Life as a English teacher in a rural public school is definitely interesting. The first thing that you need to know about Korean public schools is that every school is a snowflake. I teach seven different grades across three different schools, and each combination is a unique experience.
In the Korean public school system they place two teachers into the English classroom. One is a Korean English Teacher (KET) and the other is a Native English Teacher (NET). I work with five different
KETs, once a week with each of them. Each of my KETs want me to teach classes in a different way. One of my KETs wants me to teach speaking/listening classes by myself, without them being present. One of my KETs wants me to teach speaking/listening classes by myself, but they want to sit in on the class to help with translation and discipline. Two of my KETs only want me to plan games and activities for the second half of the class (including reading and writing activities) while they teach the textbook during the first half the class. One of my KETs wants us to teach our class together as a team, bouncing between English and Korean. Working together with a KET is a mutual beneficial partnership because the KET gains authentic speaking practice in English, and the NET gain valuable insight into Korean culture and teaching methods.
Because I teach in a rural area, everybody has very low English speaking levels, which can be frustrating at times. I volunteered to teach adult ESL in the states before I came here to Korea, and my beginner level students in USA were actually at a higher level than my intermediate students here in Korea. Most of my students know English decently well on an intellectual level but they struggle when it comes to speaking and writing. Personally I feel like my job as a NET is primarily to motivate my students to use English. My KETs are all world-class teachers who don’t need my help with vocabulary, grammar, or classroom management. They do have a difficult time motivating the students to actually use the language, so that’s where I come in.
The positive side to working in a rural area is that everybody is much nicer and more welcoming than the people in the cities. I genuinely feel like I’m a part of a family here, despite the language barrier. Also, the living situation is better. My apartment in Korea is smaller than my previous apartment back in USA, but not significantly smaller. If you get placed in a city, your apartment will most likely be a little bigger than a bed and a kitchen.
I believe that it’s very important be flexible when it comes to teaching at public schools in Korea. Class schedules will change suddenly in the middle of the day. Some classes will have a huge skill gap between individual students. Every KET will have different expectations about the role that a NET should play in the classroom. Every teachers experience will be different. If you are the type of person who really likes stability and prefers a higher salary over fewer hours, then I would recommend looking at private schools. However, if you’re the type of person who embraces change and prefers fewer hours over a higher salary, then I would recommend looking at public schools.
By Robert Mallory, Economics major, University of Minnesota, Morris, Class of 2014