I’ve just finished my 8th year of teaching in universities in South Korea and when I compare my first shaky semester as a naive newbie to now, it’s almost astounding the differences in my teaching and classroom management styles. Anyway, here are my tips for newbies teaching in a Korean University. They’re the ones that I wish someone had told me when I was just starting out:
Your students will likely not be high level. While they may have an impressive range of vocabulary, they’re often extremely weak in actually using it and basic grammar points will need to be reviewed, again, and again, and again.
Take a Rest, My Students
University is a party-time for Korean students, between Sooneung (university entrance exam) Hell and selling their souls to Samsung or Hyundai. You should adjust your classes accordingly; if you make them too hard with too much homework, the students will be unhappy. Give a little bit or homework and a few tests so you can have some self-respect but don’t stress too much about making it like a university class is “back home.”
Pay Attention to Attendance
Never trust the students to “check” the box for their own attendance. They will lie and cheat for their friends so you need to personally do it. Trust me- I’ve been down this road before.
I’m Sick Teacher!
Don’t accept Kyeol-gung-wons (absence excuse papers) for minor things like colds. Reserve it for the serious such as a car accident/brain trauma/close family member’s death.
(Even more awesome life in Korea tips: How to Thrive in South Korea: 97 Tips from Expats)
Korea is a Bali-Bali (fast-fast) last minute kind of culture. Lots of decisions will happen just in time with regard to classes and schedules and housing. Don’t worry about it and just go with the flow because if you stress out about it, something terrible might happen to you by the end of your year, like all your hair falling out. I guarantee it.
Korean University Students and Cheating
Cheating (cunning as they say in Konglish) is not such a serious offense in Korea as it is in the Western World. Most students think nothing of plagiarizing something off the Internet for a written assignment, or copying off their friend in the few minutes before class starts, or bringing a cheat paper to the test. Heck, I’ve even had students try to cheat during 1-1 speaking tests with me!
So give assignments and tests that minimize this and you won’t have to deal with it. I do exclusively speaking tests, with groups of 2-4 students in my office. There is no possible way for them to cheat (without me noticing!) and I simply don’t assign the “workbook” as homework.
Class Sizes Matter
Before accepting a job, perhaps the most important question to ask would be, “What are the class sizes?” I’m not sure I would ever take a job with very large, multi-level classes. This was the reality in my first semester and it was extremely difficult. Now, some of my classes are down to 10 students and the difference is astounding because I can actually get to know my students as individuals and see them actually improve their English skills.
Simple is Better
Syllabi, tests, activities, grammar points. Everything really. Just think simple.
Keep on top of the paperwork. Input attendance into the computer each week. Enter grades into your spreadsheets as you get them. Have at least a couple of weeks lessons planned ahead of time when working in a Korean university teaching English.
Get a Hobby!
Your teaching impact does not equal your self-worth. You’ll have some terrible classes and students that don’t hate your class. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person, or a terrible teacher. Get some hobbies and friends and learn to leave your teaching behind you at the end of the day.
For some more tips on how to make your time in South Korea as awesome as possible, you really need this book: How to Thrive in South Korea: 97 Tips from Expats