Thought it was about time I wrote a little about teaching in Korea...
The place we’re working isn’t a school, it’s an English Hogwon; a private academy that teaches English mainly using just English (as opposed to instructing and explaining in Korean). It’s split into Kindergarten and Elementary covering the ages from four to about 14. We ‘teach’ Kindergarten in the morning then Elementary in the afternoon. When deciding to accept the job I wasn’t too thrilled about the amount of time I was going to be spending with really tiny people but it turns out I prefer teaching Kindergarten in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of playing, singing, colouring and a range of slightly odd field trips to help keep everyone interested. So far we have had ‘admiring the seasonal flowers,’ ‘visiting the old people,’ ‘riding of the horse’ and ‘watching vegetables.’ The odd titles of the trips give more than a hint as to how they actually are. ‘Riding of the Horse’ sounds far more exciting than ‘horse-riding’ and exciting it was. I was imagining it would involve the use of furry midget-like donkey-horses. The type that are in more danger of falling asleep than
moving…..but no - out came shining, gleaming speed machines, prancing and primed for competition and on went the four year olds. Their little legs only just made it past the top of the saddle, they were quite clearly just perching on top of these giants. Of course the foreign teachers were shaking their heads and tutting and muttering about health and safety and listing all the possible disasters that could ensue. But (as usual) we were proved to be overly cautious; no one got hurt and the kids had a great time.
As well as the field trips there are all the activities that take place in school: such as the once monthly birthday party, which is a lengthy and elaborate affair. All the kids who have had a birthday that month are dressed traditional Korean costumes and put on a cake and fruit laden stage to have songs screamed at them for a couple of hours. The songs invariably include the ‘Hello Song’
Hello and how are you?
I’m fine! I’m fine and I hope that you are too!
Just imagine it screamed by Korean kids screwing their faces up and accompanying it with
an amazing range of gestures: the gestures are very important with prizes been given for the best. When everyone’s all sung out then the kids whose birthdays’ we’re celebrating are invited to ‘come on down’ in true game-show style. This marks the cue for the ‘when you grow-up what do you want to be?’ song, at the end of which the microphone is thrust in front of them and they reply in English or sometimes in Korean which can lead to disagreement over correct translation between the Korean teachers:
‘Oohhh she wants to be a Lawyer!’
‘No! She doesn’t want to be a Lawyer; she wants to be a Prosecutor!’
Other answers include ‘a teacher, a fireman, a daddy and Spiderman’
Then the crowd replies ‘be a good…..Prosecutor/teacher/fireman/daddy/Spiderman’ the kid bows and the photo-shoot starts.
Advertising is important to the school, as is showing the existing parents what a wonderful time their child is having. This results in endless photo-shoots (since we have been at the school over a 1000 photos have been taken). The school has even gone so far as to make an advertisement for elevator TVs so we’ve achieved local fame, (although
we didn’t exactly go unnoticed before). Paul is shown demonstrating how to play the xylophone (not something he has done before or since, mainly because he's an English not a music teacher) and me supposedly having a conversation with an elementary kid I don’t even teach. I say supposedly because I’d ask something and he’d reply either in Korean or as if I’d asked something completely different. Apparently he was selected not due to his English prowess but because he was related to someone at the company making the advertisement and was getting us a better price. They’ve put music over it anyway so our non-conversation looks like a jolly old chat.
So anyway, the photo-shoot tends to be pretty lengthy and involves lots of different combinations (just the birthday kids, each birthday kid individually, each kid with their home-room teacher, with their class, with the homeroom teacher and foreign teacher, with the class and foreign teacher) after all this it is finally time to eat some cake…with chopsticks of course.
In comparison to all this Elementary is just like regular school, no field trips, no colouring (unless teacher has a hangover) less singing and zero photos. More
like real school, with desks (kindergarten sit on the floor around communal tables when they’re not running amok) and working from textbooks. This is after a full day at school and afterwards they might have to go to another Hogwon that specializes in another subject or have private class. Koreans are obsessed with education. So we’re pretty lucky the kids work as hard as they do. My ability to keep classes under control has improved which is a relief because in the first few weeks it was pretty non-existent. I always thought a private school would be easiest because the classes are smaller than public (my biggest is 13) but after speaking to people who work in public schools (about 40-50 kids in a class), control and discipline aren’t really an issue as they always have a Korean staff member in the class whose sole job is exactly that; this includes the use of corporal punishment. So they might have more kids but I think they’ve got it pretty easy! Our smaller classes do mean that we get to know the kids better though which is where all the job satisfaction lies and there is a lot of it to
be had. The kids are really eager; I’ve never been faced with a classroom with no hands up. There is normally a class full of kids straining to get their hand a little bit higher and groans from the kids who don’t get picked. I don’t remember that from school. The kids are creative with what they know and even the some of younger ones can tell you about their weekend supplementing their relatively small amount of English with mimes. It all works surprisingly well and the fact that I can’t use Korean if they don’t understand and vice-versa means our brains are always working for ways to explain things. Of course I try to imply that I do speak Korean but just choose not to use it. I don’t think it would be very wise to let them know they can say almost anything to me and I won’t understand. They would probably have a lot of fun with that.
N.B. The exceedingly cute photos on this blog were taken by Paul, one of the other foreign teachers (not Mr Shaw who is know as Chris at school to avoid confusion). Just want to make sure
I’m not taking the credit and don’t want anyone telling me they are the best photos yet
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