February 22, 2024

"In Korea, it's actually very hard to be a teacher," says Alexandra Rivera, 28, who came to South Korea from Miami a little over a year ago to teach English.

Jennifer Rosoff says the facilities were rundown and teachers had trouble managing their students.

Teachers have a lot of responsibilities in Colombia and do a lot with a little, says Maria Eugenia Zelaya.

Miami native Sara Trinidad teaches English in South Korea.

Teaching: A World View

Perspectives: What Florida teachers have learned teaching abroad

Jason Garcia | 5/28/2019

Many Florida teachers have participated in private and government programs that fund trips for teachers to countries like Brazil, China and others to observe, compare teaching practices and exchange ideas. Bradenton teacher Patrick Whelan has taken part in four trips as part of those programs. “There are teachers who do these all the time and teachers who don’t even know they exist,” he says.

South Korea: Successful — But at a Price

Students in South Korea are known for being successful and stressed out. They routinely outperform students in other OECD countries on standardized exams and have some of the highest educational attainment rates in the world. But many of them spend 12 hours or more a day in class, usually by attending private, after-school tutoring academies known as “hagwons.” Suicides are a national public health concern.

The same is true of teachers in South Korea, who are both well-paid and well-regarded. While the starting salary for a South Korean teacher is a little below the OECD average, the top of the scale is much higher; the top of the pay scale is 2.8 times the bottom, compared to an average ratio of 1.9 across the OECD countries.

“Teachers are held in high esteem here,” says Sarai Trinidad, a Miami native who has been teaching English in South Korea for nearly three years through a program designed to import English teachers from the United States.

A common complaint among American teachers is parents who blame the teacher for their children’s struggles. In South Korea, Trinidad says, “If there’s an issue with a kid, (parents will) usually side with the teacher and get on their kids about it.”

But it’s also a stressful job. Consider: A 2013 survey of teachers around the world conducted by OECD found that 66.3% of South Korean teachers would become teachers if they could decide again, significantly below the OECD average of 77.6%.

All teachers in South Korea, at public and private schools, are appraised each year, on both their performance (by school leaders and colleagues) and their specialty (by students, parents and colleagues). Just over 85% of South Korean schools say they use student assessment results to judge teachers’ effectiveness, compared to an OECD average of just over 50%.

Class sizes are quite a bit larger, as well, especially at the lower secondary level, where there are typically 32 students per class, compared to 23 across the OECD.

“They are very busy,” Trinidad says. “Most teachers will have their academic things that they have to do. But then they also have a secondary job — whether they’re in charge of safety for the school or they’re in charge of after-school activities or field trips.”

Jackie Joiner, a 26-year-old from Ormond Beach who is in her second year teaching English in South Korea, says she’s also been struck by how busy Korean teachers are. “It can be stressful for them,” she says.

Three years ago, in an effort to boost teacher morale, South Korea’s Ministry of Education enacted a leave of absence policy for teachers offering those who have taught for more than 10 years to take a leave for up to one year. The country has also piloted the use of Teacher Education Emotion Centers, according to OECD.

South Korea regulates the supply of primary school teachers, according to the American-based National Center on Education and the Economy. Teachers must be trained at one of 13 university programs around the country, which makes admissions very competitive. (Secondary school teachers, by contrast, can train in a broader variety of programs.) Every teacher must then pass what the NCEE describes as a “very competitive” entrance exam and then undergo pre-employment, post-employment and follow-up training.

Tags: Education, Feature, Teaching: A World View

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