who has an MA in education, is a U.S.-based education columnist, blogger, and author of ``Awaken Your Birdbrain: Using Creativity to Get What You Want."
wrote in to the Korea Times, and had "Korean Teachers Reach for the SKY" published on the website on the 5th. Give it a read if you want, it's pretty short; here's an excerpt:
Beyond tradition, South Korea actively raises the status of teaching as a profession by doing two things. First, it makes entry into teacher training very selective. Applicants are recruited from the top 5 percent of each high school graduate class. Second, they are paid generous starting salaries of 141 percent of the per capita GDP, which is significantly above the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average of 95 percent.
Making teacher training selective and paying high starting salaries attracts the strongest candidates to the profession, which is important because teacher quality significantly impacts student outcomes.
South Korea is able to pay teachers high starting salaries because it employs relatively fewer than other nations. As a result, the student-teacher ratio in South Korea is 30:1, compared to the OECD average of 17:1.
He really believes in what he writes, or is at least eager for an audience, since he submitted the exact same thing to the JoongAng Daily, and had a shortened version published on the 8th.
If you look at the stats, Korean public school teachers are the second-highest paid in the OECD. Education at a Glance 2008: OECD Briefing Note for South Korea (.pdf file) has some interesting figures, including:
Korea provides comparatively high teacher salaries with steep increases for more experienced teachers. At USD 52 666 for a primary school teacher with minimum training and 15 years of experience, Korea comes 2nd among OECD countries, while salaries at the top of the scale reach 84 263 USD, second only to Luxembourg.
That doesn't include those superstar millionaire teachers---I blogged about them last summer here and here--- who work at cramschools and make a ton of money from subscribers to their video lessons.
Alex of Alex's Adventures in Asia brings up a valid point regarding student-teacher ratio:
[T]hereis only so much a teacher can do in a class with 30+ students other than lecture. Every single child education theory (at least that I've read) stresses that smaller classes and time for one on one attention is the key to superior education. Lecture classes in universities with adults who are capable of sitting still is one thing...have you ever tried to get 8 year old children to sit still for an hour, let alone all day?
The lecture set-up fits in nicely with those Confuciun roots one of Costello's sources mentioned at the beginning of his piece, but are not so useful when it comes to teaching English. Indeed Alex hits on one final point:
Also: if teachers are so selectively chosen than how come most of my fellow native English teachers have co-teachers who can barely speak English?
I've heard about the difficulty of "the test" before, and how teachers take a semester or even a year off to study for it. But you certainly have schools turning out English teachers with limited proficiency in spoken English, and even in other aspects. This is a reflection of what English means in South Korea and why it's taught, and why people who are actually good at English become flight attendants, not English teachers.