Here’s 10 surprising things I learned within my first month in Korea:
1. Korean high school students have a 16 hour school day
Just how strongly do Koreans feel about education? It would shock you.
The average high school student generally has class from about 8am until 9:30pm or 10pm. For the average Korean high school student, the goal is to get into good college and often, the competition is high.
As a result, many will attend a hagwon (aka a private afterschool learning program) to accelerate their learning. Hagwons are private entities, which help reinforce higher education and English skills, so there is often a high demand for them. Often, they are run strictly like a business, running one class after another, prepping students for exams and drilling skills into them from the textbook. For students, this is perhaps, their one social outlet and way to meet other friends.
Due to education being the main extracurricular sport, the average teen doesn’t get home until midnight. Thus, dinner is actually served at school.
Middle school is a bit more lenient, as classes end around 4pm, with a possible hagwon learning afterwards.
2. School on Saturdays.
If you think Korean students have the weekend for recreation, think again. The official school days were originally Monday to Saturday, which didn’t make for happy students or teachers.
Since 2010, the school schedule, has changed and loosened up. Now the Korean public school system has two Saturdays per month, off.
3. Oh, respected Teacher…
In Korea, the saying is “Teachers are as high as God“.
You wouldn’t guess that from their pay scale, but teachers hold a valuable and respected place in society. Korea emphasizes education and schooling to the power of a hundred. As a result, Korea possesses a high regard for its Korean teachers as being pillars of the schooling system.
Retirement age isn’t until 65 years old. Seniority means increased pay and the overall work hours, holidays and vacation benefits are said to be better than regular office jobs.
4. The Business side of Teaching
Dress attire? Professional to office casual attire is recommended, starting at elementary school. Korea is a fashionable and stylish culture. A nice suit with jacket or blazer is a good starter as one must look respectable when teaching.
Classrooms come with a computer (or computer counsel), connected to either, an overhead projector system or an LCD flat screen.
This doesn’t mean all teachers are tech saavy, though.
5. The five-year teacher rotation wheel
Teachers rotate schools every five years. It doesn’t matter if you love your school or not.
After each five year term, the teachers, vice principal and principal undergo a lottery system and have to change schools. Thus, each year, a school may get new staff.
This system is born to give each teacher an equal opportunity to work at good schools and bad. All teaching staff is subject to a valuation system and receive points for exams they take, workshops they attend as well as, receive incentive points for how well their school ranks in the district . Click on the link or photo below to see what “model schools” Korean teachers and principals like to work at
6. Role playing via Hollywood style
Some schools have blue screen technology and/or rooms with “role-playing sets” for kids to enact situations in. One class example we saw was a market checkout scene.. they had aisles, shelves and a real conveyor belt.
I eventually even worked at a Korean musical camp and we had role-playing rooms from traffic school (I had to wear a police hat and jacket and set up traffic cones) to a hospital room, with eye charts, stethoscope, height and weight scales, examination table, wheelchair and a doctor’s lab coat!
No one in our school knows how to use the blue-screen technology (the wall behind the kids),
so we use it as wall space and give them role playing props instead.
7. Corporal punishment is still alive.
While in the U.S., corporal punishment of children blares “lawsuit”, the Korean educational system and parents have less of an issue with physical discipline in school classrooms.
It used to be allowed, and now, is somewhat tolerated covertly. Usually the disciplinarian is a male teacher. Although, there is news of the educational system doing away with this as some disciplinary measures have been too abusive. Click here for an article on the subject (although it is a bit dated)
Korea has however, employed physical discipline for disobedience in the past. The one below is a hands-off method I’ve seen used in some classrooms, as a way to make the students reflect on their wrong behavior, by challenging their mental endurance.
8. Why some Korean students have “English” names.
Korean folks with English names are often very proud of them. Alice, Lola or Angelina… Some just make you want to hold back a giggle, because they’re either dated or feel like “role-play names”.
But ever wonder where Koreans get their names?
Well, blame it on the foreign English teacher that gave it to them!
Some school English programs and hagwons suggest students be given English names for better immersion and occasionally it’s up to some 20-something EFL teacher to do so. In my EPIK teacher orientation, one lecturer told us we might want to have a fishbowl of at least 25-100 English names for kids to choose from or to assign to students.
Then again, some native teachers let their students pick their names.
So if you have a student that comes up to you and introduces himself as Robocop, you can probably guess what happened.
9. Students take responsibility for the cleanliness of their school.
The Korean school system teaches students to be responsible for the care of their school. While employed janitors tend to major chores, such as cleaning bathrooms, the cleaning of hallways, classrooms, staircases and trash on the school grounds, are actually done by students each morning before the school bell rings.
16 sec clip of students
10. Shoe Etiquette in the Classrooms
You know that Asian tradition of taking your shoes off when you enter a house?
Koreans practice the same tradition. But this goes beyond the house and into the classroom. Students and school staff must remove their outdoor shoes and change into “school slippers” when entering the building.