This post is for all my educator friends who are wondering about my new school in Korea. Here are my first impressions with a whopping 3 days of teaching the students under my belt. . .
Frankly, so far I'm loving it.
That's good news, right, considering I traveled half way around the world to be here and to teach here. I don't want to make blanket statements about international schools in general OR international schools in Korea OR schools in Korea, in general ; I don't think that would be fair. So I'll keep my comments specific to the two weeks I've spent at my school and the three days I've spent with students.
As many of you know, I had been teaching at a private, Catholic high school in Wisconsin for 17 years. I loved a lot of things about it - especially my colleagues and my students. I think I will be able to say the same thing about this new school.
Many aspects are similar as far as the demographic is concerned. Like my school in the US, families are primarily professional and wealthy and expect a solid education for their children. Parents and students expect to go to excellent US colleges and universities when they are finished. At my new school, the student population is almost entirely Korean with a few caucasians just to keep it "diverse." I've told my students this is the exact opposite of my previous school, which is true.
Differences are that this school is K-12. Emphasis is almost entirely on academics; it is hard to get students to go out for sports and stick with it all through high school. The student population is primarily Korean by ethnicity; however, students have been born in either the US or Korea. We have about 300 students in the high school versus 750. But, whereas my previous school had about 45 teachers to service the 750 students, we have 35 teachers to service the 300. More about that in a bit.
Here are the things that I have found pleasantly surprising about the students. . .
1. They are so polite! I've never had half of the students say "Good bye" or "have a nice weekend." My husband even got a "Thanks for the great lesson today" comment. . . . What???
2. The students appreciate my sense of humor. No, really!
3. The students are engaged in learning. I've always dreamed of having rapt attention from my classes without having to keep reminding them to pay attention. It happens here! (Well, for three days, anyway.)
4. The students are prepared for class. You won't believe this, but the kids had summer reading AND summer writing. And I mean serious writing! The students had 3 books to read and about 3 or 4 pages of typed writing to do prior to school and due ON THE FIRST DAY! All students were prepared. That's right! All students who had been enrolled on time brought their assignment with them on the first day of school. CRAZY!
Here are the things that I have found pleasantly surprising about the staff and administration. . .
1. The administrators have the teachers' backs. They work to keep the class sizes down to no more than 20. When a sizable influx of students enrolled the week school started, the principal apologized profusely to the entire high school staff that some of us would have to teach sections of 22. (In my four sections I have a total of 70 students.)
2. The staff are friendly and patient, going out of their way to help the new staff when we have questions. They have a whole team of people at school designed to support staff both on AND OFF campus.
3. The administration values professional development and field trips abroad. The school prides itself on all of trips students make to various countries to further global citizenship.
4. The culture of the building is very inclusive and celebratory. It's a healthy building! Yeah! We've already had 3 social gatherings - 1 on campus and 2 off campus. One of the off campus gatherings was at a local establishment with a pool table, restaurant and bar area. The school paid for all of the appetizers for the evening. How cool is that? And during the opening in-service, there were streamers and balloons dropped from the ceiling in celebration of their re-accreditation as a school!
5. The staff is much more diverse than the student population. We've got teachers from the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, China, and Korea. We have teachers who have already taught in international schools around the world including Poland, Kuwait, and Tobago.
So, that is all of the amazing stuff. There are some interesting things to adjust to, too. For example, rather than getting after students about dress code violations, here we have "English only" violations. So many students speak Korean at home that the school needs to monitor that English is spoken at all times. As the school is pretty young, they still have a lot of work to do with putting effective policies and curriculum in place. So, that means that we get to. . . (drum roll, please) work on scope and sequence aligning curriculum both vertically and horizontally (curriculum mapping) this year. Woohoo!
Here's another interesting tidbit. . .
Wonder why the US is falling behind in educational statistics? Well, in Korea, education is Number 1! Students aren't working at Target to earn extra cash. Instead, they are attending hogwon (night school) for extra education to "get ahead" and compete against other students to get into the best universities (which allow them access to the best jobs). Many students even attend this "extra" school on Saturday.
Such a competitive view of education is likely a bit unhealthy, but the result is heaven for a teacher who has always dreamed of having a class full of driven students. Now. . . to just get them interested in learning for learnings' sake. (Right!)