Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What's it like to teach English in a high school in Seoul, South Korea?


Below is a description of the general conditions a native English teacher will have while teaching at a high school in South Korea.

The descriptions are based on my experience teaching elementary after school programs and camps, 1 full year of teaching at 3 different middle schools (all girls, and co-ed), 1 year at an all girls academic high school, 1 year at a foreign language training center (English immersion camp programs for middle school and high school students, and the 6 month Teach English in English training program for Korean English teachers), nearly 2 years at a national university of education (training future Korean English elementary teachers in a full time English education program, and a second 6 month Teach English in English training program), and my current experiences teaching at an all boys trade high school that then transitioned into an academic school in the middle of the contract. Add to all of this summer and winter English camps during the entire five years, with varying levels of public school students, university students, and Korean English teacher trainees, and you’ll see that I’ve accumulated quite a bit of time and experience teaching in Korea.

I tend to focus on the issues, problems, and things that native teachers need to be warned about before they begin teaching, and also things that may (or may not) happen throughout the course of one's contract. Native teachers do NOT get to choose the level of school (you can request it, but bear in mind that even after being told you're going teach _ level of school this can change, and I've personally seen it happen DURING orientation), its location, or the type (trade vs academic), and in general the quality of the school and co-teachers you find yourself with basically is like winning a lottery. Some native teachers get fantastic schools with awesome co-teachers, some get mediocre situations that are good and bad, and some get poor to nightmarish schools and co-teachers . . . you truly will not know what you are walking into until you are already in the school and in the thick of it.

With that in mind I have written this post with some new content giving a general description of teaching high school (though a lot of it can be applied to middle school too), and also linked to other things I've written in the past that are relevant.

The first section (First Week in Korea -- Checklists) is taken from The Kimchi Icecream Guide for New EFL/ESL Foreign English Teachers/Instructors in South Korea, 2010 Edition – Public Schools, Hogwans, Universities, and Training Center/Institutes. This is a cumulative blog post that I turned into an online blog format orientation guide. Check it out.

First Week in Korea — Checklists

After orientation you will likely meet your 'primary co-teacher.' This co-teacher will be assigned to you to help you with your general teaching and living conditions in Korea. This relationship is the most critical one you will have in Korea, and you should try to maintain it in a positive manner to the best of your ability. It is a good idea to print off the checklists below and give a copy to your co-teacher because it may be possible that they've never been a co-teacher before, and never been assigned to helping a native English teacher with their teaching and living conditions in Korea.

***Introduction For New Foreign English Teachers To The Korean Public School Environment

***New Foreign English Instructors/Teachers in Korea: Bring pictures with you for an introduction lesson during the first week at your school***

***First Day At School For New Native English Teachers in Korean Public Schools — Checklist***

***New Foreign English Instructors — First Day In Your New Apartment Checklist***

2005 New Foreign English Instructor Arrives at Korean Public School — A look back at my first week in Korea . . . wow, it’s been a long time . . .

Sample Schedule

Each period is fifty minutes long for high schools in Korea (middle school is 45 minutes, and elementary is 40 minutes). All native teachers, regardless of school level, have 22 classes per week. That being said schools often struggle to fill your schedule completely and you may end up teaching less than 22.

7:45am - arrive at school, greet other teachers in the office, eat breakfast at my desk

7:50am - teachers go to take attendance and do morning announcements in their homerooms

8:10am - first period

9:10 - second period

10:10 - third period

11:10 - fourth period

12:00 - lunch, go to eat with other teachers in cafeteria

1:00 - fifth period

2:00 - sixth period

3:00 - seventh period

3:50 - clean and lock up classroom, return to desk, do any tasks I need to do to finish up day and/or prep for the next day, go home

NOTE: Other high school teachers begin their 8 hour day at 8:30am and leave at 4:30pm, or 9am and leave at 5pm.

This is my schedule for the spring/summer semester. (The reason I am using elementary grade levels to describe the class grades on the schedule is because that's how they describe them in Korea--it's incorrect, but still in common usage.)

NOTE: There's no such thing as a 'typical' schedule in Korea, and your schedule could be radically different.

Class Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
1 (8:10-9:00)
Grade 1 Miss B Grade 1 Miss B Grade 2 Mr. G
2 (9:10-10:00)
Grade 2 Mr. G
Grade 1 Miss B Grade 1 Mr. D
3 (10:10-11:00) Grade 1 Mrs. A

Grade 1 Mr. D Grade 1 Mr. D
4 (11:10-12:00) Grade 2 Mr. F Grade 1 Miss B Grade 1 Mr. D
Grade 2 Mr. F
Lunch (12:00-1:00)
5 (1:00-1:50)

2Grade 2 Mr. G Grade 1 Mrs. A
6 (2:00-2:50)
Grade 2 Mr. G Grade 2 Mr. F Grade 2 Mr. F Grade 2 Mr. G
7 (3:00-3:50) Grade 1 Mrs. A Grade 1 Mrs. A

Grade 2 Mr. G
After school program 118:30-19:30 Jason + Mr. D
Jason + Mr. D

After school program 219:40-20:40 Mr. D
Mr. D

Total classes =3 +1 Total classes =5 Total classes =3+1 Total classes =5 Total classes =6

When your schedule is being made try to make the suggestion that your co-teacher does not schedule you for more than 5 classes on one day. Sometimes co-teachers will just plug your name and class into any blank slot on the school class schedule without giving any thought whatsoever to how exhausting it can be to teach 6 classes, or even 7 which is insane! Each native teacher has to decide for themselves how much they'll speak up about saying there's a problem with the schedule they're given, but if you're going to say something say it when it's being made--don't try to say something later, or take a 'let's wait and see how it goes approach' cause the odds of it being changed later because you suddenly realized that 6 classes in one day is too much for you are practically nil--no, they're nil, period.

Also, if you're going to agree to teaching after school program classes you should consider how many classes that adds up to including your regular contract classes. I actually made the above schedule table with the times and titles so that I could point out to my co-teacher that she should add up how many classes I teach each day INCLUDING the after school program classes. Doing this helped me avoid being given a regular class schedule that failed to consider that on Mondays and Wednesdays I was also doing after school teaching.

You'll also probably want to read this post below so that if you're new to Korea you won't freak out when your schedule gets changed 10 times over the course of two weeks at the start of a semester.

EFL/ESL Native Teacher Schedules in Korean Public Schools — Day 9 of the semester and I still don’t have a ‘permanent’ class schedule…nice.

And if you want to know what your first day might be like here's a blow by blow account of the first day of the second semester at my school. Some native teachers start their contracts in the MIDDLE of the school year (in Korea it starts in March), and others begin in March. The first week to two weeks of a new school year are generally chaotic, especially if you compare them to back home (which you shouldn't) . . . so be prepared for ANYTHING to happen.

Foreign/Native English teacher first day of spring/summer semester back at school — a detailed account

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Click on the link below to read more at Kimchi Icecream: The Second Serving . . . . I've moved over to wordpress.com and will be blogging there from now on.

1 comment:

Peterson said...

Thanks for this post. I worked at a hagwon this year and was wondering how public schools were different.