I teach at two, all girls, middle schools. In Korea, middle school is 7th, 8th, and 9th grade. English is taught starting in 3rd grade. When they get to middle school, they have varying levels. Some can speak fluently with me, while others say, “Yes” when I ask them, “How are you?”
I never realized how difficult English is until I started teaching it. A student came to me and said, “My cat got shot.” I was shocked, concerned, and confused (as guns aren’t thing here). After many questions, I realized she was trying to say, “My cat got a shot.” I explained to her that she has to say “a shot”, or else it seems like the cat was killed by a gun. She kept asking why “a” makes such a difference in the meaning. It made me realize that English is extremely complex, and I am so proud of my students for knowing as much as they do.
My job consists of teaching 22 classes a week that are 45 minutes long. I always plan an English/American music video when they arrive. Then, I lead the English text book lesson with help from and interactive DVD for about 15 minutes. Sometimes, I elaborate on the lesson with a powerpoint about the vocab or topic. Lastly, I always play a game with the students to help them practice and have fun. For prizes, I give out stickers that they can collect, and trade in for candy. I have also been able to teach on interesting topics too like American culture, school life in the U.S., and film making.
School lunch is free for students in elementary and middle school. For teachers, it costs 4,800 won ($4.50) and it is extremely healthier than school lunch in the U.S. I eat it every day, and generally like it (unless it is moving squid or octopus, I can’t do that).
They don’t use heat or air conditioning in the hallways, and even some classrooms. It has been single digits here and snowing, so I have been very cold at work. Everyone wears their winter coat all day and brings hand warmers to school.
Everyone must take off their shoes and wear “school shoes” (sandals or slippers) inside.
Students don’t have lockers, but they have little cubbies in their classroom.
No one fails in school. Everyone passes. I mean, there is no such thing as failing or “getting an F” here. If that was the case in America, many students wouldn’t try, because there would be no consequences for bad scores. Yet here, there is such high pressure to get good grades. Everyone wants to go to the best high school, a great university, and get a perfect job. This is because Korea is a such a small country (the size of Maine) with not many jobs, but there are so many people here to compete with. So, there is no such thing as failing here, because they don’t really need it.
My students are so honest, as are most Koreans, generally speaking. If I don’t catch which team answered a question first, the students always tell the truth and don’t try to steal the points or trick me. If they are doing something wrong and I ask who did it, they always fess up to what they’ve done, rather than someone telling on them.
My students want to know everything about me. They love hearing about my life in the U.S., my family, and my boyfriend, Josh. Of course, since they are all girls, they think Josh is very handsome and love that he is “188 centimeters”.
My students LOVE kpop music and have gotten me on the band wagon. I am a huge fan of “BTS” now, and I love singing and dancing to it with them! They also love sketching pictures of me while I teach.
I love that I only teach girls. With there being no boys here, the girls seem so free to answer questions freely and not be concerned about messing up in front of the boys. I feel a sense of relaxation, and less worry about their image. Having all girls also gives me the oppertunity to build strong relationships with them, and encourage them. I want to empower these girls, and that has become my daily, and yearly goal.
It also helps that they are in middle school. When I first arrived and found out I was teaching at a middle school, I was sad becuase I wanted an elementary school (simply becuase little kids are cute). However, I am beyond thankful that I got placed where I did, because older students can have deep conversations. Every break, I have students in my classroom wanting to talk to me about something. It warms my heart to hear the things they care about, the things they fear, and the things they want to learn from me. I have only been their teacher for 5 months, but it seems like a lot longer than that.
The school year in Korea is quite different. Their school year ends in February which means the 9th graders will leave to go to high school very soon. I have bonded the most with this grade, so it will be difficult watching them go. I hope I was able to make as big of an impact on them, as they did on me. I look forward to March though, when we get a new group of 7th graders to bond with and teach.
If this job sounds interesting to you, don’t hesitate to reach out, and find out how you can teach in Korea too!