Changing the feedback culture, Part 1: Teachers, hear us out


Jordan Kim, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Having slain the final boss, the glorious hero returns, flaunting his victory to the others. The marveled achievement is none other than a raised grade after a tough but successful debate with a teacher about a summative. Scrambling to earn at least an additional percentage point, students prepare various talking points that ruthlessly criticize the teacher’s original evaluation. 

Once the scheme proves successful, the word spreads. Branded as a “push-over,” the teacher is met with a larger swarm of students that demand a change. Though such behavior does not aptly characterize every SIS student, the culture of complaining about scores is deeply entrenched within our school’s academically competitive culture. 

Adapting to the aggressive attitudes of students, some teachers have created their own systems to prevent grade grubbing. During private meetings to discuss scores, they seem rather reluctant to hand back students’ essays and test papers as they often foresee an onslaught of criticism. Others declare from the onset that grades will not be altered as a condition for arranging one-on-one conferences to review summative assessments. 

These unconscious actions and reactions collectively form the combative feedback culture that typifies our school environment. The ramifications, however, extend beyond simply a negative ambiance. Teachers grow increasingly wary of students, and in turn, their defensive response stifles students’ yearning to improve with constructive feedback. 

On the surface, students appear as the easy culprits of the confrontational feedback culture, leaving teachers with no real choice but to act sensitively. However, this is an oversimplification of a multifaceted issue: teachers, outside consultants, inflationary grades, and students all play a crucial role. This five-fold series will dissect the underlying problem by examining the role of each stakeholder—beginning with teachers—to ultimately lend insight into possible means of rectifying the antagonistic feedback culture. 

Teachers commonly criticize students for dismissing the importance of the “learning process” and overly focusing on the numerical evaluations of their work. However, the culture of SIS is simply a microcosm of the larger, hyper-competitive Korean society that values educational success over all else. Understanding that grades are extremely important to students, teachers should resist shunning students who request to look over their grades. 

Even in the international school community, the academics-oriented culture of Korea is evident in the fibers of almost every student. Many parents endured the competitive Korean high school culture, and even for those who did not, the cutthroat, meritocratic workplace preserves the importance of individuals’ educational backgrounds as one of their chief accomplishments. These tiger moms and dads set high academic expectations for their children and provide countless opportunities and exorbitant financial support to assist them. 

But, surprisingly, most parents are unresponsive to the day-to-day summative alerts from PowerSchool. It may appear rather paradoxical that students rejoice or cry over their constant PowerSchool updates. Yet it is none other than the pervasive Korean societal culture which determines individuals’ worth based on their academic prowess which drives students to spend sleepless nights studying for even the most minuscule summatives. 

For the host of teachers who either grew up in or taught at American public schools, they are more accustomed to teaching students with varying abilities and personal standards; grades range from the 70s up to a 100—an A is not the norm. However, at SIS, everyone wishes to be the smart one that can confidently walk out of any test with a smile on his or her face. Even the sports-obsessed jocks and partiers pull all-nighters to prepare for exams. 

In other words, for all of us, grades are personal, professional, and everything in between. Therefore, though students ought to value the “learning process” over the course of the school year, once summative points, grades are not simply markers of progress. Understanding the far-reaching impacts of summative grades, teachers should refrain from coming out defensively or reevaluating the characters of students who stop by their office to ensure their grade accurately reflects their performance. 

But this is merely the tip of the iceberg. While teachers play an evident role in creating the toxic feedback culture at SIS, we, students, are equally or even more responsible. Only through taking the time to step into the shoes of our teachers and reflect upon the attitudes that students bring to a feedback session shall we know: follow the next part of the series to take a look.