The Thing About Teaching Korea’s Cutest Kindergarteners

Hi friends!

At the wondrous Pororo Park
At the wondrous Pororo Park

I’ve been a bit AWOL recently, and I want to apologise and explain my  recent lack of posts/activity. This past week/month has been a busy one! Ever since the start of this new school year (in March) things have been a bit of a whirlwind. There was the changeover, new (lovely) teachers, then my brief journey home, and now Gav’s sisters are here and it’s just all go all the time. Well, not always, but it feels like it! On top of that, I am trying to “get fit” and actually go to the pilates classes I have already paid for and which are literally in the building next door to ours. This is surprisingly difficult! So my head has been a bit foggy and on top of this my sleep hasn’t been great, due to some pipes in our building making loud noises at all hours of the night… /endrant.

Despite all the busyness, the one really nice thing about this year is that my class has stayed the same (with one notable, excitable addition) and I genuinely look forward to seeing them every morning. They really light up my days and they make me laugh SO much. This morning I actually felt really sick and quite grumpy but as soon as I got to school I relaxed and I have them to thank for that.

This regular occurrence got me thinking about the massive influence these kids have had on all of our lives.  What I wanted to write about today was the things teaching incredibly cute kindergarten students over here in Korea does to you. And strap yourselves in, because you sho’ ain’t ready fo’ this love letter to my class.

I vividly remember on my first day at school last year, sitting at my desk and thinking to myself, ‘there is no way I’m staying here for a year’. It was chaos. In true hagwon style, we had absolutely no training and were thrown in the deep end. What’s more, my kids (‘6 years’ in Korean age; 4/5 years in actuality) barely spoke English, and even if they could, they wouldn’t. Super super shy and reserved. Like, crickets shy. Tumbleweed. Talking-to-myself-and-answering-my-own-questions-and-gesturing-madly-hoping-for-something-but-getting-nothing shy. That’s what we are talking about, and I ain’t gon’ lie – it was hard.

Of course, all kids are super cute (especially Korean kids, my god), but put them all together with a bunch of new ‘foreigner teachers’ and they may not necessarily be ‘themselves’ or give you much to work with. I certainly can’t speak for all classes, but when it came to mine, they clammed up and still sometimes do (although I’ve mostly stamped/danced/joked that out). I used to get really worried they didn’t like me or weren’t enjoying the classes, but they just took a while to warm up and now there’s no stopping them. I swear they are getting more ridiculous every day!

So while the beginning of my time with my class was perhaps not ideal, after persevering for a while last year a funny thing started to happen. My students started to read on their own, before I had said the words themselves. They recognised letters and sounds and could put them together to correctly pronounce completely new words. They started all putting their hands up, eager to suggest answers and engage in the conversation. This may sound normal but when you see it in real life, it’s like magic. It’s pretty unbelievable and definitely why people say teaching is so rewarding. You make a real, visible difference in children’s life and you can watch it as it happens.

I sometimes still can’t get over the fact they couldn’t read then, and they can now. It’s incredible.

After a while, my class started to become more comfortable and expressive toward me. Of course, I had some which were already completely at ease in their own skin and would not hesitate to tell me about pretty much anything, but even those students initially had limited vocabulary or inconsistent temparaments (to put it nicely!). These days, though, I can actually have a conversation with my class and they can make jokes, albeit in slightly broken English but we get the point across. I don’t need to dumb things down as much because they are so smart, their little brains are like sponges and they rise to the level you challenge them with (most of the time). These kids are cute and seriously smart.

Sometimes (a lot of times), they take up a lot of my energy and if I hear one more person yelling ‘teachaaaaaa’ at me I might just crack. Like actually crack down my face and torso and shatter into a million little pieces (oh hay James Frey). This job has reaffirmed to me that kids are needy, grubby little creatures who require a billion truckloads of attention – especially from female teachers.

The thing is, however, that they grow on you and steal your heart and then there’s no way you can live without them, and by the end of it (or well before then) you would gladly give them all that attention and more.

When I think about the end of this year, when my class will ‘graduate’ and move onto secondary school, I start to well up and get really, really sad. As annoying or demanding as this job can seem sometimes, it is so rewarding and fun and funny. And I love my kids, so I genuinely enjoy hanging out with them. And a lot of it is hanging out, eating snacks, tracing letters and drawing. I put a lot of energy in so it can be a bit draining, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

For anyone who is considering teaching in Korea, I would tell you to go for it. Yes, there are some horror stories out there but honestly, people are much more inclined to write about negative experiences than positive ones, so you can rest assured that there are many more real-life happy endings than you will ever find on Google. Hagwons can be a pain in the butt, and sometimes things will happen that frustrate you and don’t make sense, but this seems to be the case with a lot of schools in Korea and a lot of it just comes down to cultural differences. As Gav often says, there are just different ways of doing things that you wouldn’t even think of, until you realise that they can actually be done differently. Things that can cause offence (taking things with one hand, pouring your own drink), things that are acceptable (hocking up spit in the street, stumbling drunk old men on the subway) and the type of organisation that goes on in hagwons (little to none, and all very last minute).

I used to get stressed about these differences, but now I just throw my hands up and go with the flow. As I mentioned before, things won’t always make sense, and I don’t necessarily agree with the way hagwons work. However, their existence allows me to stay in this amazing country, live in a beautiful house (now) and “work” with these hilarious and adorable children. So all in all, whatever flaws hagwons have, the kids more than make up for it, and their ridiculous, adorable, moody, sweet and kind faces make my day every single time. Sometimes when I am tired or stressed or just lacking energy, I remind myself that my job is to have fun and spend time with children who really don’t worry about anything, and that I could stand to learn a thing or two from them.

And that is the thing about teaching the world’s cutest kindergarteners.

<3 <3 <3

Until next time,

Steph x

  1. Aww. I don’t have kids but I like talking to them when I get the chance because they do/say really weird and funny stuff. Plus difficult as they are, they’re still probably easier to deal with than hormonal teenagers. 😛

    1. Yes they come up with the funniest/strangest things! Sometimes when I am trying to tell them off I actually just start laughing but it’s all too ridiculous. And yes I’m glad I only have a few older kids for 40 minutes in the arvo, because (as interesting as they are) I certainly wouldn’t want to handle them fulltime! ^^

  2. To be honest, I hate kids in general unless they’re 3-5 years old and then they’re just plain golden. When kids are still learning is when I still like them. Your teaching experience sounds really rewarding. 🙂 Did you choose to go to Korea or was your country chosen for you? And why did you choose Korea?

    1. Yes I agree re: the age thing, I’m lucky enough to have them at the perfect age. They were 4 last year and some of them are just starting to turn 6… so cute! Some of the things they tell me or do are actually adorable, especially when they’re explaining things really seriously! And I actually learned Korean in primary school and one day was randomly writing in Korean on my boyfriend’s whiteboard and he suggested I go and teach there. That was pretty much all it took lol. I didn’t know much about Korea but was looking for an adventure, and because it was so unknown it was perfect. It was all a bit crazy but I am happy to say it has worked out better than I could have imagined ^^

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