Friday, June 10, 2011

Not just the typical, "neener neener neener."

This morning, there was a pretty major incident in one of my 5th grade classrooms. Like any good Guest English Teacher, as soon as I made it to the Teacher's Room, I logged onto Facebook and sent out an SOS via status update into the virtual community:

Upon a first-read, the drama of the situation seems entertaining, almost. And with the language barrier I have between me and the students, it does seem comical to think about how I-- as 1 of 2 adults in the room-- had to sit there and witness the whole thing unfold without contributing whatsoever. Sure, it was scary, but hey, it's one for the books, right? Besides, nobody got hurt. Doesn't that mean we can laugh about it?

The interesting thing is: that's exactly what the students do. This boy had tuned out all verbal and physical commands (clearly just running on Id at this point); his actions, harmful to others and to himself, took learning off the list of priorities as the entire room was concerned for the safety of the group. However, the boys who held him down got up to do so as if it was routine. They grabbed him in big bear hugs and tolerated the kicking and jabbing coming from the perp while another appointed student dashed off to find the homeroom teacher. The rest of the students knew to stay clear.

All in all, it was a pretty organized affair.

What gets me about this situation is that is was so organized and casual, when this boy obviously has pent-up anger and quite possibly needs to see a counselor or use another program outside of public school to receive education. In short: the public school doesn't have enough resources to suit his needs.

This is a very common problem in Korea, as many Guest English Teachers can attest to. There is little the teachers can do, aside from talking to the parents about the issues. When I asked one of my Korean co-teachers about on-site counseling (like, if there is any), she said this (paraphrased):

"Of course. But many parents don't want to take their child [to the school counselor] because they don't want to think their child has a disease. What happened today, it's from a disease, but many parents won't accept that."

This cultural desire to be the same echoes throughout the public school system. Every child is expected to be the same in ability and performance. This is precisely why all subjects are taught by age group (grade), not level of ability. Thus, it's not uncommon to have children who are well above average in your class, bored to pieces; it's equally likely that you will have some students who are below average or dealing with behavioral disorders which have yet to be evaluated. 

And that makes for a pretty interesting class.

A friend of mine also opened my eyes to another perspective on the matter: bullying. Disorder or not, the kids who pick on each other and create fear within an individual or among a group should be considered a bully. Although I felt some sympathy to see the student from this morning return to the English Teachers' room crying his apology to us, I do consider him a threat to his classmates. I assumed, upon coming to Korea, that there would be less bullying here than in the States. However, it's becoming apparent to me that bullying is just as common here as anywhere else, and visa versa.

According to Jae-In Lee (n.d.) from a study on bullying in Korean public schools:

[Those who bullied], in particular-- those who bullied the weak[er-looking students, were] less mature and more distorted in the developmental stage. The students [who] bullied the weak needed to be counseled as much as the bullied.

In a society where success in education is everything, I hope that soon there will be more moderation in the realm of mental health for young children, not only for those who are victimzed by bullying, but for those who throw the first punch. Looking at outward, negative actions as a sign of deeper, unmet needs, and getting parents to accept their child as who they are as opposed to the mold they 'should' fit into could work wonders to relieve Korean students' stress and diminish unhealthy behavior.

And it would sure give those poor chairs a break from being thrown around my 5th grade classroom.
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