The rat race.
After a couple months at my job, I feel like I’ve got the hang of things. Each day is pretty routine, and I think generally I love it as much as I’ll ever love it, and I hate it as much as I’ll ever hate it. I know I’ve mentioned my school before, but I think I’ll take some time to inform you of more of the details.
I have not yet been as intimidated to write a blog post as I am to write this one. There’s no way I can express my thoughts, and, even if I could, my experience is so limited. I think I’ll save the lengthy reflection on the culture and inner-workings of being an EFL teacher for private conversation or an exiting blog post. For now, the basics (with plenty of background information).
Teaching English in Korea is divided into two options: Public schools or Private schools (hagwons). While there are pros and cons to both, I decided on a hagwon because of the smaller class sizes and larger number of foreign teachers. While I’d appreciate more than two one-week vacations a year, I’m still very happy with my decision. My largest class is eight students, and my school employs 8 other fantastic foreign teachers (pretty large for a hagwon). These co-workers were a life-saver when I first got here, and are still wonderful resources for figuring out things at school, in my apartment, or with adjusting to life in Korea in general. I could not be more thankful, and that’s not even just because I know a couple of you occasionally read this!
The school is somewhat divided into preschool in the morning, and elementary-middle school in the afternoons. The teachers are likewise divided, with 5 of the foreign teachers and 4 Korean teachers working mainly in the morning, then with a couple afternoon classes, and 4 foreign teachers and 5 Korean teachers working with afternoon classes. These are classes that kids from about 2nd-7th grade go to after school. Most classes are an hour and a half, with a five minute break separating the foreign teacher’s half with the Korean teacher’s half. So though we’re co-teachers in a sense, we’re never in the room at the same time. The classes are also divided into MWF classes or TR classes, with one class being every day (these are the very spoiled students at my school).
As the day goes on, my classes typically move from my youngest classes (7 yrs) to my oldest (13 yrs). My youngest students are learning phrases like “What are they? They are monkeys. What are they doing? They are climbing trees”, while my oldest students are preparing for the TOEFL exam and learning critical thinking and essay-writing skills. I typically like most of my students most days, but I find that the older students are a nice break at the end of the day. They’re a lot more focused, diligent, and easy to talk to, so it takes much less energy. My second to last class on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays is my smartest class of 3, which I love teaching because we can spend a few minutes conversing about our anything, and leisurely make our way through the day’s lesson. This is a big contrast to the tight schedule of most classes.
The curriculum we use is incredibly, and even frustratingly detailed for us. This is one of my biggest frustrations with teaching here, but a complete explanation is probably best for one of those private conversations I mentioned. Most of my classes the teachers are required to go through so much in the course of 40 or 60 minutes, that there is no time for anything else. Very little time for differentiation in the lesson or comprehension checks (apart from homework assignments, which I have very little time to look over). I even often have to avoid classroom management issues for the sake of getting through my subject matter.
To my school’s credit, the curriculum is an incredibly comprehensive series that can take a student from learning phonics to preparing for the TOEFL exam with little preparation needed from the teacher. By comprehensive, I mean that each student gets 5+ books (more like 8-10 for the every day students) that cover grammar, conversation & speaking, reading, writing, books for working in the classroom, and books for at home, etc. The curriculum is often fairly well laid out, with some exceptions here and there. I think it is the curriculum’s implementation that does not do it justice. Again, private conversation.
As I mentioned before, I get a decent amount of prep time each day. For 1:50 before class and 1hr after, I’m in the office with the afternoon teachers (and occasionally morning teachers) making lesson plans, grading tests, writing report cards, checking homework, etc. There are very few times where I don’t have something that needs to be done, so I’m usually pretty busy. One week a month I have 6+ classes all of their unit tests on the same day, so that entire week after the tests is spent grading, arranging for re-tests, grading those, and writing report cards, while copying or creating lesson plans for the next unit. I just got done with a week like that, and I couldn’t be more happy to be finished. I typically end up having to come in early a few days to get everything done.
That’s really about all I have to say now. I’m sure you’d love to see pictures, but I’d feel weird bringing my camera in to work. So that will happen eventually, but not now. I also intentionally neglect spending hours writing about my feelings on the subject. However, if you have any specific questions, I’d love to answer them! Also, I’d be interested to hear from other foreign teachers on whether this experience is similar to yours or not.