Kids and punishment

As many of you know, I work as an ESL teacher in South Korea. I teach kids ranging in age from about 3 to 12. It’s one of the most challenging things for me because there are times when it hurts to watch them just being kids.

But today something triggered me extremely badly. I was in the room where all the foreign teachers have their desks (it’s hardly an office). Kids are in and out of there all the time. I was grading papers, minding my own business. Two little ones (probably six year olds) were in there and the bell had already rung for class. I was shooing them out the door when the school cook/cleaning lady came in. She started yelling at the two kids. She made them hold out their hands and hit them with a plastic water bottle. All because they hadn’t left the room fast enough when the bell rang. Trust me when I say class start/stop times aren’t strictly enforced by any of the teachers.

As she was yelling, I was just about jumping out of my skin. And then when she smacked them, I felt this terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach and just shook. No specific memories, just the horrible waves of emotion.

Something similar happened late last week. I have one class of fourth graders where a couple of the boys pick on one of the girls. I walked in the room and she was crying. The class is a very low level one, so there was no way she could tell me what was wrong. I let her talk to one of the Korean teachers. After she finished telling the teacher what had happened, the teacher came in and started screaming at the kids who were picking on the girl. The Korean teacher made the boys who were responsible stand against the wall with their hands in the air (a typical punishment). I don’t have a major problem with that. I’d rather the they use something like time-out, but I have no control over the way the Korean teachers discipline students. So there was about five minutes left in the class and this Korean teacher came back in and asked me to leave. She was carrying a large stick. You don’t have to be a genius to know what was going to happen next. I heard a student scream as I closed the door. I walked back to my desk absolutely horrified and shaking like a leaf.

I understand that different cultures have different views on how teachers should be able to punish children. But it hurts me as much as it hurts the kids when stuff like that happens. Am I totally nuts here? Am I being over-sensitive?

9 thoughts on “Kids and punishment

  1. Ys says:

    I don’t think you’re being oversensitive. I was upset by what you wrote because I hate violence of any kind, especially directed at the innocent. But, as you said, it’s a different culture so I’m sure the children know the rules.

  2. kprsjohn says:

    in our opinion the cook and teacher were over the line but as you said different cultures different things happen. The cook bothers us more, to us she has no authority to discipline children where the teacher does, but we would have accepted something less painful both physically and emotionally. On the other hand at least the girl who was being picked was being defended.

    peace and blessings


  3. nadcesca says:

    this is really delicate. Different culture means you kind have to suck it up. When I read this I’m really upset also. Makes me want to shake those people and give them their own treatment! sending strengh and love! big hug xx

  4. borderlinecrazy says:

    IMHO, “too sensitive” is meaningless. When other people say it to me, I think it means that THEY are simply bothered by my reaction, which is what it is and isn’t “too” anything. When I say it to myself I’m usually trying to invalidate my OWN reaction. Just an aside. Short answer: NO, you are not being “too sensitive.” Maybe you are having a strong reaction to a situation that most people would not react to (and you have good reason to to do!), but that’s all…

  5. Thanks everyone for the comments.

    Maybe “oversensitive” is the wrong word. I guess I meant was my reaction excessive?

    One of my favorite sayings from my the woman who was my history teacher my junior and senior year of high school is about other cultures. You can’t judge another culture by the standards of your own. So I guess that makes me guilty.

    And again today, I walked into the main lobby to one of the Korean teachers hitting a kid with a wooden stick.

    As much as I hate to say it, this might just be enough for me to break my contract and try to find another school to teach at. It’s triggering me big time.

  6. Our personal backgrounds say punishment leaves permanent scars so in this way, no you’re not being too sensitive. I would be triggered as well.


  7. Heck, I’m triggered by a child laughing but you let me see one getting hit and one of two things happen- I freak and go little OR Morton appears. For the safety of the parent who happens to be manhandling the child lets hope the latter doesn’t take place. This reminds me of a story that I’ll have to write about tomorrow. I’ll link back so people will know what I’m talking about.


  8. i’ve only recently found your blog, however i really felt the need to comment on this post. i think to many people being around such treatment of children would be disturbing. i know different cultures have their own ways of viewing “discipline” methods, however it is still troubling that it is still acceptable common practice in areas. i know witnessing such a situation would upset me very much. it would bring up a flood of emotions and memories from my past back.

  9. pavandyal says:

    your not being over-sensitve you have the right to feel the way you do I can’t possibly imagine how you must have been feeling at the moment but your right it is a different culture and kids should know what happens when you do certain things you shouldn’t therefore they shouldn’t do it at all but even though it may be a different culture i still don’t think such violence should be allowed it’s just horrible

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