Not just anyone can teach small children. If you think you can walk into a classroom with no prior experience and get the kids to sit still, listen, and (above all) learn without any training, you’re creating a recipe for disaster.
This is obvious. If I were a parent, I wouldn’t pay to send my child to a place where the teachers are untrained and don’t know what they’re doing. A place where they make stuff up on the spot and don’t have a solid grip on the students.
(“Well, at least they’re not bringing me up on statutory rape charges…yet.”)
I teach at the Feinschule which is a hagwon (private academy) of the Sanbon franchise of schools. The standards here are pretty high, which is why I of course underwent EXPERT TRAINING.
When I stepped off the plane, the head of the franchise greeted me by saying, “Joseph-teacher, welcome to the great nation of South Korea. Education is the nation’s pride, and our teachers are among the very best. You will be sent for training and be schooled in the latest, cutting edge techniques of pedagogy. The training will be tough, and will test your limits, but in time, you will emerge as a competent teacher with the tools to lead our youth into the future – the Korean Wave.”
(“Let’s do this.”)
I was honored to be part of such a grandiose movement. The passion behind the words brought tears to my eyes and a quiver to my lip. I knew I was holding a very important job title and decided to undergo the training with dignity, integrity, and the best points of my character.
I entered the institute.
There I was shown all the nuts and bolts of the Korean education system. They started with what the overall philosophy of the school chain is and what my role in it would be. (My job description if you will) Timetables were broken down into understandable pieces. Teaching methods and tips such as “How to teach effectively” and “How to create a lesson plan from scratch” were shared. There were songs and chants for the kids that I spent hours practicing until perfection.
Furthermore I was schooled on the etiquette of South Korea and its culture. What to do and not to do. What to say and not to say. How to act in common situations, and a brief run-down of common Korean phrases.
(“Only the BEST training facilities for new hires, Joseph-teacher.”)
At last my training was complete. The head of the franchise placed his hands on my shoulders and said, “Well done, Joseph-teacher. You now have all the skills and training to bring glory to the great nation of South Korea. In these past days you’ve exceeded my expectations and filled my heart to bursting with pride. Joseph-teacher, you’ve been more than a trainee to me—you’ve been…a son.”
He cried. I cried. We both hugged.
Then everyone in attendance broke out and sang the South Korean National Anthem.
(“Donghae mulgwa Baekdusani mareugo daltorok…”)
It was time to start teaching for real. Armed with my notebook of techniques, instruction books, and assorted teaching aides (flashcards, stickerbooks, etc) I walked through the doors of my hagwon, and killed it as the best English teacher in the history of Korea.
Everything I talked about above COULD NOT BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. I got to South Korea exhausted (like I mentioned last time) on a Sunday night and was at the school itself at 8 a.m. Monday morning.
No orientation. No training. Zero. Nada. Zilch.
Here’s what their plan for the “new American” was:
Step 1: Dump a random collection of books in his lap and quickly explain what they are, once, and only once. HE’S GOT THE BOOK, THE NEXT STEPS ARE TOTAL CHARITY!
Step 2: Show him the school website and branch website (both of which are all in Korean) and help him make a user ID and password. THAT’S EQUIVALENT TO TRAINING HIM ON IT, RIGHT?
Step 3: Let him sit in a total of ten classes (10 classes @ 30 minutes each = 300 minutes / 5 hours) to observe. THAT’S HOW HE’LL BE A MASTER TEACHER!
Step 4: Blame him if he has any questions on how to do anything we never showed him but is required to do. Use key phrases like “I showed you this already” or “You were told to do this.” BONUS POINTS FOR CATCHING HIM LEARNING THROUGH TRIAL AND ERROR SCREWING UP LIKE A DUMB FOREIGNER!
Step 5: Lower his self-esteem by baiting him into committing school faux paus that we never told him about. THAT’LL LEARN HIM TO GET TOO COMFORTABLE!
(Very funny, guys. Ha ha.)
Step 5 deserves a bit of an explanation, so let me relate a charming story about the minefield I’m working with here. This particular one concerns lunch time. Now one of the good things about this school is that they have a cook who makes healthy and delicious meals for the students and staff every day.
I won’t lie. The food has ranged in its appeal, but on the day of this particular story, I found the food most desirable. It was soup, white rice, chunks of beef, green vegetables, and kimchi.
I’m assigned to sit with the kindergartners (more on them later) and eat lunch with them. So (again, with no training WHATSOEVER) I went into the kitchen and got myself a reusable, washable, metal lunch tray, no different from anyone else. I went into the class and sat next to Teacher C (a Korean) who had a tray of food she was serving herself and the kids with.
She told me I could have some and I helped myself to a little of everything. Even when I was having trouble getting more food she offered me tongs. When I had eaten a bit she even offered me more white rice and meat. She was always asking me if I wanted some more until I had to insist I was stuffed, which I was.
I felt really good afterwards and full of energy. But later in the day, the head teacher pulled me aside and said this:
“Hey, just to let you know the food in the classrooms is for the students and the teachers. For the foreign-teachers they just get food out of the kitchen.” Then she said. “And just be sure that when you eat to finish all of the food on the tray, because we’re trying to teach the kids to finish all the food.” And finally, “Because the kids were asking Teacher C why you didn’t have to finish everything and they did.”
(While I just stood there like…)
Now at this point what I SHOULD have said was, “Well she can tell the students that Joseph-teacher has zero training and didn’t know he was supposed to finish everything. Or that he was supposed to get the food out of the kitchen.” But I did not. I was so angry at having been BAITED and TRICKED into making an idiot of myself that I couldn’t form words in that moment. I really was blindsided by the head-teacher’s reprimand because (and I’ll say it as many times as I have to)
Forget training there wasn’t even BASIC INSTRUCTION, and it brought to mind the below scene from 12 Years a Slave. Please watch the 45 second clip to get an idea of how I feel:
(“I did as instructed. If there’s something wrong, it’s wrong with the instructions.”)
What really boggles my mind is why Teacher C didn’t just TELL ME to get food from the kitchen. I don’t think she’s fluent in English, but she knows enough to say the word “No” and then point to the class door and say “Kitchen! Kitchen!” Why didn’t she just do that instead?
(Whoa, Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here!)
Listen. I’m a grown-ass man in a country with a foreign menu. I’ve tried more food in my first 3 days in Korea then I have in the past 10 years which is a lot for someone picky like me. I would rather NOT EAT than allow someone to dictate HOW I EAT. Forcing me to finish everything I take DISCOURAGES me from trying Korean food because if I pick something that looks questionable, I can’t just try a bite and leave the rest if I find it disagreeable.
I HAVE TO GO ALL IN, SON.
But levity aside, this lunch episode has now planted a seed of paranoia in my brain. Now every time they offer me food I have to ask “Can I eat this?” because I don’t know if it’s “safe.” Because, (once again) NO TRAINING (or basic instruction) WHATSOVER.
(Oh crap, this is gonna be me!)
I’ll end this lengthy post with a practical example of why a teacher with no training (i.e. me) can wind up in a bad spot. In the Feinschule there are four classes:
Zebra (4 year-olds)
Rabbit (5 year-olds)
Eagle (6 year-olds)
Tiger (7 year-olds)
Eagle and Tiger aren’t that difficult because they understand English and want to do their work (one of the kids even asked Santa for more homework for Christmas) and Zebra kids are so young they’re not worth stressing over. The real problem is the Rabbit class.
(The Children of the Corn have nothing on rabbit class.)
There’s about ten students in the class and not only is there a Bart Simpson-type sitting next to the teacher but the rest of them know very little English. They have lots of energy and are easily distracted as well. To deal with these kindergartners you really (and I mean REALLY) have to know how to handle them.
Yesterday the head teacher sat in with me for like 15 minutes and flashed all the techniques she uses to teach the class. I was stunned by how sharp she was but also felt a sharp pain when I was able to quickly deduce that learning to handle these kindergartners requires a week of training alone to do well.
I had the rabbit class twice on Friday (yesterday) and in the second class without the head teacher they basically went ape shit. They wouldn’t sit in their chairs, they chased each other around, and they tried leave to the point where I had to put my back on the doorknob to get them to stay in. I’m pretty patient and understanding, but in this case I was muttering curses under my breath because the kids were really unbelievable.
(“Could someone help Joseph-teacher put out the fire Aiden started? Thanks.”)
The only way I could rein them in was to make up a game on the spot which I pulled out of thin air. We played until the bell rang and after they left I slid into the corner and said a prayer for the future of my nervous system.
So what’s the point of this rant? What am I getting at here? On the one hand I’m blowing off steam, but on the other I’m trying to call attention to a very real issue.
When it came to my first week, the school was disorganized, incompetent, careless, apathetic, and overall so “Off Point” that it not only pisses me off, but offends me as well.
What if it wasn’t me, some nobody from Staten Island? What if I was an undercover journalist set to publish an exposé on the infuriating lack of training for foreign teachers?
I was looking at the head teacher and the manager yesterday, and thinking about what a total JOKE my first week has been, and one phrase popped into my head:
(I most certainly would be.)
That’s all for today. Thanks for reading my longest rant so far, and if you like what you’ve read please be sure to SUBSCRIBE BY EMAIL so you don’t miss a post. If you have a friend who can benefit from the information please SHARE the post. And of course if you agree / disagree with me, or are overall shocked by what a joke my “training” has been, be sure to LEAVE A COMMENT below (I want to hear your thoughts as well!).
See you next time,
J. F. Seegitz
I’ve returned to America, and surprise, surprise, CIEE Teach Abroad not only won’t help me claim the wages I earned while working at the Hagwon from Hell, but they also won’t refund the $1,000 I paid them for services they never delivered (orientation, pre-departure webinars / training, etc.).
Long story short: Do not give a DIME to the pirates working at CIEE. These reptiles will most certainly pull the old “I already got your money, dude” routine on you. BEWARE!