Korean school culture is different than the West. It may take some time to get used to the Korean style of education. Be a blank slate, flexible and open-minded, and you will have a successful time here.
Confucianism has had a deep impact on the Korean culture, most notably with how people interact with one another. As such the social hierarchy system is very rigid. As a guest, you will not be as tied down as Korean's are to this hierarchy system, but you should definitely learn and try to adapt to it.
Another influence this social hierarchy system has on Korean culture is in the way people will greet each other. As such rather than the Western style of calling people by Mr/Ms/Mrs... In Korea, people will call each other using their titles. This way, one can immediately know who they are talking to as well as what their social rank is. Of course you will not be expected to follow this, and in fact, most people will insist you call them Mr/Ms/Mrs... However, if you were to use these titles, your staff will be very impressed and happy that you are actively trying to adapt to the Korean culture.
Koreans treat their coworkers as if they were a second family as they do spend a lot of time together. In order to promote comradery, your staff will most likely have many outings and get-togethers.
Hweshiks (회식) : After school dinners.
Volleyball/badminton : Especially in elementary school, volleyball is THE sport. People will get very competitive and schools will often compete against each other.
Teachers Union: In order to fund these outings, you may or may not be asked to pay into a teacher’s union every month. This is completely up to you, but it is highly advised that you do pay and that you attend any and all events you are invited to. It is integral to your experience in Korea that you maintain a great relationship with your work family.
* Please consider the following as advice. You are in no way obligated to do the following. Also understand that everything is circumstantial. Every situation is case by case, and so the following may not work for everyone. It completely depends on who your co-teachers are. These are general tips that have worked for others in the past, Ultimately we advise you to use your best judgment.
•The co-teaching relationship is the MOST important relationship you will have while in Korea. Quite literally, your success in Korea depends heavily upon your relationship with your co-teacher(s). DO NOT BURN THESE BRIDGES, once done, it will be very difficult to fix.
GET's who experience problems with their co-teachers seem to get caught up in the me, me, me. My co-teacher won't help me with this, my co-teacher won't help me with that... Your co-teacher's are your supervisors, not your secretaries/chauffeur/tour guide. It seems as if teachers only see it from the GET perspective. However, you are a GUEST in their country and so you cannot see it from the GET perspective alone. So let's take a look at the Korean perspective.
Photo courtesy of Ryan Thompson
Photo courtesy of Ryan Thompson
As staff and students spend a lot of time at the schools, it is considered a second home. You will often see your students fervently cleaning the school before they leave for home. As the school is seen as a second home, NO SHOES IN THE SCHOOLS. Instead, at the entrance there will be little cubbies for you to take your shoes off and switch into some slippers.
Depending on your school and location, school resources will vary. Things that may be at your disposal are textbooks, projectors, smart board, whiteboard...
The best advice would be, DO NOT RELY ON TECHNOLOGY. Practice your whiteboard skills, practice teaching with nothing in hand. Consider bringing in props to use, rather than having pictures on a ppt.
- Dress shirt
- Dress shoes
Please note that the teaching profession is held in high regards in Korea. As such, please dress appropriately. The general rule of thumb is to dress up for the first day of school, and then look at how your coworkers dress and follow suit. Irregardless, the better dressed you are, the more professional you will seem. As the saying goes, "dress for success".
Please click the above picture to see a full description on, "How to dress appropriately for work" by Kylie Genter
A common interview question we ask deals with flexibility. This is because one of the most important personality traits to have as a GET is flexibility. This is not a cultural thing, this is actually an occupational thing. Worldwide, being a teacher, or being anything for that matter, you will need to deal with the unexpected. So if you are someone who needs to prepare for every little thing, and you don't like thinking on your feet, teaching may not be for you.
Examples of common Korean surprises:
-Taking over a co-teachers class
-Deadlines : Summer/Winter camp
•Sudden business dinners
Now how can you deal with these things? Simple, over-preparation. Start preparing for your summer/winter camps now. Don't wait until it's almost winter time or summer time to start making your camps. Start now! You will have a lot of deskwarming time as well, so don't waste that time. Make extra lessons, work on your ppt skills, practice your lessons...
Each school has their own set of rules in regards to disciplining misbehaving students. So please consult with your co-teacher on the proper methods of punishment.
Usually the system looks like this:
When a student misbehaves,
1.GET handles situation.
2.Student continues to misbehave,
Have your co-teacher step in.
3.Student continues to misbehave,
you or your co-teacher can send them to the
인성부 (In-sung-boo), who is the person in charge
of student behavior development. Basically a fancy way of saying, the scariest teacher in the school. OR you can
send them to their homeroom teachers.
•Change seating placement
•Classroom structure – (lecture style seating, oval seating, group seating…)
Issues w/ School
The most important rule is to know your rights. In all cases, your contract is the final word, so it is advised that you carefully read the contract and understand all it’s components. (Please note that your contract is written in Korean and translated into English. However, through the translation process, some things may have been lost in translation. Please understand that the Korean version of the contract takes precedent over the English version. The contract is also subject to change. Twice a year, supervisors of the Gyeonsangnam province convene and look at the contract to see if there are things that should be changed. An official document of any changes will be sent to your school. Any changes will take effect immediately).
If you have a problem at school, please do not contact the GOE directly as this may cause your school to lose face if we were to intervene. This can actually irreversibly damage your relationship with your school. Instead try and follow the rules of engagement below.
Rules of Engagement:
Step 1. Talk to a co-teacher
Step 2. Talk to the head English teacher
Step 3. Talk to the vice principal
Step 4. Talk to the Principal
Step 5. Contact the GOE
(The above rules of engagement is basically advising that you do not skip a step in the hierarchy. For example, if you have an issue with a co-teacher, do not go behind their back and report them to the head English teacher or the principal. Try to talk with that co-teacher first, before taking it to the next level. GET’s are of course, always welcome to contact the GOE for guidance, however if you come directly to us to take care of your dispute, it may cause a rift between yourself and your school. The best case scenario for both parties is one where the GET and the school can come to terms on their own, without the GOE mediating.