Saturday, March 9, 2013

My Life at an Elementary Hagwon

The new semester (really a quarter) has begun, and I have finished teaching the first week of my own classes. Before it started, I had simply taken over the classes of the teacher I replaced.

My very first gift from a student!

So far, so good. The children are very sweet. I'm not having trouble teaching the classes. And my coworkers, both Korean and foreign are cool. My school has four other foreign teachers and about six Korean teachers. I'm working at a campus of a successful chain.

I used to teach kindergarten, but not anymore
I'm not at a public school, but at what's called a hagwon (Korean: 학원), or a for-profit cram school. They have them in all subjects, such as math, science, art, music and of course, languages such as English or Chinese. I have also taught in hagwons in my first and second years in Korea. In my current school, I'm teaching both elementary and middle school students. They attend a regular school in the morning, then head to my school 2 or 3 times a week to study English. However, the first two schools I worked for were a bit different, because they were kindergarten or "kindy" hagwons. Korean parents may pay to send their children to a kindergarten to get a head start on learning, since it's not compulsory. Some of these kindergartens have classes taught in English. I used to work in schools like that.

Working at an elementary hagwon is different in a few ways. The hours are different. You report for work at a kindy hagwon in the morning, around 8:30-9:00 am. However, now I show up for work sometime around 2:00 pm. At both types of schools, I still worked around 8 hours a day. Also, the kids I teach are much older, which is an adjustment. I still need to get used to teaching middle school kids, who have much less interesting materials and really aren't excited about being there. They're also tired because Korean students, as they get older, are often out studying at hagwons until as late as 10:00 pm! Lastly, I miss getting fed by the school. Nowadays I have to seek or cook my own food. The good thing is, I just found out that I'm reimbursed for this?

There are some new, positive changes, however:

  • The kids are older, and more mature (for the most part). I'm not teaching kids the basics, such as how to sit down in a classroom. Try teaching these things to children who don't understand a word you're saying-- it takes skill!
  • The children are old enough to understand that I don't speak Korean. Very small children don't understand that I don't speak the same language as them.
  • There is no awkwardness involved in not eating some of the food. Koreans are very proud of their food. As a result, older generations especially can have trouble understanding why a foreigner may not like or may not want to eat something. I've been lucky, but there are horror stories where an English teacher is ostracized by their Korean coworkers just for not eating the food.
  • I start later in the afternoon, so I'm not tired due to it being the morning. I also am not commuting during rush hour.
  • I'll get paid on time, every time. I'll also get all of my benefits such as health insurance, and my pension payments. I'm working for a large, professional company where this isn't a problem. 
I have my own computer and telephone now
The school I work for also has its own curriculum and a lot of resources. So, I have the proper materials I need to make my classes work.

My arrival was pretty well planned, and I attended training sessions for four days. The purpose was to introduce me to the company's methods and materials. They also taught the basics of teaching along with some of the basics of living and working in Korea. They also taught the Korean alphabet along with expressions such as "hello" and "thank you". The latter things weren't of much use to me, but they are certainly a good idea for new foreign teachers to get better acquainted with life in Korea. The majority of the teachers the company hired had arrived to Korea for the first time, and had never taught before.

When I first arrived in 2010, I had one day to settle and I had to begin working the following day. That school handed me some books, a schedule and I was told to go teach!

We'll see how this new school goes.


  1. I would like to work at a Kindy hagwon. Do you know of any good ones?

    1. There are so many of them, and it's hard for someone like me to know who is hiring. Your best bet is to contact a recruiter to see which schools are hiring new teachers.