Why do I work in a hagwon? Who gives a shit where I work?
Since I arrived in Korea, I’ve noticed a perceived hierarchy of jobs. Little hagwons, especially kindergartens, are on the bottom. Bigger hagwons with many branches (the ECCs, YBMs, CDIs, Avalons, etc.) that serve elementary and middle school students are next. Split shift work, especially at hagwons that serve adults, follow. Then there are public school positions for elementary, middle, and high school – much more difficult to “land,” but with better pay for a lot less work. At the top of the ladder are university positions (which have their own hierarchy) and teacher training positions.
I am here to call bullshit.
Why do you think a teacher levels up by teaching older students and (sometimes) more complex material? Or worse, by getting their heads stuck so far up their a……dministrations that they no longer teach at all? I believe a teacher levels up by becoming a better teacher. Does desk-warming make one a better teacher? Does having long vacations make one a better teacher? It depends on what you do with the time. One thing I know for sure is that experience of any kind goes a long way. But why does it need to lead to working in a different setting?
I’m here because I’m enraged that any teachers are being told they are bottom of the barrel (or, if you prefer, under a goddamned rock). I think that teachers who “land” in a kindy are just as valuable and deserve the same respect as teachers who finally “land” the coveted uni gig. We all have the same potential to make a difference in our students’ lives and education. We all have the same opportunities and potential for professional development to further examine and improve our practice. It is our choices that make us better teachers, not what kind of job we do.
[A note for those of you who are headed for the comments to tell me that it's the hagwon teachers who do the midnight run, the hagwon teachers who run around Itaewon off their heads, being lewd and crude, giving the locals a bad impression of all foreigners, and of course the hagwon teachers who are unable to adapt to Korean culture. That we hagwoners are a bunch of mangy louts. No wonder we're crawling around under the rocks like the rest of the slimy bugs beneath your notice. Lemme ask you: Did you spring fully-formed from the head of Zeus? Who were you when you were 22? What would you have been like on your own in a foreign country with no support at a workplace that does not recognize cross-cultural differences? Moreover, what gives you the right to judge the masses by the well-publicized sins of a few?]
Too often I have been asked – by well-meaning friends, bosses, DoSes and even strangers – why I haven’t gone for a university job. Surely I’m qualified enough, experienced enough, passionate enough. Surely I want the lighter teaching load, shorter hours, longer vacations. Surely I want better-behaved students, whose effort rides on fear of their grade. Surely the next step UP for me is landing a university gig.
Let me tell you why I teach. I teach because I love kids. I teach because I found that through teaching, I learn. And I am addicted to learning. I teach because I am addicted to seeing growth in my students – in the language ability as well as in their lives – over the years. One of the benefits of teaching in a hagwon is being part of that experience. And I have also grown as a teacher and a person.
A final note before I close: as expats in Korea, we are all disposable. We are all reliant on the next educational policy to secure our places for another year. We are all vulnerable to the cutbacks in the current policy. We all care about our students and about teaching and about the flaws in the system. So please come down from your ivory towers and join me for a round. Let’s focus on learning: our own and our students’ – and stop worrying about who is a “better” teacher because he has a “better” job.
Note from Mike:
I think this post pretty much speaks for itself.
I asked the author, who wishes to remain anonymous, to share some thoughts related to the employment scene in Korea and the judging that goes on as related to the perceived hierarchy in jobs. I was very pleased with the result and I am happy to share it here. Thanks very much to the author for taking the time.
If you have any rants, reviews, or reflections to share please get in touch. My email is michaelEgriffin at gmail dot com.