Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Making the Transition to Adult Hagwon Teaching

Perhaps you've noticed a lot fewer posts going up here in the past month, despite the fact that I'm back in Korea. That's mostly because I've taken a position at YBM ELS (Si-Sa) one of the largest adult hagwons in Korea. There were lots of reasons why I was never tempted to take one of these positions before... I mean, teaching kids has quite a cushy schedule (usually 1-9), decent pay (starting at 2.1-2.2 for folks with no experience) and low job expectations other than to just speak English and not have too many complaints from parents. Really, the main reason why I've taken this adult teaching job is that I've completely had it with children. Kids can be great, and most of them are, but when you get one or two bad classes on top of your six other good classes in a day, you can wind up leaving work feeling stressed out and in a bad mood. I decided that I'm sick of the disciplinary part of teaching, and let's face it... I've never been a kid person anyway.

All teachers at YBM go through a one week intensive training class, which our trainer told us is basically an entire CELTA course jammed into one week. Compared to my training at SLP, it was seriously intense. SLP's "training" meant observing various classes for about a week before actually starting to teach. Observing is great for about one day, but then you start to feel like you've gotten the point, but there's still 4 more days of straight observations to go. At YBM we only observed 3 classes, then got to teach 2 of those classes we observed two days later. We were trained on the YBM teaching methodology and we were basically untaught everything that we had ever known about teaching.

As conversation teachers, we're not really expected to teach, per se, it's more like leading discussions. Which on the surface seems quite easy, but I'm finding that it is actually quite difficult. YBM has a very rigid framework which every class needs to follow. 5 minutes of review of the last class at the beginning of class, then a 10 minute warm up of brainstorming, then 25 minutes of discussions, 5 minutes of "feedback" where we make corrections of common mistakes together and practice together, then 5 minutes of review of what we discussed and a preview of the next class. And we're observed often to make sure we're following this model in every class.

One of the biggest shocks for me is the fact that my boss is not Korean. In fact, my boss is a British woman with a long career in the ESL business. Past bosses that have observed my classes have always been happy with my classes. Probably because I'm white and comprehensible when speaking English. My new boss actually has high expectations for us teachers. It's a bit of a shock to my system that hasn't had a native English speaking boss in about 4 years.

The schedule at YBM changes every month, some months are split shifts, early morning and evening with a long break in the middle, others have block shifts meaning one long shift instead of two shorter ones. This month I have a split shift, and a pretty good one compared to most other teacher's schedules. My first class starts at 7am, so I need to arrive at work around 6:30 am to prepare for the day. I have 4 hours of classes before noon, then I'm off the entire afternoon until 6:30 pm when I start my evening shift. I finish my day at 10 pm. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I use my break to call home to America and to sleep, but on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I go to Korean class and use the rest of the time to study. Saturdays are also working days, I am lucky that I only have to work 3 hours, because most people do 6 hours on Saturdays. I was told working Saturdays was optional, but it's really only optional in the sense that, yea, you could say no... but the boss will make your life hell for the rest of the month in every other way. Once you get some seniority, then it really is optional most months. The block schedule isn't so bad in the beginning of the week after getting a good rest on the weekend, but by Thursday and Friday I start to feel like a zombie. I can't think quite straight and I forget to do things because I'm so exhausted.

I keep telling myself that it will get better. This month is February, and university students generally have the months of January and February off from school. Many use their free time to join classes at hagwons to get a little boost on their English skills. Therefore, everyone in our office is doing at least 40 hours of overtime for the month. Some people have even more hours because they do some new student interviews, curriculum development or substitute teaching when teachers are sick. But, I must say, while this job has the lowest base salary I've ever seen, with all the overtime, my paycheck this month will be the biggest I've ever seen.

As for the teaching part of the job, though, I must say that I love it. It sure beats entertaining kids all day. A lot of the topics in the book actually spark some interesting conversations and you can learn so much about the culture and the way people think from teaching these classes. For example, I have one class on Saturday with three older men in the class. I was dreading our conversation topic for the day: "matchmaking", but they had lots of things to say about how they met their wives and the women they had met before they met their wives. All of them had found their wives through some kind of 소개팅 (Korean style blind date) or were introduced by a family member to their future bride. It was interesting to hear their feelings on matchmaking having been married many years to wives met through some form of matchmaking.

We'll see how the next few months go at my new office. I hope I start to have more time for the blog, though, because I'm really missing it a lot. I've still got lots of things to write about and hopefully I can find some time on the weekends to write more!


  1. It sounds good to be relieved of teaching children. But I could never survive on that schedule. I'm happy I just teach one grade and live on Public school schedule at my Immersion School. I've thought of teaching adults here, but the schedules would do me in more than disciplining a few bad apples here and there.

    Good luck 2 u!

  2. It sounds more difficult than teaching accounting to 50 undergraduate students.

  3. I'm not sure I could do the split shift. That's why I never looked at this type of hagwon. Good to get some feedback by someone in the trenches!

    I hope it does get better and you don't end up being a Zombie all year!

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