Before you start teaching English in Korea, it would probably be wise to understand some basic information about the Korean education system. While kids are kids and students all over the world have some similarities, knowing some key differences between Korean students and American (or Canadian, English, Australian) students will benefit you as a teacher. And in my personal opinion, to become a truly great teacher, you have to see things through the eyes of those who you are teaching. So with that in mind, here are three pivotal differences…
- The Korean educational system is extremely, ridiculously competitive. Those of us from Western societies are familiar with academic competitiveness in university, or for some, maybe even high school. But in Korea, academic competition starts at a much earlier age. Students are fighting to get in to the top elementary and middle schools. This can put an enormous amount of stress on a young child, but at the same time, a good elementary school will lead to a good middle school, good middle school to good high school, etc.
- So how can students qualify for the best schools? Well, this leads me to another difference in the Korean educational system, the importance of tests. The educational system seems to completely revolve around test scores. These scores can determine the success or failure of a student and can have a huge impact on their futures. One test can make or break a student. So what do you think that does to the minds of young Korean students? If you guessed completely stress them out, then you would be correct.
- So stress from competition, stress from school, why not throw in one more factor that adds stress to the lives of Korean students? And that factor would be the sheer number of hours that students spend in school or specialized academies (like Chungdahm). Extracurricular educational academies were designed in order to give some Korean students a leg up on the competition. Now, however, it seems as if Korean students have to attend these extra academies or they will fall completely behind. Many students will attend public school all day and then will head to academies for a few hour each night. This will also stretch over to weekends and summer/winter vacations. A few of my students go to educational academies seven days a week.
So as you can see, the majority of your students will be tired, overworked, and stressed. On the other hand, through the incredible amount of hours spent in a classroom, your students will impress you with their knowledge, intelligence, and academic abilities. These are just some things to keep in mind as you are preparing to teach your first English class in Korea.
Even though they are overworked, Korean students can still find the time to goof off
Adam Montgomery is a 25-year old teacher at the Chungdahm Branch on Jeju. He has been teaching in Korea for under a year. When he is not teaching, he enjoys exploring the wonders of Jeju and Korea.