Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Teaching Craziness

There are three broad categories of teaching institutions in Korea for most foreigners entering the country:

1) Public School
2) Private English Schools (Hagwons)
3) English Villages

English Villages are pretty crazy places. They're like English language theme parks. Schools send groups of kids there to experience situational English. The foreigners aren't so much teachers as they are performers. It's pretty rough on them, teaching the same lessons to different kids, day-in, day-out. As a result, the staff turn over rate is pretty high.
Hagwons are a little more hit or miss. I was fortunate enough to be a part of a very nice, family run hagwon that treated me very well. From what I've heard from my friends here, the larger chains are a lot more impersonal and don't treat their staff that well. As private enterprises, hagwons are interested in keeping their customers happy. Their customers are the parents, so a lot of silliness goes on to make sure the parents are kept happy. At my hagwon, the students took a lot of tests that meant nothing and were rather easy, just so the hagwon could send home good results.
Public schools seem to be the most stable institutions to teach in. There's a contract that's the same for all foreigners across the country, as well as one, national textbook. This means that you have to be quite creative to make the lessons interesting but you also have a Korean co-teacher with you in the class. People's experience's with their co-teacher's range from amazing friendships to want to inflict serious harm.
Now that I've given you a brief outline to the options available you'll understand my confused and disappointed state. We signed contracts at a public school and were led to believe we'd be teaching the public school curriculum. However we're teaching in the school 'English Centre'. This means we teach hagwon style afternoon classes with regular students. That part of the job is pretty good. We see the same kids three or four times a week. The downside is that as parents are paying for those classes we're under pressure to keep them, and not the students, happy. Our morning schedule has been absolutely nuts since coming here. I haven't had one week be the same as the last yet. That's not so much the fault of the school. We've come in at a turbulent time, in between semesters. So students are graduating, new schedules are being drawn and re-drawn. Unfortunately for us, because of our school's special English Center, it looks as though we'll be teaching random students from other schools. From what I can gather, we'll teach the same weekly schedule again and again and again to random students from the Incheon area. Much like an English Village.
Needless to say that, applying for what we thought would be a public school position, and finding ourselves somewhere between hagwons and English villages, we are more than a little disappointed.

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