On Teaching Kids in South Korea. I’m nearing a year of teaching in Seoul.
The end of my time is coming to my attention rather dramatically as winter is coming and the leaves of my favorite tree have officially fallen to the ground. I’ve reached most of my goals in coming to South Korea, the rest are winter weather dependent. Additionally, I’ve had a friend come visit and I’ve got two more on the way and these folks remind me of my life back home. This being said I’ve still got a month of teaching here, so focusing on that – here are the details.
My hagwon really is different from any school I’ve ever worked at before. For starters the amount of time I spent “deskwarming” equates to an equal amount of time spent teaching the classroom, if not more during middle school test season (2 times a year). What this means is that for every 50 minutes of class I had 50 minutes of sitting at my computer or with a book.
This time is allotted for prepping and correcting essays, of course, but this by no means fills up 4 of the 8 hours I’m not in class. On most days I would arrive and have an hour to two hours before my first class (perfect prep time!), 3 classes, then two and a half hours of “deskwarming” time and then my last class, then have more time to sit at my desk. Most of the time I found productive uses and ultimately this is not a real problem (#notarealproblem), just something to be aware of if looking to teach in South Korea (please note that this isn’t always the case with a hagwon, but quite often the case at a public school).
Since I teach kids ranging from elementary school (8 years old, western years, being the youngest) to middle school (16 years old, western years, being the oldest) the experience from class to class is quite different. I found that teaching the elementary kids was fun, teaching the older higher level middle school students was encouraging and teaching the elementary school kids who are about to go into middle school was hit or miss. This is quite a range of students with different needs and varying levels of interest. I think this would be different if I was only working with one age group.
Besides the amount of time spent studying I don’t think that teaching kids in Korea is any different from teaching kids in the States. They don’t show any more or less respect to teachers. They are still kids and they still act out when not challenged, interested or have other stuff going on in their lives that keeps them distracted. My kids cursed in Korean and English like its going out of style. When they curse in English it is difficult to express the severity of the words they are using as to them, they are just words without value.
Ultimately, it didn’t seem that different from teaching elementary or middle school kids back home.
Regarding personalities – here is a list of situations or kids that stood out. Some are adorable, some are really unique and others just baffle me.
I teach a little boy who is obsessed with anything automobile related and somewhere along the way he decided that he hit a plateau in English that allows him to get by and chat about cars, but its a struggle to get him to go further than that. He is so passionate about cars though!
I’ve got a little boy who can’t stop talking. When I asked him once why he was talking in the middle of the lesson he responded, “because I’m happy, teacher”, with a genuine grin. What do you say to that? Nothing, you just encourage him to talk in English when he continues to talk though the lesson.
I’ve got a student who is in a lower class (too low for him, but the kids are his age) and I’ve heard him speak in English more than I’ve heard him speak in Korean. It actually surprises me when I hear him speak in Korean. This same boy and I always play a quick gave of travel chess before class. He wins every time.
I’ve got a child who always leaves a few of her chips/snacks on my desk in the interest of sharing and then educates me on Korean snacks.
I’ve got a child who when he learned I liked noodles wrote down the number of his parents noodle shop so that I could call and order sometime, but then wrote his cellphone number down because his “parents, English no”.
I’ve got a student who finally got what I meant when I say, “relax *student*, relax” when he would get frustrated and start cursing and now every time I say “Get out your books” he coolly says “relax teacher, relax” with a huge smile on his face. Previously this same student would walk into the classroom and say, “walking fiiiiish” because I showed him a picture of the walking fish I had seen in Dongdaemun one time and it stuck for a while.
I’ve got a little girl who wants to be an artist when she grows up and every English diary entry she writes is a comic strip. She is very talented.
I’ve got a student that apparently plays a lot of video games because his response to everything is, “fire in the hole!”. Meanwhile his English vocabulary is very high.
I’ve got an eleven year old that has to leave early every class because he has to go to another academy, when I wasn’t sure about the validity once he turned to me straight-faced and said with authority, “teacher, I am a very busy man.”
I’ve got a student who is so attached to his smart phone that he will curses under his breath to himself for the full class period if I even mention him putting his phone in the cellphone box. On a good day however he will just repeat the lines from Korean commercials he has seen over and over.
I’ve got a nine-year old student who is always, always smiling and loves to give mini lectures on global warming using impressive scientific words.
I teach a child who is incredibly blunt. “Teacher? Flowers? That’s a spring dress, it’s June” or “Teacher, why is your hair like that? It’s not cute” or “Korean kids don’t like that…” – her bluntness was entertaining at first…
I’ve got a little girl who hugs me every time she sees me and another little girl who says “thank you, teacher” anytime we have an interaction.
I’ve got another eleven year old that begs for Macaroni and Cheese at the beginning of every class because I made it once for a market day.
I’ve got a little girl who once saw that my hair was in braids and she took out her hair band and asked me to braid her hair too.
All in all I have really enjoyed teaching in South Korea. Although there were a few things about the way things are run that I was a little confused and sometimes frustrated about, I have not had a bad experience.