Tough Teachers

I can agree with most of what the following article is discussing.  My approach in the classroom is very similar.  What I would like to do is look at those principles and see how they work from a wangjangnim’s point of view.

1. A little pain is good for you.

Can a hagwon boss be painfully honest about the student’s he has in his school.

2 situations : The student is doing a level test.  It is obvious that the kid will fail, you don’t even have to question the validity of the test.  If a hagwon owner wants a kid in his school, telling the mother the kid is alright, needs a bit of work won’t do.  Nope, only the politics of fear will work.  Make the mothers worried about their kids future, and they’ll spend all the money they can to reduce the chance of failure.  Situation 2; the kid is enrolled.  Telling the mother the child is not doing what he/she is supposed to be doing might not be good to keep enrollment going, as you know, the mother might think that it is not possible for her kid to do badly, so it must be your fault.  So here begins the obfuscation.  You leave them in the dark, you put on a dog and pony show, you show them results of tests (again do not question the validity) that their child has made great progress …. (personally, I believe one can only see a difference in action every three months). So tests can be used to manipulate mothers to adapt their choices in preferences of the shady hagwon owner, sometimes it could also be due to mothers lack of patience, that the owner has no choice but to relay false information.

2. Drill, baby, drill.

Ha yes!  The point of contention.  Is drilling of any use?  It depends what you are drilling.  In the case of the article, refers to music.  Music is an art-form that requires dexterity. Dexterity can only be acquired through physical practice (minimum 4 hours a day).  Does it work with memorizing vocabulary?  Done properly, I believe, yes.  Done incorrectly, it certainly leads to easy test taking by the end of the week, and it teaches students that only the test is important, not the actual memorization.  It’s really about habit.  Does the drill you perform increase a positive habit to memorize words?  That is the question one has to ask.  Since everything in Korea is “pally pally” (fast fast), positive habit forming might not be the thing a frightened hagwon owner might wanna do.  He would prefer the students to do a flat form of drilling and just score perfect on the tests.  More on that later.

3. Failure is an option.

But not in Korea. ‘nough said.  But if children cannot fail, how do they acquire grit?

4. Strict is better than nice.

Have you ever heard a hagwon owner tell you, “Be nice, have fun”.  If you ever hear an owner say that, you are looking at the end of the tunnel.  Start looking for another job, and I mean it.  The hagwon owner who doesn’t allow the teacher to control his class by being strict will achieve zero success.  And I mean, real success, real progress.  When children achieve zero success, either the school will flounder or you’ll be stuck with the bad kids.  Another big mistake to make, but one that is inevitable if the only thing the hagwon owner wants is to make sure that his students stay just one more month, and if you lose that student, it is the teachers fault (and in a way it is, but it was the owners advice to begin with that lead to the situation).

5. Creativity can be learned.

Creativity, the buzzword of the year.  Creativity is, for me the mix between Knowledge and having an open flexible mind.  This is arduous work that shows very little result, in the short run.  It takes time to teach people confidence, questioning attitude, perseverance, passion, and on and on and on.  But you don’t do it by making kids take weekly tests over and over again, for no apparent reason accept to satisfy the curiosity of the parents.  Creativity can only be achieved if the person wants to create.  If your future is predetermined by your parents, and you feel powerless about your own life, don’t expect much from them.  Vision-less Hagwon owners cannot understand, and will copy any handy curriculum they can find, and throw it at the kids without even considering whether the kids are ready for it.

6. Grit trumps talent.

It’s like Intelligence, you might have it, but if you don’t use it, it doesn’t matter.  But in many parents minds, talent (present or not) represents all, when it actually represents nothing without the proper perseverance.  The will to excel.  Don’t treat the children for what you want them to be but for who they are, and what they want to be.  Yes, we need to teach discipline. Yes, we need to make sure they get the basics right.  But the kids also need to make that decision, “This is what I have to do!”.  In Korea, it is the opposite.  Every time I have a new student walk in, I ask them, “Why are you here?”  Inadvertently, the answer is “Mom”.  ”You don’t want to learn English?”  ”No.”  ”Please, go home.”  I give the children a choice, a choice they have to make.  Do you or don’t you want to learn English, it is up to you.  You might think this is cruel, but when they switch that mindset from “I have to”,to “I want to”, everything changes.

7. Praise makes you weak…

“Good Job” won’t cut it, if the child did not do any effort, did not make any mental sacrifice. When you tell them good job, it is meaningless.  If the child worked hard through the problem and didn’t even do a perfect job, but still better than before, the words “Good Job” mean everything.  I praise my kids, but only when they showed effort.  If they finished the work too fast, or without a care, next time, I make it much harder.  You don’t learn from an easy class.  Hagwon bosses love easy classes and perfect tests.  ”Your child is so smart, she never makes a mistake.”  Say what?  Mom’s ego’s might be brushed, kids might go home with a smile, for one more month, but the product is shoddy, the child will suffer.

8.…while stress makes you strong.

This one is about building resilience within the character of the child.  In Korea, Parents and hagwon owners OVERstress the kids to a breaking point.  They stress the kids about the tests, but they don’t stress them about doing a good job.  Putting the emphasis on the wrong target.  The tests are not important, the child’s development is important and with that, the test’s are there to make sure the kids are developing.  I am not sure if Korea can ever correct this.

On a little funnier note