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Teaching in Korea | Decoding your Korean workplace & EPIK Class Schedule

My 2010 Fall/Winter semester EPIK class schedule:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Video broadcast (every other week)
5th grade 6th grade 3rd grade 4th grade 6th grade
5th grade 6th grade 3rd grade 4th grade 6th grade
5th grade 6th grade 3rd grade 4th grade 6th grade
5th grade 6th grade 3rd grade 4th grade 6th grade
Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch

Lunch

ParentEnglish
(40 min)
ParentEnglish
(60 min)
Teacher’s English
(40 min)

Teaching in Korea | Decoding your Korean workplace & Class Schedule

 

NOTE: I’ve recently changed one of my sites linking to this, so the links about my co-teacher rants may not work. I will be re-linking them soon, but until then, those articles can be found at www.eslkimchicafe.blogspot.com. Apologies for the inconvenience.

So I’ve returned this semester to my EPIK teacher’s desk more confident, a bit more cocky and… ahem, a tad lazy.

Inevitable.

This is second semester and I’ve had 6 months worth of grueling crash-course experience to prime me for this lounging. What’s changed since last semester?

Quite simply, I’ve come to trust the process. I know what’s expected of me and understand what my co-teachers’ bring to the table in work habits and teaching personalities. While the work situations and schedule aren’t always predictable, my method of accepting and dealing with them has gotten to be… predictable.

Decoding your Korean  workplace and EPIK class schedule

What is the biggest mystery and worry of a newbie EPIK teacher teaching in Korea?

The class schedule.

Arriving to Korea, we’d all like to know what classes we’re teaching and the teaching methods/systems that we’ll need to employ. But there is no way to gauge this or to know what expectations will follow until you set foot into your school workplace. Even then, your schedule and duties may still continue to be a mystery for most of the semester. For instance:

1-   How you will work with your co-teachers?

2-   What your class schedule will be?

3-   How many classes or grades you will teach a week?

4-   Will you be expected to create lesson plans or teach on your own?

5-   What role you play in co-teaching (main teacher, voice recorder, assistant)?

First day of school, you can ask these questions, but you won’t be given any real or prompt answers. There is no manual.

What wasn’t apparent to me when I first arrived however, was that my co-teachers didn’t know the answers to my questions either! They were thrown a new Native English Teacher and they had to find a way to implement me in their school program and teaching habits! Unless you have a good Korean co-teacher, no one walks you through the school or really explains any of this to you…  For instance, I didn’t even get so much as introduced to where the restroom was!

My biggest challenge when I first started teaching…

First semester, I discovered everything on my own, blindly. I wasted time panicking at last-minute changes and stressing mountains out of molehills.

My laziness this semester isn’t so much laziness — I just don’t sweat the molehills. I realized that like fire drills, there is no real fire.

.

On my first day teaching at a Korean public school, I was taken directly to my English classroom and left in it.


My desk?

–  Empty. I went a week, before any stationary was given to me. I got a box of pens, one pack of post-its, a couple of blank sheets of paper. That’s it.

My computer?

Programs and commands all in Hangul/Korean (I finally figured out– by myself– how to switch it over to English, which does no good. Only 20% of the computer is changeable).

Was there a Western toilet in the school?

–  “I dunno.” 

When are the national and school holidays?

–  “I dunno“.

What is my schedule?

–  I’m not sure.

Flash-forward to this semester and the worst is already figured out. Well, hopefully…

.

How do Native English Teachers teach Korean students without knowing how to teach or speak Korean?

Trial by fire? Taking it one day at a time? Don’t speed when turning corners?…

I can’t speak for everyone, but would it be lame to say, if the school bell didn’t ring, I still wouldn’t know what time my classes start and end?

Okay, I have a vague idea, but I was never given an actual schedule. As my co-teacher explained to me–

“I can’t give you a schedule because it’s all written in Korean.”

Sometimes, that’s as far as I’m given for a logical explanation; sometimes, it’s even less!

I won’t say that everyone gets half-cracked answers like that, but there are reasons why the Korean ESL job forums are littered with complaints and frustrations. In the end, it’s an Native English Teacher’s struggle with the mysteries of the Korean public school workplace; and its sometimes, seemingly unsupportive environment.

Many westerners think the Korean public school workplace lacks professionalism. It’s not the way we’re taught to deal with business. Afterall, being an ex-TV producer, if an assistant on a film or TV set were to give me an answer like my co-teacher’s, it’s highly unlikely I’d be hiring them back for a second day of work!

Fortunately, the Korean public school system is cognizant of the fact that cultural differences in the workplace exist and NETs need time to figure things out (though maybe only after you’ve been thrown into the deep, without a life vest).  Being a community-driven society vs individualist, Korean teachers can be great at pulling together as a team to ensure all deadlines are met well.

Knock on wood…

But the great thing about working with the EPIK program is that they give you some guidance before throwing you in. We got a week-long intensive orientation about how to teach in Korea and what to expect. While each school may have different ways of handling scheduling and classes, EPIk teachers are prepped on basic techniques of teaching, discipline training and  cultural differences. Here’s some video tips on how to teach English abroad.

How do Native English Teachers and Korean teachers work together?

A Native English Teacher’s (aka NETs) relationships with their Korean co-teachers will vary.

Some co-teachers are hard-working. Others can be lazy or pre-occupied with other matters.

For many Korean co-teachers, it could be their first time teaching English or co-teaching with a foreigner.

Sometimes, this all feels like a ticking timebomb.

I’ve heard a co-teacher ranting from expats– a popular one being that some NETs feel under-utilized, with their role being minced down to talking recorders in the classroom.  Some NETs want more responsibility and don’t feel like their co-teachers view them as real teachers. Well, sometimes even if I do more lesson planning and actual teaching than my main co-teacher, I still experience a bit of the latter, like when she laughs if a student calls me “Teacher” or if I give the students a command and she overrides me in Korean (but doesn’t tell me).

These are annoyances, but they’re more petty than personal.

Read here for the four common NET rants.

The other range of angst is when some newbie NETs get thrown into the classroom and are expected to make their lesson plans… from scratch.

They get minimal to no help from the “co-teacher”, even in the classroom management department.

As for my KTs allowing me more lead time vs. ‘talking recorder time’ in class–I found a Show But Don’t Tell method works best. I come with a bunch of “optional” materials I’ve researched from NET sites (www.waygook.org is my favorite and a great resource!), which are well-crafted to the lesson, original and FUN! They get to see it, choose from it or I’ll offer to “tweak it”, and  it saves them preparation labor. And because I found it, they generally let me lead it!

How do you work with Korean co-teachers?


Like a marriage, various situations enter the fold to test the flexibility and patience in your relationship. From your school and the DMOE (Department of Ministry of Eductation) expectations for an English program, navigating classroom management, control issues and language barriers  to petty competitions and rivalries over who receives students’ affections, etc…

In my school, depending on the co-teacher and her schedule or personal work philosophy– sometimes I do less, sometimes I do more.

But at this point, we’ve worked together to build a successful formula for collaboration.

Personally, I’m comfortable with teaching from the textbook/CD-Rom, as I am with elaborating on the content to make learning more stimulating. My co-teachers know what I can bring to the table and trust my ideas for occasionally introducing warm-up exercises, games and supplementary materials; and often, we split the teaching roles down the middle (I teach half the class activities, while they teach the other half). These are the working terms of negotiation with my KTs and it’s something I’ve developed within my 6-month window, but I know to keep my expectations loose. The environment is always shifting.

Each NET will have a different experience, class schedule and way of working with their co-teachers. The best we can all do is be flexible!

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EPIK holidays and vacations

Days off: National holidays & a total of 18 days of paid vacation (8 days during 1st semester, 10 days in 2nd semester).
Days NOT off: School vacations (* NETs are expected to “deskwarm” during winter and summer vacations)
Work hours: 22 teaching hours maximum (Overtime is approx. 20,000 Won/hour and paid on the part of the school);  summer/winter camp hours are different and you may be scheduled for either one or more camps.

 


A view at my last semester’s 2010 Spring/Summer class schedule:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Video broadcast (every other week)
5th grade 6th grade 3rd grade 4th grade 6th grade
5th grade 6th grade 3rd grade 4th grade 6th grade
5th grade 6th grade 3rd grade 4th grade 6th grade
5th grade 6th grade 3rd grade 4th grade 6th grade
Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch
Kids tutoring class Storytelling for Hedami bang
(40 min)
Teacher’s English
(40 min)

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8 Comments

  1. Lucina Kermes says:

    I’m not sure where you’re getting your info, but good topic. I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more. Thanks for wonderful info I was looking for this info for my mission.

  2. A pretty good post. Some advice from another NET. Look for ‘usb office 2007’ and ‘usb photoshop’. you can also get portable chrome (the google browser). All these as the names imply can be run directly off the usb and on any windows xp computer! The best part is they are all in English! You can find them by doing a search off of pirate bay or btjunkie torrent sites.

    • @Glenn: Thanks! That’s awesome information. There’s a wealth of us who struggle with that problem. I had to research how to change my Windows computer into English (& also downloaded OpenOffice) only to find it wasn’t of great use to me. Not to mention, having my computer in English conflicted with the the Korean printer! I’ve heard rumors about usb programs but never knew how they worked. Thanks for adding that tip. 😉

  3. Laura in Cancun says:

    Glad you’re finally in the swing of things 🙂 I went through similar frustrations when I started college here in Mexico. I had so many questions, but since nobody understood why I would be confused, they didn’t know how to help.

    Sounds like you’re doing an amazing job and the kids love you!

    • @Laura: Thanks! You totally know what i’m talking about. Being new to a foreign workplace is definitely a challenge! After this experience I’m sure to have much more compassion if I come across a foreigner in the U.S. workplace!

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