Students may have noticed some unfamiliar faces passing through the hallways or popping into classrooms recently. That is because Chattahoochee High School is hosting three Korean teachers who are here to observe the American education system. Recently, The Speculator sat down with the three teachers to interview them about their experiences here.
M: Min Suk (Blue, right in picture)
Y: Yunjih Kim (Green, center in picture)
J: Jongho Jeong (Beige, left in picture)
First off, how are you here? Is there a foreign exchange program for teachers?
Y: There is a program for English teachers in Korea to go to America and experience the real authentic American classroom.
Y: The Education Ministry of Georgia assigned us to Chattahoochee. There were 15 schools in Fulton County and Gwinnett County and we chose Chattahoochee because it has a good name.
M: We knew about the Chattahoochee reputation before we came to the States. My cousin graduated high school here, so I knew it was a good place.
J: Chattahoochee’s pretty far from our hotel. But even though it takes more time to get here, I’m happy that we are here.
What are you observing specifically during your time here?
M: We are looking at interaction between the teachers and the students.
J: We are supposed to improve our English and have some cultural experience and learn a lot from observing classrooms.
What do you hope to do with the knowledge you gain from your observations? Do you plan to use it to change the Korean educational system?
Y: We’re not the administrators; we’re just teachers, so we cannot change the entire system, but I think change is also beginning.
What have you noticed so far?
Y: In Korea, it’s very teacher-centered and we’re just giving out answers. Our education department thought we could learn something from the American classrooms where teachers don’t give out answers and students need to work on their own. I think I’ve been learning a lot for observing classes.
M: I was so impressed with the attitude of the American teachers towards the students. They are so professional, so accurate on their subject.
J: And they are dedicated to their students.
Y: But I’m most impressed by the teachers. And the students work very hard, they are so good.
M: One of the most interesting thing in American schools is that there is no decline. The students, the teachers, the administration, that’s was impressive to me.
Y: I think, in my school in Korea, we are very exam-focused. That’s why, if there is an international exam, Korean students excel because they know how to get a good grade on the test. We would give them skills; we would tell them shortcuts. It’s not like spoonfeeding, like ‘Oh, this is the answer. This is how you get it,’ but I was very surprised. You guys are having E.O.C.T.s; [there was] ninth grade literature and I was observing how they prepared for the exam with practice quizzes, and the teacher would ask students how to pull out incorrect answers, and they were having discussion, whereas in Korea, I won’t spend a lot of time asking students how they solve it because how I solve it is better and faster, and I would tell them right away. But here, they admit all the different ways of solving the question. I thought that was different.
M: But here at Chattahoochee, I was impressed by the students. They want to pass, they want to be better.
Y: You don’t have to yell at someone to get him to work. You say ‘Let’s do it’ and students do it. I’m very impressed.
J: In a way, it’s because of your parents and your upbringing. It’s a better environment.
What differences have you seen between American schools and Korean schools?
M: The classroom environment was totally different. In Korea we have beautiful windows. All your classrooms have no windows. The students need the sun.
J: For me, the highest thing that is different is, you use three times more space than Korean students. We have just one playground where students can play soccer, but you have a baseball diamond, football field and soccer field.
M: Here, you have places to play, but no time to play there because they only allow time for moving between the classrooms. Korean students have enough free time, so they can go to the playground, they can play with each other during their lunch break… Our time system is a little different. We have a ten-minute break and lunch time is about 30 minutes and about 40 minutes after to play. We have 70 minutes for lunch. There’s lunch and then after lunch there’s free time where they can go to the playground or other places. During that time they can make a friend. In the American school system, there’s not enough time to make a friend. Among the students, there’s not much interaction; there’s interaction only in the hallway. That’s why they allow time in the hallway, but in Korea, we spend more time in the classroom.
Y: Students stay in one classroom all day. Teachers move… Also, an interesting thing is that you have mixed grades in one classroom. We would never do that.
M: In Korea, we are very strict about the grades, that’s why we cannot put them into one classroom, the different levels.
Y: We don’t have the ‘fail’ system. Here, you can fail one class, but we don’t have that. Everyone goes on to another grade. Maybe, if one of the students fail, maybe they have to give up school, but that hasn’t happened yet. It’s just to scare the students.
M: We have three years in high school, three years in middle school and six years in elementary, but here, it’s four years in high school, three years in middle school and five years in elementary.
J: Students of the same age are the same grade.
Is there anything you don’t like about Chattahoochee or American schools?
M: One thing I did not like was how much is thrown away. During the break time, I see a lot of bottles in the hallway.
Y: In Korea, students clean. I mean, there’s a cleaning period when all the classes are over.
M: If they threw something on the floor, they clean it up. American students don’t seem to do that. Here the students are littering. They won’t grab [trash] to throw away… I think American students need to love the school, the environment, the facility. Recycling, help save the world.
J: In Korea, every school and every home, every facility tries to recycle. Actually, I was shocked that you throw everything, including food, in the trash can. I wonder when and where you sort different kinds of garbage and if you ever try to recycle materials.
How do you feel about the experience here at Chattahoochee overall?
M: When I first came to Chattahoochee, everything was new to me, but the introduction by Dr. Peoples, she helped me to understand the school and helped me understand the classroom and introduce me to Chattahoochee. I’m very thankful to her for that introduction.
Y: The hospitality, everyone like the students, the teachers have been nice to us and said hello to us.
M: Also, I want to thank them for allowing time for the Korean ferry, the gesture.
Y: There was an announcement by the principal. I was very touched, all the students taking a moment and sharing that with us.
J: What I appreciate the most is that every member of Chattahoochee High School is very kind to us. Before I ask for something, the teachers and faculty members are willing to help us.
M: We’re so thankful for all the students and faculty taking the time with us.
Y: Before I came here, I had [a small amount] of expectation, but after I came, it over-exceeded it. We’re so happy, so satisfied, and we’re all very lucky that we’re here at Chattahoochee High School.
(cover photo courtesy Nate Harris)