Korean School vs American School
My students working on an assignment in South Korea.
A friend from my former school in the U.S. asked me how is teaching in South Korea different from teaching in a public school in the U.S. I am a certified teacher from the U.S. with experience teaching high school. This list represents my experience as a foreign teacher in a Korean elementary school.
Students are not bused to my school. I have never seen a school bus at my school. Most kids walk.
When kids move on from elementary school to middle school, their new school is determined randomly. I think that the students attend school in the same area, but students may not go to the same school as their friends. The Korean government would like them to meet students from different feeder elementary schools.
I don’t have to grade anything at home, and I have no contact with parents. We walk around and grade the students’ workbooks or worksheets during class, but that’s rare. I haven’t seen any evidence of grades being recorded for English class. I have gone to teachers’ meetings, but they are all in Korean, and I don’t understand a word that’s being said. So, I just sit there, looking around.
We can wear jeans every day. I tried to wear sweat pants but was politely told “no.”
We wear bedroom shoes in the classroom. As soon as you get to work. You put your shoes in a little locker and put on your “slippers.”
I can take a nap, and no one cares. I suffered from jet lag or insomnia for a long time, and I have been told to “take a rest,” and it’s okay.
I’m done teaching by noon most days. The rest of the time, I’m planning a lesson, reading, writing, or whatever. Maybe twice a week I have an extra 40-minute class in the afternoon, but that’s it. It’s 22 hours a week. The rest of the time is “planning.” It takes me no time at all to plan activities for my little after school class or the teacher’s conversation class. In the U.S. I had five 60-minute classes with a five minute period between each class in which I had to stand in the hallway to monitor students. My planning period was an hour.
A Korean student in my winter camp class
There are teacher trips every month, usually during the day in the afternoon, where the teachers go on field trips to a restaurant, visiting a temple, hiking up a mountain, singing in a singing room like karaoke (usually all them). And they drink hard liquor at the restaurant during lunch. You pay about $10 a month and everything is free for the trip. The trip can definitely be an all day thing, lasting until 8 or 9 p.m. There were no teacher trips at my school, but we ate a good meal in a restaurant once for the holidays, and we had special meals for Teacher Appreciation Day and the end of the school year.
There is no such thing as an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) here but we do have special education kids. The teachers ignore the special ed. kids, so the kids just sit quietly in class. I tried to help one, and was “Told don’t worry, he/she has a low IQ.” Parents could opt to send their kids to a special school, but if they refuse, there are no modifications or extra help. I give these students extra attention, and show extra kindness. I do not know their actual disabilities. The Korean teacher protects the children from bullies.
Students are usually on time; I haven’t seen any kids get into trouble for being late. In my U.S. experience, we were to call home if students were late to class. I think it was on the second or third tardy.
We don’t take attendance in South Korea. I’ve never seen my co-teachers take attendance, but they always seem to know who is out sick!
Most kids go to a private school after they leave public school. They may not get home until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. I see kids walking around at night sometimes, still wearing uniforms.
After taking an hour for lunch in the teacher’s room, the teachers in South Korea, can go to another room to drink tea and chat for another half an hour or so. In the U.S. we ate with the students and had only 25 minutes for lunch.
The children bow to you when they see you, even in the street. They also give you gifts. I got something for their “Valentine’s Day,” and I got a box of chocolate for graduation. I have to admit that in the U.S. a student gave me homemade brownies, but I was genuinely afraid that she put Ex-lax in them. It turned out that they were fine!
He was a great student!
You can order food to be delivered to the school. Most teachers eat the lunch, but you can order from a restaurant and have food delivered. At my school in the U.S. we were not allowed to have any deliveries, not even on Valentine’s Day. This is not true of all schools in the U.S., of course.
Teachers will raise their voices at students, and put their hands on them. They can hug kids, but hitting them is not allowed in South Korea. Some teachers still do, or will poke them while speaking loudly. I’ve seen the poking and yelling more than once.
Kids here clean the classroom, sweeping the floors with little brooms. There is a custodian, but he does not clean the classrooms. Teachers clean the furniture or even wash the windows (inside and out) for a special event. The schools are multi-level. Teachers also mop the floors in their classroom.
Teachers can walk out and leave the kids in class to get something or come a couple of minutes late if they are stuck at the copier. I don’t know if they do that because I am there, but I don’t think it’s a big deal, here.
Although I am here on a contract, the principal or assistant principal can be flexible and give me extra time off. That has not happened to me, but some of my friends have been fortunate!
Teachers can drink tea or coffee during class. We were not allowed to eat or drink anything in my school in the U.S. We have 10 minute breaks, in Korea. Teachers don’t stand in front of doors in the hallway. They go to the break room. The kids play and talk in the classroom until the teacher arrives.
You can sign out for a personal reason on the same day that you want off when your classes are completed. You just need to get a signature from the principal, vice principal, and lead teacher. I can say that I need to go to the bank and be out once in a while. In the U.S. we had to give three days notice and wait for approval to take a personal day or a sick day.
When you are sick, you are still expected to come to work even though you have sick days, but you can chill in the nurse’s room, lying in a warm, heated bed after your classes are taught. I’ve experienced that. I had a bad cold with a temperature. Having the Swine Flu is a different story! You may be asked to stay home for five days.
The principal or vice principal may ask to see you if you are sick or a co-worker may come to your home to check on you. They tried to come to my apartment and take me to the doctor when I had a stomach bug. They may just do this for foreigners. I’m not sure.
You can wear headphones, and listen to music in the classroom during your planning time.
You can show students YouTube videos as a teaching aid. We have watched Korean videos in English and short European comedy clips. My co-teacher allowed the students to watch the Olympics. This was towards the end of the term.
Administrators tell you when they will observe you, the day and the approximate time. Teachers make up “model” lessons for that day, and create handouts, games, and visual aids to show off. After that day, it’s back to normal. In the U.S. we had pop-up observations, and tons of them. Administrators would just show up to your class and take notes, giving you a report a few days later. Sometimes students would choose to misbehave, sometimes they were angels. It depended largely on how they felt.
Kids do talk in class, but the Korean teacher ignores them, and she on goes on with the lesson. I think that some kids make rude remarks, but it’s rare (and the Korean teacher will yell at them and embarrass them if they do). I don’t think that teachers in Korea are as afraid of saying the wrong thing. I can’t understand what they are saying, but I can tell when they are speaking sharply to students.
I had one teacher who jotted out lesson plans on a notepad; that eventually stopped. I had another teacher who never did that. Both ended up telling me what we were going to do right before class. For winter camp, two weeks, they do turn in lesson plans. We had to write long evolved plans that corresponded to the state standards in the U.S. We were asked to turn in our plans. I need to add that since I don’t speak Korean, the teachers may have to do more than I know. I’m just writing what I’ve observed.
In elementary school, they follow a book and use a CD. Games and supplementary teaching aids seem to be included.
Students are off from December to the first week in February for winter break. They are off another week in February for Spring Break. They had one day off for Thanksgiving, called Chuseok. I’m not sure about summer yet.
Each teacher has a phone and can receive calls from other teachers or administrators during class. My co-teachers’ cell phones sometimes goes off, and it’s not a big deal. At my school in the U.S. teachers couldn’t use cell phones where students can see them. Students were not allowed to be seen with cell phones. If we saw them, we had to refer them to an administrator. Elementary students have cell phones, and I see them all the time!
There are no portables. At least, I haven’t seen any.
There are no panic buttons in the classrooms.