Nuggets of Pedagogy: The Open-Class

All pictures from that day lost. Thankfully, my archive provides countless of identity obscuring teaching stock photos.

Seemingly the greatest, most horrific event in the life of the Korean public school teacher is the open class. Here, the doors of the classroom are thrown open for spectators to come in and squint, criticize, and hand down judgment upon the teachers. In some cases, parents (who, in Korea, are like grand arbiters with great deals of clout should they want to complain) attend, in others, principals and big-wigs sit in. Blood pressure rises, teachers begin to develop tics, and everyone worries about how they will come off in the reviews.


The open class day for the English department was much ballyhooed. My co-teachers began to scramble, asking me for any particularly flashy or interesting ideas. I would pass by and hear them whispering in English, trying desperately to perfect their tones, their inflections, their word choices. Every aspect was rehearsed and trained. They were like dancers going over their steps, making sure every swoop was crisp, every leap articulate and emotional. This is what they were training for. They would be ready.

Open classes are generally meant to be a little artificial and over-the-top. You dress up extra, you pull out the big guns. At some schools, some people even pre-teach the lesson to the kids so that the kids know the steps, making the entire thing a group secret, like a well-rehearsed educational flash mob. A former co-teacher came to borrow a bunch of English department electronics for her open class, to make things seem more smooth and hitchless. As English teachers, we were even allowed to futz with the schedule, to pick which class of kids would prove most benign, quiet, and angelic for a viewing audience. Essentially, we were gods, picking and choosing which kids were the least kidlike, to make the parents believe us such masters of classroom management that the children were awed into quiet, mind-expanding quiet.

The other teachers wondered why I carried myself with such nonchalance. On the day, 13 parents came to watch our lesson with the calmest, most gentle grade 4 class. When asked for quiet, the children suddenly grew mute and attentive, as though I’d personally removed all of their vocal cords. When asked to speak, a sea of trembling hands rose into the air and swayed as though washed by a gentle breeze. Every kid could participate, and almost all of them wanted to, even while being watched by all of their friends’ moms. I could leave them for 40 minutes and be relatively confident they will have sat quietly, books open to an appropriate page, waiting for my return.

The other major boon: most of the parents don’t speak a lick of English. Thus, whatever I’m jabbering on about most of the time is largely ignored. Am I getting the kids to say some things? Yup. Am I also speaking in English? Sure am. Do I look like maybe I am planning on shooting some heroin or abducting the children? No. A + Michael Teacher. Keep on keeping on!

8 thoughts on “Nuggets of Pedagogy: The Open-Class

  1. I’d be tempted to bake cookies for the parents who attended, to win them over with sugar & fat, but I’m guessing you can’t find chocolate chips in a Korean grocery store! Love the winter coats the kids are wearing in the classroom–no central heat?

    • They brought snacks themselves! I didn’t have to do anything.

      And indeed, winter coats. We have heating, but we also have ludicrously poor insulation and windows that aren’t in any way sealed properly, thus you can feel the wind all winter long. Coats are necessary.

  2. Hahaha! I can relate! I am from the Philippines and we have this accreditation test for the school and it is pretty hilarious and “mob-like in all it’s pre-planned secrecy and rehearsed steps”. Though, in all fairness to the teachers they are all noble in their intentions to help the school pass. 🙂 There really are cool teachers like you, and some who are let’s say, don’t want to take a risk, thus the pre-planning! 🙂

    • Yeah, here it’s a little different where, for most open classes, it is more an evaluation of the individual teacher, with little reflection on the over-all school. It’s about self-polish and trying to look good to your boss, so it gets pretty artificial.

  3. Wow, that’s interesting. Sounds like very well-behaved kids though – if they did this with my class back in highschool, we’d be bouncing off the walls.

    • Had it been some of my grade 5 or 6 classes, they would have seen a lot more active management. With the grade 4s, I barely have to do anything. They feel it is their duty to behave. I’m sad that they’ll quickly lose that.

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