If you have decided to come to Korea to teach, I’m sure you have pondered about which grades you should write down on your application. Some people, I assume are completely sure about what grades they want, BUT are you really sure?
When I finally decided, I listed elementary school as my top choice. Boy, am I happy that I got middle school instead.
Before coming to Korea, I did not have much teaching experience. My confidence in managing a group of preteens or older was little to none. I figured that elementary would be a good place to start because the material taught should be simple and because the kids are still so small.
When I was assigned a middle school I almost had an anxiety attack. After entering the classrooms the first week, I realized how wrong I was. So if you are on the line about which level to teach here are some facts I’ve collected.
If you think ELEMENTARY SCHOOL is for you:
You don’t have much teaching experience but you enjoy playing and working with younger kids.
You have a great amount of patience. Because: #1 most students you work with will NOT understand English #2 with the faculty who from time to time don’t tell you about changes or expectations.
You are a creative presenter. Because: Majority of the students DO NOT understand you so you would have to work with animated gestures and tones to capture attention and getting meanings of words and phrases across.
You are great at PPT games. Because: You have 5 mins after each lesson to do something you like and games are usually what the kids will understand.
You don’t want too much lesson planning or don’t care for control of lesson topics. Because: You HAVE to teach from a book and plan lessons with coteachers.
Because: English levels are so low, you pretty much only reiterate the language and phrases from the book.
You are flexible and compromise well. Because: Coteachers come in different shapes and sizes and unfortunately different attitudes about you as a teacher. You will have to deal with each one differently. Whether they dictate your vocabulary in class or whether they allow you to present ideas for lessons.
If you want to experience Korea and don’t want too much on your plate for teaching or you don’t intend to continue teaching, then Elementary school is for you. I recommend aspiring teachers to try to be placed in middle schools or high schools.
If you think MIDDLE SCHOOL/HIGH SCHOOL is for you:
First of all middle school English level realistically is equivalent to elementary English level.
You don’t have teaching experience but you have done presentations and speaking in front of a class.
You have initiative and want to teach your own material. Because: Many middle schools DO NOT have an English textbook for your class. They have English grammer classes with another Korean teacher throughout the week so you are in charge of what you want to teach in class. It’s your choice whether you want to make your material from scratch or pick out your own textbooks. Note that there are some middle schools that will require you to teach from their book.
You have strong presentation/lecturing skills. Because: Depending on your teaching style, maybe the good old chalk board and lecturing is better for your lessons.
You can use media effectively. Because: Usually PPTs and videos or pictures can help you grab students attentions, get ideas across, and organize your lesson. If you have a good handle on any media aspect, this will help you in class.
You can lead the class as if you are there alone. Because: Coteachers MAY NOT take an active role in your class because they feel as though you are the main teacher. You should be able to ask them to deal with noise and behavior control and instruction translation if the students are having trouble.
You are patient. Because: Classes are MIXED with high, mid, and low leveled students. In some cases you can request for students to be seperated by level and taught at the same time as a coteacher.
You utilize resources well. Because: of the reasons above, you should use your coteacher, students, and school resources to aid you to effectively teach.
You are flexible and compromising. Because: Things will change at the very last minute and you will have to deal with not being told of these changes. Many times the lessons you have planned may be affected by these changes.
As a teacher in a middle school/high school you should have more freedom and opportunities to gain a genuine teaching experience as a teacher not just as a coteacher.
On a side note about coteachers, I’ve learned that most elemantary coteachers will try to hold your hand in class and do not fully trust your judgement. They are also less lenient about bending some rules for you because you are a foreign teacher, in other words more uptight about certain situations. In middle school, the coteachers will leave you to your own devices and trust you to teach whatever you have planned. If they have a problem, they will make suggestions to you afterwards. They are also more lenient and understanding about your situations.
This is only what I have observed from the account of other foreign teachers here in Korea so I am sure it is not the case for everyone.