선생님. Sansangnim. Teacher.
I’ve mentioned on here that I teach preschool; however, I have another teaching job that I haven’t talked about much. For three hours every week I tutor a young Korean student in English. I’ve been working with him for about six months now, and I enjoy it so much that I think of it more as a hobby than a job.
English tutoring is very common for Korean children. Students begin learning English in school around the third grade in order to prepare for the global nature of society. Like all education in Korea, it can become very intense. Korean parents have very high standards for their children, and competition is high. The pressure in so intense that the College Scholastic Ability Test is the most common cause of suicide in young Koreans. (South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the world.)
Parents want their children to excel in academics and use a variety of methods to increase their child’s English speaking ability. Many middle and high school students are sent to the United States or Canada for 6-12 months. Other students might attend a hagwon, which is a night school, for 2-3 hours a night or, they find a nice English speaking tutor, like me. My student is 12 years old (13 by Korean age). He attends public school, and his after school activities include English tutoring, Korean tutoring, guitar lessons, soccer practice, Boy Scouts, and will soon start attending a hagwon. I’m exhausted just listening to all his weekly activities.
I didn’t use workbooks or textbooks when I was teaching in the US, and I continue to avoid them as a tutor. I do use the Words Their Way curriculum on some vocabulary studies (because it’s hands on and awesome), but otherwise I create our lessons. We read mysteries; we write stories; we cook; we play Bananagrams; we have created comic books, family trees, and an autobiography. I write paragraphs that include the mistakes he is prone to, and he hunts for the errors. (Oddly, this is one of his favorite activities. I made the first one, and he asked for more!) Last week, I began teaching him the basics of cursive. Not that many English speakers need it in these times, but it helps him read different fonts, and he wants to learn how to write his signature. One day we spent the entire hour watching YouTube videos on how to solve a Rubik’s Cube (each of us holding our own), because he was interested and excited about his new toy. He was listening to English, speaking English, and his little mind was working fast to apply what he heard to his own cube.
Along the way, he has learned. Quite a lot. He is very bright and retains information well. He has mastered to/too/two, there/they’re/their, the difference between using in/on/at (very difficult for ESL students), paragraph structure, innumerable new words and phrases, and how to cook brownies and macaroni and cheese. I’ve learned a lot too. This tutoring experience has brought me closer to the culture than any exploring I’ve done.
When Jared entered the Army, I always felt confident that I would be able to find a job wherever we went. With the exception of close-minded, good-‘ol-boy system, “we don’t want you” Alabama (I might still be upset about that one), that’s been true. Be it in a school or in my home office, I can teach anywhere. I’ve been at this career for about seven years, not a lifetime, but long enough for me to know that I belong in a classroom. And knowing that you can do what you love, no matter where you are, makes this Army life a little easier.