English Teachers of South Korea: Kelley J. Evensen
Name: Kelley J. Evensen
Hometown: Daleville, Alabama (USA)
Currently Living: Incheon, Seo-gu, South Korea
Job: Co-founder/co-owner/teacher of K & C American School
What are you doing right now?
I just finished my adult conversation class using the topic “table talk”, which is generally a conversation involving questions about anything and everything. Two of my students had to cancel due to unforeseen events, so I was left with one which made the student very nervous so I invited my wife to join to help smooth things over. Overall, the class went nicely even though I find myself talking to much at times, which is something I need to work on, yeah I’m a talker.
I think a lot of people have a problem when adult students cancel. Whether your a tutor at a cafe or a hagwon owner, the students generally feel entitled to a makeup. How do you handle that?
For our conversation class, we now made a policy where the students are allowed to cancel once a month in which the tuition of the next month will be discounted for the canceled date. Hopefully it’ll help but it still becomes frustrating when it comes to budgeting. We’ve only been open since May and we’re small which means every student’s tuition really counts when it comes to our monthly budgeting.
And what’s your typical day?
Each day varies but typically goes somewhat like this with class rotations with my wife: I wake up around 9-10am and take the dog for a walk. Come back and drink coffee and eat breakfast. Hit the gym around 12pm for a couple of hours. Come back and prep for class. Teach level 1 elementary students from 3:15-4:15. Level 2 from 4:20-5:20. Eat dinner. Teach another Level 2 class from 6:30-7:30 and then an adult class from 8-9pm. Relax and go over anything that needs to be done the next day. Watch tv til I go to bed .
That sounds like a nice relaxed schedule. Has it always been that way?
We just opened up in May and currently have 7 elementary students and four adult students so as my friends who have successful English study rooms say “enjoy your schedule while you can because it won’t be like this when you start filling up.” We’ve decided to risk everything and go all in which means both of us quitting our full time jobs and starting this business in a new area in which neither of us have any reputation or connections.
Are you able to make a comfortable living with 4 classes per day?
We’re definitely not living as comfortable as we were and it brings up a lot of arguments and disagreements as well as a lot of hindsight thinking between me and my wife. But we’re slowly chugging along. Some days are good some days are bad, so it’s definitely been a roller coaster. Would I have changed some things when we started, of course but it’s all a learning process. The teaching is easy and natural to us, it’s the business side that loves throwing curve balls.
Where are you from?
I’m from the United States
Why did you decide to move here?
I graduated in 2009 with a degree in secondary education social science and wasn’t able to land a job for almost a year when I ran into an old friend in May of 2010 who was visiting home since he had been teaching in Korea for the last few years. He said he could hook me up with a job through GEPIK very quickly. I always wanted to travel abroad so I said okay and within a few months I was on a plane to Korea and never looked back, except for a six month stint a few years ago.
I think a lot of teachers in Korea are either at Public school or Hagwons. They don’t realize there’s a whole world of Native English speakers living here as tutors, study room owners, and hagwon owners. Could you tell me more about specifically what you do nowadays?
I’m currently the co-founder and teacher of K&C American School which is an English study room that me and my wife started in May of 2016. I also teach at a hagwon Friday evenings for a little extra cash and plus I’ve been teaching conversational English to the same students there for almost two years so I kind of like seeing them grow.
And in what ways, if any, is it an improvement over your previous gigs in Korea?
I think the biggest improvement in our situation is the teacher to student ratio. At public schools I would be in a classroom with 35 first graders and no coteacher, which I don’t mind having a coteacher I just felt that it’s a little ridiculous to expect great results with that kind of ratio. Right now, we cap it at six students per class, perfect size for activities, games and healthy competition.
Our program also provides an online program where students can practice speaking and role playing and record then compare their voices with the accent trainer tool. This allows students to practice English outside of the classroom which is essential for mastering the language. I also believe that our system is more personal as we frequently talk, text, and send videos to the mothers showing them what we’re doing and how much fun their child is having in our program.
Why do you teach?
I originally had no plans to become a teacher in life but after taking a three year break from college with 6 major changes, I decided to go back but really had to dig deep down inside and figure out what I wanted to do. My whole family consists of elementary and secondary teachers from art and music to reading and English so it was definitely in my blood. But, if I go back would I really stick with it or change my major again.
So, I decided to try social science at Auburn University (WAR EAGLE) and I was instantly hooked. Growing up in the 90s most history teachers, in my experience, just taught dates, facts, and results. They never went behind the scenes and had students look deep down into what really caused the conflict and the result. My professors really put in emphasis on persistent issues in history (PIH), why do they occur and still occur and how we can solve these issues. So, social science education, for me, was becoming more of a teacher to instruct your students on how to debate and resolve conflicts of interests in a civilized respectful manner. I loved this philosophy, especially growing up in a military household. Great experience and stuck to it, well except for staying home and teaching ha.
I actually studied History & Latin in college, and I regret that I’m not able to use it in the classroom in Korea. It sounds like your specific degree lends itself to critical thinking, but do you regret not teaching history?
I don’t regret not teaching history, I really love what I’m doing right now and I still implement critical thinking lessons into my higher level classes including debate and what if topics (this is mostly for my middle schoolers on Friday evenings). I definitely do wish that I could do it more often though. It was always fun seeing my high schoolers back home debating nicely until emotions arise to where it started to get heated and as a teacher you’d have to step in and remind everyone to keep it civilized. I always felt that was kind of fun, especially when I got to play devil’s advocate.
If you weren’t teaching, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be a chef of some sort or restaurant manager, basically something anything that has to do with food. I worked in a restaurant for five years while in high school and college and is currently the second longest job I’ve ever held. I love to cook and I incorporate it into my teachings as well.
What separates the good teachers from the bad?
Tough question. I mean how can you evaluate? Do you evaluate by test scores? Do you evaluate by how much business revenue you receive? Do you evaluate by work ethic? Personally, if I had to be a judge, I would evaluate on how much you actually care about the student. I believe showing me how much encouragement, how much more positive rather than negative reinforcement is being instituted in your class speaks highly of the teacher and I would evaluate that over results any day.
Whether I’m teaching English here or Social Studies back home, my main goal is to make learning fun and to try and encourage my students into wanting to learn instead of dreading it. It’s not all about how well they did on the test, but instead whether or not they tried their best. And of course as a business owner this conflicts with the business side as mothers want results. I agree, I do too, but in order to succeed you must first learn how to respond from failure. Are you going to quit, or try harder next time? I’m still learning and growing as a teacher and I believe if you’re a good teacher then you’ll forever be learning and growing as well.
What were the hardest life lessons you had to learn while here?
I wouldn’t say there were any except, if you plan to live in a country for a long while, then you should definitely pick up the language. I’m definitely lazy when it comes to this. But, to be continued……
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about teaching abroad or living abroad?
Go for it, shoot for the stars and find out what you’re made of. Live in another country and you’ll gain not only a different perspective on your homeland but also on life. I’ve learned so many things about myself and my home while living abroad. Some good, some bad but overall I’m glad I did it.
Do you have any passions or hobbies that you pursue abroad?
When living back home, I was never really a healthy eater and never exercised but after living in Korea where body structure and appearance means everything, I really began to transform. When I came to Korea, I weighed 117kg, I began a strict diet and strength training regiment. After 18months I was lean, I had muscle, and I weighed 99kg. I felt healthy, I looked healthy, I felt great and it helped when I met my wife, lol. I would’ve never done this back home. Even though I changed my diet and focus, it is still my passion to exercise regularly nowadays and I can thank Korea for that.
What would you be doing if you were still in your home country?
Probably nothing as influential as what I’m doing now. I don’t think I would ever want to teach in America again let alone teach teenagers there. In my experience, politics was way too influential on the instructors, the students were a lot more disrespectful, the pay has always been subpar, and authority for the so-called authoritative figure has been taken away. It’s more of parents accusing the teacher of “what have you done to my child, instead of what has my child done?” I’m surprised that some of my family members still teach.
Do you want to add anything else?
Every country’s education system has politics involved and are different. I’m not saying Korea’s is better than back home, for I too taught in the Korean public school system and experienced its flaws. There were a lot of things I disagreed with, but main disagreement was for not allowing professional educators from their homeland to help design the curriculum they deemed fit for English education in their school. Instead, books were bought by Korean companies with major editing, spelling, and grammar flaws.
Another flaw is the amount of hours public school students were allowed to be instructed by an NET, 22 hours a week is not enough. I taught over 600 different kids a week but each kid only received 40-50min instruction from me once a week. The government invests (invested) tons of money for their students to experience native English teacher to which the instruction was/is only limited. And they wonder why the system is failing. Thankfully, now that my wife and I own our own school, we can teach what and how we what with freedom and it’s A GREAT FEELING!!!
What websites or books helped you when you first started? Which do you still use now?
Waygook.org and teacherspayteachers.com were my first and forever websites as they’re free and there’s a ton of good stuff on them that I’ve been using since 2006. Waygook for ESL and teacherspayteachers for everything.
What are the go-to tools that you think teachers should buy to improve their class. I’ve found that a set of mini-whiteboards work wonders for young learners. What about you?
Depending on what grade level your teaching I think the basics would be tv/monitor with pc hook-up, mini whiteboards and of course a big white-board, play-doh works well with spelling manipulation as do straws and toothpicks, flashcards or just get yourself a printer and a laminator and make your own.
We'd love to interview you!!! If you're a current English teacher living abroad, shoot us an email at Steve@HalAndSteveEnglish.com