Q: What are some challenges you experience teaching in Korea?

Teaching in Korea has been quite the experience.

The way the schools work here, and how kids learn is very different from what I was used to in America. It has been a challenge for me to find a way to connect with the kids and try to inspire them to fall in love with learning. In their Korean classes, the student’s success in their studies seems to be dependent on how much they can memorize and retain the information and they seem to take this approach with all of their lessons.

But memorizing English?

That isn’t gonna work.

Sure you can memorize vocabulary words, grammar rules, and even common phrases but to try and memorize the entire language? Maybe if it was a dead language like Latin.

This is what makes my job hard as a teacher.

I have to find a way to be creative to get them to become interested in learning English without having them sit and memorize things all the time. I try to do this with discussion topics and engage them in heated conversations about debatable ideas BUT for some reason, they also hate speaking up and asking questions in class so I have no clue if these kids are actually learning something or if they are just nodding along and pretending they do, like I do when I go to my Korean dance classes. 😂

(But we still try our best to make it as interesting as possible. Here are two videos I did with some of my coworkers when Corona hit and we had to teach our kids online. Both are in response to lessons they were learning.)

What’s another hurdle?

They’re kids. They don’t want to spend their time learning English. They do it because they have to, not because it’s something they enjoy. For kids, that means doing the bare minimum. I mean, it’s not like I blame them. When I was a kid and my parents made me do something that I didn’t really want to do, I didn’t put my heart into it and these kids have a lot more on their plate than I ever did as a child.

Most Korean kids don’t just go to school from 8:30 am to 4:30pm, they also have extracurriculars and extra schooling that they do afterwards. Most, if not all, the kids in my school go to Hagwons (which are like specialized schools for kids to study) to learn more on a subject AFTER they finish “normal” school. These Hagwons are designed to better equipped them with knowledge in the areas of life they wish to excel in and better increase their chances of getting a well-paying job in Korea or moving abroad to study. So my kids, from as young as first grade don’t get to necessarily “enjoy” their childhood or the learning process. It’s more like a job for them. It absorbs every aspect of their lives.

I remember asking some of my first graders the other day if they were going to have a good relaxing weekend when they left my class one Friday afternoon, and one little girl told me that she was going to be to busy going to Hagwons and doing homework to enjoy her weekend. 💔

The rest of my students muttered their agreements to her statement. I stared at my students wondering how I, an educator figure, should respond to what I considered a heartbreaking fact. I mean, it’s not like I could tell them to forget about their schoolwork and enjoy their weekend.

That’s just irresponsible. I’m a responsible adult now.🤷‍♀️😂😅

So instead, I stuttered and stumbled over my words as I said, “Oh really? Well you know, if you study really hard now then you can rest and have as much fun as you want later”.

Then I got comments like:

-If I study really really really hard then I’ll grow up to be rich.

-I’m going to study really really really really so that I take a whole year off and not do anything.

(I told that last kid to hit me up when he takes a year off without working and let me know what his secret was, haha. I mean, I would like a year off too. )

I say all this to say that, even though these kids learn differently than how I am used to, even though it was never in my dreams to be a teacher, even though I struggle with my responsibility as an educator, even though most days I feel like I’m drowning, unequipped to be a building block building their future, teaching these kids has been some of the best experiences of my life.

I try my best to make sure they are learning and enjoying the process. I may not be a perfect teacher but I do like learning. I do try to make my lessons interesting and give them my best every day. It’s not easy, in fact it’s highly stressful, but I don’t hate it. I’m surrounded by great coworkers who inspire me to do my best even when I feel like giving up.

There are other interesting experiences I’ve had teaching here but it would take too long to write them all now. Maybe I’ll make another post about a different aspect of teaching later.

Until next time,

See ya around, friend~~

Posted in Q&A
Posted by:ThatKoreanLife

2 replies on “#9- Challenges Teaching in Korea

  1. Excellent post Julena! I loved it, and thank you for going over the Hagwons/school after school system, very interesting that all they do is just sleep, study, eat repeat.
    Also I loved what you said towards the end of your blog, “Even though I struggle with my responsibility as an educator, even though most days I feel like I’m drowning, unequipped to be a building block building their future, teaching these kids has been some of the best experiences of my life… I do try to make my lessons interesting and give them my best every day.” 👏 Keep up the teaching life and your journey in South Korea! Also, 10/10 dances too 😉😂

    Liked by 1 person

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