Korea is very big on corporal punishment (with sticks, not rulers), and punishment in the classroom in general. I, predictably, am not. I generally try to redirect the student’s energy into something at least vaguely productive. About 90% of the time it works, often to the surprise of my Korean co-teachers, who seem to be fans of using a (often rather knobby) stick instead.
I refuse to hit my students like they do, though I do sometimes rap the whiteboard pen on a student’s desk if they’re being particularly disruptive or distracted. That’s about as violent as I get in the classroom. The harshest thing I’ve done in the classroom was when I made a really rowdy student come sit in a chair by my desk.
That is, until today.
Today I had to discipline an entire class.
They didn’t like my lesson, so they were protesting by being silent. In an attempt to determine whether they were just upset that I was doing a grammar lesson, or if the lesson was simply too hard, I asked them if it was too difficult, a simple yes or no question. Silence. I told them that if it was, I would do an easier activity, that it was no problem. Silence. I had my Korean co-teacher translate, in case they weren’t understanding. Still silence.
I did my best to not get angry. I raised my voice a little, but I did not yell. But, eventually, their blank stares wore me down. I tried to think of a punishment that was non-violent, non-shaming, and non-personal. After 10 minutes of trying to get them to say something, anything, even “yes” or “no”, I told them that if they were going to be silent, they were going to do so uncomfortably. I made them all stand up from their desks and stand with their arms outstretched. Silent. For the entire period. Believe me, after 15 minutes, it starts to get really uncomfortable, and there was about 25 minutes left in the class.
I’m vaguely worried about retribution, however. Last week a teacher punished a few students, and they broke 7 windows in the teachers’ office in response. I told my co-teacher that in America, those students would be expelled, or at least suspended. These were the 8th graders (or rather, the Korean equivalent), who at this school are apparently are a reasonably violent and vengeful bunch, so I do have to be careful about what I do with them. After the bell rang, I asked them “Did you enjoy that?” “No…” “Will you speak when I ask you a question, in the future?” “Yes…”. Next class, I will likely pretend it didn’t happen, and just move on, though if they behave the same way again, I will bring it up.
According to my co-teacher, they think I should only play games with them, as their previous foreign teacher did. I told them that I would play a game with them the last week of every month, but if I *only* played games with them, they will not learn anything from me because I only see them once a week, and insinuated that it would greatly lessen their chances of getting off the island and into a university. Harsh, yes, but they really, really angered me. They were completely disrespectful to both me and the co-teacher, and the other Korean teacher who was brought in to help. They were disrespectful by American standards, and *extremely* disrespectful by Korean standards, even cussing at both me and the Korean teachers at times. I tried explaining to them that this decision to not learn had a far more reaching effect than they could really understand at this point in their lives, but it seemed to have no effect.
It’s early in the year, and I do *not* want to start off the year seeming like a pushover, but I also am generally a very friendly teacher and didn’t want to start out on this type of footing either. I really hope this has some effect, so that I do not have to do anything even remotely similar in the future. As a friend of mine says, if I continue with the same, all I will do is achieve compliance through force, which is not a productive form of classroom management, and not a role I feel comfortable in.
After class finished, I felt really uncomfortable with what happened. In fact, I think that discomfort may have in fact resulted in me being more frustrated in class than I otherwise would have been. I did not want to punish them, but, at least within the Korean system, they left me no real choice, and I was upset with them for inadvertently forcing me push the boundaries of my personal convictions, thus making me feel very un-Quakerly and generally uncomfortable.
I have been trying to think of less confrontational ways to deal with similar problems in the future, but thus far, I haven’t been able to come up with much that would work with Koreans.