A letter to my pre-Korea self


June 25, 2013 by gemmalunn

At the end of April I finished 2 years of teaching in an all girls’ public middle school in Busan, South Korea. Since then I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on things I’ve learnt, how I’ve grown and generally what an all-round fantastic experience it was. I learnt so much in these two years, some within a few hours of starting work and some almost two years later. Here’s a letter to my pre-Korea self with some advice:

Dong Pyung Girls' Middle School

Dong Pyung Girls’ Middle School

Dear Pre-Korea Gemma,

Here are a few useful things you should learn and do from day 1 of teaching in Korea. These will make your life much easier from the start.

  • Don’t let the large class sizes, 28-35 students intimidate you or prevent you from doing certain tasks or activities. If you put a bit of extra thought into them most activities can still be done with these large classes. You have 35 bright, individual, young minds to work with and learn from; make the most of them and more importantly get the most out of them.
  • In the same way, don’t let the massive range of abilities put you off, yes Sumi cannot tell you her age whilst Taehee can have a developed debate about global warming; use this to your advantage. Arrange the class so students sit in groups of 4 of mixed abilities. Encourage higher level students to help the weaker ones. Trust me, they’ll thrive in this role and you’ll catch them giving pronunciation drills, grammar explanations and much more!
  • Don’t randomly give out sweets sometimes and not others; it’s pricey and mostly de-motivating for the students! Instead, implement a group and class points system, make it clear when they can win and lose points; this will help with classroom management both in terms of behaviour and motivating students. Give out prizes at the end of every term; it’s much cheaper and more effective too!
  • Never underestimate your students. Despite appearances they want to learn and participate in class so you just have to find a way to make this happen. Never stop encouraging and praising shy and low level students they will, in their own time come out of their shells and participate more.
  • Don’t think “you’ll never get every single student to participate in an activity” – you will, ok maybe not every time but keep persevering, trying different activities, strategies, rewards and you’ll be amazed when one day you suddenly stop and watch students doing a mingling activity and realise that every single one is speaking English and completing the activity. When this happens save the tears of joy and pride for after the class!
  • Praise, praise, praise!!! At times you might feel you’re going over the top but you’re not. Give individual, group and class praise, when earned, especially with the more difficult classes when they finally listen – and they will, finally!
  • Don’t ignore the special needs students (as advised) ask the special needs teacher to give you some activities for them or set up a game for them to play if they really can’t join in with the class. Compassion will break down the language barrier.
  • Finally, and most importantly never stop caring and definitely never stop showing students you care, they notice (see below pictures for proof!).

student letter


student card

student card

You are going to learn so much about yourself, teaching, learning and learners in the next two years so enjoy every minute because when it’s over you will miss it, a lot!

Hope this helps……….. actually, forget everything I’ve just said, it’ll be much more valuable and fun if you learn these first hand as you go along!

Good luck and enjoy!

From Post-Korea Gemma.


6 thoughts on “A letter to my pre-Korea self

  1. Thanks Gemma. This was just what I needed to remind me what it is about teaching that I love. Can’t wait to get back into the classroom tomorrow.


    • gemmalunn says:

      Thanks Kevin, have a great first day back.

      • Josette says:

        I’m with Kevin. Your love just oozes off the screen. The world is so luck to have you out there teaching.

        My plan is to give this use this with my course participants to create a discussion. Would love to hear their perspective.

        Thanks so much for the inspiration Gemma!

      • gemmalunn says:

        Wow that’s great to hear, I’m flattered that you’ll use this on your course! Thanks for the lovely comment.

  2. PTEC says:

    Thank you Gemma for sharing your letter to self. I like how you present not only both things to do and not to do but also your results of doing so. I am wondering, where have you gone now that you are no longer in Korea?

    • gemmalunn says:

      Thanks so much for the comment. I’ve come back to England to start an MA in Applied Linguistics in September.

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