Teaching in Korea: What I’m Doing Here

After a quick glance at a calendar, I realized I’ve been in Korea for over a month. Time flies, retrospectively at least. I also realized that most people don’t know what I’m doing here, so hopefully this post will clear that up.

Until September 2014, I’m contracted to work as an English (ESL) teacher in South Korea. I work at a hagwon, which is what Koreans call private academies that are supplementary to students’ regular school day. There are hagwon’s for languages, math, science, music, and the list goes on. Most kids attend multiple hagwons per week, if not each day.

In the morning, from about 9:00 am to 2:30 pm, my hagwon is a kindergarten, so I teach a phonics and reading to a bunch of kids ranging in age from, I’d guess, three to seven. Once or twice a month, we get to take the “kindy kids” on a field trip, so that’s nice.

In the afternoons from 3:00 pm to around 6:30 pm, the school becomes a hagwon for older kids, so I teach comprehension, reading, writing, and vocabulary to 2nd – 5th grade students. The school provides the textbooks, but we teachers have to write and submit all our own lesson plans, grade assignments, and send monthly progress reports to parents. There’s always something due.

Unlike public schools, hagwons are for-profit entities, and like most things, where money is involved, the stress level is inflated. The school I work at has an almost comical teacher turnover rate. The guy who I replaced lasted a week and then did a midnight run without telling anyone — and he wasn’t the first to do so…

My first week of work, I was afraid of what I’d committed to because the place seemed so incredibly disorganized, but as the weeks have progressed, I’ve gotten use to the routine — or lack thereof  — and have become more open minded towards the constant flux of the school. I think they’re trying to make things better though…
In just a month, my patience has increased exponentially. Though, I regularly have to remind myself that kids are kids, that I was a kid once. They just want to have fun.

Still, the days can feel mad long, but like I said in the spider rant, I haven’t been stressed at all — terribly annoyed, but not stressed. The job does however take a toll on my body in that quite often I lose my voice before the elementary school students arrive, but I look at this as an area where I can practice the breathing techniques I’ve learned from my voice lessons, should I ever make it back to a stage…
This weekend, I happened to meet one of the ex-teachers from the school I’m currently working at. She told me how much happier she’s been since leaving and how being at the school taught her that she wasn’t meant to be a teacher. I now wonder the same thing, which is interesting because before I started working here, I was planning on getting my masters in education once I returned to the US. Maybe I’m just teaching the wrong age group? Maybe it’s just the type of school I’m working at? I don’t know. From this past month, I don’t feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. I don’t want to sound too millennial, though; someone might tell me that I’m just lazy and have set the expectations for my life too high…
As one of my friends in Teach for America pointed out, “Teaching is hard.” Yes. Yes, it is. I knew I was blessed with amazing teachers throughout my life, but since starting a full-time classroom position, my respect and admiration for my past educators has risen quite a bit. I want to send them all on a “thank you” vacation, but I can’t because I have a teacher’s salary.

At the church I’ve been going to here in Korea, we’ve been talking a lot about the weight of our words. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21a).” I know first hand — as most do — how one careless word can plant seeds that produce mental weeds well into adulthood.  Yet, at the same time, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. (Proverbs 16:24).” I know that to be true as well. As a teacher, I feel like there are so many opportunities to speak life — and death — into students’ lives. I just hope that even through the craziness of the job, I can be sure to speak life. 

Anyway, I’m planning on staying for the full length of my contract. I mean, I signed my name to it and I was raised never to quit; plus, I like Korea and want time to see more of the country. So, we’ll see how it goes.

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