Kindergarten students in Korea

No matter what country you are in around the world, children are cute, and that goes double for Korean kids. But no matter how adorable they are, kids are kids; it takes a certain personality to be able to handle more than one or two kindergarten-age children day after day. The good side is the hugs and smiles, giggles and laughter, and the boundless positive energy one gets from being around young children. The down side is the crying, the tantrums, the stepped-on toes or the finger-poked eyes, and some days it seems to take all your energy just to keep up with them. You either love it or you hate it; there is rarely an in-between. But regardless, if your school has morning classes, chances are you are going to have to teach kindergarten.

The trick to being successful with kindergarten classes is keeping the children busy. There are no grammar lessons or text books, and children that age cannot do writing exercises or practice conversation together. Your medium for English education will have to be things that will be interesting and entertaining; games and activities, songs and chants, flashcards and toys. You will need to utilize as many different technologies as you can; video and DVD players, tape and CD players, electronic games and computers are made available in many schools. And teachers will need to have many different types of activities planned for each and every class; if they are lucky and their activity is particularly enthralling, they may be able to hold the attention of their students for 10-15 minutes before they are maxed out on that particular activity.

Some find teaching kindergarten a breeze and leap at the chance, but for others it can be a demanding task that requires boundless energy and patience. Children that young most likely won’t amaze anyone with their English vocabulary or grammatical skill, but a strong foundation for future excellence in English can be laid by teachers who take their job seriously and put a lot of devotion and imagination into their kindergarten classes.


Elementary school students in Korea

Once children enter elementary school, they begin to learn study habits and also become subject to the Korean discipline system, which still advocates the use of corporal punishment by teachers. First year elementary students may still be a bit of a chore to control, but by grade two students are fast to quiet down and sit straight when the teacher puts his/her foot down. Inexperienced teachers have to be aware that children will be children; if teachers do not maintain tight control over their class, the students will take advantage of this and engage in activities they normally would not, for instance, talking amongst themselves, reading comic books, passing notes or sleeping. Teachers have to teach, but they also much keep a constant watch on their students to ensure that they are focused and paying attention. The larger the class, of course, the more energy a teacher must put into maintaining control and discipline. Private school classes usually have no more than twelve students, so even inexperienced teachers will generally not have too much trouble keeping students in line. However, public school classes usually number between thirty and forty students and can be a nightmare for new teachers, which is why public schools usually require at least one or two years of teaching experience for an applicant to be considered for a position. Regardless, public and private schools alike will usually have a Korean teacher sit in with the new foreign teacher in their classes until they are confident that the new instructor can handle the class on their own.

With that said, the majority of teachers who have taught students of all age levels, kindergarten, elementary, middle/highschool and adult, will tell you that elementary students are without a doubt the most fun. Elementary students are old enough to do what they are told, they love English and jump at every opportunity to speak it, they have so much energy and are fascinated by their foreign teachers, and they love to laugh and have fun, whether playing games, singing songs or just studying their books. It does not matter if you are a teacher with ten years of experience, or if you are a fresh college/university grad who has never even tutored before; elementary age kids will hang on your every word, will jump at the chance to give any activity or new game a try, and will give almost every class their all.

For elementary age children, the trick to getting them to learn English the quickest, and quite often without them even realizing they are learning, is games. Kids LOVE games, and give every game their all, especially when the winning person/team gets a small prize such as a little sticker or a candy. Teachers should make it a point to end their class each day with an short activity or game specifically designed to let students put into practical use whatever that day’s lesson was about. When students know that they will do an activity or play a game at the end of each class based on that day’s lesson, they make an effort to really pay attention. Visit the Games & Activities Links page of our Teacher Resources section for links to great sites that specialize in ESL activities and games for students of all ages.


Middle/High School students in Korea

Once students enter middle school, the fun part of their education is abruptly over and they begin a six-year-long haul of preparing for the entire purpose of their secondary education, the writing of their university entrance exams. The result of their university entrance exam will determine which universities they are allowed to attend. Only those students that attain the highest scores on their university entrance exams are allowed to attend the top universities in Korea, and those students graduating from top universities will in turn be hired by the biggest and most influential corporations and government offices, and so there are no second chances. Both schools and parents put massive pressure on barely mature minds to study, lean, and to excel. At the end of each semester of their secondary education their performance is scrutinized and they are forced to take remedial and private school classes to improve their weak points. Beginning the first year of middle school, study hours at both public schools and hagwons steadily increase until at the end of high school students are studying upwards of sixteen hours a day, six days a week.

Now add to this other pressures such as puberty, over-bearing parents, being accepted by peers, learning about dating and sexuality, and trying to find one’s identity in a society that puts very strict limitations on the dress, hair styles, attitudes and individuality of young people, and ESL teachers might begin to understand why many of their middle or high school students are unwilling or unable to put a lot of energy into learning English.

Teachers of this age group will be most successful when they treat their students as individuals and really take the time to get to know them. Encouraging students to be themselves and express their opinions freely will really help to create a positive atmosphere where students are not afraid to open up and get involved. Activities such as role-playing and free conversation that encourage creativity and participation really help to get students involved and help to create a more lively atmosphere, and teachers should be sure to choose conversation topics that students of that age and social experience can understand and relate to. It does take some effort to get through to students sometimes, but the students will be grateful for the opportunity your class represents to escape from their busy schedules and be themselves.


Adult students

Adults are undeniably the easiest to teach in terms of class discipline and control. Not only are they mature and not prone to fighting or crying like younger children, but, as opposed to many middle and high school students who are forced to study English by their parents, adults actually have a genuine interest in learning English and so WANT to be in your classroom, not to mention that they are most likely shelling out their own hard-earned money for your class.

But teaching adult classes will require that you be prepared. Adults are not interested in time-fillers like games and songs; they want to utilize as much time as possible with the foreign teacher to practice both their speaking skills and listening comprehension skills. Conversation topics, reading assignments, and grammar and vocabulary lessons must all be carefully tailored to match each class’s level and ability. Furthermore, as the instructor, the onus falls on you to keep the class active and motivated. Studying can be a very boring process, and so teachers needs to be adept at creating interesting conversation topics, or taking boring and mundane lessons and adding flare to them so that there is always a positive atmosphere in the class. A good teacher constantly monitors the emotional condition of each individual student and also the general atmosphere of the class as a whole and can alter lessons, guide conversation topics or even completely change the style of the class if the students are not responding positively.

Teachers of adult classes should try to utilize different kinds of activities, class styles and technologies to enhance their class and keep the pace fresh and positive. Different activities, such as role-playing and putting on short plays or skits, give students a break from the normal class style and enable them to put into practice what they have learned. Students really enjoy learning the words to their favorite English song, or even learning the script to their favorite TV show so that they can follow and echo every word and phrase. Keeping an open mind and listening to what your students want and enjoy will enable a teacher to keep classes energized and make your students happy to attend every single day.

New teachers to Korea need to be aware that even though they are voluntarily taking your class, many adult students may be shy to speak out if there are other students who speak much better than them. Just as important, however, will be the teacher’s need to control other students who, purposely or just out of excitement, monopolize the floor all the time, hardly giving anyone else a chance to speak. Giving each student an equal opportunity to speak and being able to get them to participate is key to developing their ability, both in speaking and in comprehension.

Also, teachers must be prepared for adult students always wanting to know the secret to easily and quickly learning English. Many people try things like listening to English tapes while sleeping with the notion that they can learn the language unconsciously, or watching hours and hours of English TV shows in the hopes of suddenly understanding what everyone is talking about. Be prepared to have to explain to them that there is NO easy trick and that there is NO overnight solution to the learning conundrum. They are just going to have to face it that the only way they are going to learn to speak a second language is though hard work, devotion and patience.