Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hagwon Hauntings

As most of you know I use to work at a hagwon when I first arrived here in Korea. After 5 months I quit and switched to a public school.

Lately, I have been finding that I still can't escape the hagwon system. Certain aspects of my work at a hagwon has crept into my current life.

I teach an advanced class three times a week. This is an after school program for selected students. Last semester I didn't hear many complaints from the Mom's. Either because there weren't any or my old coteacher didn't bother telling me.

Since last week I have already received two parent complaints. It isn't anything as severe as it was in the hagwon. Meaning I won't get fired over it. But one student was pulled from the class from her Mom.

What's the big deal?
The class is a mix of 6th grade down to 4th grade, so that means the English levels differ. I have to talk slower for the lower grades but provide higher level material for the advanced kids.

So some kid's parents might think the class is too easy, while others will think it is too hard.

Competition with hagwons:
The main grief I am experiencing I feel is because there is the option to send their kids to a hagwon. Of course it would be a lot more expensive, but certainly more thorough.

At hagwons kids are tested on many levels, given progress reports, butt-loads of homework and a lovely ride in a hagwon van.

At the Advanced Class in an public school the activities and work is determined by the Foreign teacher, myself.

So the parents see all the work other kids are doing at hagwons and think "Why can't my kid be doing that at the advanced class?" And so they examine my class and call up to make some comments.

At first I was a little take aback by the comments, because I thought I had left that kind of thing when I quit the hagwon. But I can see now that the parents are just concerned for their child's education.

This semester I already have planned more homework, activities and tests that are more extensive than last semester. Already the mention of these things have not pleased the students, who just want to play during their time in my class. But I hope it gives the parents something to agree with, and at the same time help my students learn English.

But I am going to follow my own style and methods, not what a Mom thinks should be done because she saw it at a hagwon.


  1. I'd be bad at that, because I'd just tell them that if they didn't like it, they can withdraw their kids, and if the school complained that there were no more kids, I'd say that I'm no longer teaching the extra class.

    But then again, that's why I switch jobs a lot. ;)

  2. It's sad, and it shouldn't be this way, but when planning my hogwan classes, I always tried to make sure the appearance of education was going on as well as ACTUAL education: fact is, mothers don't know what happens in class, and most don't understand things like communicative theory in language pedagogy. However, they DO see that suzy next door does twenty minutes of English homework every night, but their kid, Annie doesn't. And a lot of moms would be happier with a teacher who starts class with a spelling test, plays hangman all class and gives kids thirty minutes of homework writing lines every night, even though they've learned nothing (but the kid said class was fun, and got homework, and spelling words: even though last I heard many linguists thought spelling tests were unhelpful) than with a teacher who's trained in education, does a series of entertaining and educational hands-on, communicative task oriented activities in class that force the kids to acquire new phrases in usable ways, but doesn't give homework. Because the kid comes home unable to explain what they learned in class, and didn't get any homework.

    It's a shame it is that way, but keeping up appearance is important when moms are constantly comparing what their kids do with what their neighbor's kids do. Keeping moms happy is important in Korea, because moms can make a lot of trouble for you, as you know, or be your strongest support.

    There's even a phrase in Korean for "your mother's friend's perfect daughter" -- that mystical kid who's brilliant, pretty, popular, and goes to a gajillion hogwans a week, to whom every other kid is compared. I can't remember what it is, but I've heard it talked about.

  3. "your mother's friend's perfect daughter"

    Not sure if this is the same expression you're thinking about, but "엄친아" - short for "엄마친구아들" - is used for something similar ("My mother's friend's son").

    Link here.

    (Wonder if this comment will get published, or banned like the last one...)

  4. I am loathe to suggest this only because I'm afraid the mothers might freak out even more, but do you know about differentiation? That's when you're basically teaching multiple levels in one classroom using different materials or expectations or assignments or...

    I'm trying to find a general website page about it to send to you. Since it's late at night and I'm having issues finding one, I'll just give you an example.

    Right now we're studying five major territories of the early US (TX, CA, LA, OR, and FL). We do a LOT of acting in my class. Today I put students into groups of three and each one was assigned one territory.

    For the weakest group, I gave them a lot of help. "What could you say?" "And how would you answer him?" "OK, let's write that down and practice..."

    For the highest group, my only instruction was, "WHICH president? You can't just say 'The President.'"

    The groups in between got in-between levels of help. :)

    At the end, each group practiced several times and then performed their little skit.

    ALL five of the groups learned the same thing. All five of the groups learned them at different levels and with different amounts of teacher help.

    That's one example. Another example is that we use leveled texts in the classroom. I have four different pieces of text about the LA Purchase. I group the kids according to ability. The three highest groups read in groups and write down the MIPS (most important points) and a summary. The lowest group sits with me, while I read it out loud to them. Something like this might help, too.

    To help break down parental resistance, could you ask your coteacher to help you make a BRIEF bi-monthly or monthly newsletters for parents?

    "We've been learning about X this month. First students read Y. Then they acted out Z with their own scripts!"

    You know, something like that. I say brief because your coteacher would have to translate it.

    I can provide more examples (and hopefully some websites) if you want. Just let me know.

  5. That's great info/examples of "differentiation"....

    Teaching is complex; at any level, any subject, anywhere!

    Parents even at the college level are a pain in the rump! Can you believe I've had upperclass University students have their parent call the Dean to complain about my instruction or the grade their student received from me!

    AND then parents are also very important, as we know children whose parents are NOT involved w/their education usually are not the successful students.

    Communication to the parents about your expectations & procedures at the beginning of the semester or term, whatever you call it there....is helpful. Also indicating that you welcome dialogue, communication with them ("white lie" perhaps) is good too, give them a ph# or email address. Listen to them, refer them to educational literature that explains your techniques or practices....etc.....

    Learning how to cope w/parents is just another one of those factors involved in the complexity of the teaching profession.
    It's never as easy as it looks!

  6. Mixed levels of that disparity in one class is one of the most difficult class scenarios you can have. And even if the class wasn’t mixed, it’s hard to single-handedly compete with private schools which have a set curriculum, standardized tests, and a teaching methodology all created by other people.

    I wouldn’t put more pressure on yourself than you need to (easier said than done, I know). But it sounds like you have the right idea.


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