My Kindergarten Job in Korea

When I taught in Korea in 2015, I worked with elementary and middle school students. I figured out almost immediately that middle school was not an age range I enjoyed. So, when I decided to come back last year, I accepted a job teaching kindergarten and elementary.

I work at a private academy (or hagwon), which is different from government-run schools. My working hours are from 9 AM to 6 PM, with 10 days of paid vacation (determined by the school), national holidays off (there are quite a few), health insurance, and a rent-free apartment near school. I am currently the head foreign teacher and make 2,300,000 won/month before taxes. 2,100,000/month is an average starting salary.

My kindergarten classes are between 9:30 AM and 2:30 PM. After that, I teach elementary classes. At my school, I have one homeroom class that I spend the majority of my time with. They are seven years old. I teach them language arts, writing, and project where we do research on a specific topic for two week periods. Additionally, I teach art to my homeroom class as well as the four other kindergarten classes during the week. It completely worked out by accident that I ended up being the art teacher, but I’m really happy about it. It almost feels like I’m using my college degree.

Kindergarteners also get snacks and lunch provided by the school (teachers get lunch, too). It’s usually a well-rounded meal with rice, soup, a protein, and veggies. Most of the time it’s traditional Korean food, but we’ve had things like spaghetti and chicken tenders before, as well. Our cook is freakin’ awesome. I love being able to try different foods at school every day that I might not have been exposed to otherwise.

Fridays are usually special days at school. Sometimes we do cooking classes. Other days, we do field trips (we’ve gone to the whale museum in Ulsan) or have events (we recently did a huge water gun fight). We also have a big birthday party once a month.

After my regular kindergarten classes end, I teach an accelerated reading class to two students twice a week. I also teach two lower level reading classes and a more advanced reading/writing class. For the most part, curriculums and materials are provided. However, I like to supplement with materials I create or find on my own. I’m really grateful that there is a lot of room to do my own thing at work.

This job is so different from the one I held in Korea previously. I am so happy to work here and look forward to coming in every day.

Do you have any questions about teaching in Korea? What’s your job like? Feel free to leave me a comment!

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Monday

On Monday evenings, I teach a middle school class with four boys and one girl. They are very shy and rarely speak. However, I can tell that the girl’s English skills are very good based on her written work.

Tonight, I got to my classroom and she was the only student there. I decided to postpone my original lesson and have a conversational class with her instead.

Within the first ten minutes of class, I was so impressed by how much she was talking. She speaks very well with some simple grammatical errors, but we were really having a conversation. I asked her why she never participates. She told me that the boys make her too nervous.

We talked about school in Korea. She said that middle school and high school students are required to wear uniforms and are not allowed to individualize them at all. She told me that one time, she wore a ring to class and her teacher took it off her finger and threw it in the trash. I was in shock.

She went on to say how she wishes she was American-born because there is so much more freedom in America. It broke my heart to hear this from a 14 year old.

We also talked about music and books. She loves fantasy books like Harry Potter. I asked her if she liked unicorns. (Because I love unicorns and I have to share my love for them. Obviously.) She did, so I told her about The Last Unicorn and wrote it down for her. We also talked about traveling and cooking.

At the end of class, she told me she had fun! Fun. How awesome is that?

I really hope she stays positive and at least tries to participate more in class. Her speaking skills are among the best out of all my students, and I can’t believe it’s taken nearly four months for her to use them!

The Substitute

Today, my morning was a little bit different than usual. One of my friends is taking some time off to visit family in Canada, so she asked me to cover for one of her morning classes. I said “sure” and she told me all I had to do was read some news articles with her students and discuss them afterwards. Cool, no problem.

I wasn’t ready for the incredibly enriching experience I found myself in.

The class was made up of five women: one about my age, the other four probably in their 30s or 40s. The first woman who came to class has actually been living in Australia for the past few years and was working as a welder! She recently quit her job to come home and study English, although she said she will probably go back to Australia soon.

The second woman to join was the one about my age. She was very shy and didn’t talk much. At 10 AM, we began reading our first article about prison inmates training dogs. Halfway through, a third (impeccably dressed) woman walked in. After she caught up, she couldn’t stop talking about it! She loved the idea and talked about how much she loved animals. She mentioned she grew up in the country and had dogs and chickens and goats. After her favorite cat died, though, she swore never to get another pet because it hurt too much.

At around 10:30, two other women joined. Our second article was about a little boy who saved his grandmother and Chihuahua from a burning house because he had learned to call the fire department because of a recent program at his school.

This led us to talking about education in both South Korea and America. I was very surprised to hear that most of the women do not like how much is expected from Korean students regarding academics. The woman from Australia had very strong opinions on the fact that children  are pushed so hard and go to bed so late. She thought that kids need more time to just be kids.

This was also coming after the most important day for students in Korea. Yesterday, November 12, high schoolers took their college entrance exams. This is taken so seriously that businesses are not allowed to open until the exams are finished and even planes have to be grounded or rerouted as to not distract testers.

After, we moved on to talking about technology. It was interesting to see the love/hate relationship. Some of the women really like how easy smartphones make it to find information and talk to family and friends, while others think that it’s too distracting and making us lazy. Their English was very good and we had a really insightful discussion.

They also began talking about how things were 20 and 30 years ago and how much has changed since then. One woman kept saying how the past is the past and we have to live in the present, and another asked her if she was a liberal. She said she was and proceeded to tell everyone how she constantly fights with her super conservative father-in-law. It was great.

Near the end of class, everyone asked me about where I’m from, how I’m liking Korea, etc. Naturally, we just ended up talking about food. They asked what my favorite Korean dishes were and if I like to cook.

It was a really fun class and I loved hearing so many different perspectives from Korean women. I never thought I would enjoy an adult class, but I had such an excellent morning!

Just Another Manic Monday

I haven’t worn makeup for the past two days because something has been irritating the skin around my eyes. Anyway, I walked into one of my younger classes only to hear “Who are you? What happened to your face?” This was repeated over and over until I realized that my students were referring to the fact that I wasn’t wearing any makeup. How sweet. I simply had to move on and get my lesson started.

It is generally acknowledged that beauty is highly valued in Korean culture. There are numerous makeup counters in the department stores and beauty shops are to Korea as Starbucks is to the United States. Since coming here, I myself have purchased several skin care treatments due to the fact that there are advertisements everywhere and everyone I see has absolutely flawless skin. They’ve got to be doing something right, right?

(Side note: I have actually fallen in love with everything I’ve purchased for my face so the answer is yes, Korea is absolutely doing something very right.)

I have also been making a serious effort to look like an actual human being when I leave my apartment in the morning (read as wear makeup and put on something other than yoga pants). So far, so good. I legitimately couldn’t bring myself to do it today, though, due to a weekend filled with itchy red eyes. Although, feeling better after today.

Then, during one of my evening classes, one of my female students kept on calling out “teacher!” and frantically slapping at her shoulder. I eventually noticed that my shirt was askew, and my bra strap was showing slightly.

Thank you, students, for your concern about my makeup-less face and messed up clothes. Aren’t Mondays grand?

Everybody Likes Stickers

Really. It doesn’t matter if you’re five or twenty-five. If someone gives you a sticker, you’d probably be overjoyed. I know I would be.

Yesterday was the day Tia Teacher brought stickers to class. Minion stickers, to be specific. I figured I would use them as little rewards for giving right answers.

My first class of the day was a class of six beginners. We read a story about running a marathon and then I wrote the past tense forms of some irregular verbs on the board and had each student tell me the present tense. Some examples I used were brought, caught, thought, and ran. They had so much fun guessing! Then, the stickers came out. Their eyes were filled with such wonder and the sight of the Minions. It was adorable. They stuck them all over their phone cases and notebooks and were so excited to show me.

On the way to my next class, which is probably my favorite, I was walking up the stairs when two of my female students happened to see my sticker book on top of the things I was carrying. They each latched on to one of my arms, pulling, and shouting “MINIONS” in the middle of the stairwell. “TEACHER! TEACHER! WE WANT MINIONS!” I literally had to wriggle out of their clammy grasp and assure them that they would get their Minions during class. Needless to say, everyone was very well-behaved that day. No stickers for naughty children!

The rest of my classes went really well, for the most part. I have one class of middle schoolers at night who just won’t speak. They will read text if I ask, but when it comes to answering questions – silence. I try so hard, but it’s like pulling teeth and I spend my time listening to myself talk (which does get rather boring after a while).

Has anyone else encountered a class of students who simply refuse to speak? What are some techniques you’ve used to get them to participate?

Suddenly, Japan?!

I graduated from Seton Hall University in 2013 with a BA in Art History. For the past two years, I’ve worked multiple part-time jobs all while applying for full-time positions in my field. The closest I’ve gotten is one of my two current jobs: being an administrative assistant in a small, non-profit history museum between 10-15 hours per week. My other job right now is retail.

Now, I’ve been applying for more and more teaching English abroad positions and the number of interviews I’ve been asked to do is astounding. Why doesn’t anyone want to interview me in the field I have a degree in? *sigh*

Anyway. In addition to EPIK, I am being asked to interview with AEON, Amity, and ECC. I already knew about AEON and Amity when I started this blog. However, I just got the e-mail from ECC, and this is the interview that will make the biggest difference on my final decision (if I’m offered a position, that is).

In one of my older posts (click here), I talked about wanting to be in Japan, but feeing like South Korea would be the best option, financially. Now, I’m rethinking Japan because it seems a little more tangible.

ECC only hires around Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka. I would like to be in Nagoya or Osaka. Monthly salary is good (252,000 yen/month) and the work week is only 29.5 hours, which would leave lots of time for conducting private lessons to make some extra cash. Additionally, ECC offers 7 weeks paid vacation, which is more than any other program I’ve seen. Traveling is super high on my list if I teach abroad, so this is a sweet deal. Teachers do have to pay for rent, but ECC helps find you an apartment and you are not responsible for key money or deposit money.

Oh goodness. The struggle is so real.

Has anyone worked with ECC before? Any feedback to add to my pro/con list would be greatly appreciated!