September 16, 2012 § 1 Comment
Though the weekends are a great time to be lazy or travel about, let me tell you about the place I spend most of my time while here in Korea — my school. I work at a hagwon, or private academy, called Longman BMA in Pungam-dong, Gwangju. It is actually comprised of 4 different schools together in one building, and my specific employer, Little Fox Language Center, is the 2nd largest one in the country.
My students address me as Kezia Teacher, which sounds more like “Ke-ji-ah Tea-cha,” and my school has about 1000 students and consists of classrooms on multiple floors within one giant building. I teach 2nd to 7th graders Monday through Friday from around 1 or 2 in the afternoon ’til about 9 or 10 at night. Each foreign teacher, including myself, has about 150-175 students who we teach English to on a regular basis. There are 16 elementary school English teachers consisting of myself, my 3 foreign coworkers, and 12 Korean coworkers. There are also a number of math teachers for both the elementary and middle school aged students.
Because Korea still operates on a vertically hierarchical work environment, everyone who works at my school resides at a certain rung on the ladder depending on your position. From my personal understanding after working here for 7 months, the ladder looks something like this: at the bottom are our students, who must respect and abide by the adults at all times. Above them are our “Cyber” teachers, who are in charge of chaperoning and taking attendance of the students during their computer lab time. Above our cyber teachers are our reception staff, or our “Info” teachers, who run the front desk and secretarial duties throughout the day. Above them are our English and Math teachers, including myself and both my foreign and Korean coworkers. At the front of both the Korean and foreign staff are head teachers. My coworker Maria is the Head Foreign Teacher while Kelly and Ann serve as the two Head Korean Teachers. Alongside the head teachers is the head of the department, Mr. Oh, who is essentially my boss’ right-hand man, doing everything from fixing computers to disciplining students to setting up speaking test logistics. Above Mr. Oh and the head teachers are my ultimate bosses — Mr. Ryu, who is the director of my hagwon and the western equivalent of a principal, and Mr. Jo/Ms. Choi, the owners of my school and the building itself.
As a foreign teacher, if there is an issue that I’d like to work out, I first have to tell Maria, who will relay that message to the Korean head teachers. If they can’t solve it, it will travel up the ladder until it finally reaches Mr. Ryu, but this is a rare occurence. It’s both inadvisable and disrespectful to try to jump more than one level up the ladder, unless it’s coming from the top down. It’s one part of Korean culture that I have learned to adapt to and roll with.
Though work was a bit stressful during the summer months due to a smaller staff and an extra summer class that I taught, the stress has eased up a bit now that it’s September and I am finally back to a fairly normal schedule. The people I work with are absolutely wonderful — all of my Korean coteachers are super nice and incredibly helpful whenever I need to ask them a question or collaborate with them on a class. The entire staff at BMA is awesome, and I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better or more solid school to be placed at for my first time teaching abroad.