Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Teaching: Part 1

I suppose now that I've been in Korea for more than two months, I should finally write a blog post about the main reason I'm here at all: to teach cute little Korean children how to speak my language. Since teaching takes up a significant amount of my time, I have a lot to say, so I've divided this section into two posts. I’ll begin with some of the technicalities.

First of all, a disclaimer: My experience as a hagwon teacher in Korea shouldn't be generalized. I’ve heard about so many different experiences in terms of school directors, working hours, class structures, students, and work loads, so don't think that my job here is somehow "the norm."

With that said, I quite like my school, though the teacher I replaced was right when she said it would be a lot of work. Here's how it all breaks down:

Hours: Just like most normal jobs, I work 5 days a week, Monday through Friday. Depending on the day, I can start as "early" as 2:30pm and as late as 5pm. I usually stop teaching around 8pm. This doesn't count any time I spend doing lesson prep, administrative things, or grading, which can keep me at the school until 10pm and/or take up my entire morning. Yes, I do come home pretty late every night, but still, having a job that allows me to sleep in is a luxury. 

Happy Halloween!
Salary: About $2100 a month, with my rent already paid for. This amount can generally go much further in Korea than it can in the States. 

Classes: It'll probably change depending on the term (each term lasts 3 months), but I currently teach 8 different 45-minute classes which are all different levels, for a total of about 75 students (though this number is always changing). Students either come on a MWF or TR schedule. Generally the more advanced classes contain older students, but I've had a fourth grader in my most basic class and a third grader in my most advanced. It all depends on how much English they know and when they started learning the language.

I also have a 1-hour "Phone English" class three days a week, in which I call students at their homes and talk to them/have them read and answer questions for 5 minutes. I guess it's to offer the students more individual attention and speaking practice outside of class. 

Students: My students range from 5-12 years old and they all address me by "Teacher." Thankfully they all have English names that they chose when they entered the academy. Although I'd heard that Korean kids had some sort of mad respect for their teachers, honestly I think kids are about the same wherever you go. I've had angel kids who are attentive and motivated, and I've had kids who talk constantly, refuse to stay in their seats, and even attempt cartwheels in the middle of the classroom. It's a mixed bag for sure. 

Discipline: The foreign teachers at my hagwon have a system of "X points," where if kids are misbehaving, they get their name plus a big X next to it on the white board. These Xs can have big consequences and are generally a good threatening tool. Still, I've had to give quite a few out. 

I've been told that the Korean teachers have a much easier time controlling their students because they can scold them in Korean. But even if I were capable of such a feat, there's a strict "No Korean" rule in all the foreign teachers' classrooms. 

My classroom!
Lesson prep: Basically none. Since I work with younger kids whose material isn't particularly complex, I've given up on getting to school early to look over the lesson first. Every lesson for every level and every day is planned out exactly by Chungdahm headquarters, and they all have essentially the same structure. This allows much less flexibility for the teacher but also makes it much easier to teach. 

Grading: THERE'S SO MUCH. For every class, there are daily participation grades and a short daily report. And for every student, there's daily or weekly online speaking homework that I have to listen to and score, as well as around 40 writing notebooks to grade every week for my more advanced classes. I finally understand that teaching in the classroom is only half of a teacher's real work. 

(Some of my coworkers who work with older kids have virtually no grading, but much more lesson prep. I'm not sure which I'd like more.)

Staff: I work with a total of seven other foreign teachers, though only two work on my floor (with the younger kids). I also work closely with six Korean staff members/teachers, who are all AWESOME. They've been so welcoming and helpful to me from the beginning and I feel lucky to have them as my coworkers. 

Perks: Every now and then the Korean staff will randomly come into my classroom to give me free food —> instant friends! :D Aaand all of us teachers got a 10-pound box of grapes from our school manager for Chuseok. Too bad I don't like Korean grapes.

On a side note, the “probation” I mentioned before consisted of me submitting a video of one of my classes to Chungdahm headquarters, and I’ve officially passed—which means I won’t be kicked out of the country after all. Phew! :) 


Victoria said...

Glad to hear you won't be kicked out . . . of course not. Thanks for breaking down some of the different aspects of teaching like this -- I can see your teacherly skills coming out. About these X-points -- what kind of "big consequences" are we talking about? Glad to hear things are going well, and I can't wait to hear more! :)

HB said...

Why thank you! If the students get an X-point, they can be scolded rather fiercely by the Korean teachers, or they'll have to take a retest even if they passed their original vocabulary test (more about that in the next post), or the Korean staff will call their parents and then they’ll be punished at home. Either way it's not a pleasant thing to get.

Lisa said...

It must be a relief knowing that you've officially passed! :) It doesn't surprise me that you have a lot of grading since grades are big in hagwons, at least from my experience. Glad to know that at least you don't have too much planning to do. And I also don't like Korean grapes because of the seeds, lol.