Current Teachers
  • Administrative Tasks
  • Co-Teaching Videos
  • EPIK Life Videos
  • School Culture Episodes
  • Volunteer Stories
  • Teachers' Resources
    • General~High School
    • EPIK Teachers’ Essays
    • Korean Teachers’ Essays
    • EPIK Manual for Korean Teachers
    • Counseling Booklet
  • Contest Submission
EPIK Teaching : Every Challenge is an Opportunity ( 2008 Essay contest)
EPIK Teaching : Every Challenge is an Opportunity ( 2008 Essay contest)
  Date: 2009-07-18 01:17     View: 2829  

EPIK Teaching : Every Challenge is an Opportunity


Girin Elementary School

Terence Cole


Teaching in Korea through English Program In Korea (EPIK) is a rewarding experience, but it can also be a challenging one. Everyday is a new challenge because of the language barrier, time constraints, learning materials, and extra projects. There are many challenges that a Guest English Teacher (GET) must overcome, but none of these are insurmountable. Not only that, but many of these challenges can become opportunities to take a GET’s teaching to another level. There are five main challenges that every GET will be confronted with. Each of these have the ability to cause irritation or frustration to the native English teacher and to their Korean co-teachers. However, if each of these challenges are handled property, then they can bring phenomenal opportunity to the GET, as well as to the Korean students and teachers. The five main challenges are:

  1. 1.      Learning Material that is 50% in Korean

  2. 2.      Helping Out Fellow GETs with Projects

  3. 3.      Investing in Your Success

  4. 4.      Meeting with Co-Teachers

  5. 5.      Going Beyond the Call of Duty

While each of these are challenging to the native English teacher, they can all be overcome and can ultimately make for very rewarding teaching experience.


Challenge #1         Learning Material that is 50% in Korean

Challenge:            The standard English textbook can be up to 50% in Korean, making it difficult for a native English speaker to use it effectively. Some native English teachers aren’t happy with the way the material is covered.

Opportunity:        GETs can supplement the standard material with material from websites and from their own ideas.

Many of the GETs that I have spoken with were disheartened to find out that the text books that they’d be working from were written only half in English. This makes for a very challenging environment because the native English teacher probably has little to no experience with the Korean language, and may not be able to have another teacher translate the material effectively enough for them to use it. Also, some teachers find the material that the book covers is not covered as effectively as it could be, leading them to further want to distance themselves from the book.

Because of these two challenges, some teachers completely work without the textbook and make up their own lessons. While this may work for some, it is not practical for everyone (especially considering the volume of new material that would need to be created for every class that is taught). Thankfully, that isn’t completely necessary. The textbooks can be a very valuable took and should be used. The ideas that they cover are strong. And if they are supplemented with original teaching material, they can make for a very rewarding teaching and learning experience.

There are many sites that English teachers can go to in order to get materials that will help them supplement their classes. MES-English ( and Genki English ( are some of the most popular. Each of these sites has wonderful material that can be either used without modification, or can be changed for use in a particular classroom setting. One activity that I found particularly interesting was MES-English’s soccer activity (see attachments 1-1 and 1-2 for soccer rules and game board). I used this activity with 3rd through 6th grade students to drill new vocabulary. It was so successful that even students who barely speak in class began to make an effort! If a GET uses sites like these, along with their own creativity, then using the book as a framework for teaching can be very effective.


Challenge #2         Helping Out Fellow GETs

Challenge:            Native English teachers may want other GETs to help them with projects that may be time consuming or difficult, or may want to use materials that other GETs worked hard on.

Opportunity:        When working with other native English teachers, GETs can share ideas, create, and use materials they never could obtain by themselves.

It is important that GETs keep in mind that they are in Korea to teach English in general, and not necessarily just to teach English to their “own” students. This comes into play when another teacher asks for help on a large project or wants to use materials that a GET created. Initially, some people may be off put by the request, but if they look at the larger picture, they’ll see how much of an advantage can come from working together.

A fellow GET, Letitia Jackson, asked me to do voice work for a play for one of her teachers at Bong Dong School. She requested this because she knows that I’m good at vocal work, and have recorded a number of podcasts and audio programs over the years. I do not work at Bong Dong School and none of my students would directly benefit from this project, but I agreed because want as many students as possible to gain from the EPIK program. We ended up doing recording sessions at my apartment, Letitia’s apartment, and at Bong Dong School, as well as tightening up the script for the play (see attachments 2-1 and 2-2 for play audio and script). The play is still being practiced by the students, so we don’t know how everything will turn out, but it should be better now that they have native English speakers to listen to in order to perfect their acting.

An example in which I received help was for Halloween. I decided to do a special Halloween lesson for my students, and was putting together ideas and materials for them. I mentioned this project to another GET, Jose Rios, and he immediately offered me a PowerPoint presentation on Halloween that he had created for his students. I took a look at his presentation and was impressed. Not only did it contain cultural learning points about how Americans participate in Halloween, but it also contained Halloween vocabulary that corresponded to a word search worksheet. I thanked him for his work, and every time a teacher viewed the presentation and complimented it, I was sure to tell him or her where it came from.

Working with other teachers and sharing materials will increase a GET’s success tremendously.


Challenge #3         Investing in Your Success

Challenge:            Whether or not GETs should spend their own money on teaching materials and items to enhance the students’ learning experience.

Opportunity:        Sometimes it can be good to invest back into the job so the students can get the maximum benefit from an activity.

While most of the materials that a GET will need in order to be an effective teacher will be provided by the school, there are some instances in which a GET will need to decide whether or not to spend his or her own money in order to make a lesson plan better. Our schools invest large amounts into the EPIK program, so I don’t think that it is inappropriate for us to invest small amounts back into the program.

Before becoming a teacher, I was a graphic artist for a company in the United States. I learned many things about creating artwork and using certain websites in order to get art assets. When I began teaching, I wanted to use worksheets that were customized to my student’s needs, but I couldn’t easily find the pictures that corresponded to what the students needed to learn. I decided to invest in a subscription to a website called ( This site is popular among artists who need to use lots of standard graphics. Buying a three-month subscription has enabled me to work much faster than before when creating worksheets, and has helped me to make content that exactly fits my student’s needs (see attachment 3-1 for worksheet example).

Another example was Halloween. Letitia and I decided that we wanted to do a traditional American Halloween party with learning activities for our students. Our school purchased costumes for us, but we still needed candy and decorations. We decided to purchase candy and create treat bags for all of our 150 students. We spent about $100.00 total on the project, but the students loved it and it was a great success. Investing in their experience was worth the cost (see attachments 3-2, 3-3, and 3-4 for Halloween pictures).

If a GET is hesitant about investing in his or her teaching, just remember the main reason for being in Korea is to teach students. If a native English teacher needs to occasionally buy items to facilitate the classroom learning, then he or she should be willing to do so.


Challenge #4         Meeting With Korean Co-Teachers

Challenge:            Time is limited and meeting with fellow Korean co-teachers can be difficult if not impossible to schedule.

Opportunity:        Meeting with Korean co-teachers will improve a GET’s teaching skills and materials, because he or she will benefit from the Korean teacher’s knowledge. Also, both co-teachers will be in sync when teaching, which makes for a much smoother classroom experience.

Everyone at school is very busy. Some GETs will want to take time to sit down with their Korean co-teachers, but might not be able to because of scheduling conflicts. Many GETs just decide to design materials without their co-teacher’s input. While this can work, sometimes it can be ineffective because the Korean co-teacher may have a completely different idea about how a lesson should be taught.

I encourage all GETs to schedule weekly meetings with their co-teachers. It is not realistic to meet with all teachers at every school, but meetings can be arranged with teachers from a GET’s main school and can be done during teacher planning time. Meeting with Korean teachers has two main benefits. One, the Korean teacher can give feedback to the GET in order to help the GET create more effective teaching material. Two, both co-teachers will be in sync when teaching, which makes lesson plans flow more smoothly.

For example, I noticed that many of my 3rd and 4th grade students had trouble with the days of the week. I looked through my teaching material, but I couldn’t find a good lesson that would easily teach the days of the week to students. So, I decided to make a chant for them. The chant had an original melody, and was not too difficult by native English standards. However, before I presented it to the classes, I showed it to some of my co-teachers (see attachment 4-1 for original chant lyrics). One co-teacher suggested that instead of singing the days of the week to an original melody, that the days should be sung to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” She had a fantastic idea, so we immediately changed the chant’s melody to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” The students were able to learn it quickly, and they now have a much easier time reciting the days of the week.

Meeting with other teachers allows GETs to share and come up with ideas they might not otherwise have come up with by themselves.


Challenge #5         Going Beyond the Call of Duty

Challenge:            GETs are presented with opportunities to do work that is beyond their normal job duties. Sometimes this work can infringe upon personal time.

Opportunity:        If done sparingly, then doing work that is beyond a GET’s normal job duties can be rewarding, and it can be very beneficial for their students.

A GETs free time is very valuable. The longer that GETs teach, the more activities they’ll participate in, and the more rich of a life they’ll create for themselves in Korea. Free time becomes precious, and sometimes GETs will be presented with work that is outside of their normal job duties. This kind of work can range from working on a Saturday, to creating a special project on their own time. While doing too many of these would be problematic, doing a few of them will benefit all involved.

For example, elementary schools in InJe have an English speech contest in the fall. Each school picks one student to represent it, and that student writes a speech in English and presents it to a panel of judges and teachers. This year, a 6th grader named Kang In-Kyeong was chosen to represent Kirin Elementary School. Letitia and I were asked to correct her speech and to give her speech coaching. Letitia and I read over her speech, corrected it, and began to work with her. While working with her, we realized that she had very good English pronunciation and was able to memorize the script well, but she wasn’t as strong on emphasizing key points in the speech. We modified her script to add points of emphasis, and added notes to encourage proper timing to increase dramatic effect. I then decided to record her script with my voice in mp3 format and send it to her, so she’d have a good model of English pronunciation to listen to when she practiced at home (see attachments 5-1 and 5-2 for speech audio and script). We practiced with her for hours in order to refine her speech delivery. The weekend before the event, Letitia and I came into school on Saturday morning to make sure that Kang In-Kyeong was ready for the speech. She delivered the speech that Monday morning and received 1st prize in her division.

Even though it may take extra time and effort, sometimes it can be worth giving up a little bit of free time in order to make a big difference to a student.


Teaching in foreign country can be a challenging experience, but none of the challenges are insurmountable. Whether it be dealing with learning material that is 50% in Korean, helping out fellow GETs, investing in your success, meeting with co-teachers, or going beyond the call of duty, if the challenges are handled property, then they can bring great opportunities to the GET as well as to the Korean students and teachers. Everyday in Korea is a unique experience, and everyday brings new opportunities to take a GET’s teaching to the next level. Even though there are challenges to be faced, the EPIK program is a very rewarding experience for everyone involved.

print email Twitter icon Facebook icon

  • List