Back-to-School Lessons From South Korea
The inside scoop from a teacher in a country that did everything right
I teach literature and creative writing at an after-school program in South Korea. (Yes, in Korea, “after-school” means more school.) When Covid-19 hit, our school, along with public schools across the country, were shut down. I spent six weeks in my apartment fielding worried calls from American friends and family who had just added “deadly virus” to their “Did you hear North Korea just launched a missile?” fears about me living here. No one, including myself, could smell the shit storm headed their way.
At the end of my six-week isolation-staycation of mostly scratching my butt, watching Netflix, and contemplating the meaninglessness of existence, we returned to school. By school, I mean trying to get middle school students to give a shit about Gulliver’s Travels via Zoom. As many teachers will attest, teaching on Zoom is (not to sound too much like my students) the freaking worst.
As North America debates whether to send students back to school in the months ahead, I can’t help but wonder if any of the politicians involved have looked outside to see how things have worked in other countries.
Despite this, many students enjoy the format and after a few weeks of adjustment, it felt like everyone got into the swing of things. Inevitably, lessons get tweaked and expectations taper as everyone lives and learns. In my mind, the fear that students won’t learn because they are on Zoom is more a reflection of what society thinks of its children than a statement on how the process itself goes. The information doesn’t change: Words don’t fall off the page, multiplication tables don’t become divided, the world still rotates at a 23.5-degree angle. With the right structure and planning, distance learning works and can even be enjoyable.
We returned to a mix of online and in-classroom lessons.