I’m currently teaching at a middle school in Jinju, South Korea. It has a population of about three hundred thousand people. In Korea that’s considered a small city. So far, I really like Jinju. A river runs through the city and there are parks and bike paths all along the river. In the fall, there’s a lantern festival and there are a lot of cute cafes. I have been in this position for two months and will be here until the end of August.
I have co-teachers for all my classes, but we each lead our own classes. My co-teachers teach grammar, reading, and writing. I teach speaking and listening. I plan and lead my own lessons. Sometimes my co-teachers do not attend my lessons (they are extremely busy, on top of teaching they have many other duties). Most often they are there and will help to translate if I or a student asks. I’ve heard that this is an uncommon model for public schools in Korea. Most of my friends in Korea co-teach or have a role more similar to an assistant teacher. Last year I taught at a 학원 (hagwon), so this wasn’t a big adjustment for me. At the hagwon I worked at I lead all my own classes, but my classes were much smaller (5-10 students), but I had no time to prepare my lessons and was paid less.
My students are boys between the ages of 12 and 15. They are very energetic. There are roughly thirty students in each class. Sadly, this means I haven’t gotten to know my students as well as I would like to. However, I’m sure as time goes on I will get to know them better. Some of them speak and understand a lot of English and some of them understand very little and speak infrequently. I find it hard to speak to my students levels because I know that when one learns a language passive skills come first—reading and listening. On a whole my students seem very excited about English. One of the things I really admire about my students is how much they help each other. If one of them doesn’t know the answer those who do will help— even when we are playing games and they are on different teams. I use a lot of “bomb games” in class. Bomb games are where a team answers a question and get points if they answer it correctly. If I want my students to be quiet I say “one, two, three” and they say “ready!”. Depending on what time of day it is the “ready” will either be a whisper or a deafening shriek. If they are still talking after that I don’t have to say anything because they will quiet each other down. The kids at my school are generally very respectful and as such I don’t have to be very stern with them. This is very different than at the hagwon I worked at. There the kids always misbehaved and were generally disrespectful. Some hagwon teachers I know tell me their students are little angels. Some public school teachers I know have absolutely out-of-control students. A popular saying in Korea is “case by case”! And it’s true, all the teachers I know in Korea have a slightly different situation.