Monday, July 28, 2014

Sleeping students

This summer, I'm teaching an internship preparation class for students who are going to the USA for a year starting in October.  They started classes at the end of June and will continue on until October with only a one week break in August.  The thing that is difficult (and perhaps not well thought-out by the admin) is that the classes are from 9-6, Monday-Friday.

I honestly try my best to make classes interesting and very rarely have problems with sleeping students.  I do lots of different activities and include lots of partner work and opportunities to stand up and move around and do different stuff to prevent the tiredness.  BUT, this class I just had today is terrible for sleeping and the good students tell me it's not just me because many people sleep in all the other classes.  What to do?  It's pretty demoralizing to have so many students sleeping, but I can also understand because they're in class for a ridiculous amount of time each week.

Readers: help please!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Reader Question: PhD in another subject but teaching ESL

A question from M.S.

"I have a PhD (not in tefl, in env sci) and am in my late 30s with one year's tefl experience.  Could you please advise me what are my chances for finding employment in a Korean uni teaching English?  Should I find employment elsewhere first to brush up on my tefl (and maybe even look into obtaining a CELTA?)?  I was also wondering about what might the age limits be for English instructors in Korean universities? Thanks for any help you can give, it helps me to plan for my future."

My answer: 

Your chances of finding employment at a Korean university is quite high, but as I've said before on this blog, it's pretty hard to find uni jobs in Korea when you're not actually in the country.  Difficult, but not impossible though.  You could look elsewhere in Korea for a job to get your foot in the door, but working at a hagwon or public school for a year could be a long, long year for someone like yourself.

A Celta is of no use in Korea so don't waste your time on it.

The accepted retirement age in Korea is 60, so you'll be fine.

I think it really is possible for you to get a uni job, but a tough question that you'll probably be asked over and over again is why you have a degree in science but want to teach English.  I can't say that I really understand it myself and Koreans probably won't either. 

That said, there are most definitely some uni jobs out there that are teaching English to science or engineering students, where you teach things like technical English.  And there are also editing jobs that require a science or engineering background, which you could probably also do, assuming your English skills are up to par. I'd definitely try to look for some of those jobs instead of just the general English ones and you'll probably do better.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Teaching training: a wee rant

I found out a couple of days ago that I'll be teaching a Masters level, credit course about how to teach English this upcoming semester.  I was initially kind of excited about it since I can put all the stuff I learned when doing the Celta and the Delta to good use.  Except, upon further conversation with the admin and the previous teacher who taught the course my initial excitement has waned. 

"It's about how to teach English, except the students aren't good at English and you can help them improve their English."

So, what exactly is it?  Is it a basic 4-skills English class, disguised as a masters level teaching methodology course?

Is it actually a teaching methodology course, just dumbed down because the MASTERS level students don't actually speak English that well?  Is it somehow supposed to be a combination of the two?

Now, I'm no hater of teaching content courses and I actually really truly believe that content courses, delivered in English are fabulous because students get information/skills/knowledge about the topic plus they can improve their English.  But, this situation makes me feel annoyed. 

If it's a 4-skills course, I can deal with that.  If it's a teaching methodology course, I can deal with that.  If it's SUPPOSED to be a teaching methodology course but is actually a basic English course in disguise...well, that's not really a good situation for me to be in.  Students will have all these expectations of what it can and should be and because the objectives are so vague and varied, it will be almost impossible for me to deliver what they actually want.  It's like the admin is just setting me up for failure is what it feels like at this point.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Agrictultural Subsidies in Korea Lesson Plan

This one is for a 2-hour discussion and speaking based class.  The students are high-intermediate, low-advanced and I like to challenge them with authentic materials about topics that they don't necessarily know all the vocab for.  The article is from the English website of the Korea Herald.

Agricultural Subsidies ESL lesson plan

Does the Celta open doors at Korean Unis?

I got this comment from a reader and I wanted to clear up any misinformation:

"I'm glad I stumbled upon your blog. I read that the CELTA enables you to teach at the University level. Since I saw that you took the CELTA course in Seoul (which I plan on doing), I was wondering if it opened doors for you."

My comment:

The Celta does NOT enable you to teach at a Korean university.  A masters with 2 years experience at a Korean uni, or a BA with 4 years experience teaching at a Korean uni does that.  You can slip in with lesser qualifications but it won't be easy.  Most Koreans actually have no idea what the Celta is and truly won't care if you have one or not. 

I simply did it to improve my job prospects for the day that I'll eventually leave Korea.  If you're doing it to teach in Korea with, I'd strongly recommend not wasting your time or money.

Tips for Newbies to the Korean University Scene

It's that time of year again, when lots of people are getting ready to start new jobs at Korean unis, perhaps for the first time ever if they're making the transition from a hagwon or public school.  Exciting times!  I remember how nervous I was about the whole thing.  This post, back from 2011 was one of my most popular ones ever and might be helpful in this situation: Ten Tips for Newbies to the Korean University Teaching Experience.

The only thing I wouldn't necessarily agree with anymore is #7 about class size.  Sure, smaller is better but it wouldn't be a big factor for me in taking a job, or not.  With a bit of experience, teaching a class of 40 or 50 is really not a big problem. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

How to get vacation work

Ahhhhh vacation.  After a usually somewhat grueling 16 week semester, 10 weeks off is kind of a welcome relief.  Back in the years gone by when I first started working at Korean unis, I would take the entire 10 weeks off and take fabulous vacations for the entire time.  Except now, I have 2 cats who, although they are cute, nobody wants to look after for months at a time and I'm also trying to save more money so I can retire early.

So what do I do?  I usually take a short vacation of 2 or 3 weeks (I was just in Malaysia, so no updates on the blog!) and then work for at least a few of the remaining weeks.  How to get this sometimes elusive extra work during the vacations?  It can sometimes be tricky because there are often lots of teachers and a limited amount of OT.  Here are my tips:

1. Cultivate good relationships with colleagues.  At my 2 unis, it was amazing the amount of OT that got passed around amongst the "inner-circles" and never reached the email everybody stage. 

2. Cultivate a good relationship with the department secretary.  It's amazing the amount of OT that gets passed around to his/her favorites and never reaches the email everybody stage.  It's helpful to stop by the office quite often.  Bring small gifts. 

3. Cultivate a fabulously stellar reputation as a solid, responsible, and well-liked teacher.  Admin and colleagues know who the good ones (and the terrible ones) are. 

4. Put the word out.  Drop the hint with the people in power that you're looking for vacation work.  You'll bump yourself up on the list of people they'll call when something comes in.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How to Teach English

I remember back to my first year or two of teaching in Korea and how clueless I basically was.  Like I almost literally had no idea what I was doing and what was effective, or not in the classroom.  It didn't help that my school owners were business people and not teachers and so could offer no really helpful guidance except don't sit down and make sure you smile.

If I would recommend one book for a newbie teacher to read, it would be this one: How to Teach English by Jeremy Harmer.  It contains some theory that is very accessible and not really academic and then has a multitude of practical and helpful tips for things like lesson planning, classroom management and activities and games.  Even experienced teachers would find it useful I think.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Summer is here

People that aren't teachers often don't really understand the tiredness that comes at the end of a long semester.  It's not that my job is physically demanding, or even especially mentally taxing, it's just that I'm on stage, performing in front of groups of 3-40 people for a lot of hours each week.  I always have to be "on," and while I try to minimize my teacher talking time because I'm all about the student-centered classroom, it's not like I sit at the front of the class inactively.'s tiring.  And, I'm always happy when vacation rolls around because I can breathe, and rest, and relax. 

Here are some tips for how to get refreshed before the new semester starts:

1. It's quite tempting to do overtime in vacations to make more money.  You don't need to resist this urge completely, but a happy balance is best.  Work a bit, and rest a bit.  I'll usually work intensively at a camp for 2-3 weeks during my 10 week vacation, or I'll try to work 8-12 hours/week for most of the vacation period. 

2. Go somewhere.  Even a trip somewhere in Korea is helpful.  I generally try to leave Korea and go somewhere fabulous in Asia.  It reminds me of my happy life here.

3. Try not to get too burnt out during the semester.  Boundaries are extremely helpful.

4. Finish your grading as soon as possible. Don't let that stuff linger on for longer than necessary. 

5. Schedule an intense planning session of 1-5 days (depending on courses taught, etc), rather than doing it gradually over the vacation.  If you do this, you'll always be working.

Reader Question: Work/Life Balance

"I was just reading your interesting blog on teaching English in a Korean university.  I was wondering if there are expectations for research on top of the usual teaching/admin?  Does it provide for a decent work-life balance?"

My short answer: No.  Yes.

My long answer:  No, there are generally no research requirements and teachers at Korean universities are more along the lines of "English Teachers" or "adjunct lecturers" than full-fledged "professors."  There are some exceptions of course because there are foreigners with PhDs who are teaching in their field of expertise and those people would definitely have different expectations.

Teaching in a Korean university provides an excellent work-life balance.  It's more of a part-time job if you don't do any overtime and just work the standard contract hours.  Most people work 3-4 days/week and get anywhere from 2-5 months vacation.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The best possible class you could ever imagine

Think about the ideal situation for a class that you could teach.  It's interesting to think about and the reality that most of us find ourselves in is perhaps quite different.  Thankfully, in my current job, most of the classes that I teach meet many of these "ideal class criteria."  And, there are plentiful overtime opportunities at my uni that allow me to choose extra work that I find interesting.

Anyway, here are my top 10 ideal class criteria.  What are yours?

1. Class size= 10-16.  Any less can get boring and become too small if a few people drop-out for whatever reason.  Any larger can be hard to manage sometimes in terms of admin/grading, etc.

2. Student Motivation=high.  This usually is because the class is a voluntary one of some sort.

3. Student age=adults.

4. Class content= not conversation.  Basically anything is more interesting to me than basic conversation, even TOIEC prep classes.

5. Class content=something I haven't taught before.  I like the challenge of it and it's always good to add new courses to the resume.

6. Admin= hands-off.  Ideally, I could teach whatever the students need, however will best help them.  Teaching a certain page on a certain day, or covering a certain amount of material for a test isn't ideal.

7. Class format=structured.  I like lesson plans.  Students like a teacher with a plan.  My worst nightmare is a class which consists of "free-talking."  It's not really a class-it's just a waste of time.

8. Class time=between 10am and 7pm.  Earlier is tough, as is later due to tiredness (students and me!).

9. Book=optional.  It's best if I can choose it myself or design my own.

10. Multimedia.  I teach using various things including: PPT, podcasts, videos, Internet, smartphones, etc.  I would struggle a bit to teach in a classroom not set up for this.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The 4-hour killer class

This summer and going on into the fall, I'm teaching in this Internship preparation program where there are 4 hour classes, with the same teacher and same students.  It's a bit killer on the teacher, as well as the students but I try to make it as painless as possible.  The temptation is to just do 2 or 3 different, random things but I try to avoid that if possible and have some sort of coherent theme holding everything together.  Here's the rough sketch of my lesson for today:

Topic: Youth Unemployment.

1. Warm-up riddles.  Lots of students come late so I do some riddles for 5-10 minutes while people stream in.  This was the only unrelated thing.

2. Warm-up discussion questions about youth unemployment.  Talking with a partner and then the whole class together.

3. Reading-first time.  Quickly and some true/false questions. Compare with partner and then whole class.

4. Reading-second time.  Slowly and some difficult comprehension questions.  Talk with partner

5. Youth Unemployment Video-first time.  What is the program?  Talk with partner and then whole class.

6. Video-second time.  Would this program work in Korea?  Talk with partner and then with whole class.

7. Kiva Micofinance Organization.  Show the website and talk about what they do, watch their short video, etc.  Choose someone to "lend" money to.

8. Speech time.  Brainstorm ways to reduce youth unemployment in Korea.  Groups of 4. Each person choose their favorite and prepare a 2 minute speech about why it's the best solution.  Give speech to group and other 3 members must ask a difficult question.

Finish!  It was quite painless overall :)