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Bonding with Korean tykesSmaller class size at hagwons allow for better interaction
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승인 2009.06.20  14:54:30
페이스북 트위터
▲ English academy (hagwon) teacher Cat Lever, from Salisbury, England, coaches a Korean kindergartener on the basics of writing the English alphabet. Photo courtesy Cat Lever
Yells of “class time!” and “clean up!” ring through the school as the bell goes and the kids rush to their classrooms, scooping up their Dakji chips along the way. Shouts in Korean fade as they enter the classroom and flop down into their seats before pulling out their pencil cases and saying almost in unison “Good morning Cat!”

The kids are 6-year-olds and there are 10 of them. At the start of class some want to talk about their weekend, some want to talk about my weekend and others stay quiet hoping I won’t ask them if they did their homework. They’re eager to learn and still young enough to want to make their teacher happy. The small group means they have bonded well into a kind of tribe with its own structure and routines, of which their teacher is the leader.

For me, it’s been one of the great things about working in a private school. Although the hagwon experience can vary drastically from place to place, more often than not the class sizes are small, less than 10 children per class and at an English kindergarten the chances are a teacher will have the same group of children all morning allowing strong relationships to form, aiding their learning and enhancing the teaching experience.

In the afternoon the older kids come to school after spending their morning at public school. The dynamic with these kids is very different. They’re often more easily distracted as they’ve been working all day and it’s important to remember that once they have finished with your class they are back on the bus to travel to two or even three more hagwons before they go home for supper.

At the beginning of my time teaching I was unfamiliar with Korean culture and did not realize things like this. Once you bear it in mind it helps you to understand how to keep them engaged and also lets you take it a little less personally if one of them happens to nod off during class.

Similarly, being aware of cultural differences is incredibly important when relating to your employer. Not only do we teachers struggle to comprehend why our boss may behave in a certain way but our directors also may puzzle over why their foreign teachers go about things the way they do. Understanding is required on both sides for a successful working relationship.

As well as all the positives there are, as with anything, downsides to working in a hagwon. Vacations are often limited to just a few days each year and a teacher taking a sick day can often risk throwing things into chaos. This is where having good relationships with your colleagues can really help. People often pull together as a team to overcome any problems that arise.

Working in a hagwon is certainly a unique endeavor and often you can get out of it what you are prepared to put in. It always helps to remember that every new challenge is all part of the experience.

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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