My Life as a Native English Teacher in Korea

My Korean Middle School Students

Because my life is suuuuper fascinating. And also because even after one year, most of my close friends and family back home STILL don’t know what I do over here in Korea.

Teaching English in Korea
1 out of 18 middle school classes I taught!

First of all, I teach at a middle school and I’m called a “Native English Teacher”. I know, it’s confusing. Native as in, in my native country I speak English and now I’m an English Conversation Teacher elsewhere.

So unlike my own middle school back home (Pasteur in Orangevale, woooo!), the schedule is different every single day. I don’t have the same 6-7 classes every day or even the same class more than once a week. Kids here have 6 or 7 classes every day but it looks something like this:

Student Schedule
(This is actually one of my kid’s schedules this past semester)

No pattern or anything, which would really just confuse me if I were them. However, at my school, they stay in their own classroom and the teachers come to them (unless it’s science or PE).

So I’ll walk you through my easiest and hardest days of the week:

Easiest Day: Thursday

  • 8:30am: Start school
  • 8:30 – 9:55am: Desk warm → AKA do 940,184 Buzzfeed quizzes to see what Disney Princess I am, what character of Orange is the New Black I am, what kind of sandwich I am, etc
  • 9:55 – 10:40am: Babysit AKA teach one of my second grade classes (8th grade if it were America)
  • 10:40 – 12:00pm: Desk warm → Chat with friends back home, Skype, read Harry Potter, go on Pinterest
  • 12:00 – 12:20pm: Eat fish heads, kimchi, anchovy salad, rice, spicy soup, etc
  • 12:20 – 2:25pm: Desk warm → Blog, take more quizzes (why are they so entertaining?!), nap in the teacher’s lounge
  • 2:25 – 3:20pm sometimes but not for the past 2 months: Teach the devil children AKA first graders (7th grade if it were America) Otherwise, more desk warming.
  • 3:20 – 3:45pm: break time where all the kiddies clean their classrooms and the teacher’s office
  • 3:45 – 4:30pm sometimes but not for the past 2 months: Teach another class of devil children. Or you know, just desk warm.

Typical lunch-ee:

In total, I usually have 20 classes a week. Twelve 2nd grade classes, six 1st grade classes and a 2-hour after school conversation class. Most days I have 3 or 4 classes, except for Wednesday when I have 7.

I’m supposed to teach six 1st grade classes every week. There are 18 1st grade classes total and three 1st grade teachers that each have six. Every three weeks, I rotate between teaching with these three teachers so I only see each class once every three weeks. Super effective, right? When exams are coming up, the 1st grade teachers like to have extra review time with them (AKA time to tell them all the answers to the tests) so I don’t have 1st grade classes. So yes, I end up having ONE class on Thursday and it is GLORIOUS.

My Hardest Day: Wednesday

  • 8:30 – 9:00am: Prepare for classes
  • 9:00 – 9:45am: Teach class 2-3 (all “2-__” are 2nd grade classes)
  • 9:55 – 10:40am: Teach class 1-6 (one of my 1st grade classes. So maybe desk warming instead)
  • 10:40 – 11:45am: Break
  • 11:45 – 12:30pm: Teach 2-4
  • 12:30 – 1:40pm: Lunch period + desk warming
  • 1:40 – 2:25pm: Teach 2-12
  • 2:35 – 3:20pm: Teach 2-11
  • 3:20 – 3:45pm: Cleaning period
  • 3:45 – 5:30pm: After school conversation class
  • 5:31pm: Immediately begin consuming mass amounts of alcohol.

So when I say “Teach ____”, I mean I’m actually teaching a full 45 minute class (I often get asked by friends/family back home when I’m Facebook-chatting them if I’m “in class right now”. No, I cannot chat online during class [well most of the time, anyway]. I’m legitimately teaching the entire 45 minutes, people).

A lot of Native English Teachers, or NETs for short, have Korean co-teachers that split the work with them. It varies from school to school. Most elementary school NETs share around half the work with coTs while middle school and high school NETs usually carry out the entire class. Elementary school teachers often use a book while most middle school NETs come up with their own material.

Obviously there are pros and cons to both. Having a book makes lesson planning a bit easier and less time consuming but not having a book means freedom to teach whatever you want and not having to teach students awkward “key expressions” like “how beautiful she is!” that nobody actually uses in real life.

When I first started at my school, I was given little to no guidance.

“What level are the students?” – “oh, well they’re all different levels.”
“Is there a book that we use?” – “No, you can teach them anything you’d like.”
“Are there certain topics I need to cover?” – “No.”
“What did they learn last year?” – “Well the computer crashed so all of last year’s lessons were erased.”

Cue panic attack – and ’twas the first day teaching in Korea. I had no idea what to expect. Nobody gave me a schedule or told me when I would have class. About an hour into the day, a random teacher tapped me on the shoulder telling me it was time to go to class and I made the connection that she was one of my co-teachers. We walked into class and I looked at her expectantly. She looked back at me expectantly. I showed the class a short PowerPoint introducing myself. I waited for her to do something. She didn’t. She just stood in the back of the classroom. And then I realized that she wasn’t so much a “CO”-teacher but more of an assistant to help if I needed anything.

This isn’t completely uncommon in Korea, although I think most NETs have a liiiiitttle bit more guidance. I enjoy the freedom because I get to teach my kids fun stuff like Halloween and Thanksgiving or show them pictures of my trip to Hawaii and teach them what hula dancing and fire throwing is. I’ve also gotten pretty good at “wingin’ it”.

Classes:

Most of my lessons go something like this:

  • Greetings, Date, “Slang of the Day” (yes, I teach them slang and it’s awesome)
  • Introduce topic
  • PowerPoint presentation about topic
  • Short review
  • Activity/Worksheet/Game

Most of the time, I play games with them, rather than giving them a worksheet. I’ve learned that they’re fairly good at writing, reading and mostly just COPYING. So I try to emphasize participation and speaking. Most of the games I played during the second semester would involve all my kids and encourage them to help each other in order to win. I also did more creativity-inducing lessons like the Korean Students Speak project I did.

Korean Students Speak

Things That Drive Me Nuts

So I’ve mentioned before (numerous times) that many things in Korea just don’t make sense. Most of the time, it has to do with work/school.

1. VACATION: When my kids are on vacation (like they are this week and next week), I still have to come into work. And just sit at my desk. All day. Reading countless Buzzfeed articles and Pinteresting for eight hours. I even have orientation for my new job all next week and I asked to go but I’m not allowed. And I literally do NOTHING when my kids are gone.

2. SNOW DAYS: When there are snow days (2 last week!), teachers still have to come into work. And again, do nothing all day. I think the thought process is that they’re paying us either way, so may as well make us come into school so they feel better about paying us for nothing.

3. Last minute EVERYTHING. Yesterday I was told at 9:56am that I was going to help interview potential new Korean English teachers for the next 2 hours. I mean, I know I’m not doing anything that important (one might argue that figuring out “What Food Matches My Personality” is kiiiind of important. I’m a burrito, by the way), but it’s a lot more inconvenient when you give me 20 seconds notice that I have an extra class or when I walk into my normal class to find it empty because it was cancelled. Sometimes, it does work out, however. Like just now (literally JUST NOW, between number 1 and the middle of 3) when I was told that if I finish paying my utility bills tonight for my apartment, then I don’t have to come to school again. Like ever. Seriously? (My last day was supposed to be next Thursday, by the way).

4. Well now I can’t remember anything because I’m just thinking about how I’m possibly spending my last few hours at this school.

The boyfriend and I spent the last few weeks applying for hagwon, or “academy”/private school jobs and realized that public schools have it prettyyyy good. So here’s a quick “numbers”-list of why public schools are AMAZING, despite the few things that drive me crazy..

Why Public Schools Are Actually Pretty Awesome:

1. When I got here, they just gave me money (100,000 won ≈ $100USD):
300,000 won settlement money
1,300,000 to cover airfare (my flight was only $500 so I got to keep the rest)

2. Monthly salary of 2,100,000 won – not that much but housing is paid for and bills are usually under 100,000 won a month

3. 8 days of paid vacation during summer + 10 days of paid vacation during the winter

4. When I leave, they give me even more money:
About 2,000,000 won for “pension”
2,100,000 won for my “bonus”/extra month’s pay/severance
1,300,000 won to cover airfare going back home or wherever you end up going

5. As an American, I’m exempt from paying both Korean and American taxes for the first two years I’m here (other countries may or may not have this same exemption)

(The private school we accepted offers from offer none of the above.)

So this is a glimpse into my life as a Native English Teacher in Korea! Times are rough sometimes, but for the most part, it’s been an amazing year! 

If you’re thinking of teaching English abroad in Korea, click here or here for a bit more information :)

My Korean Middle School Students

 

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0 Comment

  1. Ceri says: Reply

    Oooh, I love this. I’m so eager to go now. This waiting for my visa seems like forever.

  2. Haley says: Reply

    Ahhhhh:) I love this post! I work at a hagwon, and I’m still torn between whether I’ll try to do public school next year or stay at my hagwon. I can’t believe the hagwons you mentioned don’t offer pension, severance, or airfare!!! That doesn’t sound right…Where are these hagwons located? Hope it all works out for you!!

  3. I love that I found this blog. I’ve been thinking about teaching in South Korea for a while now. I am about to graduate and this blog is super insightful. thanks again!

  4. Jordan says: Reply

    I have been living and teaching in China for more than two years. I’m right over in Dalian, about an hour flight from Korea. I like all the points you make about your working there. Things in China seem very similar. I was in a training school for a year, and things were a bit…..unpredictable. I’m at an American international school now, and it’s a lot more professional. I like your blog and all the info you’re sharing. Keep it up!

  5. leahmb says: Reply

    I love the little ones: the older the get, the more nasty and rude they get, at least in my experience so far. Heck, I didn’t even like myself as a middle schooler! I’d much rather be desk warming during those classes :-) But at hagwons, there’s no such thing as desk warming….or vacation.

  6. Teaching elementary was pretty easy, but really frustrating. I had some serious co-teacher issues during my second year, but let’s not get into that… It was difficult because the students at my school were so low level that I couldn’t really do anything fun or I’d leave too many people behind. I think middle school is a nice age because they know enough to put together at least basic thoughts and opinions.

  7. Nicely written! Made me chuckle!!! I still cant decide what I think is the best way Hagwon or Public school.
    I only teach 2-8 Monday to Friday 6 back to back 50 min lessons with a ten minute break… sounds horrific but the day goes super quick!!
    I get all the benefits of Public school HOWEVER I get 5 days in summer and 5 days in winter (usually the 5 days are including the weekend) which results in a year of pretty much no holidays!!!!! I cant wait to finish next Friday and go on a Loooooooooooong vacation!!!
    On the other hand though…. no desk warming which I had to do in Thailand!

    Think there are pros and cons of each…. although I never get to find out which Disney Princess should be!! :(

    Nice blog!

  8. Great post for people who just don’t really get what our days are like!
    So why are you going to private school now? You changed your mind right?
    haha being someone that came from private school to a public school job, it sounds completely insane to me, and every day that I work here is heaven. :)
    Deskwarming? I’ll do it gladly. The alternative is NOT pretty. haha enjoyed the post!

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