Those who can, teach. Those who can smile and nod, teach in Korea.


Having now been an EPIK teacher in Korea for a little over 3 months, I feel like I’ve gained enough insight into the life of a GET (Guest English Teacher) to throw my two cents in on the whole shebang. Before any lifers get on my back about 3 months being nothing at all, I am well aware of that but if I reserve judgement until I’ve been here for a year I’ll probably have forgotten what this profound feeling of realisation is like.

To begin, some disclaimers. Firstly I am a Middle School teacher, and therefore can’t comment on Elementary or High School with any clarity…however, this won’t stop me from reading into the Facebook-documented experiences of fellow EPIKers and commenting on them accordingly. Secondly, there is no guarantee that your Middle School is anything like my Middle School, but again this won’t stop me from making sweeping (often damning) generalisations. Thirdly and finally I am not claiming to be a great, or even particularly good teacher. This is my first year of ESL teaching, after all.

During the week-long EPIK orientation I attended in February, practically every lecture given was focused on Elementary teaching. Seeing as you don’t find out what level you’re teaching at until the last day of the orientation, at the time you don’t realise how pointless this is until, like me, you open your manilla envelope and discover that you aren’t going to be one of those teachers. I forget the exact percentage, but the vast majority of new EPIK teachers will be placed in Elementary schools and (as I have mentioned many times before) I have days and sometimes weeks in which I wish I were one of them. This is not helped by my being a member of a number of EPIK Facebook groups populated largely with deskwarming* Elementary teachers filling their apparently empty days by posting comments along the lines of “….. ….. has another day of cancelled classes! Watching Mad Men at my desk all day long, LOL!” and the ever-hateful “Out drinking til 4am, roll into school at 9. Can’t believe we’re being paid for this!”.

*for the uninitiated, this is the time you have between classes when lesson planning is complete and you have nothing to do other than twiddle your thumbs and hang out on Facebook with people in the same position.

I imagine at this point you are rolling your eyes and tutting the word ‘jealous?’ to yourself. Well, admittedly, often I am jealous of the Elementary lifestyle but not in the way you’re assuming. For a start, I do try to take my job seriously as far as I can (more on that later) and secondly, after working in bars for a number of years I’m fully, painfully aware that whilst some jobs can be done on a critical-level hangover, some cannot. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t believe that standing in front of huge classes of students and attempting to impart knowledge is one of them…at least until you’re an experienced enough teacher to do it on autopilot, and even then it’s shaky ground and a slippery slope. Of course a lot of Elementary School teachers are fantastic and I count myself lucky to be friends with a good few of them. We all agree, however, that there is a portion of the ESL-teaching society here who make the rest of us look shitty, but that isn’t a topic for today…or possibly ever.

The main point of this post is that it isn’t really about whether you’re a good or bad teacher here, it’s about whether or not you can consider yourself a teacher at all. When I first began my job I was slightly surprised by the amount of work and responsibility I was given, especially compared to the examples given during orientation. Each week I teach all three Middle School grades and am responsible for the complete planning and presentation of each lesson. I have a textbook with certain pages I’m required to cover but anything over that is my own choice, plus I write the exam questions, give after school classes, design and run summer camps and am solely responsible for grading the new speaking test implemented by the Office of Education. My timetable (as mentioned in a previous post) has nightmare Mondays and Tuesdays consisting of six or seven consecutive classes, all of the same grade, resulting in what I like to call a Groundhog Day. Never, ever try to get a sensible conversation out of me after a Groundhog Day, I am beyond stressed and make less sense than the casting of Andie MacDowell**.

** Note: not just in Groundhog Day, but in literally everything she’s ever been in.

After 3 months I’ve come to realise that whilst I do have a lot of work, I do not have the responsibility I first thought. I began to notice this as my classes started to be cancelled at a minute’s notice for things along the lines of ‘Inter-Class Soccer Practice’, ‘Emergency Lecture’ and (most bafflingly) ‘Health Time’. I won’t deny that these last second changes are often welcome at the end of a long day, but it doesn’t half mess up my planning when I turn up at the class a week later (sometimes a month later as I only teach 3rd grade once every two weeks) only to remember too late that they are a lesson behind everyone else. A couple of weeks ago I found myself turning up to classes to find that the co-teacher had planned a lesson on vocabulary (not my area) and so I would be a classroom helper whilst she took the lesson. Again, not a problem but it would be nice to be kept in the loop.

Remember the newly-implemented speaking test I was recently been told I’m conducting and evaluating? This morning I was told that whilst I am solely responsible for the students’ individual grades, the grades as a whole must conform to each class’s average test scores, I’m not allowed to grade students under a certain amount of points and also that everyone must score around their personal average from previous tests. Brighter folks amongst you may have realised that with all these stipulations considered, the entire thing isn’t so much testing and evaluation as a rudimentary matching exercise made all the more tiresome by the fact that the students names will be written in Korean and I won’t actually be supplied with their average grades…presumably I have to guess what they should score and if I get it wrong it will be changed without my knowledge alongside much grumbling about how bad foreigner is at marking.

To cut a potentially much longer story short, being a foreign teacher in Korea is not really a teaching job in the traditional (actual) sense as we are responsible for nothing more than delivering a tiny portion of a book where the grades don’t matter in the slightest. Some schools don’t require the foreign teacher to use the textbook and do not ask them to teach students anything they will be tested on whatsoever, instead preferring the GET to conduct hilariously titled ‘Fun Fun English’ classes in which the students theoretically learn to enjoy the language, but actually chill the fuck out and go to sleep as it’s the only break they’ll get that week.

Whichever way your school swings we’re not here to be serious teachers, which is a conclusion I imagine the properly trained, PGCE/equivalent-wielding EPIKers reached long before I did. I often wonder how they feel about the situation when they have been accustomed to the responsibilities of a regular, run of the mill teaching job…after the initial elation of not having to mark essays all weekend wears off, obviously.

All of this begs the question: If we’re not here to be teachers, what are we here to be? It’s an easy question for Elementary teachers, and one which was cringe-inducingly described during orientation as ‘edutainment’…foreign babysitters, essentially, with smiles on their faces and alphabet songs in their hearts. Although this is without question a monumental waste of money for the government, I genuinely believe that a foreign presence is beneficial to the little guys, considering that this is a country in which we are often stared at purely for the shock value we possess by being non-Korean in public.

But surely ‘edutainment’ isn’t what we’re here for when teaching unbelievably self-aware teenagers? I cast my mind back to my early years of high school (when I was the same age I’m trying to teach now) and I can imagine nothing I would have liked less than being forced to chant and sing songs at the demand of some overly enthusiastic teacher-clown, however my understanding of our role changed the first time I played a game with the students in my class. I had been warned about the dangers of Korean student competitiveness before (especially within large groups of boys) but you can never truly understand until you’ve inadvertently caused the full-scale, 40 students screaming, jumping on tables kind of riot purely because someone chose the wrong Mario mushroom. I quickly came to realise that whilst my students would look at me like I’d gone mental if I tried to make them sing en masse, their competitive streak makes any kind of game totally worth playing. At the beginning of practically every lesson I am approached by at least three different students all looking at me hopefully through their sleep-deprived eyelids and uttering “teacher…game?” like I’m some kind of Fun Keeper and will unleash my powers only when they’ve reached critical levels of adorable-ness.

The conclusion I’ve come up with, foolish as many of you will think it, is to play the games and make the poor little guys happy for 45 minutes a week. I haven’t written about it at any length yet but the school system is not easy here for students and (regardless of what false pretensions any uppity EPIKer has) we aren’t here to offer much in the way of actual teaching so why not try to offer something else altogether rather than just coasting by and getting paid for the bare minimum? I’m in no position to give advice but with every passing day I’m taking my teaching duties less and less seriously and being more concerned with letting the kids have a bit of fun, making myself more available to chat before and after classes and generally trying to make them feel a bit more comfortable about hanging out with a foreigner. They’re not going to be great at speaking English until the government’s approach to teaching it changes, and whilst I’ve got no part in that I can have a part in being a positive-ish influence on a large number of kids just by being the nice English lady who plays fun games, smiles and says hello to them in the corridor regardless of her mood and doesn’t hit them in class…

but that’s a topic for another day.

Original Article


Re: Those who can, teach. Those who can smile and nod, teach ...

You're experience doesn't sound much different from anyone else's experience here, from my own point of view and what I've been told. Elementary isn't any different. High school isn't any different, except you may have a few more days off for testing. College or University isn't much different, although at this point students who are studying English actually have the ability to think about questions and can give reasonable answers and convey whatever they are thinking. I believe that hagwons, as ridiculous as this sounds, are probably the best education that Koreans can get in this "education driven" society.

Re: Those who can, teach. Those who can smile and nod, teach ...


Wow….just Wow. You, by your own admission, in the second paragraph of this essay admit that you are a Middle School Guest English teacher and can not rightfully claim what is like to be a Elementary School teacher and then subsuqentally write a torrid essay full of damning sweeping generalizations!
So let me get this straight, you have less than a year of experience teaching English as a second language and even have reservations about the quality of your own pedalogy? In other words you are no way whatsoever qualified to criticize your fellow teachers and yet you still tried.
The nerve of it all!
I fail to see how you can justify judging Foreign or Korean elementary school teachers based on flawed- cherry-picked andeoctal evidence from social networks. Everyone knows that netizens have a tendency to exagerate about their work responsiblties, or lack thereof in your opinion. These exagerations are not accurate represenations of truth and using them as evidence to assert your claim of other teachers misbeahvior is misguided.
In your fifth paragraph you admitted that ,”Of course a lot of Elementary School teachers are fantastic and I count myself lucky to be friends with a good few of them. We all agree, however, that there is a portion of the ESL-teaching society here who make the rest of us look shitty.
Then why did you began the paragraph with this if this is so important? Of course it is a unrefuatable point that a small percentage of EFL workers in Korea are here for the wrong reasons. There are shitty teachers everywhere in the world and not everyone in charge of classroom belongs there. The education of children is too important to entrust it to those who don’t care about their jobs. Korea isn’t special in this regard.
This isn’t a post about whether or not we should consider ourselves teachers and it isn’t a post about who is bad and who isn’t. It is a well-written rant about the disproportiate workload that she has been given compared to other teachers who have less strict principals. You have been given near-impossible tasks with little emotional support so it is understanable that you resentful of others who have less busy work than you. That doesn’t mean that your collegues are any less of a teacher than you.
Let me answer your question that you begged us to answer carolinequick. Let me tell you what we are expected to be in Korea public schools. We waygooks are expected to be education professionals . We are expected by Koreans, our coworkers, and hopefully our set of ethics to conduct ourselves in a morally upright manner. We are here to motiviate children, guide their social delvelopment, and improve their English ablitiles. That’s my mission and I come to school everyday and I feel like I truly make at least a minor difference in their lives.
Your lack of faith in “edutainment” also demonstrates a lack of knowledge about the latest in teaching techninques. Games have important congintive tools that when used correctly provide both extrinstic motivation for students to particpate in class. It also is an unintrustive way to measure retention of lesson material. There are only so many methods where teachers can assess students beyond tests.
Furthermore these ,”Clown-teachers” by and large are also actively trying to create enivroments suitable for learning by motviating apathic students to an intrinsticly like learning for it’s own sake. Think about it you are a tween who is raging with hormones and dislikes authority. Would you want to learn from a stinking boring-old monotone lecturer who insits on using outdated teaching techniques or someone who is professional, but “fun”?
My main point is, and the source of my anger, is that your blog has done an immense disservice to your fellow EPIK teachers now and into the future. Imagine if a Korean netizen who has a bone to pick about foreign English teachers discovers this site through a web search. They will know can quote your comments out of context, translate them into Korean, and blog on Daum, Nate, Naver etc. how THE VAST MAJORITY of GETs are “shitty individuals” for the reasons that are discussed above.
Some of us waygooks have made Korea our home. Some of us get married to Koreans and have familes here. The actions of other foreigners influence public opinion and how we are our familes are treated and our livelihoods. So please think about the consequence of your actions online and offline before you feel entilted to make any more “sweeping generalizations.”
Thank you.

Re: Those who can, teach. Those who can smile and nod, teach ...

Anyone who thinks like annonymous (the long rant) above is thinking way too much. Korea is a playground and nothing more. Those who think they are making a difference or are even respected are delusional. You are tolerated until not needed and that is about it. I wonder how many of the teachers who have come and gone keep in touch with their bosses and students? My guess a very small percentage. Why? We are here to make money, and we amuse children to do that. Get real people! 

Re: Those who can, teach. Those who can smile and nod, teach ...

No Sir/Madam, I do not think myself "accomplished" enough to make these comments...which is why I made this abundantly clear in my opening paragraph. If I had chosen to leave out the sentence regarding my length of time in Korea would your consider my opinion more valid? I wrote this because it is how I feel right now, which I think is a perfectly valid reason in itself and is the entire purpose of my blog. I'd like to remind you that this piece being featured on Koreabridge does not make it a professional or authoritative work, I am not commissioned or paid to write so I am not compelled to please anyone but myself. Whilst I am not sorry for my article, I am sorry that it wasn't clear to you that some of the above was intended to be read in a tongue in cheek manner. Please be aware that I am not commenting on the attitudes of the TEFL community as a whole, which is something I hoped I made clear in the original piece.

Re: Those who can, teach. Those who can smile and nod, teach ...

My name is Jake Rosenburger, by the way.   Nice to meet you.   I might sign up for this site and have a screename soon enough. 

I am sorry you feel the way you do John.   First of all, it's fine and dandy is disagree with someone, but you crossed the line by calling me delusional.     You obivously have a different experience in Korea than me. 

Maybe you are a hagwon instructor or placed at a crummy school.  I'm not sure.   The point is that you are absoutley wrong.   If we are not needed why would the Korean Goverment spend millions of millions of dollars to retain our services?    

I also don't see how keeping in touch with students or former bosses have anything to do about being a serious teacher.  Really, nothing at all.   People get busy and it all reality a person can only sucessfully  handle so about meaningful realtionships.   You make a difference in their lives for the brief period of time you have them.

I admit I am in Korea to make money, but I also care deeply about the wellbeing and intellectual growth of my students.   Maybe I am a fluke, but I sure to hell hope I am not the only one for Korea's sake.

Re: Those who can, teach. Those who can smile and nod, teach ...

I don't mean to stir the pot but you've been rather contradictory here Jake. How is John calling your views delusional any different to you lambasting my "torrid" personal opinion?

Personally I agree with John on most of his points. I'm no expert (as you well know, I've only been here for three months) but I imagine that sooner or later the Government will realise how well we are being paid for a job that is not absolutely necessary. Regardless of how well we do the job, GETs have been surplus to requirements for a while now from what I gather...especially in public schools, crummy or otherwise. 

Finally, of course you're not the only one who cares about your students wellbeing - understanding the fragility of our employment doesn't make someone a bad teacher.

Re: Those who can, teach. Those who can smile and nod, teach ...

If you did not want criticism of your personal blog then you shouldn't have posted it on a popular website frequented by foreigners and Koreans alike.  The moment your blog was featured on this site it became more than personal blog.   

This is a public website and many of it's vistors will have diverse opinons, many of which will run contary to yours.   In a free and open democracy that is the internet, you don't have the right not be be offended.   You posted your blog post here knowing full well that it is controversial.   So If you can't stand the heat, get out the kitchen.

If this is truly was a piece of satire or tounge-in-cheek humor than it wasn't very effective because I'm not the only person who got the joke.  

 Being featured on Korea Bridge is an honor and does make you an authority in a sense.   Your post is featured under the most viewed column and it is growing in popularity as we speak.  There also is no legal disclaimer by Koreabridge that comments made by bloggers do not represent the beliefs of Koreabridge staff or endorsed by them.    So IMHO any reasonable person who was a vistor to this site outside the traditional foreign community might come to the conclusion that  you are speaking for at least a segement or the TEFL community.    

Whilst I am not sorry for my rebuttal it was not meant as a personal attack and apoglize for letting my anger get the best of me.   With your numerous We pronouns you are misleading readers do think that you are authority on the manner and are speaking for others.  

I guess I just one of those, " Uppity EPIKers' who has false pretentions... " who assume that us Waygooks have much in the way of acutal teaching to share with our coworkers and our students.   We are here to be serious teachers and we are expected to use the CLT method to motivate and teach children.

Are you aware of  Communicative Language Training or CLT for short?  Basically by" letting the kids have a bit of fun, making myself more available to chat before and after classes and generally trying to make them feel a bit more comfortable about hanging out with a foreigner. "  you are increasing their acutally increasing  communicative competance by giving them contextual situations to use the grammar they previously mastered.   That is what they pay you more than decent wages to do you.    

I hope you are as good as a teacher that you think you are because our students deserve the best.  


Re: Those who can, teach. Those who can smile and nod, teach ...

Because by John saying that my beliefs are delusional he is indirecting claiming that my beliefs and opinions are incorrect and,(  it's a free world he can disagree with all he want), that I have my beliefs as a consequence of pathogen of some kind.   Most likely mental illness.

Calling someone retarted or suffering from a mental illness just because  they don't agree with you doesn't do any justice for the agruement you are trying to make.  Plus it's a dick move. Not cool.

Caroline, your post was and still is torrid.   Torrid as a word might have a bad conotation but it means passionate or ardent.  You are quite a passionate person it seems.   

Aren't we  just splittling hairs here?   Isn't about time to agree to disagree and act like responsible adults?    

Re: Those who can, teach. Those who can smile and nod, teach ...

Here are my two cents :).   I think Jake was a little forceful and he didn't have to be so rude although I have to say I agree with him.  Sorry Caroline your blog posting is simply unacceptable.  You shouldn't have made the comments you did with so little experience and expertise. 

You simply shouldn't have said those things about him on your blog either.  I checked your blog and you used all sorts of cuss words in your rebuke.    It's hard to believe an intelligent lady like yourself would do that.  

Re: Those who can, teach. Those who can smile and nod, teach ...

Once again, my blog is purely my own opinion and I do not wish for it to be anything other than that. Suggesting that I have some kind of responsibility through being advertised on Koreabridge is ridiculous...and for the record I'd rather have the freedom to express my opinion than have a few extra reads per day.

As for my response to to the original criticism, and the remark that I should "get out of the kitchen", I wonder where people got the idea that I was upset by Jake's post. He has the right to criticise my writing just as I have every right to reply. Remember that if I had not accepted the public criticism I could have unapproved his comments and gone on my merry way.

Whilst I refute your claim that intelligent people shouldn't swear, I am aware that some people find it offensive, which is the reason I chose not to post the direct reply here. I have no idea why my being a woman has any bearing on my vocabulary.

I stick by my original piece and my reply and if you don't like it then I suggest you write about your own experiences as opposed to finding such fault with mine. That, or you can keep discussing it. Whatever, really. Clearly I've caused offence but I won't be debating it further as I disagree entirely and we shall never convince each other otherwise. If you have a problem with my writing then I would politely ask that you take it up with the Koreabridge management and they are absolutely welcome to remove my posts.

Re: Those who can, teach. Those who can smile and nod, teach ...

Some of these posts are just comical. I am crossing the line because I call people delusional? That is delusional thinking as well. I am allowed to have an opinion but then I am not? Please! 

Jake R, again I will say it-you are delusional if you dont get what Korea is all about. We are not respected at all. Just look to the media for proof of that (after years here I have heard plenty). We are puppets be used to meet a business end and that is all. Once we are done we are forgotten. There is no legacy or making a difference-there is making a paycheck. Korea is a playground. Who comes here to work hard and make a difference for 2g a month and 2 dollar apples? The game is we try to make kids happy, we teach a little, and we try to save money. Nothing more, nothing less.

This rah rah I am a teacher stuff is nuts! You are teaching the kids of xenophobic parents who are simply using you at arms length because they think their kid needs to study English and are ultra competitive. Got ot keep up with the Kims! Anyone who thinks they are needed and cant be replaced by a monkey are delusional. Do your job but I implore you to have fun and not take it too serioulsy. This place is souless and will turn you cold if you take things too seriously. If you think you are respected and loved-do something your bosses dont like and see how that perception changes in a heart-beat.

 Happy teaching.

Re: Those who can, teach. Those who can smile and nod, teach ...

I must ask, people are talking about money, how shitty at home was your job that you make more here? i make less her by far, only reason i did it is to see somehting new.

And i wholly agree, we are entertainment monkeys to a majority of the students, nothing more.

Re: Those who can, teach. Those who can smile and nod, teach ...

Manager-you deleted my post because I used the word delusional and someone said that this word crossed the line? Serioulsy. Well, here you go:


/dɪˈluʒənl/ Sh
having false or unrealistic beliefs or opinions: Senators who think they will get agreement on a comprehensive tax bill are delusional.  
How I used the word is apt. This guys uses the wording of being mentally retarded with regards to making a point of the how the word delusional is bad but clearly by definition it is not even close to being the same. People can be smart but have the wrong idea. That is being delusoinal sometimes and is not bad. I cant even believe someone questioned this-and a teacher no less! So, with this said, I think my post that was being reviewed should go up. Cheers!

Re: Those who can, teach. Those who can smile and nod, teach ...

Dear Jake. Allow me to take you to school.


/dɪˈluʒənl/ Show S
having false or unrealistic beliefs or opinions: Senators who think they will get agreement on a comprehensive tax bill are delusional.  
How i used the word hardly crossed any line Jake. I simply think you are wrong. My usage of the delusional is in fact very apt here. 
And I sent a message to the manager thinking my last post didnt go up but it did-but under annonymous. That was from John. The last one about being delusional and this one to. I didnt catch that I was posting under annonymous. Thanks manager. I thought you deleted it for some reason.

Re: Those who can, teach. Those who can smile and nod, teach ...

I joined this website to avoid confusion between posters.  This will be my last replyabout this particular subject on this website and on the publisher's personal blog.  It is clear that there is no way to bridge this divide of opinion and I am taking the high road. It's frankly a waste of time to comment further after this post and I am not a troll who enjoys flame wars on the internet.

I  also didn't spend HOURS typing this reply and frankly don't see a need to profressionaly proofread every single thing I post online.  It's too bad if that offends you.

I recently reviewed the terms of service for members for Koreabridge and I would like to remind members that this is a community that frowns on mean-spirited or rebuttals.    I apolgized for the tone I took for my former reply here and at the author's homepage.   I will however not, repeat will not,  apolgize for any of the content within it. 

I hope that those who read this  of this blog entry choose to visit the publishers blog  and see her and her "defenders" verbose attacks on my character for the crime of  merely strongly disagreeing with her.   Perhaps one of the reasons why her comments aren't posted here is that they would violate this website's terms of service.

 By the way, calling people delusional was and still is not acceptable . It was also not acceptable for me to call  the publisher's blog as torrid.   I'm sorry.   Let's not deevolve the dicussion to a series of ad hominem attacks.


Definition of DELUSION (

: the act of deluding : the state of being deluded
a : something that is falsely or delusively believed or propagatedb : a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary; also : the abnormal state marked by such beliefs

Re: Those who can, teach. Those who can smile and nod, teach ...

years back before SMOE and EPIK took flight, immigration and the city of seoul used to hold what i like to call a round up but more PC would say a korean culture seminar. basically informing schools (mostly hagwons) that the E-2 holders should attend a seminar. come to think of it, it was probably the predecessor tol the EPIK week long orientation.

at any rate, upon arrival, we were handed a form that would be collected at the lunch break. this was there way to track the legit E-2 and those who may not have one( or so the conspiracy goes).

what struck me most wasn't the elicit covert procedure to prove my endless years of service were legit, but the rather ridiculous talking head  who said exactly as the OP stated, only slightly more insulting. she began her little speech to us "those who can, do. those who can't TEACH ENGLISH."

now imagine that. at a venue to introduce and welcome ESL professionals to korea and all it has to offer.

i used to think the job was a joke, then i had a good self talk, took myself seriously afterall if your 30, acting 20 is just retarded. so i grew up. but then EPIK came along, and i guess i fooled myself with EPIK,cuz it was a joke.

love reading the news of the day on KB. reminds me why i'm not there.