Teaching Abroad · Teaching in Korea

Wrap-up Of My First Term As A Teacher

Thirteen weeks as a hagwon teacher have come and gone, and I thought I should share some general, personal reflections on teaching in Korea so far.

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Arriving to work usually occurs around 3 pm (after purchasing a much needed caffeinated beverage)- where I set up my classroom, check-in electronically and print out tests or homework papers. The sounds of children arriving float up the staircase around 3:55, so I connect my tablet screen to the television’s and wait with the other teachers for the students to make their way up the flights of stairs. Each class is 3 hours long with two 5-minute break periods. Otherwise, the students are immersively communicating in English – so it is important to keep up the energy and engagement throughout, if not, they will glaze over and tune out (I knew my high-school theatre roots would help me out someday). The company emphasizes the Socratic method of teaching, so there is a lot of discussion and “why?” type questions. Lesson plans are pre-made and taught from a teacher tablet and television screen, with each student having their own tablet- so prepping consists of finding relevant media that matches the lesson and makes it more fun for the students.

Another component that is unique to this job is the CCTV that is always watching. Hello, Big Brother. But from what I understand, this is becoming a more common practice in hagwons or schools in general. The paranoia of constantly being watched faded rather quickly after the first week. CCTV is used to evaluate performance, and if you’re doing what you should then it’s not a big deal, and can be a useful tool.

Co-workers are really fantastic and truly make the job enjoyable. Everyone I work with has been helpful both with teaching advice and in figuring out my way in a new country.

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As I said in a previous post, the student’s level of English is impressive. And paying attention academically for 3 hours (after finishing regular school for the day) is a feat. Which is to say the biggest difficulties come in the shape of behavioral issues (but it’s hard to blame them). A lot of them attend numerous academies in a week: Chinese, Japanese, Math, Science, Piano/other instruments, a sport, you get the idea. And many students talk about the minimal amount of sleep they receive because of this intense parent-imposed curriculum. Overall the hagwon system, or industry, is about churning out top students to get into the top schools.

I teach elementary and middle school age children, and they have a serious aversion to working with the opposite gender. It’s like the cooties thing lasted beyond first grade, haha. They are goofy: I had one student who had dropped his snack on the floor and asked to go wash his hands after cleaning it up. When he returned, his pants had a huge water stain on them (like he had an…accident). Apparently, the soap pump didn’t work when he pressed it gently, so he decided to bang on it shooting it directly onto his pants. There is something new every day, and there’s always some laughter happening. They love spicy snacks, they’ll eat them during their breaks and then be sucking their breath through the next part of the class trying to deal with the spice. During the term, I did receive the nickname “Diamond Teacher” from one of my homework class students. This may make it sound like I’m fancy – but really it is because they had only half remembered my name. Pretty cute, though.

Side note: Some of the students are ‘trolls’ – I have one that has to include Teletubbies in every single lesson, regardless of what it’s about. The last lesson of the term was about funerals. Teletubbies and funerals? Alrighty…

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A normal work week consists of around 21-24 teaching hours and a handful of other hours here and there conducting homework classes, attending workshops, meeting with my team manager, or editing vocabulary tests. Before I arrived in Korea, I read many blogs eschewing negative reviews of teaching here or about the hagwon environment in general. As a former 40+ (emphasis on plus) an hour workweek retail cafe manager, this job leaves me feeling more refreshed, and with ample time to myself to do things I enjoy. I’m still searching for what I want to do with my life, and I feel more free to do so with the schedule I have.

You really do get out of something what you put into it. And I’m happy with the journey so far.

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