by Brittney Johnson
I taught at a private language school (hagwan) in South Korea from November 08-November 09. It was an “interesting” experience. I did a lot of research and filtering through to try to find the most fitting position. It was my first teaching job so I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I was job searching, I had an instant connection with my future co-worker. She answered all of my questions via email. It seemed like a pretty good deal, so I decided to take it.
The thing with taking a job overseas before you actually get there is that there is a possibility for you to find that it isn’t quite what you thought it would be.
I taught daily kindergarten and elementary students from 9-2pm, in which I would see them everyday. Then in the afternoon I would teach from 3-6pm kindergarten and elementary students. The afternoon students would either come twice a week or 3 times a week. The class sizes were small, 10 kids max. We shared our classes with a Korean teacher, but they weren’t physically in the class with us. We rotated between the 2 of us. So the kids would spend 40 minutes with a foreign teacher and then 40 minutes with the Korean teacher.
I worked from 9-6pm Monday-Friday. However, even if our classes finished at 4pm, we had to stay until 6pm. The most classes taught per day were 9. On average I taught 6-8 classes a day. Our base salary was 2.3 million won (currently converts to about $2,000 USD). My base salary was based on 25 hours per week, any classes over that was considered overtime. So, some months my paycheck was quite high, close to $3,000.
The school paid for my round-trip airfare upon completion of my 1-year contract. My contract also included a pension fund, 1-month severance, multi-entry working visa, health insurance and private accommodation.
We had quite a bit of paper work. We had to make detailed lesson plans for each class, everyday. We wrote in student’s green books everyday (communication with the parents). In addition, we had to write monthly report cards for each student. This involved marking and writing about each student’s progress for that month. The foreign teachers also had to perform monthly evaluations on our daily morning students. This involved asking the student a set of standard questions to see how much they had improved from the previous month. And we also had a longer 6-month evaluation for our daily morning students as well. Depending on how many classes I had, I would say on average I spent between 1-2 hours a day on paperwork. However, if it was the end of the month we would stay after for about 4 hours to do our evaluation and report cards. Everything was handwritten until the end of my contract. We finally started getting in to typed paper work, which made things faster. None of our paperwork was ever checked. It was all up to the teachers to make sure everything got done. Luckily, we were all teachers that had integrity and we cared about our students.
We taught a variety of subjects to our daily morning students: grammar, science, physical education, math, art, reading, etc. The mother company of our school wrote and produced the core curriculum we followed. We followed a strict schedule for each class’s curriculum. There was a set of 10 books for the main classes. In addition, we had math books, art books, reading books, etc. Our curriculum was based on having fun and being able to experience the actual learning of English. We had to order a lot of materials and crafts (paid for by the school). So, for example, we would teach the word “dirty.” I would order fake mud 1 week prior to teaching the class, and then the students would put their hands in the mud and wipe their hands on paper to make a picture with their “dirty” hands. The kids had so much fun and they learned the word by “experiencing” it. But, with that being said, we didn’t have to “create” our own lessons. Everything we taught was explained in our teacher’s manual. The teacher’s guide actually gave us instructions on how to teach the lesson. So, even though some of our lessons were “fun,” it involved no creativity from the teachers.
We also took monthly field trips, which included going to the movies, sledding, picnic, library, park, etc. We had free printing at our school, so we would print worksheets and make photocopies in the teacher’s office.
A Korean family owned my hagwan. The daughter was the director but she was not very accessible. Basically, the teachers had to figure out and coordinate everything ourselves. Toward the end of my contract we got a Korean supervisor. She helped to organize things, but communication was still lacking. I was head foreign teacher and we had a head Korean teacher. There were lots of inefficient and unproductive things that the teachers had to do. There were high expectations but with little or no feedback, support or follow up from the management. There was usually only communication if something was wrong (which could have been avoided entirely if there had been open communication in the first place).
One thing that was good and bad was that there was no one hovering over the teachers. I never once had anyone observe me. It was nice because we had freedom to teach how we wanted to. But for new teachers, it would be beneficial to have some sort of positive criticism, but there was nothing.
I learned a lot my first year teaching in Asia. Prior to teaching in Korea, I had little or no contact or interaction with kids. I had always felt awkward around them. Korea made me realize that I actually love being around kids. They are so resilient and loving. That’s why I came to Thailand! Teaching in Thailand is quite different than teaching in Korea. Korean kids are very disciplined. Some kids go to school from 9am-10pm. There is a lot of pressure put on them. I hope I was able to be a bit of fresh air to my students. I tried to mix in a bit of fun into their daily stressful lives.
It’s definitely an adjustment being in Thailand, but I’m enjoying the challenge.