Monday, November 30, 2009

A reward for top students

In each class, there are 1 or 2 students that I excuse from the final exam and give an A+. I base it on the following criteria:

1. Grades (must be in the top 3 in the class).
2. Attendance (must be perfect).
3. Homework (must have done all of it).
4. Attitude (must be cooperative and enthusiastic in class).

I don't tell my classes of this possibility during the semester, they only find out on the last day of class when I tell the one or two students. I do this as a way to reward the students who are just good students without any obvious motivation. And it's also easier on me, as I have about 15 less students that I need to administer tests to and these students would get an A+ anyway. Works for me, works for them!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Another Review Game

For this one, make up a chart on your computer, maybe 5x4 or 5x5. Fill each square with a test question (I just take the ones straight off the test, since my students need all the help they can get!). Then, print out enough copies for one/every 4 or 5 students in you class. Cut them up, keeping them with the rest of their paper.

For the game. The students go in group in 4. They spread out the papers, face down on the desk. The first students picks one, and attempts to answer it. If the other students approve of their answer, they keep the paper, which equals one point. If they can't answer it, it goes back down on the table in the same spot. The next students goes. Easy? And of course point out: no fighting! Ask the teacher if you disagree.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Social Interactions

My uni, thankfully is not heavy on the mandatory-ish social activities. It usually works out to a beginning dinner every semester, possibly one meeting or workshop and then an end of the semester type thing, either a Thanksgiving dinner or a party of some sort. Some unis have weekly or bi-weekly meetings. I'm not really sure how much there would be to talk about. It's perhaps one of those things you could check on before agreeing to work at a place.

Anyway, my theory about interacting with the powers that be (this could apply to almost any job in Korea I think):

1. Go to all social events with your bosses, if at all possible and it won't burn you out. Even the fun, optional parties. Have a drink or two and enjoy yourself. And the workshops. This will definitely put you in the good books. However, there are limits to the amount I would do. My uni doesn't even approach them, so I'm cool with going to almost everything.

2. Avoid any negative interaction. ANY. NEVER complain to your bosses, international coordinator or English assistants. Have only positive contact. Such as volunteering to teach (paid) classes or camps. Offering helpful feedback when requested. Getting your syllabus and grades in on time. Do not bother these people with trifling things like a dispute with a coworker, a missing printer in your office, or a student who is not happy about a grade. Get some self-initiative. ONLY POSITIVE!

3. Make a good reputation for yourself among the students. At my school, we change classes each semester. I always ask who they had for their last teacher. In some cases, they don't even know their teacher's name, which says a lot I think. I usually ask if they liked their teacher. About the good teachers, the students will say, "He's so funny and cute!" or "Class was very fun." About the bad ones, "He's fat and smells bad!" or "Very boring." So what I'm saying is that there are teachers who are popular and fun and well-liked and those that are not. Be one of the well-liked ones because this reflects itself in student evaluations, which the powers that be see. And the word on the street about you gets back to them, I'm almost certain.

And about coworkers:

1. Try to minimize the coworker bitch sessions. This will only give you a negative attitude about a job that is actually pretty amazing. I've found that when I used to hang around certain people I work with, I'd start thinking my job is actually not that good. However, this is most definitely not the case and by not spending time with these people, it's much easier to be thankful and happy about my situation here.

2.This applies to the Korea haters as well. Stay away!

So these are my secrets for great happiness and success in Korea.

An easy game

...for the students and you. I use it quite often when doing review. I'll make up a number of sets of cards.

For example, some I used in class today:
I feel sad when...
When I'm angry....
Who's your favorite actor?
What was the last movie you saw?

...I fail a test
....I hit something
Brad Pitt is some handsome! He's my favorite movie star.
I watched Harry Potter last week.

I make a number or these matching pairs, and write them up on a chart on my computer. Then, I cut them all out. I'll put the students in groups of 4 or 5 and they'll spread the papers out, on their desk facedown. And then it's just a memory game, with the first student picking 2 papers, seeing if they match and going from there. Simple, but fun. And it can work with any level, even with those that can barely read.

Public School in Korea...

....everyone involved with it seems to know that there are issues and plenty of them. Sure, the system gets results, particularly in math and science but at the expense of stifling any iota of original or creative or critical thinking. And other issues, that are not so academic abound as well. The sexual abuse that goes on, with slaps on the wrist. Corruption. Violence, by teachers.

Anyway, a step in the right direction from the Korean government. Here's hoping the new laws stick.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


So, I'm somewhat ashamed to admit it but I'm not fluent in Korean, after living here over 4 years. My excuse is that I've always worked, getting paid to speak English all day and never been a student here. The real deal is that I'm just kind of lazy and have lots of other stuff on the go (scuba diving/community organizing/blogging/studying other stuff). I definitely have a very solid grasp of the survival stuff however, and even veer into high beginner-ish, if pressed and there is no other option but me speaking Korean. I do get a lot of compliments from Koreans, on my Korean, whatever that says?! Expectations here are low.

Anyway, I was sitting in the taxi today and the driver had his old-style Korean music turned up. And I understood all the words. Without even trying. It freaked me out. So what I'm saying is this: to learn a language, it certainly helps to live in a place where everyone speaks that language all the time. Even if you're lazy, you can't help but learn things without even really trying. And you have motivation to learn stuff, or you'll just be in a fog of not understanding what's going on, all the time which is no way to live your life.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The secret person

I've been playing a game this past week that has worked really well. We're talking about interesting or unusual experiences. I gave the students 5 minutes to write about their experience, 3 or 4 sentences. They wrote their names on the paper and I collected them. Then, I read out the papers one by one and the students had to guess who it was. I put the guessers in teams of 2 and warned the person whose paper I was reading to not give anything away, at the risk of losing a point for their team. Then, after we were done they pass their paper to another team and we marked them together.

The winning teams got a stamp, which is the currency in my class. You can offer a small prize of some sort, or whatever you do.

Very fun...but only works if the class is small (less than 20 for sure...better with 10 or 12) and the students know each other fairly well.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A new kind of English teacher

Teaching English in Korea has traditionally been reserved for those from the big 6 countries: Canada/USA/the UK/South Africa/NZ/Australia. This is simply due to visa restrictions on those from other countries.

However, there is news coming down that next year, Korea will allow 100 teachers from India to teach in public schools. Probably in the most rural of schools where they have a hard time attracting/keeping a foreigner there due to the isolation factor.

As Stafford points out, he think it will be a 2 or 3 year experiment and then it will revert back to the system as it is now. I would point out that, even black or Asian teachers from one of those big 6 countries have a hard time finding a job here. Even when their accent is pure American all the way. And even if they were born in America and grew up there their entire lives. Even Gyopos, ethnic Koreans who grew up outside Korea have a hard time finding a teaching job here, even if they are fluent in Korean. This actually sometimes works against them. On some of the job ads, it will specifically request a white teacher. Recruiters will tell you that certain school districts will not hire non-white people for public schools jobs. Often times, there is an unspoken rule and after sending in a picture, the applicant will simply not get an interview.

So....what I'm saying is this. If these black and Asian people from the big 6 countries have a hard enough time getting a job teaching English in Korea, I wonder how long parents are going to put up with Indians teaching their kid English. The accent that is hard, even for me to understand sometimes. And in the hierarchy of race (ism) here in Korea, SouthEast Asians/Africans/Indians rank somewhere above pond scum, far below the whities. I sincerely hope Korea is changing their extremely racist ways but my gut feeling is that it's not time yet and this experiment will be tossed out and forgotten after the first year is over.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I've been doing this activity to help get some questions going on in my classes. The students were studying a unit about shopping and one of the activities was to write a paragraph about their favorite place to shop. I got them to do it and then they went around the circle, one by one reading their paragraphs. At the end of each student, the other students had to ask 2 questions. It made it a much more interesting activity then just the straight up writing with no follow-up. Of course, this only works for a group of less than 8 or 10. In a bigger class, however, you could divide them up into group of 4 or 6 and then just supervise the proceedings.

And it turned a straight writing activity into a listening and speaking one as well.

Contracts in Korea

There is a big debate going on, on my Facebook page about contracts in Korea. A couple of my friends are annoyed that contracts aren't honored here, to the same degree they are back home. However, by understanding Korean culture, it makes a lot more sense.

Koreans are all about relationships and the group. In North America, we think we can have a purely professional relationship with our bosses. Like some greetings when seeing them in office, talk of projects and tasks, performance reviews and the like. In Korea, your boss and coworkers will want to be much closer to you. They'll want you to become part of the group, to kind of blend into the rest of them. This will happen through long work days and parties that usually involve a good deal of drink that seem to go on for hours. So the person who comes in 5 minutes before they work and leaves 1 minute after is seen as not part of the group. Same with someone who doesn't come to work events/meetings, no matter how trivial they seem.

How does this all relate to contracts? Well, many foreigners before they teach here seem to think that the contract is the most important thing. They negotiate endlessly over the little details, when in reality it doesn't matter. If your boss is dishonest, you'll get screwed no matter what your contract says. If you are part of the group, this will probably happen to a lesser degree. If your boss is honest, you'll probably get what is owed, as long as you maintain a reasonable relationship with them. If you don't, well, then things could get tricky. Think kissing ass.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

You want to come to Korea?

Be wary...a bit of disturbing stuff going on that makes me sometimes wonder why I'm still here.

The Seoul Podcast...Bill Kapoun's mother
Mike White
Mathew Sellers
Nerine Viljoen

And this is not even touching on the 3D workers from Africa and Southeast Asia, who have it much worse than English teachers here in Korea. There is very, very little information about them in the English language blogs and newspapers around Korea.

What to say? My life is here now in a lot of ways, friends, a good job, special friend, some language skills and resources. If it wasn't...and I was considering teaching, I'd probably look elsewhere.

Further Education

A lot of universities in Korea look for teachers with a Masters degree in some sort of English or TESOL related field. However, I'm often not convinced that people having these degrees actually make the best teachers. I've been around the Korean ESL world for a few years and have met people that have masters degree in a seemingly relevant field do some completely wacky things in the classroom. For example: speak so fast that their students can't understand a word they're saying. Test on completely random things that had no relevance to what they studied all year. Letting their students speak Korean most of the class (okay in a grammar or TOEIC class perhaps but not in a conversation one). Droning on about grammar in a way that is not relevant, interesting or engaging. So I guess what I'm saying is that an advanced degree in the field, minus a large dose of common sense is almost useless in the classroom.

However, as far as further training goes: there are a lot of good basic teaching methodology books out there. Go to Kim and Johnson's book shop in Seoul or cruise around online for some recommendations. Check out a few of the good sites out there (links in my sidebar) and read some of the teacher training articles. Read the teacher's guides that accompany your textbooks. World Link has a particularly good teacher training section. Talk to people who are doing their masters degree or have done it. Suck all the information you can out of them. They probably won't mind. Listen to some podcasts (I like ESL Teacher Talk, Edgycation and Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips).

And...if you are serious about becoming a master of the classroom, take a CELTA course. It's reputed to be the best out there and almost a necessity for teaching in Europe. I would, except I'm more into the scuba thing now and most of my vacations are taken up doing courses in that :) One day, perhaps. It's a month long, so it's no joke.

Or, start a blog and start thinking about what you're doing and share that with others. Let me know and then we can be blogosphere friends. I feel like I'm the only one out here doing this.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Warm up game

...a fun one to get some thinking juices going. It's called odd one out. For example, I'll have 7 or 8 sets of them on the board. You can make it into a review game in some cases. Body part, shapes and foods work very well.

1. apple/orange/onion/banana
3. Tv/cup/credit card/table

and on it goes.

Which one is different and why?

1. onion, because not a fruit
2. Mouth, because upper 1/2 of body.
3. Cup, because it's a round shape.

I usually put them in teams of 2 and they have to write down their answers. The first 2 teams get a prize of some sort.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Why I appreciate uni students is probably apparent by some previous posts on this blog, I'm not such a huge fan of the kids. While cute and eager and quick learners, they make me very tired, very fast. And I don't think I'm really goofy or funny enough, in a kid kind of way to keep them entertained. Anyway, I like my uni students a lot. And I perhaps like them best when a class is done and I take them out for a dinner. We'll always have a few shots of soju and a bit of beer and have a good time and then say our goodbyes. This is just my style. Who doesn't like being able to go out drinking with the students?

***in a responsible way of course. Getting drunk with them is kind of bad form***

Monday, November 2, 2009

Getting Ripped Off

Korea has a reputation for ripping English teachers off. It's not the universities or public schools that are such a problem (with some exceptions of course) but the hagwons. I think not getting ripped off is actually the exception. And you can count yourself lucky if you only get screwed over on some small thing and not on the big stuff like your salary or plane ticket. A big part of the problem is government agencies that are supposed to look after stuff like this but they essentially have no power to enforce any of their rulings. For that, you need to move higher up into the court system taking money, months, and translators. Few people will go through the hassle for a couple thousand dollars.

BUT...I'd also say that part of the problem is the teachers and their convoluted thinking. Recruiters are not looking out for you. They're looking out for their bottom line and a teacher placed is money in the bank. They don't really care if you get ripped off or it's the sketchiest hagwon around.

And...the hagwon owner or manager is not looking out for your best interests. They're looking out for their bottom line. When they rip you off, that adds to their bottom line, hence why they do it without the blink of an eye. Ethics and morals for those outside the "family" are almost non-existent. Your contract also isn't worth the paper it's been written on.

So come to Korea, but do your research before. There are plenty of information kind of sites out there (eslcafe) and blacklists so ask around about the school you're considering working at. Know your rights and at any sign of rip-offery, stand up for yourself. If you don't, you'll just keep getting walked over all year long to the point of not getting your bonus money.

Get references of past teachers who've finished their contracts. Like 3 or 4 of them. Email or phone them. The current ones are useless usually because perhaps they won't get their bonus money if they say bad stuff about the school and you don't sign.

Be prepared to stay after your contract. To have a sit-in, if necessary to get your airfare and bonus money. Do not leave the country before you get this. Your school will not send it to you in America. Also, be prepared to bail mid-contract if things look bad. It's often difficult (but not impossible) to change schools, so have some reserve money for a ticket to Japan/China/Taiwan to find a job there if Korea sucks for you.

Those are my tips for you. It's up to you to look after yourself, if you're coming to Korea. No one else will.