Korean School vs American School

Korean Students

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.

    1. Students are not bused to my school. I have never seen a school bus at my school. Most kids walk.

    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. We can wear jeans every day. I tried to wear sweat pants but was politely told “no.”

    5. 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.”
    6. 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.
    7. One of my Korean students

      A Korean student in my winter camp class

    8. 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.
    9. 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.
    10. 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.
    11. 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.
    12. 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!
    13. 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.
    14. 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.
    15. 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!
    16. Students in South Korea

      He was a great student!

    17. 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.
    18. 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.
    19. 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.
    20. 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.
    21. 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!
    22. 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.
    23. 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.
    24. 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.
    25. 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.
    26. You can wear headphones, and listen to music in the classroom during your planning time.
    27. 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.
    28. 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.
    29. 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.
    30. 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.
    31. In elementary school, they follow a book and use a CD. Games and supplementary teaching aids seem to be included.
    32. 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.

    33. 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!
    34. There are no portables. At least, I haven’t seen any.
    35. There are no panic buttons in the classrooms.

    • This is interesting. I’ve often thought of what all the differences are and I constantly ask my teacher friends in the US.

      Although teaching at a hagwon is so incredibly different from the public schools. I’m very jealous of all your time off.
      .-= adamgn´s last blog ..Showing my Korean spirit for Kim Yu-na =-.

    • I think that I get more time off than the teachers at the hagwon, but I didn’t get the end of December to January off. I had to teach winter camp, and then I had to come to school for a couple of weeks while the kids and other teachers were out. I had 10 days off.

    • Bo

      I’ve recently stumbled upon your blog.. and feel very lucky to have found it! I love hearing about your experiences in Korea! This post is very interesting- thanks for sharing it 😀

    • Hei

      I nver found such type of artices ever before.
      Some where this article connected two Different Styles
      Nice one
      .-= yogita´s last blog .. =-.

    • Taiwanda

      Nicely done! Yes, things are much different here. I taught school in the U.S., too. Actually up until my last year of teaching, we were told we had no breaks at my school and they expected us to be with the students all the time. So we really worked the whole 40 hours. The last year, they finally worked breaks into our schedule, so we got about 50 minutes for lunch each day. At first when I got here and some other English teachers told me about taking naps, watching movies, playing games, etc. at school, I was still in U.S. mode and very hesitant, even to check my E-mails, even though I have my own room. Then, one day during winter camp, I was reading a phonics book in my director’s room, and she came in and was in awe that I was reading the book (to help with lesson planning). I told her that I got a little sleepy, and she told me take a rest several times in a very concerned way. All the time before I was fighting the sleep. So, now, I know it’s okay, as long as it’s not while I’m teaching…lol. It still feels kind of weird to me though sleeping anywhere other than home. So, I intentionally slept at school yet, just occasionally dozed off while in my cozy room after I couldn’t fight the sleep off any longer. However, I am just loving this more relaxed teaching atmosphere. I think it even helps the kids. There are several things here that I think would really be beneficial for the U.S. to look into, especially since people seem to be finding something wrong with schools back home and seem to think students aren’t learning enough. Maybe, it would be good to relax some things a bit more instead of becoming more strict.

    • I totally agree with all of your points! LOL!!

    • anichion

      I teach in Jeonamm, which resembles in some ways Mississippi in the 1970s. Here, the students still get whupped. Sometimes, the Kendo sticks come out but I haven’t personally witnessed it yet.

      My school has a few portables but they’re for storage and “meeting places”. Dunno what that means. We also have a “gas chamber”. It says that in both english and hangeul.

      Did they give you the “christmas bonus?” I got one and another elementary teacher got one but I know of many who don’t.

      My director wanted us to submit lesson plans to our co-teachers, but they’re so swamped with paperwork that I just tell them in person which part of the book I cover and let them know during workshop which lessons will come next. Saves time and hassle.

    • Do you teach in a private school? I didn’t get a Christmas bonus, and I haven’t heard of talk about that. I could definitely see that happening in the private schools. You mention a director, too. We have principals in the public schools.

      What is a gas chamber, really? I know that it can’t be what I think it is. It’s a place to cook, right? LOL. I don’t think that lesson plans are required at my school, but my new co-teacher (we started working a week ago as I write this) wants us to write plans. I think it’s good, but she didn’t have her plans completed for the first lesson. She was busy, too. I don’t know how long this concept of writing lesson plans will last on her end. I’m going to keep it up.

    • Teachign in Korea doesn’t seem like such a bad deal then! 🙂

    • Laura R.

      Great post, thanks! My husband and I will be headed to Daegu this fall to teach with EPIK.

      Do you know how early in December winter break starts? Is it the same throughout all EPIK schools? We may need to come back to the U.S. for a wedding, and if it’s mid-December, we hope they will let us!!

    • Wow.


      Lol! I don’t know what to say! I’m just in shock over the stark difference in the educational system between these two countries. I’m not sure if it is right to say this, but I somehow pity those Korean kids. I mean, getting poked and yelled at … and that’s supposed to be okay? And if you’re a special ed kid, expect to be ignored because that is the norm? Sad, really.

      And … bedroom shoes in class? Now that’s different! 🙂 Are your fuzzy? 😉

      This is a really interesting post. I’m glad I stumbled into your page 🙂

    • Oh. I meant: “Are yourS fuzzy?” 🙂

    • I think that all of the schools have different times for winter break. I think that mine started after Christmas and lasted until the end of Jan. I didn’t have Christmas off, though. And it is possible that they may not let you take off! It’s very possible that they won’t. My grandmother died in October and they wouldn’t allow me to return home without breaking the contract and being out of a job.

    • Thanks for the great post about American and Korean schools. I’m looking forward to reading more of your site in the future.
      .-= wesley @ social anxiety treatment´s last undefined ..Response cached until Wed 21 @ 23:28 GMT (Refreshes in 23.91 Hours) =-.

    • Interesting, I can’t believe it, kids not getting home from school until 9 or 10 p.m. Also, if students are bowing to you I’d say they truly show more respect than most American students… Isn’t that sad!

    • Oh I never heard such methods and attitude towards teaching until I read your post. This might be great challenge for you. What’s good about it is you were able to experience teaching in other countries that has a totally different method from where you’ve come from. I learned something in korean culture just by reading your article. Keep posting hope to read more interesting stories from you.

    • The only thing that worries me about teaching is the attitude of the children. A lot of kids these days are disrespectful so it would certainly be refresing to come across a group of children who knew how to treat a teacher and not make life a lot harder for them.

    • Teaching is not easy especially to kids. The greater challenge here is that you are teaching kids from different country with different culture and totally different methods of teaching. This not easy challenge but am happy to hear that you are getting good on it.

    • Isn’t it stressful for kids to stay late at night? I mean if their class is up to 9 or 10 pm they must be very tired already and can’t digest what they (supposed) learned in school..

    • You are an inspiration for teachers who like to try practicing their profession in different countries with diversified culture. It is challenging yet interesting to teach children of different culture. It’s one way of knowing much of their culture. I believe that the adults wanted their children to be responsible and to learn to discipline themselves on their own with the guidance of their teachers.

    • In my opinion we should not compare ourselves to other schools abroad, korea and usa may have different needs in terms when education is concerned. but we can always copy what good things we can from those schools..

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