The Beauty in My Beauty School

When people find out I teach at a beauty high school, their curiosity automatically peaks and the questions start to flow.

What kind of English do I teach? Is it beauty specific?

Are there boys at the school?

What will the students do when they graduate?

Are they creative?

Just general English. Yes, for every 10 girls, there’s one boy. They’ll probably end up at beauty salons around the province.

As for the creativity? Saying ‘yes’ would be an understatement.

These kids may not be going to college (which is a huge thing when you live in an education-obsessed society) but they have some incredible talent.

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I’ve heard it remarked from fellow native English teachers in my area, teaching at middle school, that they’re disappointed when the end of the school year comes and a few of their students are heading to the beauty high school rather than an academic one. They see it as kind of a failure.

But, for me, I get to witness something more than the practical hairdressing and make-up skills they’ll use to support themselves after school (rather than dive straight into poverty); I get to see them work hard at creating their final 3rd grade products.

They get to do whatever they want, without the influence of a teacher, and express themselves in whatever artistic way takes their fancy.

Then, at the end of the year, they get to showcase their work in the school’s annual festival:

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All make-up, hairstyles, and costumes are designed completely by the students in groups of 2 or 3. Everything they’ve learned over the last three years at the beauty high school comes down to this big fashion show.

That is, of course, if they’re there.

Each year, a small group of 3rd graders also get the opportunity to apply for a trip to Canada.

Good grades, highest dedication and passion for their beauty classes, and, of course, an excellent level of English are the deciding factors when it comes to choosing the lucky few. Once there, they get to spend a month attending a Canadian high school, to experience life as a real English-speaking teenager, and then another month working at a beauty salon.

Before leaving for Canada

Before leaving for Canada

I spent 6 months in after-school classes with the girls applying for the Canadian trip last year. When they finally returned in December, the change in them was unbelievable. They’d gone from being teenage girls that had only seen what lay in their rural towns to worldly women. Not only had their English improved but they’d gained an incredible new sense of maturity and confidence.

I’m certainly not the first teacher to beam with pride over my students and I definitely won’t be the last. You spend more than 40 hours a week surrounded by these kids and can’t help caring about them. You encourage them and only want the best.

Last year a co-teacher encouraged me to apply for a transfer to a more academic high school so that I’d actually get to work with students who work hard and want to learn.

I prefer where I am, though. My students challenge me in a very different kind of way and help me to become a better teacher every single day. My reward is seeing them flourish. They get to express themselves through art, and even see the world.

I’m not ready to walk away from that.

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7 thoughts on “The Beauty in My Beauty School

  1. This is so cool! What a shame that such a talent and gift is concerned a disappointment. Some of those outfits are absolutely gorgeous and they are ALL headturningly amazing.

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    • Exactly my thoughts, Michelle. I felt like I was at an amazing fashion show somewhere and it’s a shame that in this rural, conservative province, nothing’s going to become of them. If they were somewhere like Seoul, there might be more opportunities but, unfortunately, this is as far as it goes for a lot of the kids.

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  2. That is so beautiful! Both the way you care for your students, and the way they turn a ‘nontraditional’ career path (by Asian tiger parent standards) into something so artistic. And the ability to go to Canada is fantastic! Thanks for writing about this part of Korean education I had no idea existed.

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    • Thanks for that comment, Edna. I really try my best to make my students feel special because I can’t even imagine how much pressure and disappointment they get from outside my classroom.

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