I think things in my school could be organized differently. Granted, I am from a completely different culture with experience in only Western schools. I do not have an education degree or a psychology degree. (Does that mean I should just quit posting this now? Haha fat chance…) Here we go.
First, some background on our school. Gangneung Boys Middle School is the oldest school in Gangneung (50-odd years old, if I remember right). We have the lowest test scores in the city, as well as the reputation as the worst school in general. There are three grades (7th – 9th US), called 1-3 here. Each grade is divided into ten classes of between 36 and 40 students each. This means that we are also one of the biggest middle schools in Gangneung. Each grade has their own floor (1st grade gets the 4th floor, 2nd gets 3rd, 3rd gets 2nd). The main teachers’ room is on one end of the 2nd floor. There are around 30 of us, all in our little cubicles arranged around the vice principal’s desk. There are two smaller offices on the 3rd and 4th floors, with 5 teachers each. The principal’s office is on the 1st floor, for his convenience.
Every morning, the students come in, change their shoes, and head up to their homerooms. Eventually their homeroom teacher leaves her/his desk and goes upstairs or down the hall to their assigned classroom. They collect the kids’ cell phones (thank GOD), take attendance, and then as soon as possible get back to their cubicles. The day begins at 9:00am, when the teachers get up from their desks, gather up their materials, and go join the students in their various rooms.
A teacher might find the room in any state. There are a few classes who sit at their desks and are prepared when the teacher walks in. A very few. Most are all over the room, hitting each other or sitting on each others’ laps. They are almost always yelling, and their squeaky little adolescent voices can reach some astounding heights. I’m told it used to be the norm to stand up and salute the teacher when she/he entered the room, but in most classes this has been abandoned. Under the current circumstances the teacher’s first job is to calm the students and get their attention. This is no easy task, since they have already had free, unsupervised use of their room for at least ten minutes (sometimes half an hour) before the teacher barges in and tries to impose some order. Classes in middle school are only 45 minutes long…imagine how much of this short class time is wasted in that first centering period.
And this isn’t just a problem in my classes. I’ve had discussions on this in my general teachers’ English classes and across the board this is an issue. They blame a breakdown in the traditional education system, lack of respect for teachers, changing cultures, and the list goes on. I’m sure they know better than I do, but here’s what I think would help: get the teachers out of their cubicles and into some classrooms! Imagine the difference if a teacher who is already in place, prepared, with materials at hand (not in a bag she has to carry around with her everywhere) faces a class of students coming into HER space, using HER desks. Teachers need classrooms. Students do not.
It seems to me to be an issue of power and ownership, and while I hate to bring power into it, when you are dealing with young men who are trying to assert themselves and develop a pecking order, and who happen to be physically larger than many of their teachers, I think it’s a relevant issue. Something strange that I’ve noticed: when a student is punished beyond the simple “stop doing that/lose your chair/hands above head” (non-disruptive punishments) they are removed from the classroom (after class) and taken to the teachers’ room to be punished. When a student merits a “real” punishment, they are held up in front of all the teachers, rather than in front of their peers. They don’t associate punishment with THEIR classroom. That’s a safe, unsupervised place.
One of my friends (a Korean English teacher) was actually locked out of the classroom by her students yesterday, and she shrugged and said “they do this sometimes.” To me that is completely unacceptable. I would have invited the vice principal up to join in his students’ fun, but she just waited them out, and then tried to use the limited class time the students left her. They were able to do this because they own their classroom. Their marker scribbles are all over the desks, their bags are all over the floor; it is THEIR class. My friend didn’t even feel herself to be in a position to challenge that ownership. Teachers give the impression of holding their breath and diving in for 45 minutes (or less…sometimes they come to class quite late) and then getting back to their own space as quickly as they can. It just doesn’t work.
So there’s my take on it. There are, of course, other factors that come into play here, but this is a biggie. Thanks for sticking with me through the novel of a post I’ve just written. Now I’d be interested to hear what other teachers think about this. How are things done in your room? Do you have your own room? How do you handle discipline? Any advice for me? What do you think?