Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Subjectivity and Grading Writing

Grading writing is not easy when compared to something like a grammar or vocab test.  There is no right or wrong answer; it's all kinds of shades of grey.  So how to do it in a way that is fair and appears this way to the students as well?  

My solution is to use this ESL Writing Grading Rubric, even though within reading the first 2 or 3 sentences of a 5-paragraph essay, I know what grade the student will get.  I use it because it *appears* much fairer in the student's eyes and this will significantly cut down on the number of complaints you get about grading.

The other top trick I have to reduce the number of complaints is this: I tell the students that of course they are free to ask me to re-grade their essay.  And, I will do my best to look at with fresh eyes.  But, I will spend 3-4 times the amount of time I spent the first time around and get out my red pen and circle every single mistake they've made and I will most definitely not overlook anything.  Of course, they might get a higher grade but it's also very possible to get a lower one.  So consider carefully.  

Mean?  Yes, perhaps, but effective.

Teaching Writing, minus Peer Editing/Teacher Editing- the 1/2-way review

Midterms exams are done and graded and I want to give an update on how  things are going in my 3 advanced writing classes for English majors (3rd/4th year students).

My approach has been to veer away from the traditional approach to teaching writing that consists of endless cycles of teacher and peer editing.  Part of it is that I simply don't have time to do this because I have about 100 students in my writing classes, plus 3 other classes I need to prepare for and teach.  And the other part is that I simply don't think it's that effective or helpful.  Students need to become autonomous instead of just relying on the teacher to correct them.

Peer editing fills class time quite effectively, but I got beyond doing that in my first and second year of "teaching" and now actually "teach."  But, I also don't think it's so effective because it often degrades to just sharing misinformation, especially among the very weak students.  Pairing up the extremely weak with the extremely strong is just an annoying total waste of time for that strong student too.  How can students who are essentially beginners at writing judge whether or not a thesis statement or topic sentence is a good one or not?  Sure, some of my students can but probably less than 1/3 would be able to do this. 

Instead, I've focused most of my class-time on genre analysis-that is looking at quality essays and analyzing them, as well as on crafting good topic sentences, thesis statements, hooks, etc.  We've also spent time reviewing some basic punctuation (a major weakness), as well as significant amounts of time on self-editing.  Also, we do "free-writing" each class in order to get practice writing fluently. 

Results: 90% of the students in my classes have an extremely firm grasp upon the basic structure of the essay and did it almost flawlessly, including parallel organization.  The ones that don't have missed a lot of classes and/or are late almost everyday so obviously they're not so engaged in the class and getting the content.  I feel happy about this because it's a solid skill they can take with them into their lives. 

Punctuation is solid.  Basic grammar is also solid for most of the students.  But, I take no credit for that.  The students that were solid before the class have remained that way.  And the ones who couldn't put together a grammatically correct sentence before the class still can't do it.  But, I'm not worried about that.  If a student, after 1000's of hours of English language instruction can't put together a sentence, how much could I actually help them in 3 hours/week for 14 weeks? 

Vocab/sentence variety-a bit shaky for some students.  But again, I wonder how much I could actually help students in the short amount of time I have?  It's just not my priority.

Of course, for a more "professional view" of things, check out Jeremy Harmer's book on how to teach writing:

Power Through It: Essay Grading

This semester, I'm teaching 3 advanced writing classes, which means that I have over 100 hundred, 5 paragraph essays of varying quality to grade.  Here is my system to get it done in record time, with minimal brain fry-age. 

I do it at home in my "office."  It's a little room where I store my sports equipment.  What is has going for is that I can spread out all my papers and it doesn't have my computer/phone.  I divide my essays into groups of 8.  Then, I do one pile at a time and in between each pile, I take a little mental-health break.  I cook some dinner, or hang up a load of laundry or exercise or watch a TV show.  It's the best way to see each paper with "fresh-eyes" and not "tired-eyes" because each student deserves a fair grade. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How to get a University Teaching Job in South Korea Tip #10: Become Obsessed!

This is the final part in a 10 part series about how to get a university job in South Korea.  Scroll through the previous 2 weeks for all the tips.  But, my final tip is to become obsessed.  A uni job in Korea won't fall into your lap, in 90% of the cases.  You'll have to actually work for it, which involves sending out applications to any and all unis, even the ones that you don't think you're qualified for.  And, yes, you really should look at jobs sites beyond ESL Cafe.  It means networking (even if you're an introvert) and furthering your qualifications and experience.  It means acing interviews and having the most fabulous resume and cover letter imaginable.  Demo teaching and philosophy of teaching?  You need to be on top of those as well. 

It takes works.  It's like a second full-time job so be prepared.  Cut back on the amount of extra teaching and social activities that you'll be doing during your job search time so you can devote the necessary energy to it.  And don't get down when you don't get interviews; be patient!  Good things will come to those who persevere.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Getting a Uni Job in Korea Tip #9: Experience

These days, due to government regulations it seems like most jobs ads want candidates to have a BA+4 years experience or an MA +2 years.  It varies for what this "experience" can consist of, but the general requirement is that it be at a Korean uni.  If you don't have that, what can you do? 

There are a few options, but they all have their positives and negatives:

1. Work at a high school in Korea, although this will be extremely difficult to find since most of those positions have been cut.

2. Work at an international high school in Korea, preferably teaching high school, if you're qualified (teacher's certificate from back home).

3. Teach adults at a hagwon (private institute), but we warned that this experience may not "count."

4. Teach at a university outside Korea, but this experience may also not count. 

5. Teach anyone in Korea, including children and hope for the best.  But, public school is probably better than hagwon and this experience will be more respected.

***whatever you do, make sure you get proof of employment through an "employment certificate***  It's an official form in Korea and all employers are required to give it you by law.  A reference letter isn't good enough.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Getting a Uni Job in Korea Tip #8: Avoid Common Mistakes

Some common mistakes and tips to avoid them:

1. In any job that you apply for, a resume and cover letter filled with grammar and spelling errors will get an automatic toss in the garbage.  Korea is no different.  Get a book to help you with the basic format and then get your friends and family members to proofread.  Be ruthless!

2. The picture.  One of you looking hot on the beach in your sexy bikini will not get you the results you want.  Get a professional one done in work attire.

3. Follow the job ad exactly.   If they need paperwork X, Y, Z, send them XYZ.  By email, then by email, etc.  It's not rocket science but it can get confusing if you're applying for lots of jobs. 

4. Keep track of things.  It can be easy to forget who you've talked to and where you've applied.  Be organized and use a spreadsheet.  Nothing looks worse than someone who has obviously applied to 100 places and can't keep track of them all.

5. Never say, "I want to make money," or, "I want to travel." Instead think about things like: "I'm very interested in Korean culture and language," or, "I love teaching university students because...." 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

How to Get a University Job in South Korea Tip #7: the Ideal Candidate

There are a few criteria that are extremely important when applying for uni jobs in South Korea.  While some of them are within your power to change, some of them are not and my advice is that if you have too many strikes against you that  you are unable to change, perhaps working at a Korean uni isn't for you and you should consider other options (ie: teaching English in a Chinese Uni).  Here is my list:

1. Education. A masters in TESOL or English or Education is at the top. Behind that is a Masters degree in anything. Celta and TEFL Certificates rarely count for much and those with only BA's will have a hard time competing for jobs, especially those with less than 4 years experience working at Korean unis.

2. Age. Between 30-50 is prime. Younger than that and you’re not much older than the students. Older and your employers will be worried that you’ll drop dead on the job.  Age discrimination in Korean universities is a very real thing.

3. Gender. Males dominate the scene so most unis love to hire qualified females and there's the perception that the females won't date the students.

4. Country of Origin. The North American accent reigns supreme in South Korea.  And of course, an even more basic requirement is holding a passport from one of the "Big 6" countries due to immigration regulations.  There's almost no way around this, unfortunately.

5. Appearance. Obese, ugly, poorly-dressed, physically disabled and non-white skinned people need not apply. It’s not entirely true, but almost. Appearance is everything in Korea and you'll be expected to include a photo in your application.

6. Experience. At a uni is the best, teaching adults is second best. If your experience is in Korea, even better.  Current government funding rules are forcing unis to try to hire people with BA's+4 years experience and MA's +2 years experience.  The only experience that counts is at unis.

For more details on getting a uni job in Korea, check out this site: How to Get a University ESL Teaching Job in Korea.

Friday, April 18, 2014

How to Get a Uni Job in Korea Tip #6: Consider a Uni-Gwon

If you don't have any experience teaching at a uni in Korea it can be quite difficult to find your first uni job.  An option is to consider a "Uni-Gwon," which is a hybrid between a university job and a hagwon (private institute job).  It's basically a language center offering non-credit classes to students or the community on campus.

The upside is that you'll usually be teaching mostly adults (with an odd kids class or two mixed in), the vacation will be more than a standard hagwon and the biggest benefit is that for the purposes of your resume: it can usually be considered a "uni" job.   You can also make connections and if you're happy at your place, you could hopefully transition to the standard job.  These places will often hire from overseas with a Skype interview as well.

The downsides are: possibly teaching kids, heavier hours than a normal uni job and less vacation.  And these places of course usually expect "real" teachers, as in serious about lesson planning, etc.  But, it's a good start if you're looking to get your foot in the door.

King of Tokyo

How to get a Uni Job in South Korea Tip #5: Be in Korea

It's extremely difficult, though not impossible to get a Korean uni job from overseas.  A few schools (like maybe 5-10% will do Skype interviews), but this is very rare as there are simply enough qualified candidates in Korea that are available for in-person interviews.  A few tips:

1. The academic semester starts in March, which is when most of the hires will happen for.  September is the 1/2 way point and there will also be hiring for then, but not as much.  Schools hire for 4 months-1 day before those dates, but the prime times are around May-June and November-December.  Try to find a way to get yourself in the country for those periods.  Cheap accommodation is plentiful (Goshiwons-minbaks-yeogwans-love motels) as well as food (Gimbap-Nala).

2. You essentially need a local number/address.  Admins in Korea (and Koreans in general) don't love the email, but will prefer phoning.  It goes without saying that she should answer any and all random #'s, even if you don't normally do this.

3. Consider a camp.  They'll often pay for your airfare/lodging/meals and you can hopefully get one of the last minute jobs, which you can interview in-person for.

4. Think about a hagwon or public school job for a year.  They'll hire from overseas and then set your sites on bigger and better for your second year.  It's a way to get here without burning up tonnes of money.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Getting a Uni Job in Korea Tip #4: Go to the Countryside

It's not easy to get a uni job in Seoul or Busan.  By way of example, when I decided I wanted to move to the big city a couple of years ago, I applied to about 30 jobs in Seoul and Busan and only got interview offers for about 1/2 those jobs.  And I was a prime candidate: 30ish, white North American female with a Masters degree, 5 years uni experience and excellent in-Korea references.  The people that beat me out had all this stuff too, but had a related Masters.

So, if you are one of the ideal candidates (ie: not too young, not too old, white North American with experience and a related Masters), then by all means compete for the top jobs in the big cities.  However, if you're not, consider the countryside.  Unis are plentiful in Korea and many of them are not in the big cities, as is quite common for huge unis here to be in quite random locations way out in the sticks.  Basically, the uni is the town.  You'll have much less competition as the top people probably won't even apply for these jobs, the medium-qualified people may go there for interviews (and then get offers) and decide it's too countryside, which is where the less-than-qualified people can sneak in.  Do your 2 or 3 years and once you have that experience, look for bigger and better things.  It most definitely worked out for me: I spent 5 years in the rice fields, but now have a job that is considered one of the top jobs in Busan in terms of pay /vacation / hours/ classes I teach.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How to get a uni job in Korea tip #3: Resume, Cover Letter and Picture

An impressive looking resume and cover letter can go a long way in any industry to as least getting someone who matters to glance at it.  And nothing can disqualify you as fast as a cover letter riddled with grammatical and spelling errors.  So my tips:

1.  The picture is important (everything?!) in Asia.  Scan a professional one that you've had done or get a friend who is a "real" photographer to take a nice picture of you against an appropriate background.  Wear a suit/tie, or equivalent attire for females. 

2. Look online for sample resumes/cover letters, but remember: simple is better!  The people reading your resume are likely not totally fluent in English.  I recommend 2 categories: Education and Experience.

3. Put information on it that you wouldn't necessarily put on in the West.  Birth-date, the pic, marital status, visa status.

4. Experience: ONLY list teaching and education related experience.  No one cares that you were a waiter in a restaurant back home.

5. Hobbies.  Forget that: nobody cares. 

6. Reference. Forget that:  just state "available on request," or put a copy of the actual letters that you have in your package.  And remember, Korean references are WAY better.  Who would actually phone someone from back home?  Probably almost nobody.

7.  The package: dropping off in person is best.  Mail is next.  Email is the worst.  If you drop it off or mail, you can include lots of extra goodness: reference letters/copies of the Celta/Delta certs/ sample lesson plan/ teaching philosophy/sample syllabi, etc.  Of course, put those at the back, under the resume/cover letter/copies of diplomas, which are obviously more important.

Monday, April 14, 2014

How to Get a Uni Job in Korea Tip # 2: Networking

Like any other place in the world, networking is key to getting a quality job at a South Korea Uni.  Sure, if you have the top qualifications and years of experience, you can get interviews and compete, but if you don't, then networking is the only real solution for you.

Korea is a last-minute culture where everything happens quite quickly without a lot of planning in advance.  Unis hire late for many reasons including: disorganization, additional government funding, teachers quitting at the last-minute,  and new "hires" accepting better jobs elsewhere.  And this is where networking comes into play; these last minute jobs usually end up going to friends because there simply isn't time to advertise/wade through applications/interviews lots of people.

So how to build your network in Korea?  Here are my top tips:

1. Choose your hobbies wisely.  Chances are, most uni teachers are not going to be found at the Ho Bar and Thursday Party.  Nor will they found on the big package tours for newbies to Korea, such as Adventure Korea.  They'll more likely be involved in things like bands, theater, cycling or hiking clubs.

2. Join a local chapter of Kotesol.  Get active-go out for dinner after the meetings and join the executive.  Make connections with the speakers and make sure people know your face and name.

3. Be cool.  When someone tells me within the first 3 minutes of talking to me that they're looking for a uni job and are wondering if could I help them....well, that just comes across as kind of creepy. 

4. If you don't have a Masters, start one.  Connect with the other people in your area doing the same program.

5.  Start a blog about teaching, get a paper published, or do a presentation in a professional place. People need to know who you are and that you're serious about teaching.