August 7, 2010

Teaching English

This is the post about what I "actually do" in Korea, my job. I work at a hagwon, or private school, from 10 to 6 or so Monday to Friday. It is an English-only school, meaning all of the subjects are taught in English, and the students cannot speak in Korean at all in the classroom. I teach language arts, conversation, reading, writing, science, math, and gym. During the typical "school day" our youngest students come, who are from 3 to 4 years-old. They are probably the most impressive to me, some have only been learning English a few months, and they are speaking in full sentences. The older students attend a different public or private school during the day, and come to my school afterwards. They are 5 to about 10 years-old, seperated by age and skill. I only teach about 5 hours a day, actually, and the class sizes are from one to nine students. Classes are 30 to 35 minutes. I get frequent breaks to prepare for the lesson, grade homework, and relax. Pretty easy gig, really. This months lesson plans are done for me, too, which has made my life much less stressful.

I feel very lucky, after reading horror stories online about some hagwons being corrupt, unfair, or just not very nice. My school has five foreign (read: American) teachers, and about ten Koeran teachers. We all work together. Every class has a Korean and foreign homeroom teacher, and if any teacher has an issue with a student, they talk to both the foreign and Korean teacher. We record our experiences that day in a record book, noting issues or impressive student efforts. Its nice to communicate so effectively with my coworkers, I can write something like "if student A shy or just behind her peers?" and though I may forget to ask that student's teacher, writing it down she is sure to see it and let me know. The system seems to embody the idea of a village raising a child, which is very effective. I never feel alone or isolated when dealing with a student or class that challenges me. It is ideal for someone, like myself, with little experience in the culture or even in this type of classroom setting.

As for the students, a lot of people have asked me if they are very different from American kids, and I have to say yes and no. The students and much more respectful than some Americans, and therefore the expectations for classroom behavior is higher. As a rule, Korean kids are more competitive, students who might not be interested in reviewing something they have learned will give you their full attention if you turn it into a contest. They are still kids though, they want to be told they are smart, that their work is correct, they get excited when you turn anything into a game, and reading a story in a bit of a sing-song will get you smiles and giggles all around. They want hugs and high fives and love when you say "good morning!" to them with a big smile. Really, they are just miniature people, who want to be cared for and made to feel special. It isn't hard to convince me that they are special, their language skills already have me impressed.

It is a big change from Upward Bound, but I am already really happy here. It may not feel like home when I am wandering the streets of Daegu and not seeing anyone I know or hearing a language I understand, but in my school, with my student's familiar faces and excitement, I am already feeling at home.


  1. I am so happy to read this today, my eyes are welling up! This morning I have been searching for deals to visit you, and knowing you are ok makes Christmas not so far off. I love you.

  2. So impressed with you and happy that things are going so well.Kind of wished it had gone all wrong.There by forcing you to come back.Please don't wander the streets so much your making me nervous. Miss You. BYE! BYE!

  3. Wow! I guess you are all grown up now and not that broody lil Britney. You are a brave and courageous woman and it is nice to see how independent you have become. Trust and believe in yourself - while being careful- and the world will be yours. You inspire me to reach out of my comfort zone. Now if you could just teach me your tact and how to shut up, that would be amazing! Im looking forward to your next post!
    Love A.Jill

  4. Very cool to hear a little more about what you're doing. Seems like a lot of subjects to be teaching. Is it like elementary school in the states where you teach all subjects throughout the day, or do you have certain days dedicated to certain subjects? For gym, please do those children a favor and let them play dodgeball.

    How are you doing at picking up the language?

  5. Tact and knowing when to shut up isn't something I've mastered yet, Aunt Jill, I think its something we all need to spend some time working on!

    Alex- 30 minutes a subject/teacher. We switch rooms, the students just stay there. For gym, I really won't be "teaching it" most of the time, we have a gym we go to across the street thats open all but August. So we play games in our small gym for these few weeks. But with class sizes of 1 to 8 students, dodgeball wouldn't really work. The gym class I have is a 5 student class, and they are babies. Too little to be pelting each other in the head with a ball. Sorry, man. And language? Not really. But I am communicating enough to get through the day, and thats the point for the time being.

  6. Hi, you don't know me but I am going to be moving to Daegu soon to teach english and I came across your blog. I just wanted to let you know how awesome it is that you put this up and that reading through some of your entries about teaching and living in South Korea has really been a help to me and answered some questions I had that I was unsure how to get answered.

    Thank you.

  7. I'm happy I could help! If you have any other questions or concerns, feel free to ask. I love that I can help people through this. Good luck in Daegu!