August 22, 2014
Ok folks, Mackenzie’s been on my case about putting my teaching experience into words for you. We’ve now been in Korea for about 5 weeks and they’ve flown by for the most part. Before coming to Korea, I had read that many English teachers feel like the 6 week mark is when they really feel like they have things figured out and I do think I’m getting there at this point.
I didn’t come into this thinking it would be a dream job and it certainly is not, but it’s a tolerable life experience which I will grow to appreciate more as time passes. As far as hagwons are concerned I believe that we’re at a pretty decent one. There are many horror stories out there about teachers being jilted out of payment and schools closing suddenly. SLP is one of the largest chains and run by a large university so it has been a secure job for a lot of teachers over the years. Of course, every branch is different.
I come into work every morning at 11:00 and generally sit around listening to my iPod and reading the news on my computer for nearly an hour…some days an hour and a half! I have little prep to do most of the time. The Korean co-teachers never seem to stop working and are in constant motion. They have so much more work to do than the foreign teachers and I feel like I should make myself look busier than I am. The overly complicated curriculum and silly number of books every class has makes the work load a little heavier on them I suppose. Most of my lesson plans are written by them and given to me at the beginning of a new “month”. I only have to write monthly plans for 2 of my classes. It’s a little difficult deciphering what all is necessary as this is my first time writing them. My questions are generally met with confusion and sometimes totally wrong answers. Part of the experience which will make me a better problem solver, right?
I first meet with a different class of kindergartners each day to do a kind of game activity called, “Play Facto”. There is a little book work involved that leads up to a game. I can say that kindergarten is not for me! There are some cute little ones in these classes, but it’s really just glorified baby sitting and some of them speak zero English. I don’t actually teach any of them in their real classes thankfully. There are a few that are true terrors. I make the best of these classes with my ample repertoire of animal noises, weird laughs, and funny voices.
As my day progresses, my students get older and quieter through 8 more classes. Oddly, their level of English decreases. My older students are impossible to talk to and can’t hold any semblance of a conversation. However, their reading comprehension is usually pretty high. I’m always surprised at the complicated essays they can read and correctly answer multiple choice questions about. Some classes often listen to a CD recording of a person quickly reading a passage and they have to rapidly write in missing segments of the passage in their book. Of course it takes a few hearings for them to write everything, but they always finish in a reasonable time. I tried it one day with 3 teenage boys and it was pretty tough!
It’s all leading to written tests down the road at some point for these kids. That’s what learning a language is here. The vast majority will never be able hold much of a conversation with anyone in English, but if their reading comprehension and spelling is decent enough they’ll pass. I listen to these kids read from the book out loud each day and pronounce most words pretty well, and it’s easy to be lulled into thinking I could converse with them. The rapid pace of just trying to finish units and chapters leaves their retention of vocabulary severely lacking.
Many of these kids are really pleasant people though and I don’t envy how much school they have to sit through every day. I couldn’t imagine not being able to just go home when I was in the 5th grade and just hop on my bike at 4:30 or play some basketball. These students do that too….but it’s more like 8 or 9 at night! Most hagwons run even later into the evening than ours!
Maybe I’ll have more insight to share as the year goes on and I have more time to absorb the routine. At this point, I’ve learned from my students that being bald is really funny and confusing to small Korean kids, having arm hair means being petted a lot, all white men look alike, I’m apparently fat, I have bad style, I’m handsome, and I’m ugly.
This video is from our first day at SLP when we couldn’t leave Truman in our hotel:
I eat lunch everyday with Mackenzie’s kindergarten class, Cherry Class: