Thursday, September 2, 2010

Reader Question: on the job training?

Another reader question:

"I've taught a bit, but it was math, and I long ago took half a dozen ESL teaching classes, but I have basically no experience. These "hagwons"  hire people and throw them in the deep end with no training whatsoever? I have some ideas and some theoretical knowledge, but it's old and the situation you describe is not only slightly nerve-wracking but IMO laughable. It sounds like the status of white skin combined with the ability to pay as little as possible is everything."

Yes, it's true that you most often get thrown into the job with virtually no training.  While some hagwons (I can think of CDI off the top of my head), and public school systems have a week-long, organized training program, most do not.  Sometimes, you might be able to observe the previous foreign teacher for a day or two before they leave.  Sometimes, they pick you up at the airport, drive to school and are thrown into class on the same day, without even a shower or a nap.  And yes, it's very nerve-racking. 

How can you prepare?  Search the internet for a list of little games and activities appropriate for the level you will be teaching.  Think simple.  Always go into class prepared to do at least 2 or 3 of these things if you have extra time after teaching whatever pages were assigned for that day. 

Make up a few puzzles using the thing on  It's a pretty amazing sight.  Basic stuff like colors or classroom objects.  Make 20 or 30 copies to carry with you at all times so you'll have something to fill a few minutes if you're stuck in that situation. 

Also, think review.  It's educational and a good way to use some time.  I basically start every single class that I teach with about 10 minutes of review time.  I think of a little game or something we can play. 

I also try to start each class with a bit of banter.  Basic stuff: What did you eat for lunch?  Who woke up earliest this morning?  What did you do this weekend?   This is a good way to again take up a bit of time and get some language practice in as well.

Now, at this point in my teaching career, I am way beyond "filling in time."  But, I remember back to my first year teaching and that was what it was all about for me.  It's scary to only have 1 assigned page and 50 minutes to teach it.  So you need to be prepared for extra time and have things prepared to fill it with some type of constructive activity.  In time and with experience, you'll be able to take one page and teach it for 2 hours if you have to.  But, it's very hard to do when you first start teaching.  If you're still in the "filling time" mode after a year or two, perhaps teaching isn't really the profession for you.  But we all need to start somewhere. 

Other things to do:  Read some books about teaching ESL.  I have some recommendations in my sidebar. 
And, if you're truly serious about being a good teacher, take a celta course before you come to Korea.  I've never talked to anyone who has regretted taking it.  Also, check out some of the sites I recommend in my sidebar as well.  Many of them have good teacher development sections with videos and training resources.  Also,  listen to the Podcasts I recommend.

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