Late last month, the Incheon District Court sentenced a female elementary school teacher who hit two of her second grade students more than 80 times in October last year for not having done their homework to eight months in prison suspended for two years. It was one of the harshest rulings handed down on a teacher involving corporal punishment. The teacher is appealing the sentence.
According to court documents, the teacher hit a boy, identified as Kang, and a girl named Na for not having done their homework. When they had done it, she called them liars and caned them, which required them to undergo two to three weeks of medical treatment.
The Incheon Metropolitan Office of Education suspended the teachers' license for just three months.
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However, some people still support corporal punishment. They claim that it is the only way to maintain discipline because so many students no longer listen to their teachers anymore.
Others say caning doesn't work anymore.
``These days, kids are so wild that you cannot even dream of hitting one,'' an elementary school teacher in Seoul, confided. ``The children often threaten us that they will call the police and sometimes make video records and upload it on the Internet. These days, we don't know who is in charge,'' she said.
It calls to mind a book written last year by a Korean English teacher talking about how hard it had become to control students. An excerpt from the Korea Beat translation:
"Once class starts it’s a disaster. The kids giggle over their cellphones. So the teacher takes them away. One of the kids looks at her with hurt eyes and says, ‘I’m going to call the police’. The student gets angrier as the teacher goes on with the lesson. The students write the answers on the blackboard, one by one. Carrying the chalk, the student says to her ‘fuck you’ [in English]. All the students start laughing uncontrollably. The student has a wide grin at doing such a great thing. So she just had to go on. The teacher whacks the kid on the head. ‘Screw you!’ the kid says [in Korean].”
For the record I'm not against some corporal punishment in schools. I think back to when I was a student, back when corporal punishment was gone, and now some twenty years later I could definitely sympathize with one of my old teachers wanting to give my punk-ass a swat.
However, that's a bad example because corporal punishment isn't effective when teachers hit students for being punks. I think one reason students fight back against the teachers, either physically or with cell phone cams and message boards, is because teachers have clearly abused their authority and taken it too far, from beyond just inflicting a little pain and humiliation on the students to showing that they cannot control their anger. Beating students with a bamboo sword, for example, or repeatedly with a plastic broom are not carried out on students "for their own good," to borrow a tired phrase, but are cases of teachers demonstrating they've lost it. The first teacher was given a warning, by the way, and the second was given a leave of absence during summer vacation. Meanwhile some native speaker teachers in Ulsan did not have their contracts extended because, to hear the local education office tell it, among other reasons they yelled too much.
The "ethically unqualified" in the title comes from a quotation from the supervisor at the Incheon Office of Education, who told the Korea Times in March:
``Speaking English fluently doesn't necessarily mean they can teach English well. Many foreign teachers lack teaching methodology and some of them are not ethically qualified to treat children. Also, children have difficulties learning from them, as they cannot speak Korean,'' said Koo Young-sun, supervisor of the education office. ``The problem in securing foreign teachers is another reason we have to work with Korean teachers for English conversation classes,'' she added.
What examples did she give, what evidence did she cite? Hahaha, evidence.
As I said on the post about the Korean English teacher's book I just mentioned, I wonder if stories like hers might give our Korean colleagues pause to consider how hard it can be for us to lead classes. Not that we're tempted to beat children, but if students show such disrespect to their Korean teachers, they of course show it to us. In fact one reasons why students can be so inattentive in our classes is because we don't beat knowledge into them. Perhaps some students are put at ease knowing we won't hit them, but I remember hearing from quite a few of my former hagwon students that they respected the teachers who hit them the most because it showed that they cared.
Which of course leads one to ask what sort of training these teachers are getting, or lacking, if they see no other means of controlling students beyond violence. I can think of quite a few times when I've asked a co-teacher in the room to help kids pay attention, and their response was to whack them with the weapons they brought to class. If you're going to call into question the ethical qualifications of foreign teachers, and say that many are ignorant of teaching methodology---which is probably true---you damn sure better question the methods of teachers who cannot lead classes without a bamboo switch.