Work so Far

Well, I have just about a month down on the job and (I hope) have a pretty good handle on my duties and what’s expected of me as a teacher.  I actually teach at two schools: grades two and three at Tongyeong Boys Middle School for the majority of the week and grades one through three at the smaller rural Sanyang (co-ed) Middle School on Wednesdays.  Korean Middle Schools don’t match up completely to American ones- spanning only three grades from roughly 13 to 15 years of age.

Due to the amount of home rooms in each grade I see each one for one 45 minute class a week.  However, I’m not the only English they get- they also have regular English classes with a Korean teacher focusing on grammar and vocabulary.  The reason why I’m here is predominantly to speak correct, relatively unaccented English, although that’s the extent of the direction I’ve gotten on how to run my classes.

Without having received any materials or syllabi, I’ve begun to construct my class in three-week units around a pretty decent book series I purchased that the teacher before me was using- Side by Side.  The first week I teach/reinforce some grammar and vocabulary and do some practice activities, which I continue along with a speaking activity the second week.  The third week I practice listening and reading skills via a written text and a song lyrics activity (which I won’t get to until next week, so hopefully it goes well).

The two biggest challenges so far that I’ve noticed about working with public schools are the lack of grades for my class and the wide range of English knowledge present.  Without grades there really aren’t any rewards systems in place for those kids to pay attention or participate, and anyone who can remember a minute of their education knows “the joy of learning” barely qualifies.  Don’t get me wrong, some kids are very engaged, but I’m going to have to find an effective carrot or stick to get the rest of them on board.

As for the ranges of English knowledge- there isn’t any sort of track system (remedial, basic, advanced, etc) here.  While that is in some ways admirable (students aren’t slowed down or left behind due to their past records, making it easier to recover from early setbacks) it sure makes a teacher’s job that much more difficult.  I have everything from students arguing the finer points of grammar with me to kids who can’t read a word of English.  Aiming for the middle so far has gotten me nowhere, so it looks like I may have to take the “one room schoolhouse approach” and try to balance everyone.

This issue is to some extent due to the varied amount of English education these students have received.  The Korean education system annually produces results that rank in the top handful (and often first) in the world.  Besides high parental expectations and heavy competition to gain entrance into the best schools each step of the way, part of this has to be due to pure volume.  After the regular school day ends the majority of students go to hagwons (private schools) for additional instruction until as late as 10 or 11 pm.  Those who can afford the best privates get ahead, and the results show in my classroom.

Overall, my job is comparatively easy and definitely offers more free time than your usual 9 to 5.  I’m just getting started and if/when I crack the two tough nuts above, it is one that I can do quite well at.  Now, if only that damn exchange rate would pick back up…


About zijerem

I spent two years neglecting my Peace Corps blog in Peru ( and now I've relocated to Korea (teaching English) and promise to get off my ass and write something every once in awhile...
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