So I haven’t really written all that much in this blog. I’m generally relying on Facebook to fill people in on the ups and downs and the weird and wonderful.
But I guess the things we don’t really talk about are the everyday – and lets face it, the everyday is the bulk of this experience.
My everyday (or at least Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday) starts with my alarm at 9:15am. I get up, have some cereal, check my email, and get myself looking presentable. At 9:40 I exit my apartment and ring the doorbell across the hall from me. Someone will shout “Coming!” and there’ll be a bit of shuffling. I’ll wander down the hall and gaze out the window at nothing much trying to work out if I need an umbrella or if I’ve forgotten anything. A few minutes later my American colleague, Andrew will appear. We’ll wait for the elevator and sigh heavily. Another day. The walk to school takes 12 mins or so. This is usually when I have my “you’re in Korea” moments. There’s always other people going about their business. At the first corner will be the old guy trying to sell hideous shoes. Or the guy trying to sell yellow melons and maybe watermelons or oranges. There’s usually the yoghurt lady too. It will either be hot and dusty or it might be drizzling. The rain is comforting as it has that homely familiarity to it.
We ride the elevator to our hagwon (academy) which fills the 2nd floor of our building. There are 12 classrooms made to fit about 12 kids each and a few other auxiliary rooms. We enter the teachers office, which is open plan, the desks all grouped in the middle. We talk a bit, but generally we’re all working independently, so I switch on my computer, plug in my headphones and zone out till lunchtime.
My office time usually involves creating powerpoints, which are to be used by myself and by other teachers. Korean teachers do other things that require bilingual skills.
Our hagwon is apparently quite large with a number of campuses. I work in the Junior division of our school, which after the opening of my campus in March just has two campuses, with more in the pipeline. We deliver the same teaching program at both campuses and as such we collaborate in the creation of materials which are shared on the server.
Our students are all split into levels according to ability. They then choose to come at a particular timezone. There are 3 timezones on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and two on Tuesday and Thursday. They come for a total of six 45min classes a week, so they may come in the front timezone for two classes on Mon, Wed, Fri, or 3 classes in the twilight zone of Tuesdays and Thursdays. At each timezone we’ll be running classes of different levels according to demand. So on Monday I might teach 3 classes at the same level, to different students, 1 in each of the timezones (confused yet?). There could then be that same class being delivered at the same time at our other campus. And every class will use the same materials prepared by the one person, and reused every year or so when students have moved on to a new level. It seems to be a good system. I’d hate to be preparing all my classes myself and it makes it a lot easier for new teachers to start teaching.
Because I’m at a new campus things are a lot quieter here than they will be in a few months. I have had between 1 and 8 students per class – with a total of about 35 students. These students all have 2 classes a week with me, and then two classes each of different topics with 2 Korean teachers. So I see half the students in the school and Andrew has the other, ensuring they all have teaching from a native English speaker.
This term I’ve had between 2 and 6 classes a day, with the rest of my time spent making powerpoints, previewing powerpoints, marking tests and gathering materials for activities.
My job as a native English speaker is to help students with their pronunciation and tone. So my classes are supposed to involve a lot of speaking. The classes with the young kids involve a lot of repetition and rehearsal, whereas I can get a lot more conversational with students in the higher levels.
Some of my students are Angels (including one called Angel), but some are crazy. So some classes I walk into with no fear, the kids have fun and get good grades. Then there are other classes where the kids get a bit wild, seeming unable to sit in their seats for more than two minutes. It’s in these classes I feel the language barrier most keenly. It’s very difficult to talk about rewards and consequences when you don’t have the vocab to do so. “No!” and “Hannah Teacher is angry,” “sit!” only get me so far. And just when I feel like I’m making progress with one kid, one of his classmates seems to develop the confidence to do something equally disruptive. In these classes I’m glad I’m only with them for 45mins.
On the 2nd and 4th Saturday of every month our school also has a Saturday class. This is supposed to be really fun, with a lot more games and no curriculum. Because I’m at a new campus they’ve been offering these for free and opening them up to the public. So we get a mix of our regular kids and a bunch of randoms. It’s only 3 hours – finishing by 12:30pm, but it really cuts into your weekend so you feel like you haven’t really had one at all. I’m hoping that once the free classes finish they won’t care which staff are doing these, where as for now they are trying to make me and Andrews white faces as visible as possible, so we’ve been at every weekend class.
Our classes are all between the hours of 2:30pm and 7:30pm. Most nights we leave at 8pm (and thankfully, unlike so many workplaces I’ve been in there is no expectation to stay a minute longer), but Thursday we start at 1pm and don’t finish untill 10pm. This is so that the Korean teachers have time to call parents and to do phone speaking tests with the students. I’m pretty beat by the time we get to leave. Sometimes I’ll drag myself out to go dancing, but usually I head straight back home, maybe stopping to pick up some takeaways on the way. I don’t have any friends that live anywhere near me, so my evenings tend to be spent at home mucking around on the internet or watching TV shows until it seems like a reasonable hour to go to bed.
So overall what do I think about my work here? Well I feel incredibly lucky to have landed a job with a hagwon that is so legit. I’ve felt incredibly well cared for and supported in my move here. My apartment is a lot nicer than I expected, and I don’t really care that other friends seem to have nicer places. I love that the Koreans and Westerners at out school talk to each other, sitting together at lunchtimes and sometimes going out for dinner or after work drinks. This is especially important since I don’t really have a social life during the week. I haven’t had any troubles with pay, and know that I’m on a really good rates. I also feel like I’m able to do my job; there’s not that overwhelming sense of being chucked in the deep end. I do find having my days squed to the evenings difficult, because by the time I get home from work it feels too late to cook a decent meal or go out somewhere. Perhaps if I was a bit closer to the city this wouldn’t be an issue, but from here anywhere of interest is more than 30mins away. Looking long term I think the lack of holidays is a serious draw back to renewing my contract here. I get two weeks annual leave – one week in summer and one week at Christmas. This weekend we have a 3 day weekend, and the holiday of Chusok this year has aligned perfectly with the weekend so that this year we’ll get 5 days off in September. There’s a day or two dotted here and there throughout the rest of the calendar, but not enough to constitute a real chance to rest or do something interesting. I still don’t know how I feel about teaching, and whether this is something I want to pursue. I’m hoping a few things will start coming clearer in my mind soon, as I really feel I need to have some idea of what I want to do next year by September, which will come by really soon. So far my options seem to be to resign my contract here, try and get a new job here in Korea, move on with teaching in a different country, do the UK OE thing, enroll in Teachers College, or try and build a career from my admin work in NZ or maybe Aus. So I have plenty of things spinning in my head that I’m trying to not let detract from the enjoyment of where I am right now.