associate Teacher and I. Obviously my speaking the family language changed the tenor of the relationship between myself and the parent and student but what was surprising was that this relationship also changed the relationship of the other children.
The students were curious as to why I could speak ‘student A’s language.’ They didn’t say it, but the learners undoubtedly noticed that while ‘student A’ is Korean I am not. My current placement is a really multi-cultural school so the pupils are well accustomed to the idea that some children speak different languages at home than they do at school. But I’m guessing that the kids know that immigration is the reason behind people speaking more than one language as the rates of second language learning in New Zealand, especially of non-European languages, is quite poor. So it is hardly surprising that the idea that a Pakeha teacher who obviously grew up speaking English could also speak an Asian language would be something that piqued the children’s curiosity.
I explained that I had to study very hard to learn Korean but I really enjoyed it and hopefully one day I will speak Korean as well as ‘student A’ speaks English. Hopefully as a result of this encounter the students who grew up speaking English in their households might be open to the possibility of learning another language in the future. But more importantly the students saw a teacher learning which is perhaps the most powerful lesson of all, you never stop learning.
*Koreans typically express possession in the plural, ‘our mother,’ ‘our language,’ ‘our country.’
Over the last few days the New Zealand Herald has run an investigation on feeding hungry students in New Zealand schools which prompted me to write about lunchtime in a Korean school. I taught English at a boys’ middle school (years 8,9, 10) in the Republic of Korea for a couple of years and always found lunchtime a highly fascinating affair. Korean lunchtimes were so different from my own experiences where lunch at school mainly consisted of a home-made sandwiches, a couple of pieces of fruit, yoghurt and some sort of’ treat with the odd visit to the school tuckshop thrown in for good measure.
It is fact universally acknowledged that the most powerful person in a Korean school is not the principal but the lunch lady. In a culture where ’have you eaten?’ is the common greeting the guardians of the daily déjeuner are the ones to be feared and obeyed by all.
Anywhere in the world what’s on the menu is the main determining factor as to whether the day is going to turn out good or bad for the average teenage boy. Indeed the last 5-10 minutes of fourth period were inevitably a write-off in my school as the students studied the clock intently waiting for the bell to chime.
Though many Korean schools have cafeterias, the school I worked at did not due to the large size of its roll and lack physical space. Therefore the students at my school ate their lunch, which is prepared at a kitchen on site, in their classrooms. When the bell sounded at 12.30 the sounds of the mad rush of 1,100 boys trying to be the first in queue amongst the 40 competitors in his class and the lunch carts be wheeled speedily to their destinations were heard reverberating throughout the building. In general students tend to serve themselves although obviously food is more strictly supervised by the teachers with the little ones. The students bring in their own chopsticks and spoon set however the serving plates are from the school.
One of the benefits of a mono-cultural society such as Korea is that there is no need to make special accommodations for religious or cultural dietary restrictions because everyone eats the same thing. Thus the average lunch Korean school lunch consists of three staples; rice, soup and kimchi along with a selection of two to three side dishes with some meat thrown in somewhere for good measure. The quality of the lunches ranged from the delightful chicken ginseng soup, Samgyetang, which is served on the lunar holiday Boknal, through to the dish I affectionately termed ‘tentacle spew.’ Nevertheless I give huge props to the kitchen staff for pumping out nearly 1,200 lunches for staff and students on the smell of an oily rag.
The students and teaching staff pay for their lunches on a monthly basis. The lunches cost roughly 40USD (back in 2007) however kids from poor families get their lunches paid for by the state. As a result, Korean lunches really are an egalitarian affair with everyone from the principal down to the youngest student eating the same thing and no one is the wiser as to how the lunch is paid for. It is a sad fact that for some students in my school lunch represented their only proper meal of the day, as I saw a few students sent home by their home room teacher with leftovers from lunch in their backpacks at the end of the day.
On the day I took these pictures the students were ecstatic as one of their favorite foods, the Japanese dish donkkaseu, was on the menu. The lunch also consisted of the compulsory rice, kimchi, soup (watery bean sprout) and some sort of dried seaweed as the side dish. After lunch the serving utensils and food trays are taken back to the kitchen by the students to be washed by the kitchen staff. The students seemed to enjoy their lunch that day because the sound of 1,100 boys groaning that they had eaten too much could be heard well into fifth and sixth period.
Unsurprisingly no such sounds are ever heard on tentacle day.
I’m not sure this model would be releasable in the New Zealand school system as we’ve definitely gone down the route of bring your own lunch with tuckshops/lunch orders available as back-stop but nevertheless an interesting insight into a different country’s school culture.