Sunday, November 21, 2010

What an elementary school teacher in Korea actually does

Thanks to a conversation I had with a friend recently, I realized I haven't really explained what teaching elementary school here entails. Since teaching occupies the vast majority of my time here, I thought I'd take a moment and explain what it is I do and why I am so lacking in free time.

First you need a little background on schools here. Korean children go to 2 schools each day. They start the day in public school. That lasts from 8am-1pm. There are after school activities which keep them busy until about 4pm. After that, they go to private schools called Hagwons that last until around 8 or 9pm. If this sounds like overkill to you ..... well it does to me too.

Some of my oldest students

My job is in the public school system. I teach K-6 each week. Because of all the school they have, there are no quizzes, homework assignments or tests in English class. Also because they are only exposed to English in schools, my student's English abilities are quite poor. As a result my job is to teach them something simple, make it fun and play lots of games with them. And thanks to the fact that every classroom has a projector hooked up to the computer, I can and do use internet resources and games for pretty much every class. For my morning classes there are books we are supposed to work out of (though I don't always because they're really pretty bad), which definitely makes planning for those classes simpler.

Some of my youngest students

Sounds easy so far right? Here's where the difficulty comes in. Over half of my classes are of the after school variety with no textbook and no guidance. As my Korean co-teacher told me "you can do anything you want." A double-edged sword. While I am given a great deal of freedom to teach what and how I choose, these classes require significantly more planning and preparation time than normal classes do.

I also teach six more classes each week than a normal teacher (I do get paid extra for this). This doesn't sound like much until you put it in perspective. A normal teacher here teaches for 22 of the 40 hours they work each week. That gives them about one hours prep time for each class (which is about right). I teach 28 of my 40 hours each week which is not nearly enough time to prepare for that many classes. Especially since the majority of them are unstructured. And because I teach such a wide range of ages, reusing lessons is difficult.

Thus I often work all day at school, only to find my evenings filled with lesson planning and my weekends full of backlogged chores. I admit this is a hard adjustment for me after teaching an average of 3-4 days each week in Prague.

My situations clearly has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side I make a good bit more money that most of the teachers here. On the downside my free-time is practically nil. Maybe I'll try to get my schedule lightened in the Spring. With a lighter schedule, I'd have more time and energy to really enjoy the island. For now I'll smile and try to think about how that extra work will soon be translated directly into time on a tropical beach.

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