Teaching English in South Korea

As I mentioned in my starting guide there’s a variety of schools to teach at in South Korea and a bunch of different types. I’ve taught at two public schools through GEPIK and am now starting my third. Public school jobs require training of some sort. Usually it’s over a weekend or shortly after arriving in the country where they’ll do their best to arm you with the skills needed to teach English beyond what you already have from the mandatory TEFL certification. But if you teach at a hagwon or start late (I started late and was unable to join that years training) you may be a bit at a loss.

Teaching English in South Korea (1)

In general you’ll most likely be teaching about 22 hours per week. That’s usually the basic amount. More than that and you’ll probably be paid over time. Classes are broken up between your main courses and after school.

The main classes are classes you’ll teach with someone else. This may be a homeroom teacher or a co-teacher. Usually it follows a book and you’ve got to follow the Korean Department of Education’s curriculum. What you do in this class will vary greatly depending on your school and even depending on your co-teacher. With my first co-teacher I mostly made review games in power point and worked on pronunciation, test grading and examples of grammar and sentence structure outside of the books examples. With my second co-teacher I mostly ran point while my co-teacher worked as back up, explaining things in Korean either as what things meant, checking that the students understood and I ran most of the class.

After school classes are like clubs. You will be on your own and not have a co-teacher for these. The school may have specific things they want you to do in after school classes or you may have more freedom. If you have a skill or passion you enjoy like dance or music you could teach English music or some sort of alphabet dance during this time. Previous teachers at my school enjoyed music so there’s tons of music books to be found as well as scripts and puppets from various plays the students did. I generally taught three types of after school classes, ones with books where I tried to expand upon what my students were learning in class or worked on phonics, a fun after school class where we learned the lyrics to songs they wanted to learn and played games and the final was a talent show prep where at one of my schools I taught them the lines and songs to Annie (the musical) and their homeroom teacher taught them the dance moves, action sequences and they preformed it at our schools talent show.

During winter and summer break you’ll be expected to teach camps. Camp times vary depending on school. For mine I taught only at my main school for two weeks. The middle school English teacher usually only has camp for one week and I have friends who’ve had camp for only three days before. After this point you can usually take vacation but you’ll only be able to take so much time off. The rest of the time you’ll be expected to come to school and desk warm. (This means be at school while no one else is there)

Classes should be less than thirty students and class times vary. Mine have always been about forty minutes long.

We tend to follow our text books pretty closely, changing things up if a game or song in the book is just awful. The basic set up of the text books we’ve used is a story (usually animated) that shows the target language, then a shorter video in live action that repeats or expands upon the target language followed by a chant or song and then usually a game. Later within a chapter there may be things to do in their book. Sometimes the songs or chants are awful and sometimes the games are, but depending on your co-teacher and school what you end up focusing most on may be different. Many of the books have a curriculum and teacher guide that you can go through along with the software to familiarize yourself with the content and goals that the book has.

coteaching

Co-teachers are essentially your life line. They will make or break your teaching experience in Korea. They are your partner and you want to have a good relationship with them or else you’ll both be miserable. You may have one or you may have many but there will probably be at least one whose in charge of you. They’re not only your co-teacher but the person who helps you with basic things that you know how to do in your home country but are now a new born baby at and have to relearn.

For me this has been helping to make phone calls in Korean. Usually it’s when a package doesn’t come or I’m out of oil and need a truck to come and fill up the tank. (for my ondul see the rural life guide about that coming soon)

My co-teacher took me to set up my bank account and then later my second co-teacher helped me set up mobile banking.

Immigration and school health checks. Due to where I live my co-teachers have driven me to immigration and the once a year for a health check I have to do and helped me through the process. Since I’m moving to a city where it’s easier to get around this won’t be the case at my new school.

My co-teachers keep me in the loop for events going on at school. When are teacher’s dinners? When are we having a field trip? Am I going on that field trip or just chilling at my desk? Is there a wedding I’m expected to go to? Do I need to fill out some paperwork? Are classes cancelled or the schedule changed? They’ve translate school wide messages, or strange random texts I don’t understand. They’ve helped me make the updates to my computer I needed and helped me get supplies I needed for classes and camps.

The main thing they do though is help in class. You work as a team to teach English in the main courses and their job is to help you feel less lost. But every co-teacher is different and I’ve been pretty lucky so far to have some good ones. So work hard to help them out in class, because it’s kind of like they’ve ended up with a new adult child that they have to take care of who they also have to work with. It may take you awhile to work out a good co-teaching groove but don’t give up.

resources

Youtube channels I use for music to help learn phrases, words and phonics:

Pinkfong

Super Simple Songs

The Singing Walrus

Storybots

Alphabet dance (This song is a fun way to get students moving and learning the alphabet)

Favorite websites for activities, worksheets, projects and crafts:

MapleLeaf Learning (requires an account to download but is free)

SuperSimpleOnline

Eatyourkimchi (if you scroll through in their archives you’ll find camps and games and things they made while teachers)

waygook.org (requires an account and also a fee. This is a forum full of teaching English in Korea things, however to download and use any powerpoints or things made you need to pay for a subscription through paypal. I have not done this and looking at it now it seems the link is a bit buggy)

Korshare (requires you to make an account), created recently in response to waygook putting up a pay wall. Still very new, but a great resource.

Vacation.png

In Korea the school year starts on March 1st, which is a holiday so technically the next day of the work week, but many contracts mark the start as the 1st. The semester ends usually around late July or early August (this will be when you have one of your camps). Classes start back up towards the end of August and continue until January, most testing will finish earlier than the school year, so expect towards the end of the semester for students to be less focused. They’ve already taken their tests so their desire to be at school tends to be lacking. Usually there’s a mini winter vacation before you come back and the students graduate. After graduation the semester will be officially over, and you have your winter camps.

Most schools except usually English Villages tend to follow a similar vacation period. English Villages tend to run opposite of normal schools since they’re like camp but an expanded version. I.e. while I’m on vacation during winter and summer holidays my friends who work at English Villages usually are in their busy season, but during the rest of the year they have a chance to travel.

Generally teachers get red days off, which are Korean holidays. There are a couple small ones spread out throughout the calendar year the biggest are Seollal (Lunar New year, usually in February) and Chuseok (kinda like Thanksgiving, it’s in the fall). These are the two big family holidays in Korea so practically everyone is traveling and a lot of things will be closed and traffic will be awful. If you want to go somewhere during this time I highly suggest booking a couple months in advance and to head out early to beat the traffic. Children’s day is also another longer holiday as it’s usually two days in May. However unlike Chuseok it moves around and you might end up with it being during the weekend.

Some schools have their own holidays as well but always be sure to check which will be considered red days or which will be taken from your vacation days. Every school is a bit different about this so just make sure you are aware. Usually you can take your vacation days during winter and summer vacation after your camps are complete. You most likely won’t have enough days to just be gone the entire vacation time so expect to Deskwarm.

school year.png

Deskwarm or deskwarming is a verb, it essentially is very literal, to keep your desk warm. It’s a term commonly used to express the time (usually during school vacation) where NETS (Native English Teachers) are at school without students. During this time students are on vacation as are all of your coworkers, the cafeteria is closed and you’ll find yourself on your own. Due to contract most English teachers have to be at school. Usually there’s at least one other teacher in the school, or it’s still functioning with a skeleton crew in the office answering phones and prepping for the new year, but the majority of teachers and staff are on vacation. This could mean you’re in the office with the principal or vice principal.

Things to be aware of:

  • cafeteria is closed: bring your lunch or prepare to go out for lunch possibly with whatever staff is around so bring your money. My worst days are where we go to lunch, it’s surprisingly spicy and I can’t eat anything but didn’t bring my wallet so I can buy something at a local convenience store or cafe to eat at my desk.
  • Usually the heat or air conditioning will not be on. If you don’t control your own temperature for where your desk is expect to either be freezing or sweating, so dress for the weather. Getting a small heater or heating pad can help for your desk as well as a tiny fan if you think you’ll need it.
  • If you’re sharing a room with your boss find productive school related things to do and best wishes. This is everyone’s least favorite situation as it tends to be awkward.
  • You’re going to get bored
  • School is going to be weird. It’s weird to be at school and no one around.
  • There’s a good chance that if the school is going to do some construction they’ll choose to do it during this time. Bring a mask, you don’t want to inhale all that construction dust.

Deskwarming is a good time to prepare things you want or need to work on for the upcoming semester but haven’t had as much time to do. That’s probably the ideal of what you’re expected to be doing, but depending on how much deskwarming you’ll actually have here’s some other options:

  • work on your hobby
  • read a book you’ve been meaning to get to
  • chat with friends or family
  • waste hours on social media
  • watch TV or movies
  • clean your classroom
  • organize your desk
  • plan your next vacation
  • Do puzzles
  • play games
  • take a nap

Just keep in mind that you’re at school. If you’re in your own classroom you could probably get away with a bit more than if you’re sharing a classroom or in the office with others.

In my case I’ve had 2 weeks worth of camp which keeps my desk warming time to a minimum and then I’m on the third floor by myself far away from everyone, so there’s days where I don’t see anyone during vacation and can spend it reading or doing whatever I want really. I feel a bit uncomfortable watching movies when I’ve got other things to get done, but I totally could. There’s also another English teacher so sometimes I just pop over and loose a couple hours chatting with them.

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