Reflections on Teaching in Korea: The Good, The Bad, and The Weird

The title of this post is a movie I´ve been told I should see. An Asian Western, what could be better! I´ve been on a pretty big movie kick lately. It´s sort of all I have time to do after work. Some recent favorites were Zero Dark Thirty, Beyond the Black Rainbow, Cloud Atlas (didn´t like EVERYTHING about that movie, just some parts) and The eight part documentary on New York I´m obsessed with.

I´ve also been going to yoga twice a week. It´s all in Korean and a lot of fun. Frequently, we look at each other giggle from confusion. But, the instructor is really nice and she loves to come around and adjust us gringa girls. I have even learned  some Korean yoga words: inhale and exhale.

I´m probably the most inflexible one in the class and am really pushing myself to  just be able to touch my toes! Strugglefest. It´s me and the 13 year old boy constantly failing. But I can do it! Perseverance. At this point, when I reach for my toes, my back is arched and awkward. I dream of bending over just like a jack knife.  DREAM I say! One day at a time.

In addition to the yoga, my other resolutions was to improve the Korea. Thus far, I´ve acquired ¨excuse me!¨chilraehapnida 칠 례 핲 니 다  and ¨it was delicious!¨  chal mokkutseumdina 잘 먹 었 슾 니 다 . Slow, but steady.

But most of the time, I spend at school. NOT doing things for myself. And being in a classroom. And being tired.

Right now, school is not too crazy. But, over the last few months there have been some moments where the hagwon system has really tried my own personal educational philosophy. Granted, hagwons are not beacon lights of educational progressiveness. They are businesses, with a bad history.

That said, there are lots of things about LCI I really like. I feel very lucky to work there. This post is not meant to just be a series of complaints. Rather, working at LCI has just made me think about what education is as a whole and think about Western versus Eastern views on education.

One of the most recent two moments that I remember at work was first, when we were told that the kids were not allowed to take their coloring they do at playtime to their home.

So, playtime is one of those tricky things at school, where we can give it to the kids, in small amounts, but it is sort of frowned upon. To me, allowing kindergarteners to play is not just a nice thing to do, it is essential to their growth as people. Some of the most impressive English I´ve heard all year is when they were ¨playing¨ hair salon in English or ¨shop¨with a salesperson and a client and saying ¨Do you want to buy it?¨etc.

Still, Korean parents pay a lot of money to send their kids to an intensive English program, not, as our bosses say, to color and play. Being raised at a Waldorf school, where I was sent to school to do exactly that, color and play, this is confusing for me, but I follow the policy anyway. That said, it is not the staff´s fault, they are just doing what the parents want, and this is a business. But, my heart dies a little when I have to take away colorings of princesses from a seven year old 😦

Recently, my kindergarten has had a rough streak. They are fighting with each other ALL the time. Granted, putting ten kids in a tiny classroom, fighting for elbow space, and telling them to do workbooks all day, is a recipe for fights, but this was getting a bit out of hand, giving me a big headache. Mean faces, teasing, yelling, crying…..exhausting. I tell them over and over again, that you are not allowed to say mean things and speak ¨with a mean voice¨ to your friends. Some days my brain would turn to mush form trying to micromanage every little fight, who did what to who. Later, Cindy and Katie teacher (Korean staff) came and had a chat with them about it and that helped a bit.

Then, there was the whole cheating scandal.

One morning, the kids came to school and accused one girl of cheating on a spelling test, and she started crying (so I was told, this was before class started). One of the girls told her mom that the girl was cheating, and then all the kids told each other and the witch trial began. Poor girl. I did not see the cheating happening, mind you, or I would have taken the test away and had a little talk about it. So, my advisor went and watched the CCTV (video of my classroom) and saw nothing. Then, they talked to all the kids about it. When asked about it a second time, the accuser was unsure, leading Ellie and I to assume she may have stretched the truth a bit. The whole thing was very dramatic. I just kept thinking…she´s 6! She hardly knows what a test is. Sigh. DRA-MA. Kinder drama.

But, it makes it all better when your favorite student writes you this:


The other interesting moment at school was when I assigned my 5th graders an essay on what it means to be a good son or daughter. The essays taught me a lot. Many of the students wrote about being respectful and studious, which I assumed. But many also put that good traits are being clean, being calm, and being quiet. Clean? Interesting. I really think that plays into how much money you have, but I also think it´s cultural difference. I would  never say what makes me a good daughter is being clean. Or quiet (Which, I am not). Quietness is not ALWAYS a good thing at home. Being opinionated and expressing those opinions well is typically seen as desirable. But in Korea, quietness is best. One kid wrote about when guests come to the house, he is supposed to be at a table ¨studying¨. Whereas, in my house, I was meant to entertain the guests and say hello. That´s one of the best parts of teaching, is getting a sneak peak into the home-life of our students.

Like anything, there are good and bad aspects to it all. One of the BEST moments at school was this Friday. My favorite 1st grader, Hyewon, made me a card with a picture of me.





I love my dress and bangs.

She is a very unique girl with an almost fluent level of English. She talks non-stop. Everything she says makes me laugh and I love her to death. She loves to make comments about our books like, ¨That is such a silly dragon. One time, I saw a dragon like that. Grace Teacher, why is it such a silly dragon? Why is it in my book!¨or  after I taught her ¨See you later alligator!¨ she remarked, ¨Grace Teacher, you say such silly things. You are a jokey pants. You have jokes in your pants.¨ I just about died with a huge grin on my face.

So, yes. The good, the bad, the weird.


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