Making the Most of Your Co-Teachers when Teaching in Korea
If you made it through the application process and landed yourself a public school position teaching in Korea, congratulations! Although you’ve spent months working on the process, you may still have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into. The good news is from this point on you’ll have some help, but it’s partially up to you how much that help will benefit you. As part of the public school positions, every native teacher is paired with a Korean counterpart, someone to not only help you in your classroom but also assist you in the transition to living in Korea. They’re not necessarily helping you out of their goodwill, it’s their job. They’ve been selected by the English department or Principal to help your time teaching in Korea be a valuable experience for everyone involved. You can do a few things, though, to make the experience enjoyable for the both of you.
However cliché this may sound, it is the number one piece of advice for anyone starting off teaching in Korea. From the first time you meet your new best friend, be open and honest with them. Soon, they will know many details of your life, so you might as well get comfortable quickly. As part of their job, they will help with your transition into your new home. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re lost, confused, or struggling. Most co-teachers will help with initial things like bank accounts and cell phone contracts, but if you need something further (figuring out the bus system, locating a doctor, etc.) ask them. They should know the answer or at least help you find it.
After you’ve adjusted in your personal life, remember what you’re really here for—teaching. Keep these same communication lines open in the classroom. Every school has different ideas for how to utilize their native English teachers, so it’s up to you to find out what their ideas are and to adjust or respond accordingly. If you desire to plan and lead lessons but they just want you to ‘help’, explain this to them. Hopefully, through clear communication and an exchange of ideas, you can find a teaching style and method that works best for everyone, students included.
Give and Take
As with any human relationship, you should ensure that the one with your co-teacher is not one sided. Of course, you will initially be asking for more help than you can give; adjusting to a new home, school, and country is never easy. But try to repay them. While gifts are always an option, repayment can also come in the form of getting to know this person. You’ll be spending a lot of time together over your year or so teaching in Korea, so why not try to become friends? Things like remembering a birthday, asking about their weekend, or sharing a meal together could go a long way. Your co-teacher has been chosen by the school to be your ‘buddy’, so why not try and make it worth their while? Show that you are interested in being more than something on their ‘to do list’, and it should benefit the both of you.
While becoming friends and staying on good terms with your co-teacher is encouraged, remember to keep some boundaries. If you’re lucky, you’ll get along swimmingly with your co-teacher, sharing similar interests or hobbies. But don’t let this fool you; they’re still your co-worker and superior at work. Korea runs on a system of respect, for both elders and workplace superiors. Your co-teacher may be similar in age and feel like a friend, but remember that your relationship is also professional. Especially in the beginning of your contract, when you’re still feeling out school dynamics and relationships, be careful as to how much you share.
The number one reason these co-teachers are assigned is to make the English classroom an efficient place to learn, but it doesn’t have to end there. Co-teachers can become friends, people who may alter the path of your life in Korea. Remembering to be open about communication and building a friendship, while still holding respect and regard for them, could help make your life in Korea more comfortable and enjoyable. You really never know how much one person can change your life, so be sure to start with the best foot forward.
Stephanie is a storyteller, yoga enthusiast, and wandering soul who recently settled in for her second round of teaching in Korea. After her first stay in Korea, where she taught in a public High School, Stephanie spent nearly two years traveling, exploring the world, making new friends and becoming a certified yoga instructor. If you want to read about her travels, teaching tales or just learn more, check her out here: www.yogifootprints.weebly.com