Thursday, May 27, 2010

So anyone who has taught in a Korean Uni knows...

...that the Korean University System is a little screwed up (ie corrupt).  Students basically being unable to fail, admins going and changing lecturer's grades at the end of the semester, grades based on attendance in class (and fake absence excuse forms being rampant/students coming to class with 10 minutes remaining and expected to be marked as attending), cheating/copying/plagiarizing wholesale with no consequences, and some enforced group drinking games thrown in.  And that's the stuff that I have to deal with.  Here's a story about what goes on, on Korean's side of things.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

In case you're thinking of coming to Korea... is perhaps not the best time.  While the Koreas often have little skirmishes, this one seems a bit more serious than the others.  And the Won is taking a free-fall, which is terrible for anyone who has to transfer their money overseas.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Terrible Classes

At my uni, the students travel within their major to the same group of classes for basically all 4 years of their degree.  Which means that I teach English, not by level, but by major.  And some majors are freakishly good at English.  For example, Robotics or Animation.  There are so few of these programs in Korea that it is extremely competitive to get into them and it's only the top students.  Or Nursing, because they all want to go to America to work so obviously they are motivated to learn English.  However, there are some majors that are notoriously bad, like Music, Fire Protection, Security Services, and Sports. 

Most semesters, I'll have one or two of the "good majors" mixed in with 4 or 5 of the average ones and one or two terrible ones.  I generally plan my classes near to the lowest common denominator, such that even the students in the terrible classes should be able to do the homework and pass the tests.  The average majors will find my class a bit of work but not too hard and the top majors will find it outrageously easy. 

My homework this semester is almost non-existent.  Only 2 projects worth 10% each, one small introduction poster and one, 2 minute speech.  And yet, the students in the bad majors will not be bothered to do it.  Even after I give them 2 weeks and warn then 1 week before it's due.  I'm kind of beyond frustrated right now.  And am really not sure as to how to proceed.  Do I give "F" to 1/2 the class and invite stress upon myself as the professors in their major and their assistants starting phoning me or the English department to change their grades?  Or, do I  just curve them all up and only fail the truly terrible ones?  If only I lived in an ideal world where everyone would just do their homework and do a wee bit of studying before the test.

What do other people do out there in similar situations?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A step in the right direction

In general, I have very few complaints about how my school handles teaching English.  And they really do a lot of things right, so I'm quite happy here.  One thing that they started was this English cafe.  My uni has lots of international students studying theology and they are all fluent in English since their program is English-based. So, for a few hours each day they get paid to hang out in this area and free-talk to whoever comes to visit them.  And lots of my students have gone and reported back to me about how it went.  They seem quite excited about it.  A guy from Pakistan, a woman from Nepal and someone from the Philippines are the people that I've heard about so far.  I think this is an amazing idea for the following reasons:

1. Free-talking with someone who doesn't teach EFL all day long is a whole different world.  It's the real world in fact.

2. The students can hear different accents besides mine or the North American one that they're generally used to in Korea.

3. I hope eyes are being opened to the possibilities that exist outside of Korea.   And they can see that other people have mastered English, even though it's not their first language.

4. It's relaxed.  No tests, no attendance, no classroom.

5. You can go speak English with your friends.  It's more fun and not so scary.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A discussion activity for small classes

Today in my Smart Choice 2 book, there was a page that had some discussion starters on it.  The 4 questions were: Have you ever met or seen a famous person?  Have you ever been in an accident?  What's your most embarrassing moment?  Have you ever experienced a natural disaster?

Instead of getting the students to talk together and the activity being over in 1 minute (or less!) I decided to do it class discussion style since there were only 6 students.  I gave them 2 minutes to pick one and think of how they were going to tell the story to the class.  Then, we went around the class, with me as the first example telling our stories.  If the students left some stuff out, I'd ask them a few questions to get more information.  It was really interesting and the students were very interested in each other's stories. 

I think that what made it quite sucessful was giving them the two minutes for thinking.  I know that if someone asked me to tell a story in Korean, I could maybe do it but not on the spot.  If I had a few minutes to look up a word or two in the dictionary and organize my thoughts in my head, it might be possible.  And actually, this one or two minutes for thinking can be used in a lot of cases.  I've found that the quality of answers are considerably better when I do this and the students aren't so reluctant to speak out in class.

So in case South Korea isn't enough of an adventure for you...

Why don't you check out this job posting for our friendly neighbors to the North.  As for me, they'd have to pay me at least 3 or 4 times that for me to risk being held hostage and not being able to leave under my own free-will.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles

So this isn't strictly teaching in Korea related, but I've just recently read  Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles by Simon Winchester and saw my adopted country through a whole new set of observant eyes.  This guy loves Korea as much as I do, it seems.  And he literally walked across the whole country.  It's definitely worth a read and probably one of the best "Korea-related" books that I've read (and I've read them all...I think?!)

Monday, May 10, 2010

A simple review game

Last week in class, my grammar point was countable/uncountable nouns and all the technical details surrounding it.  It can get quite complicated, so I wanted to review it before moving on.  A fun way to do it (and other stuff too!) is to play this game.  I'm sure you know the game S-O-S.  If you get three "S" in a row or three "O" in a row you draw a line through it and get a point.   I've adapted this game for my purposes.

I draw a grid on the board, usually 6x6.  I give them numbers and letters to make it easier for the students to pick what box they want.  Then, I divide the students up into teams of 4 or 5 and give them each a symbol (triangle, square, star, heart, etc).  Then, I ask review questions, going from team to team.  Simple, easy questions with a definite right or wrong answer are best to keep this game moving quickly.  A correct answer gets them a square on the board.  I do 6 or 7 rounds, and by this time the good teams will have 2 or 3 points.  The top team gets a prize (in my class: a stamp worth 1% of their final grade). 

As a final note: this game gets boring after 20 minutes or so, so don't plan on playing this for an entire class.  It works best as a warm-up review kind of game. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Korea vs. Taiwan vs. Japan vs. Hong Kong vs. China

Teaching English Asia
Teaching ESL in Asia
There are an outrageous amount of choices when it comes to choosing a country to teach ESL in.  And they all have their advantages and disadvantages.  Take my advice for what's it worth, since I've only ever taught in Korea BUT I have traveled to all of the above countries for as least a few days.

Things I like about Korea:

1. The free airfare (in general if you work at a hagwon or public school).

2. The free housing.  This is the case for almost all jobs.

3.  Money saving potential.  Tax and health care expenses are very low.  You can save 80% of your salary here if you are thrifty.  And starting salaries are not so shabby.  If you like to eat, drink and travel around, it's cheap and you can do that every night and every weekend and still save 50% of your salary. 

4. The ease of getting a job.  For a hagwon, just a phone interview will usually suffice.  Of course, you have to jump through all the hoops for immigration, including criminal background checks and interviews and stuff.  But there are more jobs than applicants usually. 

Things I don't like:

1. The stares.  You are like a zoo animal/celebrity here, unless of course you look Asian.  People always staring, always wanting to talk to you on the subway and say hello.  It's fun at first but old after a while.  Seoul is not so bad as the countryside, to be fair.

2. How weird of a place it is.  And actually I kind of like it.  Korean culture is way, way, way, way different from anything in the West and some foreigners just can't adapt to it.  I can and have, which is maybe why I've been here for 5 years.  And it seems that those can adapt reap the rewards with jobs (such as mine!) that are amazingly sweet. 

3. The difficulty in making Korean friends.  I've only had 2 sincere, good friends here in my 5 years.  Maybe I have some sort of defect, but to be fair, this often seems to be the case with foreigners.  I think Koreans have a very hard time thinking outside their Korean box and outside of their own Confucian circle of family/coworkers/classmates and just don't know how to interact with foreigners.  Maybe it's me who doesn't know how to interact with Koreans.  Whatever. 

4. You are tied to your school for one year by way of your visa.  It's like indentured servitude if your school is crap.  Everyone gets ripped off here at some point.  And the government has a kind of toothless labor board to "help you."  I can tell you from experience that's basically worthless.  Buyer (or  foreign worker) beware. 

Anyway, other countries all have their good and bad.

Japan: you own your visa, which means you can switch jobs easily.  The bad is how expensive it is, and how much you have to watch your money.  Also, it's not so easy to get a job there but check out this guide to teaching in Japan for some tips.

Taiwan: is a very chilled out place.  No stares or weirdness in dealing with foreigners.  The bad: no free rent or airfare.  And the hourly pay is only okay.  Check out this Teaching Adventure in Taiwan.

Hong Kong: I loved it.  For sure the most Westernized place in all of Northeast Asia.  Amazing.  But again, not so easy to get a job there.   If I was a certified teacher though, I'd be all over their NET program.  Check out Culture Shock Hong Kong to learn the do's (and don'ts) before you go.

China: More of the wacky, "There's a foreigner" kind of thing.  And the pay for now is not comparable to the other places listed.  And the air.   It really is polluted, as least in Beijing.  And coming back to Korea was like a breath of fresh air, which says a lot. But hey, you want culture, it's all there.  In abundance.  And learning Chinese actually has the potential to be a valuable life and career skill for you.

For my thoughts on the best places to teach ESL in the world, financially speaking, check out: The Wealthy English Teacher: Teach, Travel, and Secure Your Financial Future.

Monday, May 3, 2010

How did you land a university job?

A response to a reader question that I'll post here for the benefit of everyone.  Some of my previous posts that might be helpful:

More reader questions
More reader questions, #2
Masters degrees vs. BA
And best of all: How do you get a uni job in Korea

And my own story: I made connections.  I started at a hagwon, and then went back to Canada and got a Masters degree.  I used some connections to get a better hagwon job my second time 'round and finished up my masters by distance because I had so much free time.  And then I used connections from my first two years to get some introductions at unis.  And I am a young, North American girl, so seemed to be in much demand.  I applied for 2 jobs and got offers at both.  It seems to be all about who you know. 

And p.s. my readers: I will not do any intros for people I don't know, so please don't ask :)  Even if I   know you personally, I may or may not!  Haha!


Some textbooks seem to be big on charts.  The current unit I'm doing in World Link Book 1 has a unit about cities and compares LA and Juneau in terms of cost of living, population, pollution, etc. 

A strategy I use to ensure that students actually take in the information and get accustomed to the vocab is to give them 3 or 4 minutes to study the chart.  I tell them that they'll have to close their books at the end and answer some questions.  Then, while they're looking, I'll draw up the chart on the whiteboard.  I ask them to close their books and I help them to fill in the chart on the board.  I add extra vocab and grammar because the book just has $, $$, or $$$ for cost of living.  I'll add the words, "cheap, affordable, expensive.  Or pollution just has a certain number of smokestacks and I'll add, "a lot of pollution/a little pollution."  

It's not exactly rocket science gimmick, but the students seem genuinely interested in being able to answer my questions and fill in the chart.  It's like a game if they have to close their books.  And my theory about vocab is that you need to take it in, in more than one way.  In this case, they read it first and then saw it on the board again.  Then, they heard me say it out loud.  I'm sure they heard me say "cost of living"  5 or 6 times during the class. 

This can be adapted to anywhere where you need to introduce vocab.