my initial impressions about what it's like to teach in a hagwon

For those who don’t know, I am working for a private English academy (hagwon in Korean) in Donghae, South Korea. From 10AM to 2PM we have 3-7 year olds; they call it “kindergarten.” These kids are too young to have started public school yet. In the afternoon, the older kids go to hagwon classes after they get out of public school. 

At first I was worried about teaching the teenagers because the first week of teaching by myself was a bit rough. Especially in the last class that I teach everyday (5-6PM) the kids were very reluctant to participate and just sat silently when I asked questions even if I called on them individually, but things are better now. As for myself, I have gotten to know the students a little and I know what to expect from them and that helps a lot. And things are running more smoothly all the time as I learn better ways to do things, etc.

Anyway, all of the kids are great even though some of them misbehave sometimes. I have never really worked with kids before so initially, it was a bit surprising to me how the same kid can be a perfect angel one day, then a nightmare the next. I’m talking mostly about 5-7 year olds here. They are all a bit like that, though most are good most of the time. Some are even good all the time! They are all really great kids at heart, though.

There is some big standardized test in English happening this weekend, so for the past few weeks, we have been teaching from these test prep books. They were not written by native speakers and have a lot of grammar mistakes in them. Nothing too egregious, mostly just awkward. Way too many articles (the word “the”), etc. Anyway, teaching from these books can be tedious for me and the students. But probably more for me since I essentially go over the same thing in three different classes. I will not be sad to see those books go, but honestly this is one of the few things about my job that I can complain about.

Most of what I have to do is not hard at all. Once a week I have to do the “morning class” which is sort of a warm-up class with the entire kindergarten (~25 kids). I had to do it this morning and it completely slipped my mind until about 10 minutes beforehand. No problem. They are very little so they need lots of repetition. It’s actually good if you do the same thing over and over. I just did the exact same thing I did last week except I read a different book. Sing songs, do flashcards, sing more songs. I was really nervous the first time because my boss was watching and everything, but it’s actually really fun. You have the (sometimes) rapt attention of 25 little people. It’s kind of like being famous…a little, maybe.

The owners of the school are very kind and helpful and I also really like both of the Korean teachers who work there too. The Korean teacher that I work with most speaks English well and is very nice. She is really good at improvising. There were a couple times the first few weeks where I didn’t know what I was supposed to prepare beforehand and she just thought of something for the kids to do on the spot. She also makes up motions for the kids to do during songs and I’m pretty sure she made up this one song completely out of thin air last week. I love it because it is so catchy and makes no sense. It goes “I have a magic cooking pot—magic! I have a magic cooking pot—magic!  Tell me right now! Show me right now! Oooooh! I’m surprised!”  That’s the whole song. It’s amazing. I sing it with the kids everyday now. Another reason my school is awesome is that I get a delicious and healthy lunch for free everyday, and there is always food around at school so I have hardly needed to buy any food of my own. Korean food is amazing!! Everything is delicious and healthy. 

I will write more about other aspects of living here later on.