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Teaching at a Language Academy in Korea

Teaching at a Language Academy in Korea | ITTT | TEFL Blog

For those of us who have a desire to teach English as a foreign language in Korea but decide to forego a formal TEFL certificate, language academies (or, "hagwons") are one of our most prominent and accessible options. In the year 2018, fresh out of my undergraduate program, I joined the ranks of many enthusiastic (albeit, mostly untrained) teachers bound for privately-run English academies. The opportunity to travel, visa sponsorships, housing benefits, and the job, itself, make hagwons an attractive option to aspiring teachers with no formal training or little practical teaching experience.

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Teaching Challenges


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This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Shelby H. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Teaching Challenges

However, An instructor's experience at different academies will vary to some degree; but after having networked with a diverse community of native English-speaking academy teachers and taught at one myself, I will rely on my inside-knowledge of a few critical teaching challenges that are unique to the hagwon system.

The most salient challenges I encountered with my young learner's program were the high expectations of the students' parents, which were occasionally in conflict with the academic needs of the students, themselves. Because these academies operate as private businesses instead of federally-regulated and taxpayer-funded public schools, student retention was the priority of our overseers. Essentially, this meant that we always had to cater to the whims of the parents, rather than our methodology or intuition. One of the major challenges that stemmed from this area of oversight was that when we would receive a new student, we were made to take his or her parent's assessment of their English ability at face-value and place them accordingly. This resulted in students being placed in classes that were much higher than their actual level, because of the social clout and prestige that follows. Even more frequently, parents would insist on moving their students to an inappropriately higher or lower class, so that the student would be able to share it with a friend or sibling in that class. Most of these students quickly became stressed, bored, or discouraged in these environments, when they would have otherwise thrived in a class that was more appropriate to their English level. In this regard, the ITTT TEFL coursework insists that any new student in a program receive an objective placement test to challenge them proactively.

Korea view

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Our program (and many others like it) taught directly to the material Korean standardized English exam, we were discouraged from taking part in any part of what would constitute as the "Engage" or "Activate" phases of the ESA class structure at any point of the lesson. While an approach that prioritizes accuracy and processing-speed over holistic fluency might meet the needs of other classes (such as business English or individual tutoring sessions, if the pupils suggest it), it did not take with our young learners. The highly-streamlined structure of our program left us little room to build rapport with our bored and discouraged students, or take into account their specific interests and incorporate them into the lesson. Being forced to exclusively work out of our coursebook made me appreciate all of the different activity ideas and resources for outside media that the ITTT program suggested we incorporate into our lesson plans.

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The twenty-unit TEFL coursework has provided me a new framework to address these issues with my prescribed program. Going forward with my teaching career, I believe that this course will provide me with more reputable job opportunities, as well as a better methodology to field any future teaching challenges.

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