Tag Archives: teaching in Korea

Reflections on Four Approaches to Group Discussion Activities

This week was the penultimate week of classes for 2013 and, with all the material for the exam covered, I now have the flexibility to teach every group of students differently and thus experiment with my classes a bit more. Normally this is frowned upon in my school as the belief is that, if all students are taking the same exam, they should all do exactly (and I mean exactly) the same lesson. This is (supposedly) in order to prevent one group of students being given an unfair advantage (a subject for another blog another time).

Given this flexibility I decided to do some action research this week and chose to try and find out what the best way of facilitating free discussion and to encourage the sharing of opinions is for my Korean high school students. I did this by implementing four different methods for organising a discussion activity over the course of the week.

Continue reading Reflections on Four Approaches to Group Discussion Activities


10 Myths on Teaching in Korean Public Schools

In my almost four years of teaching in Korea I’ve heard some truly amazing claims regarding the job. Here is my take on a few of them. Please bear in mind, these are just my beliefs, I’m certainly not saying anything as a matter of fact (other than number 5!)Edit: I just want to make it clear than I am NOT saying all (or even a large number) of native speaking public school teachers in Korea hold these beliefs, just that they are opinions that I have heard and these are just my thoughts on them.

1) One hour a week is not long enough to effectively teach.

O.k. the easiest thing to do here is some maths, 45 minutes per week, for 30 weeks a year, for 7 years. 45 x 30 x 7 = 202.5 hours of purely conversation based classes (I’m basing this on having no conversation classes in 1st and 2nd grade). This is building on top of the other 2 or 3 hours per week that students spend in other English classes.

When I was at school I only had one hour per week of subjects such as business, economics and R.E., I’m almost certain my teachers were not resigned to failure because of this. Lack of time does not automatically equate to lack of effectiveness. If you are only teaching in Korea for a year, they will not suddenly stop conversation classes when you leave. Learning to speak a language is a long drawn out process; we have at least one year to do as much as we can to contribute towards that process.

Also, if you feel you need more time, why not set up an after school class?


2) You need to be a ‘candy teacher’ to motivate your students.English conversation isn’t on the University Entrance Exam, that doesn’t mean Korean students are not interested in speaking English. I’m not saying all our students are going to run inPictureto the classroom hardly able to contain their excitement at the prospect of having an hour to practice conversation, just like when I was in school, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with learning French, however I had wonderful teachers who were knowledgeable and did everything they could to make us interested. Exciting, interesting and engaging lessons with a fun reward system should do the job just as well, if not better, than bribing with candy.

3) Korean people can’t speak English and low level students don’t need conversation classes anyway.Think back to when you were a student, how would you rate the average level of the students in your language class? Now compare that with the average level of your students in Korea. I would be extremely surprised if your Korean students are a lower level. If they are, then perhaps you can take motivation from this; if the students are truly a very low level, they have probably been left behind by the state education system. You now have the opportunity to do something about that.


4) Co-teaching is an ineffective and unpleasant experience.If you don’t have much teaching experience or qualifications you’ve Picturejust been given the opportunity to work with a highly qualified and probably more experienced teacher. That is anything but a waste of time. The important thing is to figure out what you can bring to the lessons and what they can bring to the lessons.

A couple of suggestions, your co-teacher is most likely knowledgeable about (to name just a few) Korean students’ interests, possibly large class classroom management techniques, structuring a lesson and specific issues Korean students might face in your lessons.. You can bring to the table new teaching and activity ideas, authentic materials to expose the students to, a sense of fun, excitement and intrigue. Play off each other’s strengths. It’s not always easy, but it is doable.

If you are experienced then discuss each other’s roles in the classroom. How can it possibly not be useful to have another teacher in the room with you? They key is to be clear about what each of you are there for.

Either way, make sure you both have a clearly defined role in the classroom. If your co-teacher sits at the back playing on his/her phone, it’s most likely because she/he doesn’t know what role you would like them to have.

5) Korean students are not creative.It is not often I say this in teaching, but if you think this, you are WRONG. The truth is that Korean students are not as used to being given thPicturee opportunity to show off their creative abilities, due to this they will often need more scaffolding and structure than we might initially anticipate. With a little bit of practice, your Korean students will knock your socks off with the creativity they are capable of, we just have to give them the chance and support.


6) Desk warming is a waste of everyone’s time.If you are asked to desk warm, get involved with professional development. A teacher never stops learning and improving. Take an online course, read blogs, write blogs, review your lessons, develop a syllabus, do a needs analysis from your observations over the year…… there is always something you can be doing to improve your teaching.

Not buying it? Well, please find me another job where you are paid to sit at a desk and do whatever you want for a period of time. Use the time effectively; you are being paid to be a professional teacher.

7) A PPT is a lesson plan.If your PPT is your lesson, it is quite likely you have a very teacher centered lesson. Just one example; telling your students what you did on your holiday for 20 minutes with pictures on a PPT, then giving them a quiz to check they were listening, not an English conversation lesson. Also, you know all those lesson plans on www.waygook.org ? Yep, I’m going to say it, a lot of them aren’t that great either. I’m probably now the most hated public school teacher in Korea.

If I was to offer one tip for planning your lessons, it would be to ask three questions in every stage of the lesson:

‘What are the students learning?’

‘At what point is the learning happening?’

‘How are they learning it? ‘

If you haven’t had much teacher training or experience planning lessons is really tough I know. Personally, I would recommend doing some research online, maybe start off with the very safe PPP format and, when you get a bit more confident, I would highly recommend getting to know and playing with task-based learning. Perhaps you could use some of the desk warming time for this?


8) That we are entertainers, not teachers.I remember in my first EPIK orientation, one lecturer said to us that, to keep his students’ attention for the whole ‘lecture’, he would jump on desks, sing songs and dance around.

Personally, I believe that that an effective teacher has the students’ attention focused on him/her for as little time as possible. Honestly, if you feel like you have to jump on a table to keep the students listening to you, you’ve probably been talking for too long.

9) The Korean way of doing things is wrong.If something is done differently in Korea, it does not necessarily mean it is done worse. The education systems in our home countries are nowhere near perfect. Sure, there is a lot Korea could learn from other countries education systems, but there is also a lot we could learn from theirs and a lot we could learn from many education systems around the world

We cannot just presume that because X is how we do it in our home countries, X is how they should do it in Korea. Step back, think about why they might do X like that in Korea. Korean culture is vastly different to that of our native countries, so why would they do everything the same? Learn to adapt and adopt, to understand and contribute.


10) Teaching in Korean Public Schools is a waste of time and you are not appreciated.The Korean media and government are certainly not too great at showing their appreciation for the native English speaking teachers, but they both have their own agendas. We have been privileged with the opportunity to help develop the minds of millions of young Koreans.

If you do a good job, if you are passionate about what you do, if you give your students opportunities that others can’t or won’t, your co-teachers and parents will appreciate you, but your students will never forget you.

Did I miss any myths? Don’t agree with any of my myths? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below! My new year resolution is to reply to every single comment for the rest of they year, why not test me?!You can keep updated with my ramblings via twitter here or facebook here.


04/04/2013 23:13

Yes! I so agree with you on these points, yet I’m ashamed to say I used to believe a couple of these myths!
Firstly, number 2 – when I first arrived I soon clicked onto the fact that this was the quickest way to get students attention and it does boost participation! But at a cost – literally! I still use candy but I let teams gain/lose points over a 6 week period then the winning team get a treat at the end. This works really well for me so I’m happy to give out a few chocolate bars every 6 weeks!
You should present these at EPIK orientations….? A lot of teachers believe these myths because so many before them believed it them; if they were aware of them from the start it might break the cycle….

Alex (AlienTeachers)
04/04/2013 23:20

Gemma, at some point in my teaching career I think I have fallen victim to, and probably even said at least half of these! I also still use candy, but as a final reward, which, for me, is different to bribing! I’m sure people might disagree with me though!

I agree it would make a nice presentation at the EPIK orientation, no idea how I would go about doing that though.

04/04/2013 23:32

I agree with Alex that this would make a nice EPIK workshop.

And I feel guilty in that I once (maybe more) blamed many native teachers for believing some of the above mentioned myths. Why not have the courage to openly discuss about them rather than complaining about their complaints? I was a young teacher back then though. The history of teachers from multi-cultural background working together in Korea is not that long. But I think we are becoming better than yesterday. FIGHTING! 🙂

Thank you for sharing this. I really enjoyed reading it.

Ming Ding Xiong
04/04/2013 23:41

As I posted on Facebook, I can’t accept deskwarming as an effective concept. I actually found it useful because I’m completing a master’s program, and I could find it useful in the future if trying to get out a publication. However, that few jobs, teaching or otherwise, require anyone to sit at a desk for 40 hours a week, for two or three weeks, without any official duties, indicates that deskwarming is simply a waste of time. Korean teachers do get a bit of deskwarming time, it’s something that should be done because it is a contract obligation, and it can be used well, but that doesn’t mean requiring someone to come in and sit in an office for 8 hours per day is an effective use of their abilities.

Most arguments in favour of deskwarming point out that the time could be used for something or that it’s a contractual obligation, but neither means it’s not a waste of time. Highly qualified teachers, be they Korean or not, don’t spend semester breaks forcibly confined to an office. Self-development can happen at home. Deskwarming is, as someone else mentioned, not an actual word, of course. It’s just considered work.

If I took an engineer with a 9-5 job and made him work from 9 am to 9 pm, he would rightly consider it ridiculous for me to expand his working hours while keeping his responsibilities the same. That’s what deskwarming is. Native speakers in public schools have something like a 30-hour-a-week, 44-weeks-a-year job that’s performed over 40 hours per week over 48 weeks of the year.

Alex (AlienTeachers)
04/04/2013 23:47

Personally, my response to that would be, we are grown adults, we shouldn’t need SMOE or whoever else telling us what we should be doing to improve ourselves as teachers. We are being paid to be at work between the hours stipulated in our contracts, those hours should be used professionally.

I can not understand how being paid to do whatever you want for an entire day could be a bad thing. You could even teach extra classes in that time if you wanted to and felt that would be a more effective use of the time.

If you paid an engineer to work 9-5, but some days only had enough work for him to do from 9-1, there is no way he would expect to be allowed to go home, with pay.

For me, what you are saying is, that those hours shouldn’t be in the contract, which is a different argument, and one I would probably tend to agree with.

Alex (AlienTeachers)
04/04/2013 23:48

Also, I absolutely should have added that I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment, a good discussion like this is exactly why I wrote the article 🙂

05/04/2013 00:18

Hi Alex, thanks for this – someone on facebook called it an ‘anti-rant’, that’s a good expression I think. Myths like these (in any context) are a convenient way not to engage and work with the realities of the situation in a positive way – I really like your post for showing how to do this. And I also want to know what desk-warming is, and how I can get paid to do it 🙂

Alex (AlienTeachers)
05/04/2013 22:09

Hi Sophie!

I couldn’t agree more that ‘are a convenient way not to engage and work with the realities of the situation in a positive way’ and I think there are a number of teachers, probably not just in Korea, that convince themselves of similar myths for personal reasons.

Desk-warming, where to start? Basically all contract teachers in Korea (and what many native speaking teachers forget is that the same goes for Korean contracted teachers) do not get in their contract the full school holidays off. They are given around 20 days vacation in their contract, and if there are spare days above that most school require the teachers to go into school, even if there are no other teachers or students there. The reason they do this is that most teachers a required to fill the rest of the days by teaching camps, but some teachers don’t.

The history behind it is that about 5 years ago a lot teachers who had to work in the holidays complained, as they said it was not fair that some don’t and they do. So the powers that be turned round and said fine, even if you are not teaching a camp you still have to come in.

So now of course teachers complain that they are forced (with pay) to sit at their desks and ‘do nothing’.

05/04/2013 01:26

Re: #6 I think there are things schools and EPIK/GEPIK could do to make deskwarming a more positive and mutually beneficial experience. I think people react badly to the perceived mistrust (‘We think you are a lazy native teacher who deserves to be made to sit and do nothing!!!!’). But, I really agree with you that there are a lot of PD opportunities. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I used my winter deskwarming time to watch a bunch of talks and workshops on YouTube, and read books about teaching, and even to snazz up the English Center office a bit, and I feel I gave myself a nice boost for this semester’s teaching.

Re: #4 I guess I agree, but… I sometimes feel co-teaching works less often than it doesn’t work. And that some co-teachers make dialogue very difficult to have. And that it’s a structurally unfair relationship, because co-teachers keep tabs on native teachers and report on them, and get to control the discourse about the native teacher within the school much more…

My additional myth:

“Native teachers and their students have very little shared cultural experience, and it is the constant job of co-teachers to bridge this culture gap.”

I have been pleased to realize how much I have in common with my students, culturally. Many of them watch(download) the same TV shows I do, have a similar taste in music, do the same things on the internet – and often these are things students have in common with me but maybe not Korean teachers.

Also there are aspects of Korean culture where I may have knowledge students don’t – like about travelling to different parts of Korea, or knowing about the culture of Korean students studying English abroad, or knowing about the culture of Korean university students. Likewise there are parts of “western” culture students know much more about than me.

I think our image within our schools and the rituals of the school year and the rituals of co-teaching risk enshrining a ‘vast culture gap/exotic native teacher’ artificial image, but it can be helpful to draw out a more nuanced cultural relationship with our students. And this can help us to be real teachers, not myth #8.

Alex (AlienTeachers
05/04/2013 22:16

Hi Bryan,

Thanks for taking the time to read and join the discussion. I honestly and absolutely agree that SMOE could do a HUGE amount more to help make it a more positive experience and, in doing so, dispel this view of that time as desk warming.

Regarding #4 again, I completely agree, I think as you mentioned earlier it is the power relationship that causes problems, often knowing that the co-teachers can, and most likely are, keeping tabs on your and discussing you can cause problems in communication. I’ve also had bad co-teaching situations (just last year) where I didn’t follow my advice above either. Looking back and reflecting upon it now though I think there was a lot I could have done to improve that co-teaching situation.

I really love your additional myth. There is so much we have in common with our students and we shouldn’t be reliant on our co-teachers to bridge the gap.

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment.


Lindsay Franchezca
05/04/2013 04:25

Iv’e been working and teaching in Korean school’s and Language centers here in Bangkok and abroad for almost 10 years. In those 10 years of working with ’em, I find them so friendly and loving– if you are friendly and loving too. Everything that you will do as long as you are not killing the time and you are not that strict, 100% you will win their hearts. What I believe in them is that- you cannot simply discipline them if you are so strict, and if you are setting standards that even you yourself can’t follow, or not following. Some won’t like old people or those with small eyes. Once they proved you are an expert in your own field, then you will certainly get their trust, love,care, and attention. They are creative but most of the time they can’t prove their creativity because of lack of opportunity.

Alex (AlienTeachers)
05/04/2013 22:18

What a beautiful comment Lindsay, I think you summarise the situation perfectly when you state “Once they proved you are an expert in your own field, then you will certainly get their trust, love,care, and attention. ”

Thanks for taking the time to comment, I really appreciate it.

05/04/2013 19:43

#11. Other teachers’ problems stem from their lack of professionalism, and that issues with students, co-teachers, admin, etc. can always be solved by being more “professional.” I think, for many NSETs, if they have it good, they find it hard to empathise with people in genuinely more difficult situations, and (and I don’t know why this is the case) the corollary is that their good situation is because they are inherently a “good” teacher/ person and the person having problems is “bad” or unprofessional. I don’t know whether it comes from malice, egotism or ignorance, but, to me, it is reminiscent of: “Well, poor people just need to get a job.” “Professionalism” is a pernicious and nebulous concept oft used against teachers in many NSETs’ home countries (There are people doing PhDs in this phenomenon right now). However, it is usually used against them by the other stakeholders in education (students, parents, government) and not their colleagues. Here, it is used by teachers against other teachers far more commonly. I do see support and practical and advice on teacher blogs and message boards, but I also see this vague and oppressive notion being deployed against people who are asking for advice very frequently, too.

Regarding deskwarming as an opportunity for professional development is being optimistic (I will not criticise you for that). I view deskwarming as a means of control. I had no classes for 2 months this winter; I came in to an empty staffroom for an hour a day and watched Netflix. I was fulfilling my contractual obligations by proving to the secretaries and the security guards I wasn’t having fun or doing another job. I suppose I could have been more “professional” by doing another degree (I already have 4 – including 2 postgraduate degrees in education), or studying Korean (which I already speak). Another friend worked in rural Gyeongnam. She was forced to come in to both her schools in the middle of winter, even though it was a long bus ride and one school turned off both the heat AND the water during the break.

Don’t compare NSETs in Korea to engineers (BTW, which engineers and where?). When you’re building cars/ships/substations/bridges there is always work to do, and not any old English-speaker can do it. That’s why the foreigners that work in Korean heavy industry are paid >10,000USD per month and are FIFO, with a one month on, one month off rotation (working every single day of that month).

Apples and apples, please. School teachers in England and Australia are not forced to come in during the holidays. They will have planning and preparation to do (with concrete guidelines and goals), but they’re not forced to come in and sit at their desks the whole time the kids aren’t there. If I had had any real work to do, I could have done it at home, and saved myself the 80-minute commute each way.

Desk warming isn’t an immediate deal breaker for me; I disagree with the philosophy behind it, but I can do it for a few years. However, it annoys me when I think that Korea could attract more highly qualified (professional!) candidates if they let NSETs take all the school vacation days. A lot of career teachers in English-speaking countries would like to teach abroad, and would accept the pitiful salaries, I think, if they had more time to explore Korea and Asia, do taekwondo, etc. Korea might not have the money to attract the teachers that are being recruited through the UAE NSET scheme, but I think cancelling desk warming could make them more competitive. (If they wanted to be, which I’m not sure they do, and that’s a blog comment for another time).

As for waygook, I think it is an excellent resource. (I’m not bragging here, but just for perspective…) I have two education degrees, more than 10 years diverse teaching experience and 100s of hours of formal PD, and I still find new ideas on that site. (100s of me sitting at a computer for 100 years would never have thought to make a Gangnam Style Bomb Game!) I think one of the strengths of the NSET teaching community in Korea is its members’ diverse backgrounds (Some people are good at/ like PC games; drama; writing). I would hope it goes without saying that no one expects to download a lesson and have it be ready to go for all or any of their classes. One of the luxuries of MY job is that I teach the same two lessons 10x a week. This means I can (and do) spend between 6-10 hours a week working on a single 45-minute lesson plan (and its cohort-dependent variations). I spend that long even if I got some or all of it from waygook (preparing my questions and instructions; predicting problems/ student questions/ redesigning, rewriting or customising a resource).

This response is not an ad hominem, Alex. I’ve seen you present and I like your approach to teaching.

Alex (AlienTeachers)
05/04/2013 20:45

Hi Sophie,
Thank you so much for taking the time to respond so eloquently, the points you make and the views you bring to the table are exactly what I hoped for when I wrote the article.

Regarding your ‘11th myth’, I suppose I partly agree and partly disagree, mainly due to the generalisations inherent in the very concept of the subject we are discussing. Unfortunately, I don’t believe it would work, at least not with the same impact, if the ‘myths’ were not based on sweeping generalisations. You said ‘other teachers problems… can always be solved by being more “professional”’, this is a point I absolutely agree with you on. However, I do also believe there are a certain proportion of problems that could be solved by being more professional.

You also mentioned comparing NSETs in Korea to engineers. I think you must have read that in the comments, and again I am in agreement with you that it is not a suitable comparison, however it was one I was presented with by the commenter and I didn’t really want to come across as, I suppose, ‘hostile’, by saying I didn’t think it was a suitable comparison as the point of the article is to promote discussion.

Regarding desk warming I think we have the issue as one of the previous commenters touched on. The point I make in the article is not supposed to deal with whether or not those hours should be in the contract in the first place. Removing desk warming would certainly help to attract more, dare I say it, ‘professional’ candidates, but then we move onto the discussion of whether or not the powers that be actually want to attract more ‘professional’ candidates, one of the reasons being the level of control you describe (another subject that would need a whole new blog!). However, the fact of the matter is that when we signed the contract we were aware of that stipulation. We made an agreement to be a professional (hmmmmm, we seem to keep coming back to that word!) teacher and to work during the hours specified. Again, I don’t believe it is as simple as this though, I firmly believe SMOE etc. made the decision that they do not want highly qualified teachers, they want cheap teachers. Given this, if they expect teachers to use that time effectively they need to present the teachers with support and guidance on how ‘desk warming’ time can be used effectively. If teachers do not have any training they are very unlikely to know the options available to them.

Waygook, actually again I think we are partially in agreement. In the article I specified that a lot of the lesson plans are not great, a point I absolutely stand by. However, I also agree with you that are a huge number of fantastic ideas being shared on the forum, many of which I use in my own classes. Unfortunately, I do not share you positive belief that ‘no one expects to download a lesson and have it be ready to go for all or any of their classes’. I actually believe this practice is very common, I actually know quite a number of teachers who readily admit to doing this. In fact, on several occasions I’ve been stood with them in a bar as they discuss this. Of course, there are also a large number (maybe even the majority) of teachers who don’t, and who use the resource as we do. However, for me, the myth does exist that simply downloading a lesson plan of waygook is acceptable practice. Actually, I have even spoken with people who have conducted classroom observations and have seen the exact same lesson twice in a week, with even the same spelling mistakes in the PPT.

Finally, I do disagree the any of these myths are only myths for me as, actually they are all based on things I have heard NETs state on more than one occasion. I actually heard a number of them from presenters in my very first SMOE orientation.

Alex (AlienTeachers)
05/04/2013 20:47

Oh, one more finally, I do not believe you can compare the role of a teacher in the U.K to the role of a NET in Korea much more than you can that of an engineer.

Alex (AlienTeachers)
05/04/2013 20:49

Actually, one more finally, sorry! I didn’t interpret your comment as as hominem at all 🙂 Just a good discussion with some not so different opinions!

05/04/2013 19:44

And, I know you offered some practical solutions to these problems. But some of these myths may only be myths for you.

Thank you for facilitating a discussion.

Andrew Griffiths
05/04/2013 22:22

5) I find my students to be some of the most creative people around – so inventive! I have no idea where the idea they’re not comes from. It honestly stumps me.

6) I love deskwarming precisely for the reasons outlined. I did my initial TEFL course off the back of it, as well as numerous hours reading and improving professionally. One of the best bits of the job, I say!

08/06/2013 19:56

9) I don’t think NSET’s are given nearly enough training on how to deal with the ins and outs of public school politics and etiquette. It can be a minefield of cultural misunderstandings if you go in with a Western-thinking cap on and you don’t adapt or even worse if you try to fight it.
10) I hear this all too often from other NSET’s here. In listening to a lot of peoples’ stories, I think a lot of it stems from #9 and peoples’ inability to adapt and be flexible. To be fair I’ve heard of some genuinely unfortunate situations that people have been placed in. But the more people I talk to, the more I believe that you get back from your students and your school what you put into it.

Making Student Diaries a Positive Learning Experience


How can we make student diaries a positive learning experience?
Regular readers may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging much recently, I’m actually on a two month winter holiday, although I’m working for one month at a winter camp before jetting off to the Philippines for the month of February.

For anyone that doesn’t know, a winter camp here in Korea does not, unfortunately, involve any camping. It does involve children as young as first grade being shut in classrooms for 7+ hours a day and supposedly taught, in English, how to become ‘global leaders’ or something similar. The camp I’m working at is affiliated with a top university in Korea, and so I had high hopes regarding the content and expectations, I was disappointed!

In my normal job I teach my own curriculum, make my own lessons and develop my own materials. In this camp I have no choice but to teach the syllabus, materials and in the style expected of me, most of which go against my teaching beliefs. The benefit of this, however, is that the situation has helped me reflect on the importance of having learning objectives in everything we do.

Over the next couple of weeks (time permitting) I’m going post a few ‘changes’ I would make to aspects of this camp that I feel would help students to achieve actual learning objectives. I’m going to start with looking at the system of student diaries.

Student Diaries

At the moment, these are simply a waste of time! This is such a shame as they are time consuming and could be such a fantastic learning tool.

Currently the process is for students to write diaries, hand the diaries to teachers, the teachers correct the diaries and write an obligatory comment, give the students back the diary, maybe the student briefly scans the comment, student puts it in their folder, it is never looked at again.

What a waste of a learning opportunity. Here are a few short suggestions that I suggest could improve the student diary writing process. I would love to hear of how you use student diaries as an effective learning tool in the comments:

1)      Relate the student diaries to classroom content. If you are covering a certain language point in class, why not give them the objective of concentrating on this in their diaries, therefore encouraging the repetition of language and helping to reinforce learning.

2)      Identify common mistakes in the student diaries. Take five minutes of class time to explain to the students how to correct the mistake and give them worksheets to practice at home. Give students a reward if in the next diary none of the class repeat the mistake. This will also prevent the cementing of incorrect knowledge.

3)      Encourage peer checking. This can be used hand in hand with the above suggestion. Have the students check each other’s diaries for the specific types of mistakes.

4)      Make your comments meaningful. So many of the comments I see are something like ‘wow, that sounds fun, don’t forget to use the past tense’. One way of doing this is to give examples in the comments, then have students make one or two new sentences using the examples to help them.

5)      Encourage a diversity of content. One thing I’ve noticed is that each student tends to write about the same subject over and over.  Perhaps it could be possible to suggest different themes for the diaries, however it’s important not to stifle student creativity.

6)      Promote self-monitoring. Once the diaries have been corrected, have the students give themselves feedback on how they think they did and what they think they can improve next time. Have students keep a log of what they have improved on for them to refer back to and monitor their progress.

I would love to hear any more suggestions you have on how to make student diaries a meaningful learning experience for students. I will try and post some more reflections over the next few weeks on what I have learnt while working at the camp. Also, don’t forget you can follow me on twitter @AlexSWalsh or ‘like’ us on facebook to receive regular updates.


09/01/2013 06:54

Hey Alex S Walsh,

Nice post. You brought back some (sad) memories for me. When I think about all the wasted hours I have spent on journals in English camps in Korea my head spins.

I am curious if there are any instructions given for the journals?

I am also curious about what students tend to write about as you said it is nearly always the same topics.

I think that this experience is a good chance for you to see your beliefs more clearly, so good on you about that.

I think you offer great ideas here. I especially like make comments meaningful. I think this can easily be forgotten when the mission is simply to “mark” or “complete” the journals.

One additional idea that came to mind was for teachers to highlight (or whatever the kids are calling it these days) errors and have students go back and change them.

Thanks for sharing and I look forward to reading more.

Best wishes,

Inevitable? Reflections on Beating Exam Time Fatigue

My students are currently facing the last week before their dreaded mid-terms exams. It is their first set of exams of the year and boy does it affect them. In a matter of one week my students have gone from teenagers full of life, energy and optimism, ready to participate and try their best in every activity to teenagers dreading the future, sleep deprived, hardly wanting to sit up and certainly not able to maintain the concentration span of even the most dreamy of teenagers. With this being the first set of exams, things are only going to get worse throughout the year as the pressure builds, it is simply the sad ineveitable truth of the education system most of the world adopts, especially here in South Korea. Today I asked one of my sleepy students how much sleep she got last night, she replied “2 hours”. Even if this is an exaggeration, which I don’t think it is, it certainly explains the change in our students! And I don’t think this change only affects public school and university teachers, in academies a teacher may not be directly involved with the students public school/university exams, but his or her students are still going to feel the fatigue from them.

This time last year I saw exactly the same pattern in my students, and I thought to myself “what can I do? This is Korea, this is how it works here so I’ll just have to accept it and keep teaching.” This year that just doesn’t cut it for me, I’m their teacher, and this is something that is inevitably going to happen year upon year, I can’t just accept that my students won’t learn anything for four weeks of every year, and so if the exams aren’t going anywhere,  that only leaves one solution, I will have to adapt to them. Why are my thoughts different this year? Well, yes I have a year more experience, but I think most importantly I’ve also been lucky enough to be involved with some fantastic role models in reflective teaching sessions.

So as teachers, what can we do to adapt to our students around exam time? One thing I’m certainly not willing to do is have ten students falling asleep in my class, or even one for that matter! So I started reflecting on my lesson planning and the range of activities I used today (I taught exactly the same lesson in exactly the same way as one I taught last week and received a very high assessed score for and had some extremely engaged students) and I came to a few conclusions about what I can do to adapt to my students:

1)    Their attention span is extra super-low, so my instructions have to be shorter and easier to understand. No complicated genius activities on my part!!

2)    Receptive skills (reading and listening) are probably not a good choice; I read to help myself get to sleep when I’m in bed, and on 3 hours sleep I certainly couldn’t concentrate on a 5 minute listening exercise. Perhaps I could have replaced that short description with a picture. Perhaps they could have even chosen the picture from a selection.

3)    Bums on seats is not the way for me to go, two of my activities involved students standing up today and this probably wasn’t enough. I definitely don’t mean make students stand behind their chairs as they can’t sleep when stood up (yes, I have seen these techniques used), I do mean that activities that involve students standing up and moving to gather information could be even more useful than normal, and are probably a must, even if it results in some form of chaos, I reckon this is better than any form of sleeping.

4)    Drawing. Personally I don’t have students making posters etc. too often (mainly due to limited resources), but I figure if I’m going to do it, this is probably the time! I’m saving my poster making resources for this time next semester!

5)    Short, snappy activities. Even shorter and snappier than usual, instead of having my students make 5 questions to ask one partner, perhaps I could have had them make three and ask two people.

6)    My lesson today involved 7 new expressions, that isn’t a lot (I don’t think), however, if students have been up until 3a.m memorizing vocabulary and grammar, there probably isn’t any room left. Also, effective CCQ’s for 7 expressions? Realistically that’s probably up to 10 minutes concentration needed, even if it is interactive between the students and me, which was no problem a week ago, that was too long today.

7)    Taking the students outdoors, fresh air has got to help. Next semester I’m going to think of an activity, any activity, as an excuse to get my students outside.

Some of these reflections are probably things we do as teachers a lot of the time anyway, but I think with a special focus I can beat the inevitability that lurks around every school I’ve worked at that ‘it’s the week before mid-terms, the students can’t learn anything this week’ routine. Unfortunately, I won’t be teaching a pre-exam week class for another two months, but I’ll be sure to come back to this and evaluate how successful I was second time round compared to today!

How do you beat exam time fatigue? I would be really interested to hear any tips to get the most from your classes at this time of year.

Oh, and you can follow me on twitter @alexswalsh


19/04/2012 03:01


You are very thoughtful and compassionate to recognize the change in student behavior during these trying times of exams, and you have presented some excellent ideas for modifying lessons with the students in mind. You might also try some lessons with upbeat music, videos, role plays or even TPR! I have had some success with these things as well as appealing to the students’ condition by tossing coffee mix pkgs and tea bags to students who actively and accurately answer pertinent questions correctly. You could take that idea one step further and do a lesson on directions or different registers of writing (recipes) where they learn “how to” make a cup of coffee or tea, and then actually make (demonstrate) it AND drink it!

Anyway, just some ideas that came to mind for me. Just understanding and relating to the students current frame of mind and telling them that you are doing what you can to make things easier on them will be much appreciated by them! It can only make them love you more (than they already do, I’m sure).

All the best to you and your students. Do let us know what post-exam time looks like.


Why Korea Needs Native English Teachers, Now More Than Ever

There has been a lot of controversial talk over the past couple of weeks caused by an SBS news story claiming that Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE) was going to remove 57% of native English teachers (NETs) from public schools. Their reasoning for doing this was based on a recent survey carried out and, as I am going to argue, a mis-interpretation of what the results of the survey mean regarding the needs of Korean education.There have been plenty of blogs that have gone into the results of the survey and in doing so have demonstrated how the government have mis-informed the public about the results, I am just going to link them here as there is no point repeating what has already been said. What I take issue with is that the governments justification for the cuts is simple, yet, as I am going to explain, it is this simple reason that actually means we should all be discussing an expansion, or at least a positive development, of the current program…

An anonymous SMOE summed up the governments reasoning for reducing the NET program when he simply stated:

“Korean students feel more comfortable learning from a Korean teacher”

It seems to me that everyone has just accepted that this does provide justification for reducing the NET’s. However, if we really think about it, this fact should be the saving grace for NET’s and the one that we use to keep our jobs. Here is a quote from the Korean education authority itself…
“The ability to communicate in English will act as an important bridge connecting different countries, and will be the driving force in developing our country, forming trust among various countries and cultures” 
(Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Korea:2008)

Our job is to instill a generation of Korean students with the confidence and self belief TO communicate with foreigners. If the majority of students still don’t feel comfortable communicating with foreigners then they obviously need more time in direct contact with foreign teachers, the programme has only been running 9 years, which, given the extensive history and isolation of Korea, is nothing. What this statistic should be telling the education authority is that with the current state of affairs, when this generation of students become a part of the business community, they are going to be unable to successfully communicate with native English speaking business partners. Do they really want business people who are too scared to pick up the phone to their American business partners? Especially in an age where forms of communication such as tele-conferencing are becoming so important. They are not going to be able to get away with simply putting it in an email, especially not when their neighbours in China, Japan and Taiwan are increasing the amount of exposure time their students are getting with NET’s.

Now, moving on to teaching, why do the government think students are more comfortable with Korean teachers? The reason is quite obvious, their lessons are taught almost exclusively in Korean. Of course it is easier for them to understand, and thus it is more comfortable, but the point is, if Korean students can’t understand their NET they certainly will not be able to understand their American business partner. Now I don’t want to take anything away from my Korean counterparts, they do a great job in difficult circumstances. At the end of the day, given the nature of the multiple choice reading comprehension exam, the teaching methods they use get the results they need. NET’s are not constrained by this examination system, as quite simply, our competency as teachers is not evaluated by our students’ exam scores. We are free to communicate with the students in an open and honest environment. We are not just teaching our students English, but the makeup of a NET’s duties here allow us to give the students the opportunity to practice creative communicative skills in general. At a time when Korean business leaders are stating their frustration at the younger generation’s inability to creatively communicate this is an important skill for students to be practicing…

Among respondents in companies human resources department, 75 percent said the education system fails to nurture the workforce the corporate world needs. The uniform way of teaching in schools was blamed by 59.3 percent. (http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2011/12/07/2011120700522.html)

Often a NET’s class is the only opportunity in this very uniformed educational environment to nurture the communicative and creative needs of the future generation of Korea’s workforce.

I’m not trying to say that the current system is perfect, every NET in a Korean public school would admit that we can be utilized more efficiently and effectively to give the Korean taxpayer the most value for their money, what I am suggesting is we focus our attentions on how this can be done. Let’s create an open dialogue between the NET community, the education authority, the government and parent and students to work together to meet the targets of the English syllabus and give a young generation of Koreans’ the skills they will need to continue Korea’s remarkable growth when they enter the business world.

What are your thoughts on the role of NET’s in Korea?
How can we take the role of NET’s into the future?

I welcome any comments below.

Don’t forget to follow me on twitter @AlexSRWalsh


11/12/2011 17:51

I completely agree with you!

I have only been here for a short period of time, but I can see the difference having a NET in the classroom has on the students’ English.

I have some great co-teachers, but some of them… I wonder how they would be considered to be an English teacher. One of my co-teacher’s barely knows enough English to say hello, and she is unwilling to learn. There is no way she can effectively teach English when she understands the textbook about as much as the students do.

I have seen some Korean teachers tell the students the wrong pronunciation or meaning of a word, and I cringe. I have to then try and correct the mistake without making it look like I am correcting the teacher.

I think the role of NETs is much more important for communication with English speakers. Sure, Korean teachers can drill vocabulary and grammar rules, but they don’t give the students the tools for effective communication. NETs do.

Jason Allshorn
11/12/2011 18:38

It focus I feel should be on the quality of research which leads to government policy. If all stakeholders are not surveyed and those that are, are not checked up on, the data remains useless. I believe that the research reported in the news is flawed.

Further more I believe the title NET is not a true one. NESG(native English speaking graduate) would apply to much more of the Native teaching community. When this issue is addressed, and the education system hires teachers then a new way ahead might be seen. Finally I totally agree that accountability in any education system is important. Let me have a camera in my classroom, opening it up to the world. The world can see me on a good day, parents can see their children on a bad day, and the school and see just how lazy other teachers can be. 🙂

12/12/2011 05:17

This is a great article and given it’s controversial nature surrounding native speakers it’s hard to wrap around what should be done to make all parties happy. What is annoying is the very black and white approach the government has taken on the issue without considering the long-term impact on English in Korea and how the education process works. Are we under utilized, most definitely, but not all teachers are, and it often boils down to the schools under utilizing us and not giving us more autonomy in the schools and this is mainly because of the position as foreigners in the schools. We often have to nod and agree to last minute and random camps, after school classes without any good information on student levels (co-operation with co-teachers) and disinterest in both teachers and students (although not always).

Every school, every province is different and it’s incredible that such a drastic cut was taken from the survey above without the thought of the importance of extra-curricular and non-academic situations that would be beneficial to the kids. The government set such initial standards and instead of surveying the levels of the teachers to determine their possible effectiveness, instead they keep the same rigid standard, don’t hire more credentialed teachers, and then say oh opps we hired too many under qualified teachers so therefore we must suddenly cut hundreds of teachers because so and so said they’re not effective. Funny enough they completely neglect to mention that more students find the lessons from Native Teachers much more effective and interesting, of course in Korea creativity, and striving to learn in non-academic settings is of low importance.

Just my 2 cents. Cheers!

12/12/2011 22:55

mmkay I read this article here(and i sorta agreed on several points) and then again in other Daum ‘cafe’ page.. Apparently Korean people who had ‘Native teacher’ in their school during their school years does not agree with ur argument at all. Maybe you can check the comments there?

13/12/2011 00:33

Hi Sod,

I’m really glad you enjoyed the article, I’m also really happy to have the opinion of a Korean person, I would really like more opinions on my blog from Korean people. I’m a little surprised about what you said about the opinions on Daum. A friend told me the article had been linked on there but seemed to think a lot of the comments were quite positive, that most agreed there is a need for NET’s but their roles need to be adapted as it is ineffective having 30+ students at a time, also that only one hour a week is not long enough. Unfortunately my Korean is good enough to read all the comments there myself, but I will ask my friend to translate some more of them for me.

Thanks for your input.

13/12/2011 00:40

Hi Kayla, Jason & CanadianNET.

First of all I’m glad you enjoyed reading the blog and thanks for commenting, I love knowing my readers opinions on the topics.

Kayla I think you’ve raised a very important point there, that although students may prefer a Korean teacher with a high level of English, there simply isn’t enough at this point with a high enough level of English. I think most Korean teachers would agree with you too, as I know the teachers at my school are worried about not having a NET next year to help with writing the exam paper etc.

Jason, I once taught at an academy with a camera, it wasn’t that pleasant but I definitely get your point. The trouble is, are there enough high standard quality teachers that want to come and work in Korea? Most of the quality teachers seem to be the ones that leave after a year, in my experience anyway!

CanadianNET I agree we are most definitely under utilized, I wish all this talk that is happening at the moment was centered around how NET’s could be used most effectively, because I think that is where the true issue lies.

Thanks for all your input guys,



13/12/2011 03:18

umm no.. im seeing about 75 comments and im pretty sure they are quite supportive about SMOE’s decision. Think it has a lot to do with the reasons you said tho

13/12/2011 03:26

Most of them have complaints on many NETs being ‘just some native speakers’ and not having mjored in education or at least, English. I myself have taught English in middle school (I majored in English) and I have to (kinda) agree with them coz there were many times I was so frustrated with my teaching skill (or method or whatnot..) i know there are many talented NETs out there and i can’t speak for others on this note but still..

23/12/2011 01:14

I believe that the problems with native speaking speaking English teachers, (and please don’t feel the need to be an apologist about the term. If you grew up speaking a language, you are a native speaker of said language), in the SMOE, EPIK, GEPIK, and generally in Korean education at large are rooted in the problems that are inherent in the Korean education system, a system which is not native to Korea at all.

Addressing the issues at the foundation of the system, (and in society at large) , would be the best first step.

10 Reasons to Teach Kindergarten in South Korea – An alternative for public school teachers

Given the news this week that almost all native English teachers (NET’s) in Seoul are going to be removed I thought I should post about some of the alternatives NET’s have to public school teaching. One of these is kindergarten. I taught kindergarten for my first year in Korea and I absolutely loved every moment of it (other than the school I worked for). It is really good fun and the kids are just amazing at that age. Anyway, an extremely good friend of mine, Amy, is much more experienced and qualified to discuss kindergarten teaching than I am, so I asked her what the top 10 best things about teaching kindergarten are. If you do decide to teach kindergarten I recommend you visit my page on how to find a good job in Korea so that you end up working at a nice school.

Amy’s Top 10 Reasons to Teach Kindergarten in South Korea

An open letter to my dear fellow native English-speaking ex-pats:

As the ROK, in all it’s wisdom, has recently chosen to drastically reduce the number of native English-speaking teaching positions in public schools, I thought I might share some reflections on my past 4 years as a kindergarten teacher in the hopes that some of you may decide to broaden your teaching experiences in this direction. First, let me assure you that I neither became a certified teacher, nor came to Korea, to teach kindergarten. I am a high school world history/social studies teacher in the US. Before coming here, I never considered a kindy position, but through the strange and sometimes cruel twists of fate, I became one. In 2008, I took my first position in an elem./middle school academy that suddenly decided to create afternoon kindergarten classes upon my arrival. Perhaps because I am a mother with grown children, I was quickly assigned to teach “the babies.” Little did these folks know, I never was too fond of pre-pubescent children!! If they might wet their pants, need a nap or fail to have mastered eating with utensils at the table, I figured they were too “needy” for my personality … which is only marginally maternal (if at all.)

Well, as it so happens, the out-pouring of love, near perfect innocence, adoration and fun I experience every day in kindergarten (for me) has far out-weighed my students’ lack of ability to discuss the history of the world with me, and I would like to pass on why, I think, kindergarten teaching is such a rewarding job opportunity. So, here’s my list of top 10 perks of working with kinders:

10. Lunch with the kids – even if you don’t enjoy Korean food in general, there’s usually something tasty enough to broaden your culinary experience.

9. Gifts of gratitude from parents – I’ve received everything from donuts and socks to cases of fruit, hand-made soap, expensive cosmetics and many “duty-free” items when families return from abroad.

8. Meeting with parents in social and educational venues – I am constantly personally thanked by parents with heart-felt platitudes regarding the love I lavish on their children. If the child loves me, they thank me, if the child doesn’t, they apologize for their ungrateful (often disobedient) child.

7. All-day holiday parties and special events – although special events may require un-paid after-hours or Saturday work, they’re mentioned in your contract, and never excessive. Examples are: “Family Sports Day, Pajama Party, International Day, etc.”

6. Field Trips – Kinders get to go on field trips to museums, cultural events, movies, parks, resorts, fire and/or police stations, community services may visit your school with a personal safety puppet show or your children may be invited to perform for other members of the community or their relatives. As kinder teachers, we get to got to places we might not otherwise visit, and show-off the talents of our students in the process!

5. Small Classes – The max. is usually 10. This allows us to really get to know each student for an entire year. I consider this a privilege … this is my opportunity to imprint on my children the idea that foreigners can be loving and supportive influences in their lives and teach them to be less afraid.

4. 9 – 5 hours – Kindergartens rarely begin before 9 nor stay open after 5 or 6 at the latest. For those new to the teaching profession, American teachers most often work from 7:30 AM – 5 PM, then take work home to grade, fill out endless reports, write report cards and disciplinary actions.

3. Creative liberal arts lessons – In kindergarten, I have taught art, cooking, science, story-telling, drama, singing, multi-media, library skills, etc.

2. Kindergarten Directors – The Director of your kindergarten is more likely to be more concerned about the welfare of the children than a Director in a hagwon for older students. If you’re lucky, they’ll also be more sensitive to the needs of their employees. And if you’re very lucky, they may even treat Korean and foreign employees on an even keel. The reality is that private hagwons are businesses, but kindys have to answer much more immediately and thoroughly than for elementary/middle school kids… it’s a kinder, gentler business.

1.             The uninhibited out-pouring of love, affection, respect and honesty of the student to the teacher.

Thanks for considering kindergarten, A. —

Do you work in kindergarten? If so would you recommend it?

Are you thinking about teaching in kindergarten? Post any questions you might have for me and Amy below!


07/12/2011 21:41

Alex – great idea for an article, thanks for sharing.

Amy – thanks as well. I used to teach kindergarten in Hong Kong, and I really miss the little ones. With all the uncertainty surrounding NETs next year, this has really got me thinking about returning to kindergarten. Do you have any tips on finding kindergarten jobs, ie. does any sort of database exist, or a particular recruitment agency or website forum that has lots of kindergarten job postings?

Thanks again for a great article 🙂


08/12/2011 17:48

thanks for this!! it’s a heartwarming reminder that sometimes teaching english CAN be rewarding.

As a certified teacher in Canada, it’s easy for me to be discouraged while teaching middle school students – it is so different than teaching actual curriculum in public schools back home.

Although I love my school, you have given me a lot of think about….

10/01/2012 02:10

Hi Amy, excellent post. I am in the final year of my bachelor degree and am looking to teach kindy in South Korea in say Feb of 2013. Do you have any advice that you might be able to share to help me find a good employer, and in what locations might be best? Or maybe you could share your experiences? Thanks in advance.

05/07/2012 08:07

Found this from the Weebly directory, great blog.

rita sahu
21/07/2013 07:47

hello everyone ,

i would be travelling to Korea in dependent visa , i have been in IT profession for last 11 years and now i want to take a break and company my husband in his new job at Seoul. Since i don’t like sitting idle can i get a job in kindergarten school in seoul even though i have no prior experience in teaching background. Now i want to contribute towards education field and learn new things in this area. Let me know if this is possible.

4 students’ stories that sum up so many of the problems Korea faces.

I have just finished conducting 450 4 minute long speaking tests over the course of a month. Needless to say this is absolutely exhausting, but I have 3 weeks without classes now so plenty of time to get on with some studying 🙂

As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I’m lucky enough to teach in one of the wealthiest areas in Korea, and so a lot of my students are very high level, this allows me to have some really interesting conversations with them, which makes the speaking tests a great opportunity to engage with them and really learn about their lives. There were 4 speaking tests that really stood out and really shocked me, leaving me speechless. All of them were in answer to one of these two questions:

1) Are the government right to force academies to close at 10pm?
2) Why is suicide the number one cause of death for Korean teenagers and what can be done to reduce the number of suicides?

Just in case you’re interested the other two questions were
3) Should South Korea abolish the death penalty?
4) Should South Korea increase its reliance on nuclear energy?

Anyway here is what four of the students told me that really shocked me, and I’m sure will shock you too…….

Student 1
Why is suicide the number one cause of death for Korean teenagers and what can be done to reduce the number of suicides?

The student proceeded to tell me a story of her best friend. Her best friend killed himself about nine months ago.  Her friend was 15 years old at the time, she was friends with him as they lived in the same apartment complex and went to the same academy. They attended the academy every day together, and finished at the academy between midnight and 1a.m depending on the teacher.  She told me that her friend went straight to academies after school, and so rarely saw his family. Despite the amount of time he spent in academies his grades still weren’t very good, and so his parents made him spend more and more time studying. Her friend often told her how he felt depressed, and she kept telling him to tell his parents. Eventually he reluctantly did tell his parents. His mum told him that he wasn’t depressed, he was just shy, and that he shouldn’t tell anyone else that he is depressed as it is embarrassing for the family. Her friend killed himself by jumping off a building. My student told me how she still feels guilt because he was her best friend and she should have helped him more.

Student 2
Are the government right to force academies to close at 10pm?

The student answered ‘yes, the government are right to force academies to close at 10pm, I just wish mine did’. I asked her what she meant by that, as legally her academy has to close by 10pm. She then told me that when she heard that the government was going to force academies to close at 10pm she was really happy, but her academy still doesn’t. She told me that the reason she was so happy when she thought her academy would have to close was because the academy she goes to sometimes keeps the students until around 1a.m or 2a.m. So of course, I asked her why, she told me that once a week, on a Friday, the academy gives the students a test, and that if you score perfect on the test you can leave the academy at midnight, but if you don’t score perfect you are taken to a detention room where you are caned by the teacher (and she showed me the marks on her hands) and then after 1 – 1 1/2 hours you do the test again. I asked her is she had told her parents about this. She told me of course her parents knew, because they come and pick her up, the school has to phone her parents to tell them she is in the detention room and they should come to pick her up at 2a.m. She told me that she has told her mum she doesn’t want to go but her mum told her it is only twice a week so it is o.k. Later in the conversation she told me her academy got raided 2 weeks ago (for opening later than 10pm) and so she thought it would then have to close at 10pm, but now all they do is turn the lights off in the classroom with windows and only use the classrooms without windows after 10pm.

Student 3
Are the government right to force academies to close at 10pm?

The student told me that she thinks it must be important for the academies to close at 10pm. We then had a conversation about her situation. She FINISHES in the academies she is forced to go to by her parents at 2a.m, usually gets to bed around 2.30am and has to get up at 7a.m. So she gets approximately 4 hours a night sleep. She then went on to say “the doctor says that’s why I’m so small”. She is, by the way, tiny. Apparently her parents took her to the doctor because she wasn’t growing, and the doctor told her parents the reason was probably that she wasn’t getting enough sleep. Her parents still send her to academies until 2am.

Student 4
Are the government right to force academies to close at 10pm?

This students is apparently one of the top students in the whole of the first grade (her homeroom teacher is my co-teacher for her English class). In the speaking test the student told me that of course academies should close at 10pm, and that actually she thinks the academies should be forced to close well before 10pm. She told me how her parents don’t like academies, and that she hasn’t been to an academy since 2nd grade of elementary school. So, I asked if she thought this affected her grades, at which point she told me she scores perfect in almost every test she takes. So, I asked her how she does that, she told me she just listens in class to what the teacher says and makes notes, the other students can’t do this because they are all either sleeping or too tired to understand. She said she then goes homes and studies her notes, then does her homework and gets extra problems from the internet which she shows her teachers the next day to check she got them right. But, she told me, the problem with this is that she is normally done by about 8pm and then she is bored as all her friends are in academies, so right now she’s learning Spanish online in the evenings and she plays games with her mum. Before the speaking test I honestly always wondered why she had SO much more energy than all the other students, and why she was always so happy.

I dont think anything else really needs to be said, other than I swear all of these are exactly what my students told me. I hope some Korean parents read this blog.

Below is the story that was in the news yesterday about a boy that killed his mum…..


Please post your comments below on your feelings about this topic, or what you think Korea can do to try and solve the problems highlighted by these students.

p.s I promise I’m going to find something more cheerful to blog about next week!!!


24/11/2011 23:15

The story told by the first student made me want to cry.
I am an elementary school English teacher in Korea, and it worries me to see that my kids could end up in those situations. One of my 6th grade girls is tired all the time because she goes to academy until 9pm, goes home, studies and maybe goes to bed around midnight. And most nights she doesn’t eat dinner.
I’m also worried because elementary aged students are commiting suicide from the pressure they are given.
My boyfriend (Korean) has told me that things have changed since he went to high school (he is 27 now). He used to go to school all day on Saturdays and most of the day on Sundays. Even with academies, he would be there until 1-3am. I am glad to know that change is coming, but I think it needs to speed up a little.

24/11/2011 23:32

I can’t help but get a “tragedy of the commons” or an “arms race” vibe from this whole issue.

Everybody knows the hagwon system is a problem and that it can’t continue like this for the long term (look at the skyrocketing rate of household debt – much of it is because of hagwon fees), but nobody wants to be the first person to take their foot off the gas.

24/11/2011 23:40

These insights are SO important. THANK YOU for sharing them. I wish I were more optimistic about the possibility for change here though…

Might I add that I have noticed that it is often the alert students who get 8 hours who do best in my classes and the sleepy ones who get 4 hours who continue to struggle? REM sleep, achieved at over 4 hours or more continuous sleep (as opposed to naps) is when our brain sorts, filters, catalogs the information we take in each day. Dear, Korea: listen to your children and stop subverting well-intentioned policies. My students are awfully good at cheating and lying… I wonder where they get it?

25/11/2011 00:15

Blimey Al. I hope South Korea is investing heavily in the creation of early retirement villages, psychiatric facilities and sleep clinics for all these children to end up in when they reach the age of 30 and their bodies cease to function… That’s if they make it to 30. It sounds like they are creating a whole generation to whom suicide is seen as a way to simply have a rest. Terrifying.

25/11/2011 01:10

Wow, such a telling set of interviews. I happen to work in an opposite environment – my school is in one of the poorer sectors of the city, so very few of my students are going to academies. The ones who do are as described here; tired, doing poorly in my class and multiple others.

Unfortunately, your non-academy student is probably in the minority in terms of her ability to learn independently. Some kids are just self-motivated and driven no matter what the circumstance, and know how to seek information about things that interest them. But most just find ways to fill their time with other things. If kids are to stop going to academies, then their parents have to be actively involved in their learning, rather than expecting it to be imparted by some external source. Sounds like that one girl’s parents are getting it right.

For most of my students, their after-school time is filled with PCbangs and TV. Just because they don’t go to academy doesn’t mean their brains are getting any extra nourishment. Their parents work long hours, so they can’t be around to direct their children’s outside-school learning. Mine are at an extremely low level in English and very few make it into the desirable high schools.

In other words, for many of the poorer students, hagwons or not, they’re not going to see much success no matter what is done, while the students with parents who are able to be involved in their education are the ones who are most likely to succeed. Which is ultimately the exact same as it is in the US. Academies are just complicating the whole situation.

25/11/2011 04:30

Wonderful blog article. I work in a poorer neighborhood so many of my kids do not go to academy, but rather go to the PC Bang. However, some of them do and I think it’s ridiculous how tired these children are during school. I had a meeting with my principal recently and he told me that he thinks Korean students study more than western students and asked me why that is. I responded that truthfully I believed that the students only believed they needed to study more, but in actuality they aren’t studying that much more. I said that if the students matter in class and did their work in school, they wouldn’t need to go to academies and if they didn’t go to academies they would be able to learn properly in school without being exhausted. I agree completely with the last girl. Academies are worsening education. The education system definitely needs to be changed because it it’s the children who indeed suffer. Thank you for documenting their stories.

26/11/2011 01:06

Hey Amy and Happy, I’m with you! I work in the wealthiest sector of my community, but I work in a Kinder/playschool where my kids will only be subjected to this kind of child abuse in their futures. Right now, I am privledged to be able to teach them that English is fun, I love them and foreigners can be positive influences in their lives. In cases of abuse or neglect, I strive to be a constant anchor. Honestly, the worse a child behaves in my class, the more I love them because I realize their misbehavior signifies a nightmare at home. Has anyone here ever read the book “A Boy Called It?” If so, you’d be able to recognise the signs of abuse we see every day. I am not personally speaking from experience when I speak about child abuse (phisical), but I can speak from experience when I speak about child neglect (emotional) … and I can tell you one and all that I’d rather take a punch ANY day.

28/11/2011 19:28

These stories are sad and frustrating for foreign teachers. It’s very common for academies to stay open well past 10pm (I have a math academy next to my apartment and frequently hear students leaving close to midnight). I think your student who does not attend academy and has that extra joy and drive should be held up as an example of what can be accomplished with the right outlook on education.
Thank you for sharing your experiences.

PS Sincerely, I think you might want to proofread your article first as there are many spelling and grammar errors. Sorry, but it was slightly distracting.

28/11/2011 21:22


First of all thank you so much for all your comments, I’m really glad you found my blog interesting. It was really interesting reading all of your thoughts on the topics, I wish I had more time to reply to you all individually. But ye, I just wanted to thank you all for reading and commenting. It’s an important topic and I think all we can do is make people aware of the issue and do our best to make our students lives fun and educational to give them some respite form the stress of their day to day lives.

Stephanie, I’m sorry about the typo’s etc. Please understand I write this blog in the little spare time I have between studying, teaching and spending time with my friends/girlfriend, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting it to be so popular (over 1200 reads since Friday!!). I’ve just had a quick read through before my class and corrected a few errors, hopefully they are a little less distracting now 🙂 But anyway, thanks for letting me know, and if you notice any distracting mistakes in the future please do let me know!!

Thanks again for reading and especially for commenting!!


01/12/2011 03:05

Hey Alex,

What are we, the ex-pat community going to DO about this situation? Our positions are shrinking in Korean high schools … who will stand up for these children? Is there a government agency to which we could appeal?

As Westerners, it’s our duty to inform the Korean board of Education:

First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

As you know, I am quite articulate and passionate about Korean students. Let’s brainstorm for change in this system to reduce teen suicide in this, our adopted country.

01/12/2011 21:15

I taught in Nowon, Seoul for the previous two years and had a similar experience. Specifically, I lived in Eunhaeng Sageori, which has one of the higher densities of hagwons in Seoul. It’s funny, I would go out to my roof at midnight or later and notice lights on in many of the hagwon buildings, but didn’t make much of it until you wrote this post. What an ironically sad state for the Korean education system to be in.

02/12/2011 02:14

The 1st story reminded me of a friend of mine. He takes weekly trips to see a psychologist, and he’s been seeing one since around middle school. I think he suffers from depression issues. The dude had to hold a knife up to his throat in front of his parents before they let him see a shrink.

Seeing a psychologist or even just a counselor is still widely perceived as something to be embarrassed of, and is almost despised in Korea. Like it’s somehow your fault for having a problem.

Also, there is the issue of finding a decent psychologist – my friend had some horror stories regarding past doctors.

05/12/2011 17:49

I teach in a poorer area in Seoul, and I find that the same is true about overly-tired or bored students who go to hagwons.

However, the students who cannot afford hagwons still do poorly and I’ve discovered that only about 1% of my students actually know how to study. Only 1% actually take notes during classes. I think the root of the problem is that Korean students have not been taught good studying skills because all the teachers assume they will be going to hagwon for it.

Another factor is motivation, but since English is a forced foreign language requirement, once a student has made of their mind to not enjoy class, there’s nothing to be done.

Still, it an issue of mob mentality. If every parent you know is sending their kid to hagwon, or if all your friends are going to hagwon, what else can you do but follow? Especially with Korea’s philosophy of going with the flow.

I wonder if or when this system will collapse on itself. I have a feeling a lot of Korean students nowadays are fleeing the system by studying abroad.

07/12/2011 07:04

I teach business people in Gangnam and frequently introduce such topics in my lessons… It can get pretty controversial at times, but I really like the idea that by using this type of discussion topic in my lessons, I may be able to influence the way that parents think about and go about educating their children. You see, I believe that a very important part of my role here is not just to teach English, but to incite people to think and communicate in more effective ways on a global level. I love the idea that by discussing topics like this I could help in a small way to shift the way of thinking about these inhumane practices.

Here is an article that I’ve occasionally used in my classes, which discusses the same concept. At least some people are getting the word out. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2094427,00.html

Great blog, by the way. 🙂

08/12/2011 20:14


If you discover a hagwon is beating children and deceiving inspectors in order to break the law, you have a responsibility to report this.

In addition, the government offers cash for reporting at about 400,000won per case. You can apparently report by letter, phone and web: http://www.mest.go.kr

The website is frickin slow so try again later if it doesn’t load the first time.

Alien Teachers
08/12/2011 20:31

Hi Vince,

Unfortunately I have no idea what the name of the academy the student was referring to is, or where it is located, otherwise I would be straight on the phone to these guys.

That is good to know there is a means of reporting them for future reference though. A lot of people are still reading this blog so hopefully this will help to spread the word that they can be reported.


09/12/2011 15:52

Please get these stories translated into Korean as well as people’s comments. I have often had students who are too tired to learn or absorb information. I always wondered why such young people had such a lack of energy.

Lee Ah Young
12/12/2011 20:40

I’m Korean and I had attended TaLK programme. Thanks to one of my friend, I read this and share it on my facebook. I posted it with Korean summary. I hope this serious problem spreads through my friends. Oh, I saw Ann’s comment now. I will try my best to translate it in the evening.

28/07/2012 22:57

Hello Lee Ah Young,

I’m also a TaLK teacher 😀

It’s great to see the co-teachers sharing the same concerns many foreign teachers face.

13/12/2011 00:45

Hi Lee Ah Young,

That would be fantastic if you could translate these stories. I know it would take a lot of time so if you do thanks so much in advance. Please post the link if you decide to do that.

I’m actually hoping to find a Korean person who would like to share this blog with me, so between us we could have every post in Korean and English as I really think there is a need for more dialog on important issues like this between the foreign and Korean communities.

Lee Ah Young
14/12/2011 02:58

It only took an hour or so. I’m not that good at writing in English, but it’s more easy for me to translate it into Korean. If ‘the sharing’ is possible, that will be nice! Right now, I don’t run any Blog, so I posted it on my facebook. Here is it.


14/12/2011 20:06

Hi Lee Ah Young,

Thankyou so much for doing that. I can’t get that link to work though?


22/10/2012 22:57

Dear Sir,
I liked your comments so much. We are learning everyday. I am also a teacher here in Bangalore, India. Please visit our site. We are a faith based mission and working for children and women. We want to build a school for sexually abused girl children and school drop outs so that they can be empowered and will be enlightened on their voting rights, domestic violence, their power as women etc. We also recruiting volunteers who can come here and work in our mission for 3 weeks.
If you are willing, we can work together.
with regards,
Dr Beatrice Daniel

23/06/2013 09:13

This is a good post.A social issue in the eyes of a child is a reflection of what society we have at the present. Thanks for though.

31/07/2013 21:16

Interesting blog. I taught English in Korea for about two years and although I loved my students, it was not a pleasant experience. Korean’s aren’t capable of learning English no matter how well you teach due to limited exposure. You can only learn so much with one hour a week. Thus, parents think that by forcing their children to go to academies, they can make up for bad public schooling. It just doesn’t work. It’s truly sad. “Miserable,” is the one word I would use to describe Koreans 😦

31/07/2013 21:22

Sorry, some grammatical errors in my previous post. I can’t correct them. I just wanted to add that a good plan for teaching Korean children is to send them overseas during elementary school if you can afford it. A huge part of the learning difficulty Koreans have is because of their bad education system. You can still get into “SKY,” if you have the grades elsewhere.

08/08/2013 17:56

I’m a tutor of Korean students here in the Phiippines. The first student’s story had the same story of my student. I don’t know how prideful the Korean was, until I read this blog. However, i don’t mean all, but generic. Our tutorial center here in the Philippines run by Filipino management is well appreciated by our Korean students and parents. In additiong, their main reason why they are here in the Philippines is one for exposure to English language, and the comfort,a and knowledge they get without inculcating too much ideas in their minds or even forcing them to accept the ideas. Let the children learn in their own ways. let the teacher be reminded that school are not gorund for military training. Schools and academies must reinsure that their student’s should feel like as they are in their home– being loved and being cared while nurturing them.