Teaching English in South Korea

For having come to South Korea to teach, a teaching post is certainly long overdue. I’ve settled into Seocheon/Gunsan quite nicely the last three months. Between the move here, and then the instant summer break, I feel as though the school year has just commenced and I’m just now getting into the swing of things.

I teach at two schools: Biin Elementary and Bunae Elementary. Both are considered schools in rural areas (which entitles me to two separate bonus pays – multiple schools and rural area allowances). I’m at Biin Monday-Wednesday, and Bunae Thursday-Friday. Although both schools are very similar (they both use the same textbooks), the structure is completely different. Biin requires me to co-teach six classes, and independently teach six afternoon classes. Bunae has me co-teaching all 10 classes – spread between two days.

Teaching with a co-teacher makes the process completely seamless. Teaching on your own will be a true test of character for all parties involved. On good days, students are somewhat docile and will follow along with the teachers. On most days, however, you’ll see kids in groups talking amongst each other and completely ignoring the lesson. I originally intended to come in ruling with an iron-fist, and though I still maintain a stern presence when I need their attention, I’ve slowly discovered you definitely catch more flies with honey. Smiles are extremely important, patience is the utmost of virtues, and when all else fails, having the Korean teacher stop by will resolve any and all issues.

Before coming here, I fantasized of preparing writing lessons that would garner entertaining responses for my own amusement – in the main interest of improving their skills of course. Unfortunately, the majority of these kids have English levels ranging from very minimal to non-existent. I have to teach K-2 the alphabet and rudimentary concepts such as numbers and colors. 3-6 can utter a few words here and there, but are incapable of forming complete sentences. (They are, however, extremely proficient at memorizing plays for English Festivals!)

I don’t kid myself and think I will change their lives and instill perfect English proficiency, but I do hope to achieve a few small goals:

  • Improve pronunciation – those Ls and Rs sure are tricky!
  • Habituating a comfort with small talk – if they’ll at least come up to me and say, “Hello, how are you?” and exchange two sentences of pleasantries, I’ll be pleased.
  • Teach a few non-textbook things along the way – today, I taught the word “booger,” and I’m kinda proud of it.
  • Be living proof of multiculturalism and multilingualism – they are always so shocked when I say a few Korean words. I want them to find inspiration in the English language and be proud of knowing more than just their own culture and language.

There’s a lot of work to be done with these children, and it’ll take guest teacher after guest teacher to make any kind of progress. The most important thing I try to remind myself daily is to not put too much pressure on it. Always keep it airy and fun. If the kids aren’t into the lesson, switch it up and play an applicable game. If you notice they’re more talkative that day, use the opportunity to practice speech. Sometimes, you gotta hold hands with the Kindergartners and run around in circles. Keep it simple and keep it fun – for your sake and the sake of the kids.

Below are various pictures I’ve taken at school in the last few months. See caption for details.

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