EPIK Teacher life can be quite different than what you expect – here are some notes on my experiences over my first year in Korea.
When I was researching the EPIK program I was under the impression (due to the interwebs or my own ignorance) that I would simply be teaching pronunciation and conversation skills. I was also led to believe that there would be ample time to lesson plan and I would have a lot of ‘down-time’ at work. Nope, nope, nope, and hell nope.
Every teacher’s experience is different, but in case you are considering applying to the EPIK program, here’s a few things from my experience worth sharing:
Be Prepared to Teach Everything!
Most elementary school textbooks have divided the chapters in to Speaking, Listening, Reading, Writing and Wrap-Up/Review. I have been asked to plan and lead lessons on all of these sections. Not a problem in the slightest, but make sure you are mentally prepared to teach all areas of the text book.
Following the Textbook
My teachers are required to cover the content in the textbook, even if it is outdated or seems irrelevant. I can usually build some practical activities in to the lesson or change the game, but keep in mind that you may be required to teach the key phrases (even if they seem weird) and do some of the activities (even if they seem pointless). I know some other EPIK teachers that have much more leeway with lessons and can often deviate from the book completely-this is not the case at my school. I would prefer a greater ability to deviate from the text, but it is currently not an option. I plan to delicately approach the administration before next semester and find out how far I can push the boundaries. Be prepared to adjust to your school’s political and administrative environment.
The Ideal is Not Always Attainable
You may come in to the EPIK program excited about implementing the Team Teaching co-teaching style only to find out that your co-teachers aren’t interested or don’t have the time for it. I have some EPIK friends who have co-teachers that sit in the back of class and play on their phones and some who carry on social conversations with other students during class!
I personally have 4 co-teachers and they all have different styles of teaching and planning. One teacher only wants me to prepare an activity/game for each class. One teacher wants me to plan a lesson and assign her parts to teach. Two teachers prefer us to rotate leading different book activities. I am working with 3/4 of my co-teachers to move more towards a Team Teaching style, but it takes time, hard work and a lot of trust. I hope that we can get there over the next 9 months! Keep in mind that Team Teaching will never be possible with some teachers–accept it and move forward.
You may have to take work home with you!
After living and breathing my job in America for over 8 years, I told myself that I would no longer take my work home with me, that I would achieve that whole work/life balance thing. Fat chance….. If you want to be good at your job, you may need to prep some presentations at home or start researching YouTube videos that pertain to your next lesson. I have some friends who have to lesson plan on the weekends, because their daily schedules are so hectic school. Yes, I’m sure you can do the bare minimum and skate by, but don’t you actually want to do a good job?
The Flexible Stick and the Korean Surprise
One of the best things I heard before arriving here was from the co-teacher who was here before me. She said “God beat me over the head with a flexible stick”. She couldn’t have said it better. My teaching schedule changes weekly (sometimes 4-5 times in one day), the rooms I teach in are rarely consistent, and classes can be cancelled or moved at a moment’s notice. If you are unable to roll with the punches, you may want to consider another line of work!
I also heard many many times that Korean Surprises happen frequently and to expect the unexpected! A Korean Surprise is when something changes (or plans are made) and you find out last minute. You may have dinner with the entire staff and find out 30min before leaving. Or, you may find out that you have a meeting 5min before it starts. I now make plans with my friends and we always say Barring any Korean Surprises. You can’t help when things pop up and it can happen often, hope you can handle that!
I’ve become better at going with the flow since I’ve been here, though I can’t say it’s been easy the entire time. Flexibility will always be something I have to work on, but sometimes it is better to be forced to be flexible than to have the choice.