Wednesday, October 1, 2014

School's Compare and Contrast

So many updates to share! We realize it has been longer than usual since our last post. It has been a very busy last few weeks! After the 5-day holiday weekend, we hit the ground running with getting back into our school schedule. It’s been nice getting into the routine at work! We’re both getting more comfortable with lesson planning and teaching. Every once in a while we still have moments of “Wow, we’re married, living in Korea, and teaching English!” We’re really living our dream and God has truly blessed us throughout it all. So far we have had a fairly easy transition into our lives here. No major sickness, no huge challenges in communication, and we are even able to find the things we need to live comfortably. We’re staying positive and happy! Of course there are times of frustration, miscommunication, or moments where you just wish you could find your favorite ranch dressing from home, but these times come and go and we are so grateful for our lives here! It’s been exciting starting out our newlywed life with real jobs! We received our first paychecks the other day and are so happy to be paying for things for ourselves! Yes, we’re real adults now! :)

Tyler and I also began teaching Saturday English class at Tyler’s travel school! This class is for middle schools (grades 1,2 and 3-mixed levels) and is 3 hours every other Saturday. The reason these students have Saturday school is because many other Korean middle school and high school students have access to private academies (Hagwans) to attend outside of school hours. Because this school is so rural, these students do not have opportunities to attend these schools so our class is another opportunity for them to practice English in a location near them. We’re pretty sure it is free to attend for them as well, so that is good for the students.  We decided to teach the class together (even though it’s actually Tyler’s class and Tyler is the one being paid) because it would be much for fun than just making him do the class alone! 2 is better than 1! The class is great! We have about 7 middle school girls who are really sweet! During the end of the first class, we had a 10-minute break. The girls came back with 2 giant bowls of instant noodles all cooked for us! We have no idea where they got it, but they all had some for themselves too. So because of that, we decided to let them watch the beginning of a movie while we all enjoyed our noodles! ;)

The students showed us how to write our names in Korean. Valerie is on top, Tyler is on the bottom. 

Instant noodles! :)

This week was really fun! After learning about prepositions (in, on, over, under…) and doing a few activities to practice them (including a fun scavenger hunt leading them to candy, created by Tyler!), I taught the girls how to cook my favorite breakfast food, French toast! The school was really kind and bought the supplies for us! We brought our cooking materials from home (frying pan, spatula, measuring cups and spoons) as well! The girls were really excited to cook as they had asked to learn how to do that when we talked to them during the first class! We cooked the French toast in the school’s cafeteria, which had many gas stoves in it (and ovens, good for future baking projects!). After each group cooked 1 slice for themselves, we let them cook more if they wanted. To our surprise, they all wanted to cook more, which was great!  So they each cooked another piece and we all enjoyed French toast and orange juice together!

Ready to cook! 


Last Friday I went on an all school field trip with my home school. I was really excited about this because Fridays are really long teaching days for me and instead of teaching, I got to go explore some more of Korea with my school. I had no idea what to expect, as I was not told where we were going. The whole school  (grades Kindi-5th, 6th was on their own overnight fieldtrip) loaded the busses at 9am. Since there are not real “school busses” here like in the US, we traveled on “tour busses” instead. The only difference was that kindergarten traveled on their special Kindergarten bus, with special seats for their little bodies. J There are many of these Kindergarten busses around our town as it’s very common for the Kindergarten to pick the children up and drop them off from school. My co-teacher and I sat on the bus with the 1st graders and 5th graders. About half way there I found out we were going to the city of Damyang. This is the same city we went to during our orientation for the field trip to the Bamboo Forest! So I assumed we were going there, but I was wrong! We kept driving to a more rural and very beautiful farm area. When we arrived everyone was ushered to a giant green house that had tables and stools for everyone. A speech was given and students were split up into groups with guides from the farm. At that point all the teachers went to a newly built “Pension” to have a snack. A pension here is like a bed and breakfast. They are smaller but usually pretty nice. We enjoyed a snack of fruit, tea, and gimbap (Korean sushi). It was nice getting to spend time with the teachers (though there wasn’t much talking from me) but I noticed that we were up there for a long time. I asked my co-teacher if the teachers ever lead the students in the field trip. Apparently just the guides from the farm take care of the students and the teachers spend time together. This is very opposite from what field trips are like in the US! After snacking we took a walk to a reservoir on the property. The walk was beautiful and my co-teacher and I had some time to talk! When we got back from the walk we went straight back to the room with the snacks. This time instead of talking in a whole group, everyone was kinda in pairs. This left more time for my co-teacher and I to bond and talk more. At lunchtime the students ate outside around the property. Teachers were ushered downstairs to a room with some tables and food set our on the table. An older woman had prepared this wonderful meal for the teachers and was setting it up for us. We ate boiled chicken with side dishes of various vegetables and of course, kimchi. This kimchi was 3 years old! I even tried a bite of it!  At one point all of the guides who were leading the students came in for lunch. I was concerned as now there were no adults outside with the students, but apparently that all worked out. After lunch the teachers went outside to see the students. We stood on the porch and watched the students run around. It was great to see such freedom and happiness in the students. They were all having a great time playing with each other and running free. Then, something amazing and hilarious happened. The main leader of the farm got on the speaker system and started speaking to the students. They all got excited as he spoke and gathered in front of the porch the teachers were standing on. Then some K-Pop music began. It was actually a song I knew so I thought that was interesting and the students seemed to like this song. Then, out of nowhere the students just broke out into dance! Like choreographed dance! I was shocked and started filming with my iphone! Song after song played and the students surprised me each time with knowing choreography to these K-pop songs…Gangnam style included! It actually made me really happy to see this student body dance together! I was shocked because not only did they know all these dances and were really good at them, they actually performed and were not shy about it! It was great! Here is a video with some clips of the spontaneous show! ;)

Jin, my co-teacher!

Originally this post was going to be dedicated to the similarities and differences between US schools and S.Korean schools…but we had to update about some other fun school things too. So here it is, the beginning of our compare and contrast list! This time, it’s all about Elementary schools. But middle school and high school will definitely be talked about in the future! J Here’s my little disclaimer…these similarities and differences are based on my experiences in the school systems at home and here only. This is not a generalization of all schools everywhere!


1. Kids are kids!: Before coming to Korea we heard many opinions and myths on what students in Korea will be like. Some said they are all angels, hard workers, and will absolutely love you! Some said they are wild, lazy, or rude. Most people said Korean students were respectful. We tried hard not to have any pre-conceived opinions about our students because we know the opinions and stereotypes only go so far! My point? Kids will be kids. Each child is unique and each community is different. Therefore, I can say in my specific location most of my kids are really respectful and hard working and I can only speak for myself. I have some kids who are low, some who are high. There are some students who are wild and some who are super shy.  It all depends! J

2. The teachers work hard: Compared to the schools I worked at in the US, Korean teachers and US teachers are similar. They all work hard! These teachers are also very passionate about their job and love their students. With such small classes, they really get to know their students and develop great relationships with them. This is awesome to see!

3. There is curriculum and we stick to it: Though this varies from school to school, in my school there is an English curriculum that the school wants us to follow. This curriculum has a teacher guidebook (mostly in Korean, with some English) and each student has a textbook. There is a DVD that comes with it that actually projects an interactive textbook on the screen. This way students can get directions for activities (in Korean by the DVD and in English from me), can watch videos related to their book (in English), and teachers can correct answers from the DVD to show the class. There are text books for each grade level (3rd-6th) and each student brings theirs to class each day. These textbooks, just like any curriculum was difficult to learn for me at first for a few reasons: 1. There are different versions of the text-books for 3rd/4th and 5th/6th, as well as a completely different brand of texbook for one of my travel schools for my 3rd/4th grades. 2. There are specific routines set up that my co-teacher had set up that I needed to learn because students are most used to it and it works best for them. For example, using specific language when asking questions. 3. In each version, there are a set of “characters” that are in each chapter. In 3rd and 4th grade one of the characters (of Asian decent) is named “Jinsu,” but in the 5th/6th grade books the almost exact same character’s name is “Jino” same with a blond haired kid named “Andy” in the 3rd/4th grade book, but his name is “Chris” in the 5th/6th grade book. This doesn’t sound like a big problem…except the amount of times I’ve messed up characters names is ridiculous! ;) Otherwise, I actually like the curriculum as far as being a new English teacher here. It provides structure and consistency to my elementary kids and gives me the teacher a sense of flow. Some teachers don’t like using textbooks and feel restricted in their creativity, however I feel I can be creative with the activities I choose to have students participate in and how I approach using the curriculum everyday. I’m learning a lot about language acquisition and how to teach English and I feel this curriculum is helping!


1.     The technology is great!: In my classroom I have a giant touch TV Screen. This is great because the text-book comes with a curriculum CD that we use frequently. The touch screen is fun to use as well. J What’s funny is even our most rural schools have this kind of technology which is nice! I have also seen decent computer labs being used as well.
2.     School Lunches: Everyone eats cafeteria lunch everyday, including the staff members!  Teachers actually eat with their class at the tables and other staff members sit in the cafeteria either with students or with other teachers. Also, students wait to begin eating until all of their classmates are sitting down with their food. Sometimes they say a word of thanks (not anything religious, just some sort of thank you). It has been really convenient for Tyler and I to not have to worry about preparing our lunch during the work week! We do pay for our lunches (money is deducted from our paychecks) but it is very cheap and the food we eat is good quality (they generally get their food from local farmers) and everything is fresh and homemade.
3.     Lack of Parent Interaction: In the US it is very important for the teacher to have good parent communication. I personally believe a positive parent-teacher relationship can really benefit a child in your classroom. In Korea, parent communication is rare for English teachers. As a Native English Teacher, I do not get very much parent interaction. As far as I know the English teacher (my-coteacher) does not interact with parents often either. There is one exception. I attended an Open House at my main school this past week. We only have about 130 kids about my school, but I would say maybe 30 parents attended this open house. I did leave early, so there may have been more, but those parents were there to see their child’s homeroom teacher, not English/Music/PE teacher. I wish I had the language skills to be able to communicate with my student’s parents but that is definitely a difference I am getting used to here in Korea! I’m still learning what kind of relationships the schools have with their student’s parents and will continue to write about it in the future!
4.     Kid’s Clean the school: This Is something I completely agree with yet is so different than in the US. Students here are responsible for keeping the inside of the school clean. There are no “Janitors” here. Students sweep, mop, and dust their classrooms, hallways, and the bathrooms here. It’s great to see and you can tell that they respect their school because you do not see graffiti, trash, or other messes around because they know they will be the ones to clean it up! The school is also maintained, (painted, repaired, landscaped), by other adult workers, but it is great to see some major responsibility being placed on the students here. 
5.     Freedom: This was perhaps the most shocking difference between elementary schools at home and here. The students have extreme freedom when it comes to their time. Students arrive early and stay late at school, they have an hour lunch break, and 10 minutes in between classes, as well as a 30 minute recess during the day. With all of this free time, you would expect an adult to be supervising the students. Nope. Students have run of the school, and literally…they run! During these times students are loud, running through the halls and playing. No adults supervise, and actually these times are breaks for teachers as well! Students are able to self manage themselves and the adults trust them enough to let them do that. It’s pretty amazing, as this would never happen in the US, but it’s interesting to see it work so well here!
6.      Class sizes: Class sizes are very small in the area that I work. My class sizes are as  follows
Neungju (home school)
Kindi: 8
1st: 12
2nd: 15
3rd: 15
5th: 25
6-1: 15 6-2: 15

Dogok Jungang (Travel school 1)
3rd: 8
4th: 4
5th: 11
6th: 10

Cheon Tae (Travel school 2)
Kindi: 8
3rd: 6
4th: 6
5th: 5
6th: 1 (yep, only 1).

It’s really nice getting to experience such small classes here. I definitely notice how much more students get out of a class where they get more attention. Not only that, we get through the material faster and have more time for “activities.” Which is always nice! On Tuesdays at Dogok Jungang I have a different co-teacher than the rest of the week. This co-teacher allows me to teach almost completely solo. She is there for support when needed (like some translation) but with such a small amount of students I am able to teach them without too much translation needed. My other co-teacher (for Monday,Wed-Fri) and I have developed a great co-teaching relationship that allows both of us to teach during class. Right now it’s about 50/50, and I think the students benefit from hearing and learning in both Korean and English.

7.     Discipline: The way classes are handled here are very different than the US. In the classes I taught, students are encouraged to raise their hands, speak quietly, and listen to the person who is talking. I remember working with my students in the US on this a lot!! In English class in Korea, this is different. Students practice their English by talking in unison frequently (For example, I would say “Class, how’s the weather? And the entire class would respond “It’s sunny.”). But students here do not just talk, they yell! It’s not discouraged however because we would rather have them enthusiastically yelling in English than not speaking English at all. So when they all are in unison, they are loud! Also, it is common that not all students are listening to their peers at all times. This drives me crazy, as I worked hard in the classes I taught to really have students gain a respect for each other by listening to each other speak. This is typical Korean culture (and possibly part classroom management) but I try my best to do what I can with that. Obviously, the smaller classes rarely do that, so that’s nice! When students misbehave (consistent talking, rude comments, distractions) my co-teacher asks the student to go to the back of the room and stand up. The goal of that is that the student is away from the other classmates and is learning to “be still and quiet.” If the entire class is being rowdy and rude my co-teacher gives them a lecture (in Korean) and has the entire class be silent and close their eyes to practice being still and quiet. Sometimes she will keep them during their 10 minute break as well.  This doesn’t happen often, usually the students are not out of control, but if they are, it’s usually our 5th graders…haha.

I’m sure there are many more similarities and differences, but I will write about them as I learn more about the school system here in Korea! J
Here is a video of the English rooms in each of my schools!

Whew, that was a lot! We encourage anyone who has questions about our experiences to comment below or on our facebook! 

We also decided since we have SO many photos to share, we started a Shutterfly Share site! We will be uploading all of our photos there to allow us to keep them safe (just in case!) and for anyone who is curious to view them! We've only uploaded the first batch tonight (it takes a while!) so there will be many more to come! Hopefully in the future they will be much more organized and in smaller albums! Enjoy them at:

We hope everyone is doing well! We miss our family and friends terribly, and are thankful for Skype, Facebook, and Kakao talk to keep in touch! 

Our next post will be about......Jeju Island! We're off on a new this weekend to explore the "Hawaii" of Korea! Thanks for reading our ridiculous long blog! 

~Tyler and Val

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