From abroad

27th March 2009 at 00:00

As I get through my third month of teaching in South Korea and the newness begins to fade, I find managerial styles have an increasing influence on my day.

Working across two schools, I am not expected, unlike some of my friends, to develop a teaching plan or to have my own class. In fact, I see each class only once a week. This saddens me regarding most classes but I celebrate inwardly about others. I am managed rather than managing, but find I am still able to exploit my coveted novelty status.

This had an unfortunate side-effect this month, as the other English speakers at one of my schools quit. Rather than deny any of the students the benefit of a native tongue, it was decided to combine my classes, doubling my students. They are groupings of more able students, but the seams begin to show as I try to give each my attention. For the few struggling ones, I feel helpless to provide little more than a pitying look and a word in the ear of my Korean co-teachers.

A native speaker is rare among Hagwons, thus I am treated with special courtesy; for instance, it is the job of one of my co-workers to provide my lunch. I am also something of a conversational commodity. It is a great advantage for Hagwon owners to be able to offer authentic English conversation to parents. So much so, that on a recent advertising drive at a primary school, I was accused of being hired to pose as a teacher rather than being one.

Appearance is also important. In the absence of more concrete information, due to the language barrier and brevity of the interview process when hiring, youth, marketability and being female are the desired qualities rather than teaching ability or experience. But beggars can't be choosers and I have met native English-speaking teachers here of different ages, sexes, creeds and colours.

However, when I survey the older Korean ladies shopping with their dyed pink-eared lap-dogs, Louis Vuitton handbags, jet black hair and tattooed eyebrows, I couldn't be less surprised with the stress on appearance associated with teaching. Perhaps I should drop in to the Botox clinic on my way home.

Colette Lynch is gaining teaching experience prior to applying for a PGDE course later this year.

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