To be honest, we are really happy here. I am afraid to admit this because I do not wish to jinx our feelings towards the place, besides, this can still be just the “honey-moon” stage, but as English teachers we are so much in demand here with all people we meet. This is a very refreshing feeling after years of being treated like a screw inside an invisible yet grandiose machine that knows best what’s good for others.
Here I found more evening hours to teach at a local English school. In Korea, beginning with middle school the life of a child becomes very competitive in the academic sense of the word, and parents sign up their children for after-school schools. Typically, students take extra classes in English. (Taekwondo and music classes are also very popular). So, I now teach 3 nights a week at such a school. The owner is a Korean woman of Japanese descent. She graduated from Harvard (USA) with the degree in Linguistics. Her half-brother is an engineer (an MIT graduate). She is very helpful (like most of the people we meet here) with all our Korean language needs. For instance, she took me to a doctor’s office this past Saturday. I was losing my voice for the second time since coming here. I think this is allergy, and this time we caught it in time to save my voice from being wiped out for 3 days. So, it was all due to Noel’s help.
There are many other reasons why I am also very happy teaching at this evening school. Having an appropriate informative and useful textbook for every course is one of those reasons. In Korea schools are very big on textbooks, especially when it comes to English classes. Pearson, Longman, McGraw Hill and Oxford publishers are the most popular textbooks. Even parents judge schools based on the names of textbooks and their respective publishing year. It is preferred to have the latest edition. Textbooks are a part of tuition, and all students enjoy smooth sensations of silky textbook pages. As a teacher I absolutely love having a solid textbook for Grammar or Writing or Speaking or Reading classes. No more photocopying papers that students will lose before the day is out. The structure of a course is set. I only control the pace at which we walk forward. I also bring many games to supplement the monotony of working with a textbook, especially since my classes run from 7 pm till 9 pm.
The long hours at various schools should serve you as an illustration of the great length that I see this new Korean generation is willing to go to in order to compete in the world job market of today and tomorrow. This is absolutely remarkable. There is a growing solid job market for English teachers who can teach ACT, GRE and TOEFL test prep courses. Rates are generous. Again, I am not boasting, I am just in such a dismay seeing how determined this nation is when it comes to education as compared to how things are in the US. My older university students told me last week: “We are a small nation with no natural resources. All we have is Korean people. That’s why we need to invest in our people.” And they surely do so.
Observable differences in educational approaches start before middle school age. Overall school age and curricular activities are different from the US. For instance, in America our son was going to a day care, because there he was 4 years old. At that daycare kids had breakfast, lunch, 30 minute run on a playground, story time, craft time, phonics games and warm caring daycare teachers. In Korea Ronan is 6 years old (Korean age is different). He is in Kindergarten with the students who started pre-K last year. The schedule has 2 classes a day: English everyday, then once a week he has Korean Traditional Music, Science, Dance class, Physical Education plus lots of other activities to fill in the day, such as: forest exploration (rain or shine), etc. Last week they were planting sweet potato. Once a month a petting zoo comes with 2-3 animals to encourage animal awareness. Students have a field trip once a month. Ronan is learning Korean letters. However, he is laughing very loudly at the way Korean words are pronounced.
We got our fair share of warnings that starting with the middle school life of a child becomes much harder due to the fierce competitive nature of Korean school system. I guess, my observations to be continued…