Thursday, June 18, 2009

Writing on the board

Who doesn't like writing on the board, when you're a student? I get kind of sick of it, but the students seem to be fascinated by it for some reason. So at least a couple times a semester, I will do some sort of race, where there are 5 or 6 students up at the board and they have to write down the answer. Then I switch it up and the next teammate comes up and does the same. This is kind of genius for review sessions. Try it out!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tips for a happy and stress-free life

Teaching at a uni in Korea is one of the most stress-free jobs I could ever possibly imagine having. With the exception of working at a not-so-busy library, which I did in grad-school. Anyway, it's stress-free, if you let it be that way. And it can also be very stressful, if you make it that way. I've seen both types among my colleagues.

Here are my tips for a happy stress-free life at a uni in Korea:

1. Of course the students will cheat and copy homework, etc, etc. It's part of their culture. Heck, even the top scientists think nothing of fixing results and haven't basically all the past presidents been under investigation for bribery? So don't let it get to you. Try to prevent it, of course in your class (I do oral tests, and have them do written tests, in my office in groups of 4 or 5 where I can keep an eye on them) but don't think that you're going to change the culture of corruption that is rampant here. Don't let it stress you out.

2. Of course the students aren't going to study as much as you did when you were in uni. They just finished 6 years of hagwon hell/high school/middle school. They need a break before selling their soul to Samsung or Kia, so just give them a break. Plus, everyone passes in the end and gets a degree that isn't worth the paper it's written on, so failing a ton of students doesn't really do that much anyway. So make your class on the easy side, and give lots of extra chances and stuff. Low expectations for your students goes a long way towards a happy life in Korea.

3. Of course the administration will slip in last minute stuff that you need to do and meetings you need to attend and such. This is normal. It's Korea, land of the last minute. If you can go, go, or can do it, do it. If not, make up some excuse (or perhaps even the truth) and don't sweat the small stuff.

4. Of course there will lots of notices in your school email account in Korea and whatever. But unless you're the only foreigner at your uni, you probably shouldn't worry about it. My theory is that if there's anything really important going down, either the English dept. or the International Coordinator will let me know and I can take action. Besides that, I don't worry about the unknown.

Some extra weird week shows up in your attendance, like you're supposed to have a make-up class or something? Whatever! Mark all the students present and move on with life. Class is cancelled for some strange lecture, and no one told you about it. Whatever. Count your lucky stars for a bit of a break, mark the students present and don't stress.

5. And relations. With your students: well, you shouldn't have any, apart from in class with them and 20 of their best friends in a group. This should be obvious (to me at least) to anyone who hopes to get their contract renewed. I will occasionally take students out for dinner, etc, but almost always in groups. If they want me to proof-read something for them, I will most often do it by email. NEVER have students over to your house.

Coworkers: be helpful, friendly, fun. Be considerate of those teaching next door to you if the walls are thin. Go to all the social events your schedule allows. Don't be all crazy and freaky if you have an issue with someone and go to administration. It just makes you look bad and you will have a new enemy. It makes life a lot easier and stress-free if you're well-liked.

Administration. I have a policy that's worked for me. Avoid all negative contact. Period. In 2 years, I've never complained or been negative about anything. But I will initiate positive contact, such as volunteering for extra work (with pay of course!) or going to faculty dinners and such. It works for me: I've gotten my contract renewed 2 times so far.

6. Stay on top of the paperwork. I set aside each Thurs. afternoon, when I had a 4 hour break for prep/paperwork. It usually took me almost that whole time every week, but I'm thankful now that's it the end of the semester and I can do grades in about an hour. And obviously, you should have back-up copies of your grades, at all times. I write them down on my attendance sheet, and go home, and put them into my excel spreadsheet. Then, I email it to myself for a third copy. This will save you much stress possibly if your computer crashes or you lose your attendance/grade folder.

So yeah, stress-free life.

Monday, June 15, 2009


I ran across this article on ESL Teachers Board, under the article section. This seems particularly relevant to me, in my classes where many of the students don't actually want to be learning English. I picked out the best ones and added some comments. Go to the article for the complete list.

50 Tips on Motivating Students

1. Know your students and use their names as often as possible.

This is one of my new plans, although I teach over 200 students each semester, so it's very difficult. However, I get them to use a nametag each class and this lets me call on students by name.

2. Plan for every class; never try to wing it.

Obvious, for a professional.

9. Review the class objective each day. Be sure the students see how the entire program moves along.

I always plan to do this, but never really end up doing it. This next semester, I'm going to write it up on the board at the beginning of class, and leave it up there.

19. Give lots of positive feedback when students respond, offer their ideas, perform a task correctly, come to class on time, bring their materials to class.

I think this really does work! I try to do the positive feedback thing through rewards and stuff, and just ignore the bad stuff.

23. Provide opportunities for the students to speak to the class.

I'm not sure if this is motivating or not but I've started doing presentations in my classes, with good results.

25. Return assignments and tests to students ASAP. Be sure to make positive comments and suggestions.

This is obvious. I give things back usually in the same class they do it, or the next class at the latest.

26. Teach by asking lots of questions during introductions, presentations, demonstrations, and lab work.

I will never just give away anything, but always make the students provide it for me.

32. Be consistent in your treatment of students.

Playing favorites is not cool. I make an effort to not do it because if I don't, I think it just happens naturally.

38. Recognize appropriate behavior and reward it on a continuing basis.

Having a reward system works for me. Check out my other post on this here.

by Richard Sullivan and Jerry L. Wircenski
The Vocational Education Journal
Published by the American Vocational Association

Thursday, June 11, 2009

And review...another round

So this semester, I came up with a somewhat genius game, on the fly and it turned out really well. I will share with you so that you don't have to rack your brain for goodness like this:

I basically wrote down all the conversation questions that are going to be on the final exam, on little strips of paper. I did some simple grammar questions mixed in as well. For example: "Tokyo is interesting, but....." Or, "It's my bag, It's_____. It belongs to _____."

Then I put the students in groups of 4, and gave them about 15 little pieces of paper/group. I organize it beforehand so that each group doesn't have the same question twice. Then, the first student picks a random paper (seeing, or not seeing them: you can decide), and then picks a random student in their group to ask the question to. Correct answer, they keep the paper and get a point. Incorrect, the questioner gets a chance to answer. Correct, they keep the paper and get a point. Incorrect, it goes back into the pile. The winner is the student with the most points.
And of course, I officiate for any groups having disagreements over any answer.

Make sense? I like it for the following reasons:

1. You can cover everything that's going to be on the test, easily and without much stress.

2. The students get some practice in hearing and ASKING the questions, which doesn't happen very much in many ESL classrooms (I think).

3. The students are the teachers, listening for crazy answers and deciding whether it's right or wrong. Any time students have to do this, it's a good thing I think.

4. I'm not the center of attention. In fact, I don't have much to do at all except general supervision and refereeing. The students are actually engaging with English, not just taking it in (or often not!) from me.

5. There is definitely an element of skill to the game, but a bit of luck as well, so even the bad students are motivated to keep trying.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On why I don't teach content classes

So at my uni, there are occasionally programs for public school teachers, or various other things where we do "teacher training." Now, I haven't gone to school to learn how to become a teacher, nor do I have any formal training in the ESL Field. Of course, I've read lots of books and articles, and think about it a lot and have 4 years experience. But I would never really pretend to be qualified to teach a teacher training class, or an interview skills class, or something of that sort. I generally will stick to conversation classes, with brief forays into reading and writing and listening, with a bit of grammar teaching mixed in, if required.

Part of the issue is that it's generally just not worth the money. Like I'd need to do a lot of research before doing a teacher training class, so I don't look like a dumb-ass and waste people's time. And there are handouts and stuff. And the $50 or $60/ hour that I would get paid for it just isn't worth the 3 or 4 hours I would need to prepare, plus the one hour that I would actually teach. For a conversation class, I generally prepare for 15 or 20 minutes, for a one hour class.

Anyway, I seem to have just been signed up for a program of this sort, this summer. The joys of my uni. More OT going around than teachers to teach it :) Sigh.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Life...and teaching in Asia

I was just listening to the most recent episode of the Seoul Podcast and they had these cool guys, from Jetsetzero on. They're basically traveling around the world, making enough money to keep their travels going. They got started by working minimum wage jobs for three months to fund the first leg. Anyway, they're now teaching in South Korea. Check it out, it's some cool movie-making.

And...if you scroll down a bit on the Seoul Podcast to Episode 56, you can hear what I have to say :)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Book Review 2: "Smart Choice" by Ken Wilson

I've used Smart Choice 2  for the past semester and am generally pretty happy with them. Interesting topics, easy to understand, a good workbook to go along with it. However, I've noticed 2 major weaknesses that make me almost not want to use the book again.

1. The dialogues. They are good enough for the students just to read and speak to each other. But for the students to insert their own ideas? It just doesn't make any sense in most cases. They are either too specific or complicated. And to me, doing dialogues where the students don't build on it with their own ideas seems like a waste of time, so I just don't do it.

2. The review sections. Singing? Filling in the blanks in a comic book? It's very lame and all the teachers in my program just skip right over it and do their own thing for the review days. It's almost like another author wrote it, it's so bad in comparison.

Does anyone else use this book and have some thoughts about it? Ken Wilson...have you found your way to this post? You can also check out my first review of this book.


I just read this interesting article about homework and its negative points. The one that was most true for me, in teaching at my uni here in Korea is the quantity vs. quality thing. I give 3 pages of homework each week, to correspond with the unit that we've studied in class. And the students, with the exception of 3 or 4 in each class don't take it seriously. They do a half-ass effort, or just copy off the good students before the class begins. But, for the ones who do take it seriously, I think it can actually help reinforce what they've learnt in class. Essentially though, it's not a matter of quality, it's just about getting it done.

And, so I wonder about some other way to do homework. Like homework tailored to each students, where they could explore what they're interested in. Or they do little projects each week. But I know the reality, my students are lazy and many of them probably wouldn't do it. And I worry about how to explain this to people who speak only a very basic level of English.

Any ideas? Please help!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Thinking about coming to Korea?

It seems like a lot of people who are thinking about coming to Korea to teach find their way to my blog through searches. I've had quite a few people emailing me over the years (I've been here for 4!) asking for some advice. Here is some basic info for you.

1. A recruiter is not necessarily the best way to find a job. They are not your friend, the school is the one who pays them, not you. However, this is mostly for hagwons. A recruiter should be fine if you're looking for a public school job. But, be careful that you're not doing an after-school program, but the actual 9-5 thing.

2. A good way to find a job is to come and do a one-month long winter or summer camp. Look on ESLCAFE for the job ads. While you're working, you can be applying for jobs and set up interviews for the week after you're done your camp. Plus, you'll have $2000 or 3000 in your pocket so you won't be desperate enough to take the first one that comes along. Go for the interviews, get a feel for the place, talk to the other foreigners, preferably outside the school setting.

3. Ask for references from the PREVIOUS foreigners who worked there. The current ones sometimes can't tell you the real deal, for fear of getting fired/money taken from the, etc, etc.

4. You probably won't get a uni job (the coveted position!) your first year, but do the hagwon or public school thing and always keeps your ears/eyes open for better stuff that comes along for your second year.

5. If you want to do the public school thing, SMOE is a good way to go if you want to be in Seoul. EPIK is a good way to go if you don't mind the countryside. As far as hagwons go, they're a bit of a crapshoot, but the best of the worst (from what I've heard!) are CDI and YES Youngdo. Best in terms of paying you, not screwing you, not necessarily hours, vacation, etc.

6. Paperwork takes a long time. You may have heard stories about people deciding to go to Korea, flying over, getting a visa and starting teaching all within a week. This is no longer the case with embassy interviews, Criminal Record Checks, transcripts, etc. It can take monthS, so check online about what paperwork you need and have it together before you even start applying for jobs.

Specific Questions? Please ask, and I'll put them into another post.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The basics

My horrible Korean class is reminding me of the basics. For example:

1. Always make sure that the students are on the right page. This seems obvious, especially with only 3 students, but I guess to some it's not.

2. When you do an activity, you should probably have some follow-up. For example, when you do a listening activity and are forced to listen to the dialogue 8 or 10 times, there should probably be some questions or something so it doesn't just seem like a tedious, time-waster.

3. If the students hate something, don't insist on doing it every class, especially if it's not that useful. Singing. We all hate it. We've told our teacher every time she's insisted on doing it. And yet, what do we keep doing? Singing. It makes me angry.

4. And time-fillers. Going over test answers when she's written all the correct ones in for us. Singing. Listening things over and over and over. Coloring. Busy-work, worksheets. Avoid at all costs. It's just not cool.

The Seoul Podcast

I've recently appeared on a podcast, called "The Seoul Podcast." I'm on the episode entitled, "#56: Jackie's Garden." You can download it from Itunes or find it here.