Co-Teaching in Korean Public Schools
I recently attended the Kotesol International Conference 2015 and went to a presentation by Annie Im about Co-Teaching between Korean English teachers and Native English speaking teachers from places like Canada or the USA in Korean public schools. I’ve never taught in a public school in Korea, but I’ve had plenty of friends who have and the stories they tell make me curious about what it’s like on the inside. From what I hear, there is often a lot of conflict between the Korean teacher and the foreign teacher, so I wanted to find out what that’s all about and how people could avoid it.
Anyway, here are my top 5 tips for public school teachers in Korea, based partly on her presentation, and partly on my own thoughts.
You are Coming into an Existing Environment
The school is already functioning very well without you, so when you go into a public school you need to be respectful of this. You will not be able to change the school culture within your first few months there. Instead, try to fit in, observe and find spots where you actually can make a difference. Focus on that. The foreign teachers I know who went in with the attitude that they knew everything there was to know about teaching English didn’t do well and often crashed and burned.
Ask for the school calendar so you can find out important days and holidays for yourself. It’s on the school’s website and yes, it’s only in Korean. Yes, this means you should learn basic Korean and figure this stuff out instead of bugging your co-teacher all the time. The more things you can figure out for yourself, the less annoyed your co-teacher will be! They might even have some energy and time to help you out with the really big stuff if they’re not helping you with the small things.
The Totem-Pole: You’re at the Bottom
You are quite literally at the bottom of the pecking order. And your co-teacher who is looking after you is probably the second lowest. You got dumped on them because nobody else wanted you. Your co-teacher likely has no power to do things like get you out of desk-warming days or give you permission to go to the bank during school hours. Don’t hassle them about this.
Nothing is Free
The cookies and snacks and pizza you’re always eating probably aren’t free. The other teachers are paying for it. The school trips you’re going on aren’t free. There is a fund that pays for it. The markers you’re using maybe aren’t free either. You need to ask about this stuff and again, be proactive. Ask your co-teacher about it and find out how you can contribute your share. Never, ever demand things such as school supplies, but instead politely ask about how you could acquire them and whether or not there is a budget for it.
Reciprocate and Be Thankful
Your co-teacher isn’t getting paid extra to look after you. They’re just doing it because someone forced it on them. Every nice gesture they make towards you is simply because they are kind and not because they have to do it. Always remember this and be sure to reciprocate with even a small gesture. Help them with designing the classroom, cutting out stuff, take them out for lunch, grading multiple choice tests, photocopying, making a PPT, crowd-control during their class, etc. etc. The list of stuff you can do is endless. Be proactive and find ways you can make your co-teacher’s life easier. They’ll appreciate the gesture, if not the actual help.
Public school teachers in Korea: I think you’d probably do well if you followed these tips!