Teaching in Korea

I have finally had my first night of work!

It would seem that the ‘Initial Saga’ is almost resolved and so I can begin work with my new Boss.  I am now going to be staying in Osan and working with a Hagweon owned by a wonderful lady called Eunice Kim.  It is really all down to Mrs Kim’s hard work and wonderful help that this matter has been dealt with.  She has put in many hours if work, made endless phone calls and trips to Immigration, and the original school, on my behalf and has finally secured the much-needed Letter of Release.  I will post all the additional details about this sorry tale on the Initial Saga page so that you can by-pass it unless you are really interested!  

The school I will be working with is a hagweon called TLC and it is about five minutes walk from Amelia’s school in Osan.  It is on level 2 of a large building, and there are four classrooms, a teacher’s room where I have a desk, and an office.  A hagweon (학원) is a for-profit private school very common in Korea.  They are also known as cram schools and children of all ages attend them.  Many hagweons specialise in specific subjects like math, science, and foreign languages including English. and they are in addition to their normal school attendance.  Some hagweons also offer classes to adults, as the one I will be working with does. 

There are a variety of views held on hagweons by both Korean nationals and foreigners.  The common thread would appear to be a love-hate relationship concerning them

Within Korea hagweons face criticism because they are seen as creating an unequal footing between the rich and poor, and having caused economic issues for many families who struggle to pay the additional fees, while others see hagweons as filling a need not being met by the public school system.

Hagweons were actually banned in the 1980s as it was felt that the advantage of private education unfairly burdened the poor and did not promote equality, so all access to it was made illegal.  This ban was lifted in the 1990s but it is still an issue for concern and debate within Korea. 

Hagweons operate after the usual school hours and most run through until 9 or 10pm, so the children generally have very late nights and sleep would appear to be in short supply for many of them.  I know that Amelia has commented that she often has children in her classes falling asleep at their desks and this too rages as an ongoing debate in Korea, and internationally. 

There is no doubt in my mind that children need their sleep and the hours that they are required to study is excessive, but competition for places in good high schools and universities is huge in Korea and this is the driving factor behind hagweons.  They provide additional help to students and it would seem that it works and is considered normal here.  Even the public schools have very long hours compared to countries like Australia and New Zealand.  Many children begin school at 7.30am and attend after school classes as well as hagweon classes.  Most public schools also run compulsory classes on Saturday. 

Korea is not alone in requiring students to spend huge hours in study.  Many Asian countries follow this pattern and I know too that it was considered quite normal in Montreal when I lived there.  Most children that attended public and private schools in Montreal also attended after school classes until 8pm and then had an additional two to three hours homework that needed completing every night.  So perhaps it is countries like Australia and New Zealand that are out of step.  Just a thought, not a criticism!  I know how much sleep Amelia needed when she was growing up and I do wonder at how this lack of sleep affects the children’s development. 

Children here seem extremely well-behaved, yes I admit to that being a huge generalisation, but having watched how they behave both in school and out I am struck by their polite and well-mannered ways.  Perhaps time here will change that perception, but it would appear that they are eager to learn and they are aware of the importance of a good education, and the sacrifices their parents make to get it for them. Or perhaps its simply a matter of them being too tired after so much study to be able to get up to mischief!  Whatever the case, I think it is going to be a wonderful place to work and I am really looking forward to it.  

I have now met most of the children I will be working with and they all seem to be lovely.  Interestingly many of them attend the school that Amelia works at and so they were aware that they were going to be meeting Teacher Amelia’s mummy and this caused them much laughter.  Amelia is very popular with her students, so I am hoping that her Mummy will be as big a hit!

I do not begin in a fulltime position until the 1st of April, but I will be working a few nights a week until then.  I have to admit to be very happy to be finally working!  I am also going to be moving to my new accommodation over the weekend which is actually very exciting too.  I am really looking forward to seeing it, I have seen photos, and the other Native English Teacher (Joel) at the hagweon says that it very nice, and newer than his place next door!  It has all the goodies provided and is air-conditioned which they tell me is very necessary here as it is very hot, and very humid, here in the summer.  I will of course post pictures of my new home early next week.

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