Public to Hagwon

I have officially been a 서울 선생님 for the past month and the question on everybody’s lips is… is the grass greener on the other side?

Certainly there was a risk swapping from a public to a private school with regards to hours, pay, treatment etc. But I can honestly say hand of heart that the grass is green. I am not suggesting that it’s been the most seamless and stress free of experiences however I know now that I made the right decision. In fact, the very idea that I contemplated staying at a school where I was entirely miserable seems so ridiculous to me now. It hasn’t been smooth sailing, let me say that, but my stresses remain entirely within the job aspect of my job. That is, learning how the curriculum operates and for that matter learning how to teach using a curriculum (this too is new to me). I felt so overwhelmed with all the information that I received during my first couple of weeks. I thought to myself “I can’t do this. I’m not a real teacher.” But somehow, I’m doing it.

I began my observation period whilst living at a (love) motel where I resided for a little over a week. It wasn’t the nicest place I have ever stayed but it definitely wasn’t the worst! For the first few days I was chaperoned to and from school until I got my bearings. During my observation period I was constantly surprised and impressed by the level of English that the children possessed, from Kindergarten to Elementary, they were all conversational. Of course the kindergarten students were the highlight of my day with their zeal for learning English and their excitement to have a new Teacher. Each day I entered the classroom they’d either pretend to be sleeping or they’d all be hiding in various places in the classroom, whichever one I walked into it was always a smile inducing ‘surprise’.

As observation turned into practice teaching I felt more unsure of myself than I ever had before. Could I teach these kids? Was my grasp of grammar sufficient? Could I answer every spelling query with confidence? In all honestly, I wasn’t sure. It is one thing to speak English as your native language but it’s another thing to try and explain all its complexities to someone else [had mild panic attack]. After a few practice teaching sessions my confidence began to grow a little and I knew that eventually it would all click, I just had to wait patiently for the penny to drop.

Following my practice teaching I had two weeks of observations, that is, my classes were observed by my supervisor [resumed panic attack]. Whilst this situation didn’t make me nervous, it didn’t exactly fill me with joy either. As my previous teaching experience had been at an English Village where I was effectively a stand up comic, I wasn’t sure if my teaching techniques would be up to par. I recalled what my Mother always used to tell me when I was a child: “It doesn’t matter as long as you tried your best.” So that’s what I did, I tried my best.

Did everything go perfectly?

No.

Did I remember all my students’ names instantaneously?

No.

Did I feel like I had made the right decision?

No.

Finally, there was light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. My training period was complete, I’d undergone seven class observations and I was into my fourth week working at a Hagwon, the time had come. REVIEW! My supervisor called me over to offer feedback from all the classes she’d observed. I thought it could go one of two ways. Either she’d tell me everything I did was wrong and hand me a long list of ways to improve OR she’d tell me I did okay and hand me a short list. However, in a sudden twist of fate it appeared there was no list in sight. On the contrary, my supervisor praised my teaching abilities and rapport with the students and encouraged me to embrace my personality and be more, well, me! Somehow I’d done it and I’d done it pretty well. A girl from Little Gaddesden disguised as a teacher living it up in the big city, who’d have thought it?

Week 5

It’s still early days but I feel as though the penny has finally dropped. I am confident about what I am teaching in all my different classes, I am confident in my ability to answer the constant questions and I am confident in my ability to teach. I know I still have a lot to learn and I am so grateful that I am back in an environment where I am able to learn something new each day. Furthermore, I feel blessed to work in a place where every day is different and boy, if variety isn’t the spice of life I don’t know what is!

Peace and love from Korea.