Be a detective to uncover a solid hagwonKorean parents seem to stop at nothing to hear their child spew out a few phrases in English. During nearly two years of teaching English in Seoul, my heart broke whenever I saw a child whose appearance made it abundantly clear that the monthly hagwon tuition was a burdensome expense for their parents.
Sure, parents see it as a necessary investment in their child’s future ― and their own. So they might as well get a good return on their won, right? One good way of honing in on the best “investment” is to sneak a peek inside prospective institutes.
Let’s assume parents enroll their little pride and joy at an institute with nine students per class (a fairly high number). On the books, they’re enrolled in a 50-minute-long class. But first we must allow for the customary five to seven minutes it takes students to settle in and prepare materials. Also, teachers need to talk about the weather and other current events and explain what an open book is.
In the remaining minutes, he must try to engage each child in conversation at least once. During that short span, just about every language problem that is encountered also needs to be dealt with, and clarified if possible. And believe me, the range of problems a foreign teacher encounters in the classroom cannot be summed up here.
At one end of the spectrum are the students who forget their school supplies, have to use the bathroom or want a drink of water. At the other extreme lie those situations where a teacher finds himself unable to do anything but stare at the closed-circuit TV camera with more questions than a drunken salaryman on the subway trying to practice his English.
The repetitive nature of a beginner class can be so mind-numbing, it may cause permanent brain damage in children. Teacher: “What’s your name?” Student: “What’s your name?” Teacher: “No, I’m asking you, what’s your name?” Student: “No, I’m asking you, what’s your name.” This is compounded by the fact that most teachers also have to endure the usual chatter among friends and put up with a smattering of insults or unwanted compliments. “Oh, teacher, you so ugly,” or “Teacher, why you so hairy, are you gorilla?” or even, “Oh, teacher, you pretty boy, yes?”
To find a good hagwon, do some research. Visit the school to find out how long it’s been around. Ask neighbors if they are familiar with the school, and talk to the director about his or her criteria for hiring teachers.
by Rennie Sinopoli