Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Welcome New Pyeongtaek Teachers!

As we roll into March it's time to begin a new school year and welcome lots of new teachers to the area. Pyeongtaek is big and spread out with lots of rural placements so teachers can often feel unconnected and lonely. Don't worry, you don't have to be. There is quite a bit going on and plenty of people to meet. We are also always trying to gather information and make life easier for you. The first step to getting connected it joining us at one of the (usually) monthly socials.

Apps You Need

  • South of Seoul (All About Life in Pyeongtaek)
  • Naver Maps
  • Daum Maps
  • Kakao Taxi (Call taxi app)
  • Subway Korea (Subway schedules)
  • KORAILTALK (Book train tickets)
  • Papago (Naver Translation app)

Important FB Groups

Blogs you might find helpful:

Looking forward to seeing you all around.

Now it's time to go try them all and leave your reviews in the South of Seoul app. Just go to the app, open the listing, and click the star in the banner. You can tell us all what you thought. Remember to include useful tips like where you parked, if they had chairs for kids, or other details you found important. Reviews help us build a beautiful life together. One Star reviews submitted with no comments may be rejected. Please explain 1 Star reviews without being crude or profane. Simply explain the situation. For example: "the food was not fully cooked, the waitress never brought my friends food, and the taste wasn't what I prefer." Korea has strong anti-defamation laws so keep explanations clear and fact based.

For address and WAZE directions to anything on this blog download the South of Seoul App from either Google Play or Apple App Store. 

Why we do this:
We made the app to accompany the blog because it's easier to keep update with current information. In the past we've tried keeping the information on the blog but it's too hard for us to maintain the information in two places at once over time. Since we compile and write blogs around a full time jobs without compensation, we need to do it the most efficient way possible with as few steps as possible.

10 Issues New Teachers Face (and solutions)

When you arrive in Korea there will be a thousand little surprises. Doesn't matter how much you have prepared or how many blogs like this you have read. It's ok and there is no judgement. You've spent many months building up this experience in your mind and when you arrive it's going to get very real, very fast. Reality of culture shock is going to conflict with the comfort of the dream and suddenly teaching English abroad is going to be come a real job. A job you are expected to do with little to no guidance, information, or explanation. The expectations others will have of you will feel impossible to meet, because - well - they are. It's going to take you a while to get good at this and that's ok. It's ok you are a little miserable and it's ok that you are shocked by things. It's more than ok, it's normal. GEPIK and EPIK are going to do their best to help you get oriented, but they are going to leave out some very important things. Things they either can't say, don't know to say, or don't want to say. They aren't failing you. They have done their best in the framework of their job. The rest is really up to us, teachers working in the industry, to share with you.  This blog won't solve all your problems, but hopefully we can help you feel less alone and more aware of things coming your way. We will attempt to offer solutions and empower you to meet the challenges head on. We love this job and want to make sure that you do to. None of these things are complaints, they are issues we overcome. Simple facts of life which is how we came up with the title for this list...
10 Facts of Life for English Teachers
***Everything Will Be Last Minute and Nobody Tells  You Anything***
This is the number one complaint of every new and old teacher. It's a frustrating fact of life. Know it's going to suck and just find the humor in it. Know that everything you are told is fluid like a river. Here is a list of some of the many things that will happen:
  • Your class is cancelled and nobody told you.
  • Your classes has been re-organized for the day or week and will happen at different times - nobody told you.
  • Half of your students are gone because they need to work on another subject.
  • Your students are expected to sing a pop song in the festival, but you aren't told until 2 weeks before.
  • Open class is next week and they need a lesson plan.
  • Open class is suddenly cancelled.
  • You made the open class plan and it was approved. Then they ask you to completely change it the day before.
  • Students show up in your class with no notice. 
  • Students leave your class with no notice.
  • There is a school dinner after work, they tell you at noon the same day. (VERY common)
  • There is a teachers trip over the weekend, you find out two days before you are expected to attend.
  • You are required to pitch in an extra 30,000 won to attend said trip.
  • A fellow teacher is getting married, you are expected at the wedding and need to contribute 20,000-50,000 won gift.
  • A fellow teacher's family member has died, you are expected at the funeral with a 20,000 - 50,000 won gift.
That's right. Some of the surprises have nothing to do with your actual work. They are the social requirements of holding your job. Yes, you could skip these. You could choose not to participate in local culture, but then why did you come? This is what life is here. You go to the weddings and the funerals. You show up at the dinners. You participate in the highs and lows of life. If you want to be happy in the job for the long run, you are just going to just have to become somebody who rolls with the punches. 
However, when it's work related you can get ahead of the game on many things if you insist they give you one very important docutment...
SOLUTION(s): Get the School Schedule
In March every school releases a school schedule. Usually they don't give this to the English teacher because you don't speak Korean. This schedule tells you when the open classes are going to be, holiday, vacations, when the kids are going on trips, etc. The schedule will look something like this but maybe not exactly:

Make sure that you have this. Don't rest until you get it. Sit down in your first week and go over at least the first three months of dates. Get out your translation app and go to work. Know what is happening at your school and ask questions about the things you don't understand. We can't translate everything because each school is different, but these are common and important things:
  • 학년 = You will see somethings labeled 1학년. This refers to their grade level. Some events are only for certain grades. If you see this you can ask your co-teacher about it and find out if the students will be absent that day or the schedule affected.
  • 학기 = Semester.
  • 월 = Month
  • 주 = Week
  • 일, 월, 화, 수, 목, 금, 토 = Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday
  • Look for words that end in-절 These will be holidays. Example: 광복절
  • 교육= education so it means there is some sort of special education event.
  • 학습 = learning so it's another study event.
  • 페스티벌 or 축제 = Festival of some sort (you can ask if your students will be asked to perform any English activities like pop songs.)
  • 방학 = School vacation
  • 현장체험학습일 = Field Day, maybe your kids will miss class. Ask your co-teacher.
  • 교원능력개발평가 = Assessment of teaching ability. This is when you will be asked to teach a special class. I recommend getting ahead of this. Try to be sure you get to choose what grade level you will teach so that you can put your best foot forward. 
  • 개교기념일 = School anniversary, sometimes this is treated as a holiday and you have it off.
  • 졸업식 = Graduation, there wont be classes and you will need to attend if you have a soul.
  • 수영 = Swimming. It's possible your students have a week of swim classes where they will miss school.
There is one very important thing that is NOT included on the school calendar: winter/summer camps. This will usually not be scheduled until the last minute. Sorry guys, you just have to accept the fact you wont be buying your vacation tickets early. Ask as early as you can to let the school know it's important to you, but don't expect an answer.
 Plan For Pop Songs
I plan on the fact someone at some point is going to ask my students to sing a song. Sure it might not happen, but I plan on it because I want my students to succeed. In preparation for that moment I teach all of my classes a pop song starting at the beginning of they year. Each week we learn 1-2 lines of the song together. When they memorized it slowly like this it's very easy and builds their confidence. Maybe it takes 5-10 minutes of class each week. I treat the entire song as a way to work on vocabulary, grammar points, speaking, listing etc. By summer vacation they have fully learned and dissected the song. Then if they are asked to sing at the fall festival they are ready. This system has worked great because my students are always prepared, and even if they are never asked to sing it - they learned something helpful.
Find Out Who Your After School Class Manager Is
If you teach after school classes you are not only being managed by your co-teacher, but also the person responsible for coordinating all the after school classes. This person is the one who will set your schedule for Open Classes. Meet them, make sure you are on their good side so that they let you choose which class will be taught and what time it will be taught. It's very nice to be in control of this since you know that an Open Class at 3:00 on a Friday is gauranteed to go south. 
They will also be the ones to notify you if after-school classes are changed or altered in any way. It's great when this information is given directly to you instead of going through your co-teacher who might forget to tell you, or tell you late. Also, if you are friends with the person scheduling classes, they may let you have input on how your classes are structured or what time they happen. I always appreciated the fact my after-school manager always ran the plan past me and asked for my input. You can't expect this the first year, but if you get to know them you can earn their trust and move toward this.
***Open/Special Classes***
You are going to have to teach in front of people and you are going to be evaluated. This isn't weird. This should be expected. All the teachers at your school are going through the same thing with you. It's not just for English teachers. It's everyone. Suck it up and do your best. Nobody thinks it's fun.
You will have Open Classes with your co-teacher AND you will have Open Classes for your after-school program. Some will be open to parents and others will be open to only teachers. Open classes are often held in the spring and fall. It's possible that you might be asked to do between 2-4 of them a year depending on how many regular v. special classes you teach.
Each time you will be evaluated and sometimes the feedback seems completely rediculous. It can be hard to take, but you just have to take it. Thank them for their feedback and promise to do your best to improve. Then you call all your friends and blow off steam because you are all going through this together. You bond with your co-worker who is also frusterated. The first few years are the hardest but then you start to get a feel for it and you realize it's not the end of the world and kind of an interesting riddle to unravel.
SOLUTION(s): Plan Ahead
Don't wait until the last minute to prepare for you special class. If you have the school calendar you know what week they will be happening. Work toward it:
Practice activities with your students that you might want to have them do during open class. 
Clarify with your co-teacher who will be making the Open Class plan for Regular Class that you teach together. 
Ask what the parents at your school value or what the principle usually looks for. 
Ask you co-worker for the former teachrs lesson plans.
Ask what feedback was given to the former teacher.
Ask questions.
Work on question answer patterns with the kids that will impress the parents.
Create plans that highlight the students abilities instead of your power point skills.
Don't overwhelm the students.
The biggest key to success is making sure you don't surprise your students too much on the day of class. Use activities and skills you know they are comfortable with. Don't set them up to fail by delivering lots of new information in front of their parents or the other teachers. Remember that your students are also scared. Protect and support them and they will help you look good.
Remember that just because you received some negative feedback doesn't mean you did a bad job. Sometimes people are required to find negative things so they REALLY reach. It's possible they understood NONE of the lesson and don't want to look silly. This is especially true for feedback coming from the school principles who might now speak any English. Take everything with a grain of salt, but also be sure to learn from it. We can always get better and disecting all the feedback for the helpful elements is critical for improvement.
***Teachers Are Expected To Help With School Tasks***
In Korea you are expected to do some tasks you might not expect. Nobody thinks to tell you about these things in advance because in Korea it's expected and it's how life works. They can't imagine that anyone wouldn't be expected to do these things. They don't know the work expectations of other countries. This is how they think it works everywhere. This is what is called a "cultural difference". It's not a failure of the culture, it's just a difference. Here are examples of things you might be asked to do:
  • Clean your classroom. That's right, teachers handle this on their own.
  • Clean snow from the school parking lot before school starts.
  • Help move things from one place to another in the school.
  • Pitch in on gardening projects.
This list isn't exact. It will change based on school location, size, and jobs that need done. 
SOLUTION: Just Do the Work
Yes, I realize "it's not in my contract" but that doesn't matter.  Your Korean co-workers are just as annoyed as you, maybe more. Your complaining about it will not change anything, it will just make them pissed at you. If you want to get along, pitch in when you see them doing things and suffer together. Later you can all talk about how much it sucks and bond. Plus, the more you help the more they are willing to help you. You will often find things at school will end up going your way more and more when you pitch in and show you are part of the team. That said, these little tricks also help. I learned them from my Korean co-teachers.
  • Cleaning your classroom:  If you don't want to clean it learn to bribe students to do it for you. Often this can be done with candy or extra movie time.
  • Snow removal: make sure you have good gloves if it snows and wear sensible shoes. You will be outside shoveling snow so dress for it... or show up 10 minutes late on a snow day because the "roads were bad". I love shoveling snow so I just dress for it. (Actually I show up early to make sure I get to do a lot.)
***Students Don't Listen to the Foreign Teacher***
You say sit down and they stand up. You say open your book and they pick up their pencil. You say be quiet and they yell louder. You know they know what they words mean but they do nothing you say.
SOLUTION: Focus On Call/Response From Day One
Spend the first 30 days of your lessons focused on getting the kids used to your voice and your phrasing. Just because kids know that "sit" means sit. It doesn't mean that they know to put their butts in the chair when you say sit. They also don't know that when you say things like, "STUDENTS!" in a loud, stearn voice it means, "Shut up and sit down NOW!" To them you have just yelled out a random word for some reason. You honestly need to be very clear about what you expect from them when you say certain things. They are kids, you are not speaking in their language, it's hard for them.
The best way to fix this and have fun is to play a LOT of "I Said" which is just "Simon Says" but you change the action cue to be "I Said". This gets the kids used to taking action when you say something. Go through everything you might want them to do. You can even give them paper and do it with actions like, "I said circle words with the letter "a". This game can be adapted to any level or topic. This is the game/gift you give yourself. You can also use, "The teacher said" or other various forms of calls to action. It's a real life saver.
***ISSUE: Sick Leave Works Different***
You can't ask for sick leave for Dr's appointments. If you do this you will have to use vacation time. Sick leave is only for being suddenly sick.  If you are out for more than 1 day you will need a Dr's note.
SOLUTION: (only for those that are desperate) Little White Lies
I don't really support this but it's possible. You can suddenly be sick on a day you have an appointment scheduled. Since you don't need a Dr's note if you come in late for work you can go to a morning appointment and then arrive late. This simple excuse usually works and you shouldn't have any real issue. When they ask what was wrong just tell them you had a stomach or a headache and you went to the hospital. Since it's quite common to go to the hospital for these things and you don't need to prove anything. 
This also gets you around the fact they will want to know what your Dr.'s appointment is for if you ask for pre-approved leave. Nobody wants to explain to their co-teacher that they are getting their breasts examined or need to check their thyroid.

Personally, I just use my personal time and accept the loss. I'm not a fan of packing lies upon lies but some people want to keep all their time off for during their holiday.
***ISSUE: Desk Warming***
You are going to be required to go to the office when you have nothing to do. Nope, you can't get out of it.
SOLUTION: Make a Plan
This is an opportunity of a life time. You can study Korean, write that novel, make an app, compose your next album, or create the blog you have always wanted and GET PAID TO DO IT!!! It's an amazing opportunity so don't waste it. The amount of awesome projects I've see come out of "desk warming" is uncountable. Gather what you need to be amazing and make a plan. Don't waste this gift. 
*** Annual Health Checks***
This is required by Korean National Insurance. All Korean staff have to do it as well. You are not being singled out. This does not go to immigration, it's for insurance. You don't need to be told to do it. You need to just go get it done and turn it into the office at the time you sign your next contract. Different hospitals charge different amounts so if you are on a strict budget you can shop around.
SOLUTION: Do It Before You Are Asked
Don't wait to be prompted. When it's time for your contract renewal just get it done and turned in.
***ISSUE: Korean Taxes***
Every January/February your school is going to need to file your taxes for you. In order to do this they need your bank records. My first year I was in the US on holiday and was totally caught off guard by this. Nobody had mentioned it. Suddenly I was calling internationally trying to get things sent to my school. It was a hot mess because you need to download the information from your bank using your bank certificate. It was only due to the kindness of the foreign bank office that this happened for me. Don't be me.

SOLUTION: Give Them Your Bank Records
In January get ahead of this. You need to get your bank certificate put on a USB drive. Then the office ladies can download a PDF of your banking and file your taxes for you. You will most likely need to sit with them through this. If you are going on holiday, make sure to do this BEFORE YOU LEAVE! Also remember that if you spend cash it's not going to be counted toward your tax liability unless you get recipts. It's best to use a Korean debt or credit card for your spending. This is will maximize your refund at the end of the year.

***Trouble Getting Records & Print Outs From Work***
Teachers often struggle to get copies of their wage records or paperwork they might need for other issues. They ask for things and it takes weeks or months to get the information from the office. You feel frustrated, lonely, and unsupported. It can be truly disheartening, frustrating and even scary. We've all been there and it sucks. Like REALLY sucks. The worst.

SOLUTION: Kiss Up To Office Staff
Take them treats. Smile big. Be REALLY kind. Go out of your way to show them you know they exist and think they are great. These are people you will rarely come in contact with but they have a huge impact on your happiness. If you want to have easy access to your records, be their friend. I can't tell you how much better my life is because I am friends with the office staff. They are used to being ignored or just having people angry at them. If you do this and are super nice, then you can go directly to the office and they will help you without having to go through your co-teacher.
***I am new. I have no friends***
If you are working in the EPIC program you met lots of people at orientation and now you are at your school placement. The orrientation friends are all hours away. The reality has set in that you live alone in a foreign country where socializing is MUCH harder than you could have imagined. You aren't super social anyway so you just go home every day and eat spagetti because none of the restaurants near your house serve people eating alone. (No idea why I chose spagetti. Just go with it.)

If you are a hagwon teacher you arrived on Sunday and went to work on Saturday. You don't know anyone except maybe the foreigners at your school... if you are lucky enough to work at a school with more than one foreign teachers. The world outside seems like too much and you spend your days in your apartment feeling sorry for yourself and thinking about what could have been.
SOLUTION: Leave Your House
It's time to be bold and let go of all your opinions about what you like and don't like. Time to just say "yes!" to anything that comes along. Co-workers want to go do noribang and you don't like singing? Just go. You heard about a big festival in town but you hate crowd? Just go and stay at least 1 hour. Don't drink coffee? Go to the cafe and drink ginger tea. Hate Facebook? Don't care, join your local expat page and ask people to meet up. Don't really care about studying the language? Just go to language exchange anyway. Trust me, people only speak English there and hardly anyone cares about studying. Don't waste this amazing adventure sitting at home. Challenge youself and rediscover everything. Korea is different. You are different. Fall in love with life and say yes to adventure.
(Things I hated before Korea but now find endearing: Runny egg yokes, crowds, nori bang, holding hands with female friends, hanging out with co-workers, sporting events, hiking, group travel, and so much more. Korea has completely changed what I thought I knew about myself. Let your world be redifined.)
Of course there are any number of additional issues that teachers face. Everyday there is a new challenge to overcome in the classroom or in life. No matter where you are in the world, this will be true. Embrace the challenges and search for the growth. This is an amazing job in an amazing country, don't let the fact it requires advanced adulting get you down.