This is the second part of my new little series of posts about teaching English abroad, but more specifically, in South Korea.
Should I teach Children or Adults?
This is a question many people ask themselves when looking for their first job as a teacher in another country. There are many jobs teaching adults in South Korea, but the vast majority of jobs are teaching children English. Some of the jobs teaching adults are at private language schools which can seem more like impersonal language factories or at universities. As for children, the schools that cater to them range from private kindergarten and university preparatory schools, to public schools.
For some people, teaching children is the right fit and for others, adult learners are what stimulate them as educators. I suppose that teaching children versus adults is much like comparing apples and oranges. You really cannot. There are very few similarities; they are people, they speak the same native language; and so many differences; they have a complete different sense of the world, work ethic, creativity, sense of joy, etc.
Who are typical students in Korea?
Adult students range from salary men to university students. Salary men are basically office workers. Many of them are enrolled in classes at private language schools because they are required to by their company or realize that they must improve their English in order to gain job promotions. Some of these students are enthusiastic about learning English, while others really resent having to spend their time doing so. The latter are the ones who may be a bit of a hassle since they can at times have a bad attitude and direct it towards you.
You may also find house wives who are studying English as a hobby or doing so in order to help their children who are too, studying English. The dedication of Korean parents is unlike that I’ve seen anywhere else. They will spend countless hours of their own time studying if they think that can in some way help further their children’s education. There are also retired people studying for something to do as well as apathetic university students who would often rather be elsewhere.
If you teach adults, every class will vary and the dynamic with every group of students will be completely different.
If you have the chance to teach children in Korea, your students may age in range from 4-18 years old. Many Korean parents enroll their young children in English Language kindergartens. They feel that this “immersive” English environment is the next best thing to sending their child abroad. Be warned however, these kindergartens tend to have the worst reputation of all language schools in Korea (for treating and paying teachers poorly).
Many children in Korea attend private language schools, or hagwons, after their regular school hours are complete. It is common to find children as young as six or seven in classrooms well into the evening studying.
How are they as students? Well, kids are kids. Kindergarten kids are energetic, exuberant and are a challenge. Basically, they are the same as kids anywhere. The older children (high school) are challenging for other reasons. Hormones are of course always a problem, but by this age, they are simply burnt out from studying. It’s nothing personal towards you if they are apathetic, you probably would be too if you had to cope with their daily schedule!
The Pros and Cons of Teaching Adults and Children (my opinion only)
After two years of teaching children in Korea, I made the move to an adult school. Within my first month there, I learned more about Korean culture and history than I had in my previous two years. Through discourse with adults of various backgrounds, I simply learned a lot about Korea. I made Korean friends, was invited to countless dinners and drinking excursions by my students and had a great time. I also gained a broader knowledge about ESL education since I could then compare teaching young learners to mature learners.
If you are teaching at a private adult language school, your working hours will probably be painful verging on torturous. Most professionals only have time to go to language class before they go to the office in the morning and after they finish for the day. That means you will work a split shift. No matter how much you may enjoy working there, the hours will eventually take their toll on you, both physically and mentally.
The Korean sense of tact is different than that in Western culture. Koreans will often tell you things you might not want to hear. Our different cultures simply have different cultural rules, but it can be very tough to deal with at times. Cultural differences aside, I also had the misfortune of teaching quite a few bigoted and ignorant jack-asses over the course of my time at that school. Cavemen disguised as Brooks Brothers suit wearing office workers. I’m not sure how common this is, but I seemed to have at least one in a class every month and all of my coworkers complained about similar students.
If you are a young male teacher ( I was in my mid twenties), you may be hit on or approached by some female students. Although this may at first seem flattering and fun, this often can lead to a great deal of trouble for you. Some women may be after an instructor as a free way of improving language skills, some are looking for a fun little cross-cultural adventure and some are just plain nuts. If a student in your class is flirtatious, believe me, her classmates notice as well! This can lead to student complaints about you and your class. My advice would be to avoid these types of situations. As the old saying goes, “Don’t shit where you eat!”
Kids are fun. Kids are creative. They have energy. If they are young children, they don’t judge and quickly forget reasons why they may have been angry. Young children are like massive sponges, ready and willing to absorb unbelievable amounts of knowledge. Simply put, its fun to teach kids.
If you are not a patient person or in fairly good physical health, teaching young kids may not be for you. You need energy yourself and endless amounts of patience.
If you are teaching teenagers, you will have to deal with hormones and general apathy. Those two things combined can lead to a frustration cocktail. I personally found Korean teenagers to be generally the same as Canadian ones. They are ego centric, dramatic and normally don’t want to be in school. One difference between the teenagers of Korea and that of other countries is that Korean kids have to work ten times harder to get through their school system. They wake up at 6am and may not get home until 11pm at night from cram schools. Once home they have to study and do homework. They are often burned out and bitter and rightfully so. These will be your students!
The schools and parents themselves can also lead to some frustration. The Korean education system is based on the Japanese one, but far more extreme and Confucian. It is basically one way education. Teachers talk, students listen and don’t participate. Rote learning is the key. Students memorize and regurgitate facts and vocabulary with few chances to develop creative and critical problem solving skills. This is diametrically opposed to the education system you have come from. Don’t rock the boat though. Don’t think you can change things. It will be frustrating, but if you want to be happy as a teacher there, you have to learn to roll with the punches. Sometimes you will disagree with what the school and parents expect of you as a teacher, but they brought you to Korea to do a job the way they want you to do it. You might subtly be able to make life for the kids in your room a little more creative and enjoyable though.
There you have it. The opinion of one blogger/vlogger. If you were unsure about teaching adults or children, hopefully this helped.