Re-adjusting Back to American Schools After Teaching Abroad
I only taught in South Korea for one year. However, there were some things in their schools that I had gotten used to, and I had to readjust when returning back to the US. I worked in a public middle school in Korea and I’ve worked in elementary, middle, and high school in America. While there are great things happening in both countries, there were a few things that required me to re-adjust after teaching abroad.
These are a few things that I miss about teaching in Korea. These are just my experiences and are not meant to represent every school in Korea or America.
I felt there was a better balance of teaching time and prep time for teachers in Korea. While working in middle schools in America, I only got one planning period a day. While in Korea, I got 3-4 plus an hour lunch. We need that time to plan, prepare, and assess our students’ progress. One plan time a day, that’s usually taken by meetings, isn’t enough.
The students also get a 10 minute break between classes and an hour lunch as well. Students need breaks too!
Yes, so I actually ate the school lunch in Korea. And most days it was pretty decent. They have cooks that actually prepare meals with real food. It’s not that processed food that we serve our kids. The majority of the staff ate the school lunch.
Kids Being Kids
I remember listening to stories about kids in Korea and being confused about why they could do certain things. I realized after a few weeks, that they actually let their kids be kids. They run around and playfully hit each other. They are loud, I mean really loud. This was a huge culture shock for me. I thought these kids were out of control, but I soon realized that this was the norm (at least in my school). And this harmless behavior was seen as ok and wasn’t corrected.
One day it was snowing, and when their first class was over, they went outside and had a snowball fight. They ran around, threw snowballs, tried to bury a boy in the snow, then went back to class.
In America we have so many rules. There is a procedure for every part of the school day. I see the benefit in these procedures, but wouldn’t it be nice if it was embedded in our culture for our kids to be able to have a little fun between instructional time at school?
Learning a Foreign Language
In most American schools we are doing this all wrong. We are waiting until our students are in high school to teach them another language. We ignore all the research for some reason and keep this same outdated practice as the norm. It is much easier to learn a language while you’re younger. You’re more likely to become fluent if you begin to learn the language while you’re in elementary school. Many people were confused about how I could communicate with my students, but many of them were pretty good at speaking English because they started learning at a young age.
The staff in my school in Korea trusted their students. In my opinion, students were given a lot of freedom and expected to maintain a level of self-control without an adult being around. For example, we took a staff picture one morning. Every single teacher and administrator went outside to take the picture. Every single student was left in their classrooms while we took the picture. That would have NEVER happened here. There’s no way we would leave kids unsupervised like that.
These things happened on a regular basis. The students aren’t really supervised between classes and they weren’t supervised during lunch. And lunch lasts a whole hour. Now, I worked at a middle school, but I heard similar stories about younger students too. Again, another school culture shock.
They were not afraid to discipline their students in Korea.
As we all know, there have been way too many school shootings in America. Way too many people have lost their lives while in school. This is not a problem in Korea. I wish it weren’t a problem here. The sad thing is that we’ve gotten used to it. It has become our norm. When we hear of yet another school shooting, we shake our heads, say this is so sad, whisper prayers for the victims, and wait for it to happen again so we can repeat the same cycle. We have to do better.
Teaching in another country gives you a wider perspective about how schools operate. I think there are benefits in looking at how other countries operate their schools and what we could learn from them. There’s a lot of culture shock that goes into teaching and living in another country, but there’s also the reverse culture shock when you go back home.