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What it's Like to Teach in South Korea

Updated on December 5, 2011
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My classroom.Some of my students on a field trip to see a show.One class making Halloween masks.One class after making their Halloween masks.Two students making their masks.This is my principal holding up a beer bottle and a bottle of soju (rice liquor).Here are some of the teachers in the school while we are all out to dinner together.
My classroom.
My classroom.
Some of my students on a field trip to see a show.
Some of my students on a field trip to see a show.
One class making Halloween masks.
One class making Halloween masks.
One class after making their Halloween masks.
One class after making their Halloween masks.
Two students making their masks.
Two students making their masks.
This is my principal holding up a beer bottle and a bottle of soju (rice liquor).
This is my principal holding up a beer bottle and a bottle of soju (rice liquor).
Here are some of the teachers in the school while we are all out to dinner together.
Here are some of the teachers in the school while we are all out to dinner together.

I have been teaching English in an elementary school in Busan, South Korea for 9 months now. I have around 26 students per class and I teach grades 3, 4, 5, and 6. My working hours are 8:40 am to 4:40 pm. Lunch is at 12:10 pm for 50 minutes. There are two 3rd grade classes, three 4th grade classes, three 5th grade classes, and three 6th grade classes. I have been told that my school is relatively small compared to most in Busan.

My teaching schedule is this:
Monday:
1st period - Free
2nd period - Class 5-1
3rd period - Class 5-2
4th period - Class 5-3
5th period - Lunch
6th period - Free
7th period - Free
8th period - Extra Help
Rest of the day free

Tuesday:
1st period - Free
2nd period - Class 6-2
3rd period - Class 6-3
4th period - Class 4-2
5th period - Lunch
Rest of the day is free

Wednesday:
1st period - Free
2nd period - Class 4-3
3rd period - Class 4-1
4th period - Class 6-1
5th period - Lunch
6th period - Pen-pal Class
7th period - extra help
8th period - extra help
Rest of the day is free

Thursday:
1st period - Free
2nd period - Class 5-3
3rd period - Class 6-3
4th period - Class 5-1
5th period - Lunch
6th period - Class 5-2
Rest of the day is free

Friday:
1st period - Class 6-1
2nd period - Class 6-2
3rd period - Class 3-1
4th period - Class 3-2
5th period - Lunch
6th period - Free
7th period - Extra Help
Rest of the day is free

I have only one co-teacher who speaks very good English. We share our work 50/50 which makes for an easy environment. She does most of the disciplining since their disciplining strategies are much different than ours and they can understand her. Don't be surprised if your co-teacher makes the students stand in the back of the class, stand at their desk, kneel on the floor with their arms up in the air (for long periods of time), put their heads on their desk, wear blindfolds and stand at the back, etc. You might also see a teacher or two put their hand on the students. Some of their disciplinary actions would never be acceptable to do back in the U.S. Be sure not to judge as this is their culture and it is acceptable.

Teachers here can have many different teaching situations. Some teachers teach at more than one school, some have many co-teachers, some do most of the teaching while their co-teacher just handles the discipline, and some co-teachers do most of the teaching while the native English teacher just chimes in here and there to say things in English. Situations can be tough, can be uncomfortable, can be stressful. You won't have a clue what your situation will be until you step foot into your classroom.

Many times language barriers can create confusion between you and your co-teacher. Make sure if you don't understand him/her that you ask for clarity. Sometimes you will think that your co-teacher understood you when in fact, they didn't. This can be really hard sometimes. Just try your best to work well with your co-teacher. Do not get upset when language issues arise, it's just something that you have to accept. Getting upset over it will not make your relationship any better. Just let it go.

As far as students go, their behavior can be very different from western behavior. Students here are a lot more "hands-on" with each other, meaning they hit each other, wrap their arms around each other, and are more violent towards each other overall. A lot of their behavior is not disciplined. It is either ignored or I'm assuming socially acceptable. Even in elementary school it is common for the boys to get into fist fights with each other. It is common for boys and girls to cry a lot about something another student said or did to them.

Be prepared to say "Hello" to students 80 times a day. Every time a student sees you in the hallway they will say hello to you. Sometimes students will even say "Nice to meet you" quite often. Even though they are saying it often, and it is wrong since we didn't just meet, I still try to promote their use and say it back to them.

Elementary schools have books to follow. The books are broken up into sections: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Each lesson is supposed to be taught in this order. Depending on whether your co-teacher will allow this or not, games can be a great way to get the students involved and having fun with English. You can find many PowerPoint games and other ideas on the internet. I have become a lot more proficient at using PowerPoint and all its extra gadgets since being here. I had no idea some of the things that PowerPoint could do until teaching here. I wouldn't say that planning takes up a lot of time because you usually see the same grade more than one time a week (different classes), so one lesson will actually become three if you see three 5th grade classes in one week. It definitely takes a load off when you've gotten your planning done for each grade.

For my co-teacher and I, every day we start off the lesson with asking the students how they are or what they did yesterday (depends on the grade), what the date is, and how the weather is. About half-way into the school year, for 5th and 6th grade, I started having the students come up to write the date on the blackboard. I figured they needed more practice spelling the days of the week and months. Once they write it on the board, I have the entire class repeat the date. I will also write the weather on the blackboard and call on students to repeat it, for example: It is cold, rainy, and windy. I will call on a student to say that. Then, I erase "cold" and have another student say the sentence. Then, I erase "rainy" and have another student say it. I do this until the entire sentence is erased. For the "How are you?" question, I usually just ask the students and repeat the answers. For the "What did you do yesterday?" question, I will write each verb on the blackboard as they are said, for example: ate, went, did, watched. Then, I try my best to remember the sentences that the students told me and I will have the class repeat "ate" and "I ate dinner", then "went" and "I went to the supermarket", then "did" and "I did my homework", then "watched" and "I watched TV". Doing this has definitely made their participation increase every class.

Most schools give you the option of opting in to their lunch program. If you pay your school a certain amount (my school charges 45,000 won) each month, they will let you eat the school lunch. If that's about $45 a month, and it's 5 lunches a week, it works out to under about $2 per meal. If you absolutely hate Korean food then don't do this. You can easily bring your lunch to school with you every day. Keep in mind that Korean lunches will consist of rice, soup, kimchi, and usually 2 sides. There is not a lot of protein in Korean meals. Sometimes they'll base the whole meal theme around fish. It'll be fish soup with anchovies, and fish balls, etc. A lot of their soups taste like fish even if there aren't any fish in them. This is because a lot of times they'll boil the water with fish in them and then take them out. It took a while for me to get used to the taste. I am not a big fish eater.

If you look below, you can find websites that help you lesson plan. For waygook, after signing up, you must post, I believe it's 4 or 5 things, before you are able to have access to the links that other people have posted.

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