Teachers in Korea In Confucius societies, teachers are greatly revered. Those who devote themselves to educating society are highly respected throughout Asia, no matter what their social status is, and this is no different in Korea. Teachers in Korea are treated with great respect by their students, and this extends equally to foreign teachers as well. However, it is necessary for teachers to exhibit the personal qualities and behaviors of a teacher in order to maintain that respect. A foreign teacher who acted inappropriately or disrespectfully would be regarded with great disdain and would quickly lose the respect of his or her students, as well as co-workers and employer. Once respect is lost, it is nearly impossible to get back, and this can lead to the teacher being increasingly isolated. As a foreigner in Korea, you will be very visible: you may find everyone around you watching what you do with great interest. Always remember that Korean society is much more conservative in many ways than western society; you should try to be sensitive to cultural norms and expectations and at all times treat your students, your co-workers and your boss with respect.


Dealing With Your Boss Korean society, like most East-Asian societies, is extremely hierarchical. In Korea, the boss is the boss. In many Western societies, it is acceptable to disagree with your boss in front of other employees, even argue with him or her at times, but in Korea this is a HUGE no-no. In Korea, respect must always be shown to those in higher position, and in a school, the boss is as high as it gets, so challenging or questioning their authority in front of other employees, students or parents is just not done. This does not mean that you cannot discuss things with your boss behind closed doors. Most bosses are very mindful that things are done very different in the rest of the world, and so most of the time will listen to what a teacher has to say and will try to accommodate them wherever possible. But do keep in mind that they are the boss and respect it when they make a decision. And when discussing issues that might become difficult, you should make sure that you do not lose your temper, raise your voice or use disrespectful language.

Teachers in Korea must also be aware that the majority of Hagwon owners are primarily businessmen and not educators; at the end of the day, how much money they are making is the bottom-line, and many of them really have no concept of what education really is, how to best promote learning in students, or even how to teach a class. The biggest and best schools may be run by bosses that have no concept of education theories, while the flipside of that is many Hagwon bosses who are actually very good educators are more often than not terrible businessmen, and their schools seldom do very well money-wise. Be prepared for the likelihood that your boss will expect you to be able to teach without being told how to. That may be disconcerting at first for first-time adventurers to Korea who have no formal teacher training or experience, but have no fear; we at PlanetESL have been through it all and can help you prepare yourself in advance. Our ESL Resources section has a large number of links to fantastic resources for lesson plans to help new teachers prepare for their first time in a classroom. Pointers for great games, activities, and grammar including slang, idioms and proverbs are all provided to give PlanetESL teachers the best tools to do their job. We even provide new arrivals in Korea with a teaching crash-course during their New Arrival Orientation Session.


Dealing With Coworkers It may appear that at times Korean co-workers have no interest in you because they never seem to speak to you or socialize with you in any way. In most cases, this is far from the truth. Most Korean co-workers are very interested in the foreign teacher and really want to speak to them and socialize together, but they are just extremely shy about their English ability, especially if they are an English teacher themselves. They are most likely scared to death that they will make many grammar and vocabulary mistakes while speaking to you and that their co-workers, and heaven forbid, even their boss, might hear them and realize that their English ability is not all that good after all. In many workplaces, none but the most confident teachers will approach you to socialize, so the onus is on you to make the first move. Compliments are great ice-breakers, or you could ask for some advice on how to deal with a particular student or how to teach a particular lesson. And many Koreans let down their guard a little once outside the workplace, so be sure to take advantage of staff dinners that occur fairly frequently; they are a really good opportunity to get to know the people you work with, and once you have been out with co-workers for a round of drinks and singing in the “Nori-bang”, they usually are much more open and relaxed.

Don’t Forget! We at PlanetESL are always here to help you at any time and on any matter regarding what may or may not be appropriate behavior or conduct in the workplace. We can assist in dealing with problems with your boss, coworkers or students, as well as offer advice on how to fix things if you think you may have made a cultural faux pas. Contact us anytime via email or by phone.


Classroom Control: Unlike most western societies, the majority of Korean schools still approve of the use of corporal punishment by teachers. School children from elementary, all the way through middle school and even to the end of high school can expect to get punished for things like being late, talking too much in class or smoking cigarettes by receiving a lashing with a ruler or stick on the hands, calves or buttocks. Though the frequency and severity has dropped in recent years, the practice is still widespread. Most western teachers will find this practice unsettling and will opt for some other form of discipline. Many other forms of Korean punishments are available that don’t involve striking a child. They include:

  • Making the child kneel or stand while holding both arms high above their head. This may not seem uncomfortable at first, but give it about 5 minutes and watch the sweat break out!
  • Making the child hold a heavy book or school bag above their head for 5-15 minutes.
  • Making the child stand completely straight and still behind his/her chair for 10-30 minutes.

The problem that presents itself to foreign teachers is that once students realize that you will not hit them, they lose all fear in your class unless you have another form of punishment ready and apply it consistently. Traditional western forms of school discipline like detention and writing lines on the chalk board are just not feasible; there is no time. Lecturing the student in front of the class usually has very little effect because of the language barrier, and calling the parents for every little thing the child does just does not make sense. Therefore, teachers MUST adopt a discipline strategy right from the very start and enforce it consistently. The above punishments cause minimal discomfort to students and are ones that Korean students understand. However, if teachers are uncomfortable using them, Hagwon bosses usually are very easygoing on this subject and will usually let foreign teachers devise their own method of discipline. Keep in mind that the key to any form of punishment is consistency; students must get the message that every inappropriate action will have a consequence.