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English Castle Academy

When I first came to the hagwon with my recruiter he told me that there were seven foreign teachers. Earlier, I’d understood that there were five (or maybe six). There were actually four, not including me.

Jon, the head teacher, is the friendliest of them, often making humorous comments and doing voices (he was a drama student, it seems). Todd and David are Americans, both seem OK, but they’re both standoffish and haven’t talked to me much. The other teacher is Hungarian. The only two requirements (disregarding all the criminal checks and so on you have to obtain these days) for getting a teaching visa is that you have a degree and come from one of seven main Anglophonic nations. Hungary isn’t on that list, but Bo is married to a Korean. He’s very quiet, keeping to himself mostly, but the other day I came in with my England shirt on and he started talking to me about football. He was surprised to learn England hadn’t qualified for Euro 2008. I had to admit I hadn’t been following the competition, but I was hoping to start getting into it.

The Korean teachers are pretty much what you’d expect – all female, mostly young (the oldest being in her thirties, I’d guess). The only one whose name I can remember is Sunny, one of the senior teachers, Jon’s soon-to-be wife, and the prettiest of the teachers by some margin (but in a smug, coquettish, oh-look-at-me-I’m-so-cute kind of way); she also looks quite a lot like my former colleague Gina (or like her younger, prettier sister).

One of the Korean teachers whose desk is near mine asked me where I was from in England. I explained, and she said she’d been there. Apparently, she’d lived in Frodsham (a large village (or small town) south of Runcorn across the River Weaver). Frodsham is typical Cheshire, while Runcorn and its borough, Halton, are more like Merseyside. Indeed, Runcorn was an overspill town for Liverpool and Halton is sometimes described as the sixth borough of Merseyside. It says a lot, I think, that Halton is a unitary authority; I can imagine that Cheshire County Council would like to get rid of it altogether. But I digress).

She said she didn’t like Runcorn. Which seems a fair response. When I asked her why she’d lived in Frodsham, she didn’t really answer. I told her that I had some photos of Halton Castle on my laptop, but when she saw the modest ruins she found other things to do.

My previous hagwon, Oedae Language Institute, used a smörgåsbord of different textbooks, some proprietary but the vast majority published language books. The books I’m using at English Castle are mostly English Castle books, with a few story books and one low-level volume. Each comes, or should come, with a syllabus prescribing what pages are taught each class and what homework given (and some of these are in Korean).

And then there’s the paperwork to be done for each class: attendance register, homework register, and detention register. The second of these is a recent innovation of Jon’s, and getting to grips with all these various bits of paper is a pain. I don’t see why some of them can’t be combined.

I have six 50-minute classes on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays between 4:30 and 10pm, but I’m supposed to be at the hagwon at 3pm to prepare for classes (which means reading the various pages of textbooks for that day and deciding how to teach them). On Wednesdays I have one class at 8:15; the five hours before that are dedicated to doing paperwork – which last week consisted of making vocabulary lists.

My students are generally older elementary school students and middle schoolers, but I also have a couple of classes with younger kids, seven or eight years old, something like that. Classes haven’t been going badly; the students have mostly been reasonably engaged with the work, and speak good English. The looks and noises of surprise as I walk into each new class have been consistently entertaining, although I’ve now done five days of teaching so there’ll be no more of that.

Last week was tiring and confusing, but I feel that I’m starting to get the hang of things. I still need to fully comprehend all the paperwork and the system, and I have to work out the best ways of teaching the materials, but I’m getting there. I think.

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