Let’s talk about travel schools
Prior to my move to Korea I knew that a travel school was a possibility, but I didn’t know much beyond that. This post aims to answer some common questions and examine some of the pros and cons of having a travel school.
Will I have a travel school?
It’s hard to say for sure, and it likely won’t be something you’re told until you get here. I found out on the last day of orientation when my new co-teacher came to pick me up. There are some things that might increase your chance of having a travel school though.
It seems that travel schools are pretty common to have in Jeollanamdo, so if you’re with the Jeollanamdo Language Program (JLP) there is a good chance of getting one. However, I have friends who live in the same city as me and don’t have travel schools, so it’s no guarantee. Typically, the more rural you are the higher the chance but again I’ve also seen examples where this isn’t necessarily true. In terms of my friends who are with the JLP, I’d say about 80% have at least one travel school. Some have multiple though this mostly happens if you are very rural (like an island) and your schools are all super small.
How do travel schools work?
They work the same as your regular school but sometimes things are slightly different. For me, it’s an even split. I spend Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning at my main school, and Wednesday afternoon, Thursday, and Friday at my travel school. My travel school is much bigger than my main school so I see the students less even though I’m there just as much.
I have friends who visit their travel school once a week, twice a week, it really depends, there is no magic number. You might be at your travel school just as frequently as your main school or you might only pop in once a week. You will find this out when you begin teaching and are given your schedule (or sooner if you’re lucky enough to have contact with the previous Native Teacher). But keep in mind schedules change all the time.
Do we get paid extra?
Yes. For one travel school you will be paid an extra 100,000 won a month, but only the months that you actually work there. So for me this excluded January and February since I only ‘desk-warmed’ at my main school. If you have two or more travel schools, then it’s bumped to 150,000 won but no more than that. So someone who works at two travel schools and someone who has three will both get 150,000 won. The extra cash is to help you pay for transportation costs that might be associated with traveling to your additional school(s). Some of us get lucky and our travel school is walking distance so we get to pocket the whole amount, others actually use most of it for travel. It really depends!
That covers the basics of working at a travel school, so let’s go into some pros and cons of travel schools.
The extra cash
The extra 100,000-150,000 won per month can be really great if you don’t have to spend it all on transportation! I am luckily walking distance to both of my schools so I don’t have to worry about transportation costs. For others, this might not be a big help.
Potentially less work
I will also cover this exact same point in the ‘cons’ section because it really depends on how your schools work. For me (and many others) having a travel school means I am seeing students at both schools less frequently. The less frequently you see your students the less frequently you have to make lesson plans. Every week I make three lesson plans for my main school, and three every other week for my travel school. If I was teaching only at my main school I would likely be churning out 6 unique lesson plans a week (a small number compared to some teachers I know). Be sure to read this point in the cons section as well so you can see how things might go the other way…
When you begin teaching you will find that there might only be a few other teachers at your school that can speak English. Even the language level of the Korean English teachers might be low. This tends to be more common in rural areas. Unfortunately, if your Korean is not very good (or non-existent) some people can start to feel a bit lonely or isolated. People handle this in different ways but having a travel school does give you a better chance of connecting with more people. When I started teaching, between my two schools I had 7 co-teachers. Though perhaps an unusually high number (it’s already dropped to 5) it gave me 7 people whom I could communicate with.
You also get to meet a wider variety of students of different language abilities. I found the English level at my travel school to be a little higher (in some students) which was nice because being able to have a conversation with your students is awesome.
More teaching experience
It’s pretty cool to be able to talk about teaching abroad, but teaching at multiple schools is even better! You get to work with more people, teach more students, and ultimately just have a different experience. Things don’t always work the same way at both schools, and I think this helps us improve as teachers.
The (potential) cons
Excess travel time
It’s not uncommon for a travel school to be further away from your main school. For many teachers this means added time to your daily commute. Almost everyone I know is able to walk to their main school from their apartment (with a few exceptions). Yet this is often not true of travel schools. You might be taking a 40-minute bus ride to your travel school and only walking 10 minutes to your main one. Again, there will be additional costs if you need to take transit. I’ve met teachers who work on islands and have travel schools on different islands. Taking the ferry to work during the week really chews up the extra money they get for teaching at multiple schools.
You might get lucky and have a travel school super close, but it’s also likely that you will need to commute a little farther.
Potentially more work
If your main school and your travel school(s) are all very small, then you could be doing a little more work. Maybe you’ve got three schools and at two of the schools you see all the students twice a week. I have friends who teach some classes that have literally 8 students so this is not as crazy as it sounds. That could be around 10-15 unique lesson plans you need to make per week. It is also very likely that your main school and your travel school(s) will have different textbooks so you can’t always reuse your lessons (though you can probably reuse parts of them).
I put this point in both the pros and cons sections because it really depends on multiple factors. Namely, the size of your schools and the frequency you see your students. This will likely be the determining factor in whether or not the additional school(s) is more work or less!
Reduced ‘connection’ to your main school and ‘outsider’ status at another
This is something that I have personally felt before but by no means is guaranteed to happen. I will preface by saying that I really like both of my schools and am very pleased with how they treat me.
Sometimes I wish I had a little more connection to my main school. I chat with friends of mine who only work at one school and I feel a little envious of their relationships with colleagues and students. Quite simply, when you’re at a place more frequently you become a little more a part of everything. Since I’m split evenly between my two schools I occasionally feel like I’m missing out on things.
On the other hand, you might have a bit of ‘outsider’ status at your travel school, even if you’re there frequently. Again, I feel like I’m treated really well at my travel school but there is this lingering sense of not really belonging.
In the pros section I discussed the positive outcomes of variation, namely meeting more people and becoming a better teacher. However sometimes differences in language levels can be more frustrating than productive. You might teach at two middle schools and yet encounter totally different language levels at both. Sometimes it can be difficult to “turn on” different teaching styles with different students. For example, your grade 3 middle schoolers at one school might have trouble forming simple sentences, while at your other school you can have conversations with them. You can’t teach these two groups of students the same so it might be tricky to remember this when lesson planning.
You will also likely encounter different language levels among your co-teachers. It might cause frustration and misunderstandings if you forget this and speak to them all the same.
I think my bias likely showed a bit in this post even though I tried to remain as neutral as possible. Generally speaking, I love having two schools because for me the pros definitely out-weigh the cons. If you’re nervous about potentially having a travel school – don’t be! Many teachers have them and we all do just fine. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t have one either. There are benefits to only working at one school as well. As with everything regarding teaching ESL in Korea things depend strongly on individual circumstance. Hopefully I’ve answered some common questions you might have had.