Jeremey Harmer (@harmerJ) just posted an interesting blog post about teaching competitions and lesson polishing.
At the end he asked three questions.
One of them was, “Are teaching competitions a good thing? And if so, for whom?”
I (@michaelegriffin on teh twittters) said that such competitions are very popular here in Korea but still
“bad” terrible and @harmerj wondered why they are so popular if they are bad.
My speculation is that teaching competitions are thought to be useful as a way to share ideas and techniques with other teachers. I can see some truth and possible benefit in this. I also think they are a way to gain prestige for the school, principal and teacher as way to validate all the hard work that teachers do in trying to develop professionally. I believe that teachers who win such competitions can some points for their career and the prestige that goes along with winning.
(A very interesting and multi-thread conversation starting from @harmerJ’s post and tweet arose. I favorited all the related tweets, including my own(!) so you can see what people were saying).
Even though I mentioned some potential benefits and reasons for the continued existence and popularity of teaching competitions I think there are major problems with the idea. The first is that students and learning are very easily brushed aside for the purpose of flashier, teacher-centered, and attention grabbing moves that don’t have much to do with student learning.
One thing that I have heard a lot about in Korea for such classes is how they are very well rehearsed. I find this equal parts interesting and troubling. In a place were teachers often complain about a lack of time and the need to “cover” vast amounts of material there is somehow enough time to practice and rehearse such lessons.
I also think the tendency towards “look at me” activities, long turns from the teacher, and flashy powerpoints is another good way to forget about students.
It probably also bears mentioning that there is a tendency to simply judge the teacher based on his/her English ability (which in turn can lead to the teacher talking more and more).
So, on the subject of teaching competitions, here is an example of a winner.
This is a high school lesson focusing on food/diet and other things.
Have a look. The lesson itself starts at 1:22.
When I have shared this and other similar videos some teacher trainers new to working with Korean public school teachers the trainers typically said this is something they should have seen before coming to Korea. I think it is especially telling because this is the model of what “good” (championship winning) teaching looks like and what some teachers might be striving towards. I have seen more of these lessons (in person and on video) than is probably healthy and can see quite a few parallels between those that tend to win. guess to me the whole thing is just about priorities that are very different from what I believe to be important (namely student LEARNing).
So, to answer the above question if competitions like this are a good thing I’d have to say mostly not.
I have been conflicted about posting the above link for a long time and I want to emphasize don’t mean any disrespect to the teacher who bravely taught this lesson (or anyone who has taught a similar lesson or under similar circumstances) . I felt it could be instructive for teachers around the world to see what a winning or model lesson looks like in Korea. As I just mentioned to a friend, “If you don’t want me to share it then please don’t post it on my internet.”
In terms of comments on this post and the desire to be as sensitive as possible I would like to request that comments not include judgments or attacks on the teacher. Descriptions of what you see in the clip are more than fine, as is speculation about why things might have been done the way they are done. Thanks for reading!