Tips for teaching English sanely in Korea

Having moved to Korea several months ago for a job, I’ve made some observations about teaching English in Korea that I feel worth sharing. I teach 3rd through 6th grade at five different elementary schools in Gochang, a small city inside of Jeollabuk-do, and after having a few months of teaching under my belt, I feel I’m in a good spot where I can offer some advice for starting teachers to get their semester off on the right foot. Let’s start off with some tips to keep in mind for planning your lessons with these crazy kids.

Your Lessons

  • English should be fun: Don’t add to everyone’s stress levels by making learning English a daunting task; realize that many students will feel discouraged or uninterested in English through no fault of your own, and simply focus on making lessons fun by incorporating games, songs, or activities where everyone gets to participate and feel like they learned something. Extra points if you can make it engaging by choosing songs the kids are already fond of, or making team competition games a frequent part of your lessons (and who knows, maybe throw a League of Legends reference in there now and then).
  • Use the free and often underutilized textbook materials: Don’t forget about using the activities and flashcards in the back of the textbook if they fit your lesson, even if they’re about a different topic from the one you’re teaching that day. Even if they’re not intensely relevant, you can always use them for review. I found plenty of flashcards, images, and activities there and they were incredibly applicable to my lessons.
  • Be willing to improvise: Because it will probably happen a lot. The coteacher steps out when you need classroom management the most, the projector stops working, or the kids are at way too low a level for your planned lesson. Being willing and able to modify your lesson on a moment’s notice if the need should arise is at the top of the list of useful skills for this job.
  • Learn about your students: You may be the only one who asks students about their daily schedule, or sympathizes with them for being so busy (as Korean children and teenagers tend to be). If you combine this with calling them by name, they could very well learn to really respect you. Calling a student by name can also help with classroom management.
  • Don’t take challenging students’ behavior personally: If a student is being challenging (note: not “meddlesome” or “bad”, as these words can often make you feel negatively toward the student), don’t take it personally. They would try to act out with anyone so long as they thought they could get away with it. Korean students are pushed very hard in all aspects of their lives, and are often pressured to pretend things like free time or the opposite sex don’t exist in favor of studying harder. Teachers and adults here regularly forget (or choose to ignore) that they’re growing kids just like we all once were, so these stressed students may try to act out whenever they think they can.

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