Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Why do Koreans hire people to teach English with no training to teach English?

Another reader question:

"At one point you criticized someone's ideas as to why foreigners with no training are hired to teach English, but I never noticed any speculation on your part.  I'd like to know, if you're willing to take a stab: why do they hire from such a pool?"

It all comes down to supply and demand I guess.  Lots of people want to go teach in Japan, so they get an overwhelming number of people applying, hence the rigorous interview/application process.  And everyone wants to teach in Thailand, hence the required TEFL certificate.  And in the Middle East, the salary is so high, that it's easy to require a CELTA.  And who wouldn't want to live in Europe?  Hence the EU citizenship requirement, as well as a CELTA in most cases.  And Hong Kong is so cool, which is why it's hard to find a job without a teacher's degree. 

Now Korea.  Not exactly a prime place to live for most people, although I find it altogether enjoyable.  And the ESL industry here is not exactly on the up and up, if you know what I mean?  Which is why the benefits and pay are so good.  Despite that, just not that many want to come and live and work here, leaving the basic requirements of a pulse, and a 4-year degree to teach ESL in Korea.  Koreans don't care so much about experience, as they do appearances.  So, if they can find a blond-haired, blue-eyed North American girl to teach little Min-su and Ji-Hae, they'll take it.  Some places even prefer inexperienced teachers that have no training in ESL because they're more easily manipulated trained.

However, I will say that things are changing these days.  GOOD jobs are getting much harder to come by, with the recent economic downturn in North America leaving a bigger pool of people wanting to come to Korea.  If you're willing to work out in the countryside, then you'll find a job in no time.  But if you want to work in a bigger city, be prepared to search around for at least a couple months to find the job you want.  Gone are the days when you got a phone call one day and were on the plane the next.  I foresee in the near (<10 years) future a Korean ESL industry that looks a whole lot more like Japan. 

Reader Questions: Cost/Benefit Analysis for a Newbie coming to Korea

A friend of an old grad-school of mine is thinking of coming to Korea and he has a wealth of thought-provoking questions for me.  I thought I'd answer them one by one on the blog in case they might be helpful to others in the same position.  #1:

"Do you still feel the cost/benefit analysis is bad for newcomers to Korea?"

At some points in the past, I've said that if I had to do it all over again, I wish that I'd have chosen another country to come to, fresh out of uni.  But, now that I'm here and worked my connections to make it to the top of the ESL world with a prime uni position, I don't really want to leave and start at the bottom in another country.   And, so at times, I've said that if you're a newbie you should perhaps consider other places over Korea. 

Korea is just a hard place to live.  Hagwons (and public schools?  and unis?) are corrupt and getting paid everything that is owed to you is quite rare.  Life is more a matter of not sweating the small stuff like moldy walls in your apartment, or getting money taken from you for health insurance but not actually getting it.  Do you like being stared at and chased by little kids on the street yelling, "Herro, herro, herro, herro?"  Don't mind some serious mis-communication with the doctor and dentist?  You don't mind packages of mystery pills from the doctor that you have no idea what they are?   If yes, then Korea is most definitely for you. 

But, the total compensation package is quite good. About $2000 US/month.  Only 3(ish)% tax.  Cheap health insurance.  Free accommodation.  Usually free airfare, and in some cases even pre-paid.   You can easily save $1000 US/month.  Many people save lots more by doing (illegal!) private teaching on the side.  If you do your research, you can work only about 6 hours/day at a hagwon.  Or 8 hours desk time at a public school with only 3-4 hours actual teaching time.  Unis...about 15 hours/week total teaching time.

So, back to the original question.  Is Korea worth it for a newbie?  Maybe, if you're willing to put up with crap.  Attitudes/ways of doing things do not even remotely resemble stuff back home in the Western World.  You will get ripped off in your first year when you are an unwise newbie, fresh off the plane.  But, it's your subsequent years where you will get much better jobs, learn some Korean, make some connections and have a much happier life.  So, if you plan on coming to Korea for just one year, then no, it's probably not worth it.  If you consider the possiblity of 2 or 3 or 4 years, then yes, it is worth it, especially if you have a masters degree or teacher's certificate and can work your way up to a uni or an excellent public school position. 

If only for a year and you want to come to Northeast Asia? I'd perhaps consider Japan.  It's harder to get a job there, and you work harder, but the chances of getting ripped off are much slimmer.  Or, if I had a teaching certificate, Hong Kong's NET program.  China's salaries are getting much higher these days but they've got the rip-off things going on, similar to Korea.  However, China has a fascinating culture and valuable language to learn factor going along with it, that Korea does not have.  Taiwan?  If you're a bit of an entrepreneur and like selling yourself, it might be the place for you. 

Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow!

Difficulties Faced by Professors in Korean Universities

From Gary Kennedy in the Joongang DailyAnd a response from an English Teacher here

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Some advice for newbies to Korea

Some good stuff from Chris in South Korea, and definitely worth a read:

"OK, personal and professional advice for a new teacher:
  • Embrace the culture - but maintain your own culture at the same time. When you first arrive, carve out a little taste of home in your apartment. It's a fine line to balance, but most people find their balance after a few months.
  • Accept incongruity at every turn - 300 km/hour trains exist near squat toilets, recreations of centuries-old palaces within throwing distance of fast-food restaurants, bad English in a country that spends untold billions of won trying to learn the language, and so on.
  • Be proactive in your personal life, and reactive in your professional life. Koreans do not especially value underlings telling their bosses what's what.
  • The Confucian mindset is visible and viewable in virtually every level of Korean society - "(1) ruler to ruled; (2) father to son; (3) husband to wife; (4) elder brother to younger brother; and (5) friend to friend." (see this page for more on Confucianism). I think of it as a system of totem poles, ranking each person as 'above' or 'below' others based on the current situation. I might be 'below' an older person while on the subway and thus be expected to give up my seat (hahahaha); in the classroom where I'm the teacher and he's the student. That same older person, from the perspective of the other students, would be viewed as senior by the younger students.
  • Competition exists in virtually every aspect of Korean society. Getting in line to get on the subway? Get ready to get cut off by Koreans of every age. At the grocery store? Watch out for the older person trying to cut in line. They're senior to you - or so they think. Kids will freak out if their test score isn't an A, or when you announce a test.
  • Koreans spend a fair amount of time primping and looking through the mirror - and not just the girls. While this doesn't mean you have to wear make-up, most people will look good more often than not.
  • The locals don't do much by themselves. You may hear a story or two of someone wanting to see a movie, go to a restaurant, travel somewhere - but not do it because they're by themselves. Sure, it's a little weird to hit up Olive Garden or watch 'The Expendables' by yourself, but being by yourself probably wouldn't stop you from going."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Rules...positive style

I was talking to a friend about teaching the other day and I got a good tip from her.  She ONLY frames her rules in the positive.  It made me go back and look at mine and see that I was actually doing a pretty decent job of this without even realizing.  She does this because her theory is that when you tell someone they can't do something, then they want to.  This is exactly the way I am, so I understood immediately what she meant. 


Some tips from me:

1. How about turning, "Don't be late" into "Be on time."

2. "Don't talk when others are talking" into "Listen!"

3. "Don't speak Korean" into "Please speak English."

4. "Don't forget your book" into "Bring your book everyday."


I'm pretty convinced that a little banter between the teacher and the students at the beginning of a language class is a good thing.  It shows the language being used in a natural kind of way.  Except, I'm just not that good at it.  I'm the master of a 1-1 conversation, as well as with small groups.  I can keep the conversation going for hours if needed with even the most boring person or group.  I am not so good at the big group, in front of a class kind of thing.  Perhaps it's me, or perhaps it's that most Korean students are very reluctant to speak out in front of their peers for fear of shame or embarrassment.  Anyway, today was the first day of class this semester.  I started with, "How was your summer?  Did anyone go anywhere outside Korea?  Did anyone go to Jeju Island or Busan?"  It went quite well and I managed to elicit a few, varied responses.  Maybe it's just a matter of doing it everyday no matter what and getting both myself and the students into the habit of it. 

Anyone have any tips?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Another reader question...where to buy textbooks?

"Do you know where I can purchase the World Link text book along with the teacher's resource guide, workbook and so forth here in Korea?"

In my humble opinion, the ONLY bookstore worth dealing with here in Korea is Whatthebook.  They have a physical store in Itaewon but can order you anything you want from America with cheap (free?) shipping.  

In addition, Kim&Johnson are an ESL teaching resource bookstore (s?)  in Seoul.  I haven't been there in 3 years so can't speak for the quality, but they are quite good from what I remember. Perhaps they have an online ordering thing as well? 

Finally, your local Kyobo bookstore should have a good selection of ESL teaching books.  The one in my little backwater of Cheonan has more than I would have ever thought.  You might luck out and find what you need there. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Experienced and want a public school job in Korea?

Well, good luck with that.  Korea might not be the place for you.

How weary I am of groups like the anti-English spectrum moaning and complaining about the abundance of "unqualified" and "inexperienced" foreigner teachers in Korea, when it seems quite apparent that most public schools would rather hire the easily pliable and naive teacher, fresh out of college.  More easily taken advantage of I guess.  I wish the powers that be in Korea would realize that for quality English education to happen,  teaching experience actually matters. 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

My syllabus for the next semester

Book: Susan Stempleski: World Link, Book 1 Student Book.  Units 7-12. (No homework book)

Rules:          1. Bring your book.  No book=no study.  Go home!
                        2. Listen!
                        3. No cell-phones (only dictionary).
                        4. Be on time. 10 minutes late=no problem.  11 minutes late=door is locked.
                        5. Nametag.
                        6. Try to speak English!

If you miss 5 classes, you get “F.”  I only accept kyeol-gung-won for VERY SERIOUS things. Example: your mother or grandfather dies.  You are in a car accident.   

I don’t accept them for: festival, colds, sports game, stomachache, army body check, etc.

If you miss 4 classes, it’s okay, but your final grade will be low (if you want A/A+, then come to every class). 


Participation/Attendance: 15%

If you are on-time, with your book, pencil, and nametag on your desk, you will get 1 stamp.  1 stamp=1 %.  No book, late, no nametag=no point. 

We play many games in class.  The winner gets a stamp. 

Midterm Exam: 20%.

Final Exam: 25%. 

Projects: 20%  (2 x 10%).  #1: information paper next week.  #2: in November.

Group Project (You’re the teacher!): 20%. (0ct. 11-15 and Nov. 29-Dec. 3).  More information later. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A reader question about the first day of class

Another one from Paul:

"Do you have any practical suggestions on how to prepare for the first day of class for my freshman English conversation classes which I'm told are quite low learners?  This will be the start of my Korean university teaching career. Any pointers would be greatly appreciated.  Btw, I'm using World Link 1"

Paul, I've talked about this before, and as you can see from this post, and this post, I'm a bit clueless.   In this one, I seem to have a bit better idea.  Short and simple is my new strategy.  Say hello, go over the syllabus, the rules, and let them go early.  I cannot emphasize enough that this needs to be very simple.  Give them a piece of paper, write in on the board, say it in a different way.  Use hand gestures.

Some of my coworkers keep the students for the entire time playing little games and stuff.  This is not really my style, and actually, I don't like to be too friendly or fun the first day because I think this sets up a bad dynamic for the rest of the semester.  The fun, happy, kind teacher comes later on once they respect me and understand and follow my rules and we know each other better. 

For more general advice?  If you have the World Link textbook, make sure you get the teacher's resource book that goes along with it.  Pick out the good activities you like and do all your copying before the semester even starts.  And try to prep for at least the first 3 or 4 weeks done now, so it doesn't hit you like a ton of bricks.  Talk to your new coworkers and get the inside tips from them.  Ask them specific questions, not general type ones and you'll get more helpful information.  I had a bit of a mentor when I first started at my uni and it was invaluable.

World Link: Teacher's Resource Text Bk. 1

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Handling Disruptive Students

Sorry for the lack of updates my readers.  I'm in Toronto for a few weeks, meeting my new 5 month old niece, drinking micro-brews and apple cider, eating copious amounts of avocado, sandwiches and bakery items, and going for bike rides around the suburbs, without fear of death. 

Anyway, here is an article on disruptive students that I ran across, which you might find helpful. It covers the basics. 

As the author points out, establishing rules, and sticking with them are the most important things.  How it works out in my classroom?

I list my rules at the beginning of the semester.  Things such as: the door gets locked 10 minutes after class starts, no cell-phones, or please listen to the teacher and the other students.  Then, I will list consequences.  Usually the first time is a warning, then the next time is out of the class.  For kids, I'm a bit more lenient and will give 2 freebies.  I will never, ever back down.  I've waited at the door for 10 minutes at times, waiting for the disruptive student to leave the class.  I will never get angry but just wait patiently.  The student has always backed down. 

To go along with this, I try to emphasize the positive by always having some sort of reward system in place.  And giving lots of verbal praise to the students who are doing good work.