Interacting With Korean Students

As a westerner, interacting with Korean students is not always easy and can present its own challenges. Teaching for the first time can be nerve-wracking on its own, but teaching in a foreign country for the first time brings about anxieties you never knew you harbored.

Mary StudentsMost new teachers go into the classroom with an image already created in their mind of little angelic students, stickers and games, and the perfectly helpful co-teacher. Don’t get me wrong, it could happen. But the odds of that happening in any classroom in any country are pretty much slim to none.

Before your first day, keep these 5 tips in mind that will help you interact and get to know your students better in South Korea. Good luck!

1. Tell them about yourself

On the first day of school, the kids are always curious about the new English teacher. I had an entire “Get To Know The Students” lesson planned for day one, but nothing prepared about sharing anything about myself.

Huge mistake.

After the activities that I had planned to take up the whole 45 minutes were completed in 15 minutes (the kids are used to zipping through these things because they do them every year), I was stuck on what to do.

So, my co-teacher suggested I tell the students about myself. After about 15 minutes of rambling on about how much I like food and music (duh?), we moved on to a game.

It wasn’t a terrible class but definitely wasn’t my best. Rather than doing what I did on day one, have a slideshow or a little presentation about yourself already prepared. You can include things like what foods you like, where you’ve traveled, how many siblings you have.

2. Be cautious of a Q&A session

On the first day, be cautious about a “Get To Know The Teacher” Q&A session. Elementary students probably will be too shy to answer, and all middle school and high school students will want to know is if you’re in a relationship or not.

The choice is ultimately yours, but when I did it in my middle school classes it was more of a “Get To Know The Teacher’s Boyfriend” lesson. Yeah, not recommended.

3. Be aware of what they call you

Respect is an essential part of Korean culture. Just as we call our teachers here Mrs. So and So or Mr. So and So, Korean students show respect by calling their teachers Teacher So and So.

I didn’t really know about this my first semester, and wasn’t bothered when my students just started calling me by my first name, especially since my co-teacher never corrected them.

By the time the second semester had started, I had a brand new co-teacher, and the first time she heard them call me by my first name, the students got an earful about how they need to respect elders and teachers.

After that day, I was Teacher Judith. So, if your students slip into a too friendly connection with you, just remind them that you’re a teacher.

4. Remember that they’re just kids

Most people, myself included, have this idea of Korean classrooms being very strict. All work and no play. It’s not true, of course. Korean students are like any other students. They’ll see what they can get away with; try to get in more

They’ll see what they can get away with so try to get in more play time. They’ll be silly and funny, and yes, they’ll act up every now and then. It’s good to remember before walking in the Korean classroom that you’ll still need to have a strong classroom management plan.

5. Find ways to get to know them outside the classroom

A few ideas I used to get to know my kids were:
• I’d have a classroom game and the prize was I’d sit with the winning group at lunch
• I’d let the students come in during office hours to chat with me
• I’d let them teach me Korean words during field trips
• I’d go to P.E. classes sometimes when they had games to cheer on the teams

Feel free to steal any and all! Getting to know the students was one of my favorite aspects of living in Korea. Through them, I learned a lot about pop culture, foods, words, and Korean living in general.

Calling all former and current English teachers in South Korea! What tips would you give to new teachers interacting with Korean students for the first time? Share your answer with other expats in a comment below.

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