Question from a reader: a teacher’s schedule?
A reader writes in:
I stumbled across your blog and I’ve found it to be of great use to
me, as I am going to be heading to Seoul in approximately two months
to teach English. Although I have done quite a bit of research on my
own, I have been unable to find information on how much time I’m going
to have to spend outside of the classroom preparing lessons and
I went to school to be a Spanish teacher and when I did my student
teaching, it was a life-consuming process. I’d be curious to know your
experience with the overall workload of an ESL teacher in Korea.
The good news about teaching English in Korea: it’s a fairly rare teacher who has to create lots of materials or spend lots of time making lesson plans in a hagwon. Having worked at four different private schools in my time in Korea, I’ve only had to take work home with me a handful of times. Usually, those were evaluations during evaluation crunch time, or perhaps test-grading time. Your mileage may vary, of course – teachers in Korea, feel free to comment on your experience! – but you’ll rarely hear of teachers talking about how much work they have to take home. That might be because you have adequate prep time, good time management skills, or little administrative stuff to do outside of class. Tests are often multiple choice, but the quantity of tests can be what takes a lot of time. There’s also the classic story of the boss wanting to have your results… by tomorrow. Oh yes, and the format in which you’re expected to deliver these results just changed, meaning all the work you’ve already done will have to be redone. That horror story has come up in the past.
How much work you’ll need to do beforehand will depend on the material used by the school, the length of the classes, and to what extent the material needs to be augmented. Making word searches or handouts is a trivial thing, thanks to plenty of websites able to generate them based on your word list (my personal favorite: http://www.discoveryeducation.com/puzzlemaker). In most cases, the educational theory you learned doesn’t make much of a difference in an elementary-school hagwon classroom. It might help in a public-school classroom, but anecdotally speaking the degree in Education is more impressive when you’re first hired.
Just because you’re not taking work home doesn’t mean you won’t be busy beyond classes, of course. Even if your hagwon is part of a chain, your boss will have unique expectations, as will as your Korean co-teachers and your students. The hoesik (where everyone eats and gets drunk with the boss) is going away slowly,
And then there’s desk-warming – that wonderful requirement of showing up to work on days where you’re not expected to teach (e.g. test days, field trips, administrative days, etc.). This is (anecdotally) more common in the public schools, but not unheard of in the hagwons.
In the interest of providing a couple of data points, I present the following (and invite you wonderful teachers in Korea to do the same):
In my current job (elementary-school hagwon):
- Daily: I prepare for classes by previewing the story, making copies of homework sheets. Like anything else you get in a routine, this takes perhaps 15-20 minutes a day. Once in class, there’s the usual homework and attendance checks.
- Weekly: I’m expected to write a weekly report on the classes – if there were any problems in class, that’s where I note it for the school and my Korean co-teachers. It ends up being a one-page document, and takes about 15 minutes to type up from the notes I take throughout the week.
- About once every three months, I’m expected to write up evaluations of every student I taught this term. The format hasn’t changed in the time I’ve been there, which makes it relatively easy to know what sort of notes to take on the students.
- I’ll note that tests are handled by the Korean teachers, and that I make up pop quizzes on-the-fly in the classes that deserve them.
In my previous job (hagwon for adults):
- Daily: a couple of the classes were conversation classes, which involved reading the English-language Korean newspapers, copying a good story to a Word document, and making enough print-offs for everyone. Otherwise, grab books from office, walk to class, take attendance, and enjoy some good conversation. Total prep time: 20 minutes or so.
- Weekly: nothing to speak of – I made it a point to catch up with the secretary and boss at least once a week.
- The rest of the story: being adults, we didn’t give tests, grades, or do evaluations – for the most part they automatically moved up to the next level.
Since you’ll typically use the books provided by your hagwon, you won’t need to select curriculum, draw up a complicated lesson plan, etc. You WILL typically need to assign homework to fit the hagwons’ schedule, figure in some games, and keep the kids’ interest and attention – no small task, but it’s a fraction of the work required by language-school teachers elsewhere in the world. It’s one reason why few in Korea feel like ‘real teachers’.
While we’re on the subject, it’s a good practice to do a bit more than you need to – not necessarily busy work, but the sort of stuff that makes you prepared for anything that might (reasonably) come up during class. Since you’re more likely to have free time than your Korean counterparts, it’s a wise move to proactively offer help. If you’ve ever struggled clearing a paper jam in the copier, you know how much of a relief it can be to have someone else come up and offer to help.
In summary, you’ll be fine. Don’t make more work than yourself than you need to, but do make sure you’re at work early, prepared for class, wearing clean clothes that fit, etc.
Teachers in Korea: how much time do you spend on school-related projects outside of the classroom? How often do you take work home with you? Any stories or anecdotes?
© Chris Backe – 2011
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