Friday, October 23, 2009

Low Standards: What it takes to be an English professor in Korea

I stumbled across some notes I scribbled at a conference and wanted to put them somewhere I could find them again. So here they are, with some observations. Forgive me in advance for my condescension.

I attended this provincial conference a few months back with my Korean co-teacher. She took me because it was a conference for English teachers, which I am. It turns out that it was for Korean English teachers, which I am not. As a result, over half of the conference was conducted in Korean - only two presenters gave their productions in English: a Korean recently returned from a sponsored trip to London, and an American English "professor" at a local university.

The following are quotes as close to exact as possible that the "professor" made during his presentation on Creative Writing:

"Curb it down." (He must have said this about 37 times. I still don't know what it meant.)

"I can't tell you how to do it. That's your job." (In reference to teaching Creative Writing.)

"Creative writing means no mistakes."

"You have to..." (This is how he began 62% of his statements.)

"Sometimes you have to use negative reinforcement. If a student produces something that doesn't make sense, ask them "Why did you write this?" Then maybe they'll think about it and then write about it."

then, later...

"If a student writes something inappropriate, say "Why did you write this?" That's not positive or negative reinforcement - it's neutral."

"What students think are important." (This was actual text from the PowerPoint presentation he was using - not just a grammatical slip of the tongue.)

"Don't ever put anything nationalistic, like a picture of Lee Myung Bak (Korea's President). I don't put up a picture of Bush."

"Don't ask them to write 'Why I love Korea.' I don't do that to my students."

"Show and tell is never bringing it in and explaining it."

"You have to do everything as they're doing it." (As in, complete every activity along with your students, so they can see that it's important.)

And my favorite nonsensical quote of the day:

"Apply the UPs: 50% loosen up and 50% tighten up. You could go up to 60% tight sometime. You could even do 70%. But 50-50 is the ideal mix."

Leaving the amphitheater was one of those moments when I actually felt dumber than when I went in. I felt sorry for everyone involved. I felt sorry for myself, for being associated with him by virtue of my birth. I felt sorry for him, for having received such a substandard education. Most of all I felt sorry for Korea, for having to put up with people like him.


  1. What you described makes me feel angry a bit. I totally agree with you.

    "Curb it down" ? "negative reinforcement" ???

    I've never heard of something like that in the US.

  2. Anonymous4:05 AM

    "show and tell is never bringing it in and explaining it"

    I want to see a Korean show and tell.

    - scott


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