There are many things that will work, and then there will be many things that will not work during your teaching experience in Korea. Here are a few things that may help you with your transition into the Korean school classroom and lifestyle. This includes introducing yourself, class rules, having a routine in the classroom, networking, getting to know your students, and how to deal with some problems you might face.
Introducing Yourself

For many of you it’s your first time teaching in Korea and this experience will be a fantastic one let me assure you of that.

For many of your students you can be their overseas experience. Im sure many students will get to travel abroad for studies or vacation, however having opportunities to travel abroad can be hard to come by in Korea. Being a foreigner in Korea students will be naturally curious about your culture and experiences abroad. As a NET (Native English Teacher) don’t be afraid to let them into your life and share your experiences with them. .

“Relating your classes to their interests can and will engage them to learn English.”

Every class and every student is different so instead of making a PPT to introduce yourself, this is one method that has worked for me every single time, get your students into groups of four and make each group come up with five questions about what they want to know about you. Depending on the age level the questions will vary. Some classes will want to know about your family, others about computer games you like, or even about your hobbies. Every class will be different. Get them to write their top questions on the board. No questions can be the same on the board so this will make them think more. The questions will give you the opportunity to talk about what they want to know. This type of lesson is geared at higher grade students. If you are teaching lowel grade students such as elementary you can give them example questions that they can choose from.

This activity will do the number one thing you want to achieve, and that is engaging the students. If students are not engaged in your classroom they will not learn anything. You will be surprised how many more questions they come up with during the discussion.

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Your class needs rules. Make five rules and print them so all of your students can see them. Make sure they clearly understand them and agree to them. Once they agree to them they have noexcuse to break them. This is a key factor for classroom management.

For example, if a student is talking whilst you are explaining something politely say, “Johnny, what is rule No. 3?” And point to it. As soon as he sees the rule you’re pointing to, he will instantly be quiet. Students in Korea need visual cues not verbal ones. Plus this saves your voice from saying the same thing over and over again. Silence can be the most powerful word you can use.

Routine

Teaching in Korea, the one thing I have learned is getting my students into a routine. This is really important in having a successful classroom. I can’t express this enough. In my class my students know as soon as they walk in what is expected from them. Every teacher will be different and have his or her own routine.

“Whatever class routine you choose, you need one.”

For example, this is my class routine. Like I said every teacher is different and this is just what works for me.

When my students walk in I always have some music playing just to lighten the mood until all students have arrived. As soon as I turn off the music the class captain knows that it is time for the class greeting. The one thing you never see in a western classroom is a class greeting. It is your choice if the class captain says the greeting in Korean or English. In my class I have taught the class captain to say it in English.

Class captain: “Class attention. Bow. Good morning / Good afternoon Michael teacher.”

A greeting gives you control over your class as they know it’s time to focus on you and what you want to teach them. Once the greeting is complete I will write on the board what the objectives of the day’s lesson are. This gives the students an understanding of what and why they are learning what you’re going to teach them.

I will then start my lesson and at the end my students always know that the last 5 minutes is a review of what they have learned. So I will ask random students questions to confirm their understanding of the lesson’s content. Finally I end the lesson with a greeting once again. This works for me and makes my classroom management a success as opposed to having no routine and students not be focused.

Networking

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The one thing you will learn during your amazing journey as a teacher in Korea is the more you network the easier and more fun your experience will be. Don’t be shy to speak to other teachers. Most native English teachers think that Korean teachers are being rude and not accepting them or being friendly. However it’s the total opposite. We are coming into a country where they have not experienced multiculturalism in such places like the USA, Australia, and Canada. Korean teachers are scared and especially embarrassed to try to speak English to native people and don’t want to feel ashamed by it.  It sounds crazy I know, however this is the truth. This is why Korean teachers will ignore you, not speak to you, or even move away from you. It has nothing to do with not liking you. It is the fact that they don’t want to feel ashamed for not being able to communicate with you.

Most NETs are scared of going on overnight trips with their school or even just having dinner. The one thing I have experienced is never say no to a trip away because it will be among the most fun experiences you have ever had in your life . Teachers in South Korea get slammed with work, so when they get an opportunity to relax and go out they definitely know how to take advantage of it. Don’t pass it up. You will never regret it.

“A simple hello can go so far.”

Take the first step. Try to learn just the basic Korean language and speak to the other teachers in your school. This will make them love you, and once this happens, you will have unlimited help from all angles in your school life.

Getting to know your students

I have known a lot of teachers where every minute when they have some free time they are sitting in their classroom avoiding everyone and staying to themselves.

Creating a teacher/student relationship is so important to having a successful classroom. The one thing you will learn is that students are always thinking why do I have to learn this. So they are not engaged in your class. They will feel this teacher doesn’t care about me therefore why do I have to study this.

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Get to know your students. Korean names are very hard to remember, however the one thing that makes my class a success is knowing my students names. If I call a student by his/her name that stduent feels so special. The smallest thing can really go far in the classroom.

“If your students know you’re interested in them, they will be interested in your lesson.”

During your lunch time don’t sit in the office or your room. Take your sports shoes to school, go outside and kick a soccer ball with the students. Play games with them. Have a conversation with them, and ask questions about their lives. This is the most important time to get to know your students outside of the classroom. Have fun with them, smile, and laugh together.

Some problems you possibly could face

The sleeping students

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Every class that you will be exposed to there could be students who have no motivation whatsoever to learn English.  They are only there because they have to be and only want to sleep during the lesson. This is where you have two options. You can be the teacher who just ignores it and lets them sleep or you can take initiative and be creative. Yes it is extra work and it will be tiring; however, we as teachers have an obligation to create an experience for all students. The number one reason that students will not be engaged in your lesson is because it doesn’t relate to them. There is no interest for them. So this is where you have to create your lesson around what the students are interested in. Already English is not interesting for them as they feel they will never use it once they leave school. As teachers we have to go that extra step and create our lessons around our students.

This is where a teacher needs to be creative. Have the outcomes  that you want or need to achieve and give your students the opportunities to use their own interests and goals to achieve those outcomes.

It’s the little things. For example, your lesson is based on asking for directions. Get the students to ask for directions to their favorite places. They will still achieve the outcome of asking for directions, however, they will be more engaged and interested because they get to talk about their favorite places and express themselves.

Your co-teacher is not co-operative

For me as a teacher in Korea I have only had great experiences with my co-teachers and they have always been helpful. Unfortunately, you may be one of the unlucky teachers who experience a co-teacher who doesn’t want to co-operate with you.

I can’t give much advice on this personally as I have never experienced this, however I can say that there is a hierarchy in the school system. And this is very powerful. The respect for the hierarchy system is unbelievable. You can take the option of personally speaking to your co-teacher and working it out or you can speak to your head teacher. If there is a real problem with your co-teacher I would advise you to speak to your head teacher as soon as possible and they will resolve the situation for you.

Korean teachers for some reason don’t like to deal with problems directly as we are used to doing back home. I still today can’t understand why, however, I just have accepted it. A teacher could sit next to you and talk to you directly, however, they will go through the head teacher. It’s just the way the culture is.

Get to know your school hierarchy. One thing that is so important in the school system is to never skip the levels of the hierarchy. For example don’t go to the principal before going to your deputy principal. It is disrespecting the position of the teacher you have skipped.

Not being allowed to deviate from the textbook

For me in Korea, when I’m teaching I try to stay clear of most textbooks. I have created lessons that relate to my students and their needs for learning English. However there will be times when you’re directed to only teach from the textbook.

Unfortunately you can only do your best with this situation. If that is the content that your co-teacher wants the students to learn then you can only improvise if you get the opportunity. You will sometimes find that the topics from the textbooks have no relation whatsoever to your students but you have to teach them the content.

“Don’t be afraid to improvise”

If you have an opportunity to improvise opt to do so.  I once had a topic I had to teach about Elvis Presley. No disrespect to the King but why would a student want to learn about what Elvis’ favorite meal was. They don’t even know who he is. So I quickly covered the content that was required, then turned the lesson to individual foods that each student liked or wanted to try. We then talked about some of the craziest foods that exist in the world. The students still learned about foods and conversed, however, they were more engaged and interested as it was their own foods that they were learning about.

Final Thought

Teaching in Korea, you will have great days, and then there will be days when nothing goes right. There might even be the occasional day when you break down and cry. Teaching can be a tough game; however, it can be very rewarding at the same time. Your experience in Korea is what you make of it. If you want to have fun and enjoy your classroom and teaching lifestyle then you have to put in that little extra effort and the results will come.

Remember the little things which can help your class to be a success. Introduce yourself with what the students would like to know about you. Have simple class rules for your students to follow and get your students into a routine.

“It’s your choice how successful you want to be here, no one else’s.”

Finally to make your school life happier, remember not to be shy and open up with other teachers. Say hello and start a conversation. The more people you know and are friends with the easier your school life will be. Get to know your students. Have fun with them. Talk to them outside of the classroom. Most of all remember to have fun. Teaching is one of the hardest professions. You will have good times and bad times. However, staying positive will make your time in Korea the best time of your life.

I wish you all the best with your teaching experience here in Korea.

 

Article Edited by Yoyin Adenusi

Featured images courtesy of KymInKorea & Elwood5566