02Apr

Teaching Tales from Daegu: Embracing Life as an English Teacher

This article is part 2 of a series. To read part 1, My Journey From Canada to South Korea, click here

My first two years in Korea were spent working at a hagwon in Daegu. The school’s six-hour morning classes ranged from the ages of five to eight, which were followed by two-hour afternoon classes where the students ranged from the ages of nine to fourteen. From March 1st to February 28th (the Korean school calendar year), each teacher kept the same homeroom class every day in the morning, and I really enjoyed getting to spend that much time with the same class, because I got to bond with them and see them grow. The afternoon classes varied between each teacher; some had beginner level classes while others had advanced academic classes. The hagwon I worked at was much more geared towards English immersion and discussion rather than book work and intense writing. My hours were Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm (though I often ended up arriving earlier or staying a bit later), and my apartment was a mere seven-minute walk from the school.

photo of a korean house or temple overlooking the mountains

Morning Routine: Building Bonds with Kindergarten Students

In the first few months of my first year, I arrived at 8:30am and stayed until 6:30pm almost every day in order to catch up and finish prep for the following week. Since I was working as a kindergarten teacher in an immersion school, there was a lot of craft and activity prepping that had to be done alongside the lesson plans. However, in my second year, I hardly ever had to stay late to do that. I understand the workload can feel overwhelming at first, but once you get into your own rhythm, you’re set! (Pro tip that worked really well for me: lesson plan for two weeks ahead, even if it’s not required by your head teacher or boss; you can always edit or add things to it later, but the hard part will be done!)

Both years, my morning homeroom classes consisted of 14 four year olds. They were all in school for the first time, which came with its own challenges! Every morning, they would start to arrive around 9:10, and class officially started at 10:00am. Class began with circle time, where we sat on the carpet and went through our daily routine of good morning songs and discussion time. This was followed by milk or snack time, before we started our first lesson of the day. As the year progressed, these lessons shifted from me teaching them, to having the students write on our whiteboard themselves and helping to present the lessons with me.

teacher and kid playing with plastic bowling pins

(Gym Time!)

After lesson time, we headed to our allotted hour of “special activities” for the day. This rotated every day between gym, library, and media time. After this came lunch (which I ate in the classroom with the kids, which I’ve heard can be common at schools in Korea), and after lunch came our center time, where the students split into groups to participate in lesson-themed interactive activities, simple worksheets, writing practice, math, and more. And when we finished center time, it was already time to go home!

Different Teaching Styles and Challenges

As I mentioned, the school I worked at was very focused on immersion and getting the kids to learn not just proper grammar and writing, but to pick up on colloquial English as well, so my day could vary from other hagwons. While I understand the value of hitting the books, I really loved this style of immersion, and I found that my students learned incredibly quickly from it. Within the first few weeks, they were already starting to speak back to me in English. It was incredible!

My schedule after morning class is where things differed between my first year and my second year. In my first year, I had an hour-long prep time between my morning class and my afternoon programs that began at 3:30. In my second year, I worked straight from 9-5:30 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and had from 3:30-6:00 as prep time on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Obviously, the first schedule was preferable! Another tip: don’t be afraid to ask about your schedule and how much prep time you’ll get before you arrive. Often, they won’t be able to tell you your exact schedule until a few weeks before you arrive, since they won’t know which teachers you will be replacing until a certain date. However, they should be willing to let you know when they can. Never be afraid to ask questions!

In both my first and second years, I had afternoon classes that I enjoyed, and others that were much harder. I had a lower-level class of all ages that had students with both physical and mental disabilities; an out-of-control class of six-year olds who stayed after their morning class and just wanted to leave by the time they got to me; and two more advanced English classes with two different groups of the funniest, most clever nine and ten year olds. Honestly, it’s the same as teaching in any country (including back home in Canada) – you never know what cards you’ll be dealt. You just have to do your best!

teacher sitting on the ground teaching about the calendar

(Leslie Teacher preparing for an elementary-level class lesson on why Jimin is her favourite member of BTS)

Conclusion: Thriving in Korean Work Culture

In summary, I loved my first time teaching in Korea. While it’s true that in Korean society, they say it looks good if you work extra hard, my philosophy is that as long as you know you worked hard, that’s all that matters! Just make sure to practice time management in a way that works for you, and know your boundaries, even if it feels weird to do so in a country that prioritizes work culture. Once I learned this, I thrived, and I didn’t find that work in Korea was any harder than teaching anywhere else. I’m even going back for a second round!

photo of kids looking at the penguins at a zoo
05Mar

Your First Day as an English Teacher in South Korea: What to Expect

Hey there, future English teachers gearing up for your big move to South Korea! So, you’ve landed the job, packed your bags, and now you’re ready to take on your first day in the classroom. But what exactly can you expect? Let me walk you through it.

  1. Preparing for Day One:

Before diving into your first day, you’ll likely already be in touch with an English teacher from your school. If not, I highly recommend reaching out and asking for some contact information. You might even be living in the same building, so why not suggest grabbing a coffee or walking to work together? It’s a great way to get some insider tips and tricks from someone who’s been there, done that.

  1. Getting Acclimated:

Once you arrive at your school, you’ll be introduced to the staff and shown to your classroom. Don’t be surprised if you spend the first few days shadowing another teacher and making trips out with the staff for administrative tasks. You’ll be setting up your life in Korea, from getting your ARC card at immigration to setting up a Korean phone plan and bank account.

  1. Ready, Set, Teach:

After all the admin and shadowing, you’ll finally be ready for your first day as a teacher. You’ll put all that training to use, but trust me, nothing beats the real thing. That’s why I recommend asking a coworker for a daily checklist of tasks to keep you on track. From taking attendance to grading assignments, having a routine will be a lifesaver.

  1. Classroom Management 101:

One key to a successful classroom is establishing clear rules and expectations from day one. Print out a set of rules and hang them on the wall for easy reference. Make it a habit to have students recite the rules daily before starting the lesson. This will help you maintain order and address any misbehaviour quickly and effectively.

  1. The Name Game:

On your first day, make sure to introduce yourself multiple times and ask your students for their English names (and make sure you’re saying them correctly!). Trust me, you don’t want to be like me and accidentally call a student “Hyena” for an entire term before realizing her name is actually “Hannah.” Lesson learned!

  1. Establishing Relationships:

Finally, don’t stress too much on the first day. Focus on building a good relationship with your Korean coworkers—they can be invaluable resources and mentors. I was lucky to have a coworker who understood the challenges of being new to a country and was always there to lend a hand.

So, there you have it—your guide to surviving your first day as an English teacher in South Korea. Remember to breathe, take it one step at a time, and most importantly, enjoy the adventure! Cheers to new beginnings and unforgettable experiences. You’ve got this!

“Don’t stress too much on the first day. Focus on building a good relationship with your Korean coworkers—they can be invaluable resources and mentors” Victoria White