South Korea: Teaching Kindergarten, Elementary, Middle & High

Having taught at a private English Academy (Hagwon) as well as a public High School in Korea, I have taught just about every school-going age group. I thought I’d share my opinions on the pros and cons of teaching in Korea.

At my first job, I taught predominantly Elementary school students (7-13) a little Kindergarten (about ages 5-6), and a tiny bit of Middle School (13-16). These age groups differ quite considerably.

Kindergarten children do not understand English. Speaking from personal experience, I did not enjoy teaching them. They were out of control, they ran around the classroom, wouldn’t do work or listen, would all run out of the classroom to go to the bathroom together in packs, and they would make an utter mess of the classroom. That was my experience. I would like to vouch that that was not entirely my fault as an educator because soon after, my Korean co-teacher started taking that class and she too had the same problems. My two best friends in Korea however have taught students younger than age 5, and they absolutely loved it. The students’ English level was remarkable for that age, it was astounding. I guess in that regard, it all depends on the school and level.

Elementary Schools students are adorable. They want to be first to do anything e.g. answering questions, reading dialogues etc. Of course it is difficult to control them at times, but they are eager to learn, they appreciate small incentives, like stickers or erasers as rewards. They really want to talk to you, so they try their hardest in their broken English. I can say that teaching Elementary School was, by far, my favourite age group – yet, children at private Academies and Public School may differ (level of English, class sizes).

Middle School was tough. The students I taught were about 13-15, and they thought they were too cool for anything. They would backchat, complain about the work ALL of the time, even when I’d give them no homework or give them free time. They would blatantly cheat off their friends’ work while I was looking at them. They often did not bring their books for lessons, and more often than not – I would walk out of there in a bad mood.

High School students generally do not attend English Academies, it is more popular among Kinder, Elementary and some Middle School students. The difference here, is that I teach at a Public High School whereas my Kinder, Elementary and Middle School experience came from an Academy. There is a difference. However, High School students (I am unsure if they attended a private Academy in their younger years) have hardly any English skills. They do not want to engage with you 80% of the time. I get the odd student that comes to me during lunch for English conversations, or for me to help them with their University essays but majority of the time, all I hear is “Hello, how are you?” and that is where their English skills end. It’s very difficult to hold a conversation with them, it is like a game of Charades. These students are also over saturated with a heavy work load, and so almost every lesson, about 20% of the class will be asleep. They do not want to participate in lessons and they do not want to answer questions, or sing songs and be silly.

Having said that, I will give my closing statement in that – my assumptions about these phases may differ considerably, depending on if you’re at a Hagwon (private) or Public. The fact that my Elementary and Middle School students could hold English conversations is because they had English classes with me every day of the week. The fact that they were allowed to moan and complain was because there was no Korean teacher present. Whereas, my High School class does not have English classes every day contributing to their English skills, and I have a Korean teacher present with me – so they do not moan.

That being said, that is only my assumption of the different behavioural levels. It may vary, depending on Public or Private.


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