The Glendale Experiment
October 27, 2008
GLENDALE — About 25 teachers attended a seminar on Korean culture Wednesday afternoon that participants said would help them interact with students of all immigrant backgrounds.
The seminar, co-sponsored by the Glendale Unified School District and the Korea Academy for Educators, was held at the district’s Professional Development Center and gave a three-hour historical and cultural snapshot about Koreans to teachers, organizers said.
The hope, Korea Academy President Mary Connor said, was that the session would be a starting point for exploring the similarities between students of different backgrounds and specifically initiating education about Koreans, a group that makes up about 15% of the district’s population, school board member Nayiri Nahabedian said.
“After Armenian-speaking students and Spanish-speaking students, the next largest population is Korean-speaking students,” Nahabedian said. “So it’s important that our teachers are prepared to teach all of our students, and holding professional seminars like this one really gives an opportunity for our teachers to know more about our students.”
While teachers at the session heard an overview of Korean history, some said the main benefit was getting to hear Helie Lee, author of “Still Life With Rice” and other books, speak about her experiences growing up as a Korean immigrant.
Lee discussed her attempts to blend into society when her family moved to Southern California while she was growing up, explaining that she tried to blend into San Fernando Valley culture and often got angry at her parents for not being around to support her at school activities the way that her classmates’ parents were.
She also explained a heavy emphasis on educational success throughout her childhood and discussed the role of family shame that was tied to her successes and failures.
Connor explained that Glendale teachers would likely encounter Korean parents with similar cultural pressures and expectations for their children, specifically what she called the Korean “education mom.”
“She is judged by the success of her kids,” Connor said. “So if a Korean mother comes to a teacher and asks ‘Why is my son not doing well?’, it’s not that their son isn’t doing well; it’s that their family is not doing well.”
Edward Chang, a professor of ethnic studies at UC Riverside, said it was important for teachers to understand Koreans’ cultural emphasis on educational success so that they could help families discuss the larger picture of their children’s success.
“They need to talk to the parents,” Chang said. “Getting into Harvard doesn’t guarantee anything, but Korean parents don’t realize that …They need to be aware of the well-rounded education. It is crucial for success at college and beyond.”
Marine Avagyan, a teacher specialist at Jefferson Elementary School who had attended a previous workshop organized by the academy, said the lessons learned could help in understanding other cultural backgrounds as well.
“I can say that, as an Armenian immigrant, I relate so closely,” Avagyan said. “Some of the experiences are so similar that you really feel for what some of these children, or their parents, have gone through.”