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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Three Weeks Later

It’s been three weeks since I left Korea. I’m very happy to be home in New Jersey and able to see my mom and friends. It’s nice to have access to familiar things, as well, such as the lake I like walking around, the boardwalk at Point Pleasant, and even my favorite restaurants. Pizza and bagels were sorely missed.

I just got a job at a restaurant near my house. I won’t have to spend a lot of money on gas and I think I’ll be able to do some saving. In the meantime, I plan on getting certified to teach ESL in public schools here. There are a few tests I have to take, including math, but some friends have offered to tutor me. I’m really grateful for that. The other tests are for oral and written proficiency, which I’m not worried about.

Even though I was only in Korea for six months, it’s admittedly been a little strange getting reacclimated to life at home. It took quite some time to get over the jet lag, and all my days seemed to get mushed together. I got so used to using Facebook messenger or Skype to talk to my friends at home (the only person I texted or called in Korea through my actual phone plan was Hannah), but now I can communicate with them without needing the internet. I also don’t have to bow at people or handle money like a Korean (which I found myself doing for a while right after I got back). I’m also thrilled to have my car again and not have to rely on public transportation when I need to go somewhere.

Anyway, I’m still getting back into the groove of things, and it’s really nice to have found a job so quickly. I hate sitting at home with nothing to do!

I’m also thinking of changing the name of my blog. If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments!

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!

Big and Little

In life, everything can be divided into two very general categories: the “big” things and the “little” things. For the most part, people have little or no control over the “big” things. These things are constantly present. They may cause you extreme anxiety or you may be completely indifferent towards them. It really depends on who you are and what your situation is.

For me, my biggest “big” thing is my absolutely crippling student debt. This is what I got for five years of education at a relatively well-known, private university in New Jersey (in addition to a lovely piece of paper in Latin, which is still sitting in an envelope, unframed).

Before coming to Korea, this one “big” thing was the reason for all the other “big” problems in my life. I was working two part time jobs with one paycheck automatically going towards loan repayment each pay period. My other paycheck essentially covered gas and I had very little left over to do anything for myself with. Then, there was my car. In addition to gas, I had to have a lot of work done to it over the past year, most of which got put on a credit card.

I was constantly tired, stressed, and dealing with anxiety. No college graduate beginning their life should feel like that.

When I finally made the decision to come to Korea to teach, I had no idea what a huge difference it would make in my daily life.

Right off the bat, I was provided with a nice apartment at the expense of my employer. I also get inexpensive health insurance (something I was paying over $100/month for at home), and a salary that allows me to send nearly half my paycheck home each month while still being able to live extremely comfortably. I don’t have to be at work until nearly 3 PM, so even though my day doesn’t finish until 10 PM, I can go out and socialize with other expats and not feel guilty about it.

Now, for the “little” things. And personally, I think these are the best.

I have students who shout my name and wave when they see me in the hall and want to hold my hand on the way to class. I have students who insist on sharing candies and snacks with me for no reason at all. I even have students who ask me to tie their shoes and get so happy when I do it for them because they can’t quite do it themselves yet.

I also get to see the progress my students are making in class in their speaking, reading, and writing. This is rewarding beyond words.

Outside of work, some of my “little” things include being able to walk almost everywhere I need to go and, if I do need to take public transportation, it is ridiculously affordable. Eating out is essentially more affordable than buying groceries here, so it’s really nice to go to a restaurant and not feel bad about the bill. Finally, free public WiFi is pretty much everywhere in Korea so it’s really nice not to have to use up my data plan!

So, what are some of your “big” and “little” things?

The Sass Attack

Sometimes, kids can be pretty funny. Today was one of those days.

During my first class of the afternoon, two of my students had arrived earlier than the rest of the class. One little boy had folded a paper airplane and was throwing it around the classroom. At one point, he threw it and it hit my other student, a precocious little girl whom I thoroughly enjoy teaching, in the arm. Without skipping a beat, she picked up the paper airplane and slowly turned around to face him while crushing it in her hand. Then, she threw it back at him, shouted something in Korean, and sat down at her desk, arms folded across her chest. Stunned, the little boy sat down and I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically.

Minutes after, the rest of my class began to come in. One of my other female students skipped through a door carrying (and eating)¬†a family size bag of potato sticks. She filled my hands with them, saying “teacher! teacher! is good!” I ate them. They were good.

I really like that class.

We also had a student bring in a box of sticky rice buns for the office; I’m assuming for the upcoming holiday of Chuseok. It was really sweet. The buns were filled with red bean paste, so they were literally quite sweet, as well.

Today’s pretty good so far!

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?