Wednesday, July 8, 2015



I'm four months into a new job. I figured I'd give an update since I have some a lot of downtime for the next week or so.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I worked with some unique students (meant in the best possible way). That was at a hagwon. Now, I'm at a public high school in a city called Gunpo, which is about an hour's drive south of Seoul. If you've taught at both a hagwon and a public school in Korea, or if you've looked into teaching in Korea, you'll know that they are apples-and-oranges different. You'll know that, generally, hagwons have smaller classes, but public schools have better hours.

I figured I'd write about what my experience in public school has been like so far.

At first, it was overwhelming. The school has at least 1400 students enrolled. Each of my classes has at least 30 students...having been used to 12 students max, this came as a bit of a shock to my system. Though I had a co-teacher, classroom management became an issue - not a huge issue, but something that I had to think about more often than before. Also, the first several times I went to lunch were a bit jarring...I was wading through lines of suit-wearing students, and as silly and trivial as it now sounds, their stares seemed to bore into me. See, I'm a bit taller, paler, and bigger-nosed than your average Korean high school student. And even though I was a foreign teacher, the attention that I was drawing tended to leave me feeling like I wanted to disappear.

I mentioned co-teachers. I have a total of six co-teachers who I work with. They come in with the class and help translate / motivate / discipline to different degrees, depending upon the teacher. Acclimating to their various styles took some time.

In retrospect, these were very small issues. In fact, considering how I feel about this job, they now feel like non-issues.

I love this job. No, the principal isn't looking over my shoulder. No, the Korean government isn't endorsing this post. There's just a lot to be happy about at the moment.

1. Schedule - I mentioned that public school schedules are better. What I didn't realize when I started this job was how much better it would be for me. At my last job, I needed to be at school by 7:00am, and I'd teach straight through 11:00am. After that, I'd get a long break. Sometimes it was four hours, sometimes it was eight (!!) hours, but then I'd return to teach again. I would sometimes finish at 6:30pm, sometimes 7:00pm, and sometimes 9:00pm. I did it. People do similar schedules (or harder) all the time. Now, I work from 8:40am-5:00pm with an hour lunch break. I now realize that having my own time in the early morning and in the evening is very valuable for me. Oh, and I rarely teach more than six classes a day, which is pretty doable after teaching 12 classes a day.

2. Location - Gunpo is just what I need. Close enough to Seoul to allow me to get into/out of the city easily, but far enough to lessen the pollution a bit. I don't have to fight for space on the sidewalk, yet most conveniences are close by. There's some beautiful countryside nearby as well...see for yourself!

Pinnacle by the closest subway station

철쭉대축재 - pink azalea festival

수리산 - Taken from Suri Mountain trail

군포 - Gunpo from the hiking trail

안양사 - Anyang Temple

Rice fields near 대야미역 (Daeyami Station)

정난종선생묘 - Tombs found on a hike
3. Creative License - There's a textbook, but there's relatively little in there that the school requires me to cover. This gives me a lot of freedom in creating lesson plans. At first, this was terrifying. Now, it's really nice to not be constrained.

4. Coworkers - The co-teachers are all pretty great. One of them happens to be my supervisor. She is fantastic. She is eager to help me feel at home in Korea, and she is an excellent listener. I have not been left wanting in this department.

5. Students - My gosh. They are such characters. Seriously. I wish you could see them. Like the boy who bows and says "Hello-seyo" whenever he sees me. Or the girl who started singing "Mamma Mia" when her group gave a presentation on Greece. Or the boy who came into my classroom and did the robot yesterday, because, why not? Or the girl who says "HELLO TEACHER" in her best sing-songy voice whenever she comes into my classroom. I could go on and on. I really enjoy working with these students. Yes, there are thorns-in-the-side, but every school has them (students and teachers).

6. Lunch - Look at how people eat here. Every day, the cafeteria serves rice, soup, kimchi, a protein, and a vegetable. Sometimes, we'll get a piece of fruit or a dessert. In terms of nutritional value, I think this trumps the slice of pizza and spoonful of canned corn that I remember from my high school days. Plus, it's filling!

From top left: Squid, I have no idea, a cream puff, kimchi, bean sprout soup, and rice
Yes, I have days where I wonder why I'm here. But all things considered, I'm pretty fortunate.