Wednesday, October 13, 2010


In a recent blog post, I mentioned how frustrating it can be to teach highly unmotivated uni students here in Korea.  And that this is one thing that would make me consider leaving this otherwise sweet job for another country or career.  But, in class this week I'm preparing the students for their midterm exams and another frustration that I have came to forefront: the lack of academic standards.

When you compare Korean uni to those in Western countries, it's actually kind of a joke.  Classes here are ridiculously easy and students actually get 20% of their final grade just based on "attendance."  Plagiarism is rampant.  Seniors with jobs are excused from their last year of classes.  Graduation is expected as long as tuition is paid. 

In my class, I make it outrageously easy.  No homework, 2 tests, 2 homework assignments and a little group project over a 17 week semester.  And yet, many of the students don't even bother to do the homework assignments (that would take them about 5 minutes). 

And for the exams, I actually give them the questions beforehand.  The EXACT questions I'm going to ask them for the speaking test.  And I do little examples in class about what I expect.  And yet, some students actually come to the exam, and when I ask a question that is right off the study sheet that I gave them, act surprised, like they've never heard or seen it before.  And then they give some crazy answer that doesn't make any sense.  So I give them an "F."  And they will come to my office the next week and say their mom and dad are angry at them and they want to get an "A."  And sometimes, I have to hold onto my desk just to prevent myself from falling off my chair in disbelief.

Anyway, I read all these books, listen to podcasts, and cruise internet sites about teaching ESL and see all these cool ideas that I'd want to do in my class but I've given up trying them for the most part because the most of the students just won't do it, if it requires more than the minimum effort.  And if you make your classes too hard, and with too much homework the students will give you bad evaluations and you might not get your contract renewed for the next year. 

So, what I'm saying is this: if academic standards were higher at unis in Korea, my life would be much happier.  Like, if the bad students were weeded out in the first month, or semester of their studies, my job would be so much easier.  And, if the Korean teachers made their classes much harder, then, I could expect much more of the students and still get my contract renewed.  But, I don't have so much faith in Korean unis changing anytime in the near-term, so perhaps Korea is no longer the place for me.  It's starting to get to me. 


Jason said...

I feel your pain.


Sofia said...

I am actually considering travelling to South Korea to teach at a university. I would love to hear more about your experience. U have a JD and have worked for a few years at a law firm in the U.S. I am looking to take a year or two off and travel to teach English. My husband will also be looking for work. What agency you went through? please feel free to email me directly at Thanks for keeping this blog!

Sofia said...
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Hanna said...

That's really a spoke in the wheel for any serious professional. How could you be expected to do your job if, as you say, your contract renewal depends on what essentially amounts to a popularity contest? Oy! So why do so many Korean universities insist upon their English instructors having a master's in English, or linguistics, or TEFL, etc, when the academic standards are so lax? Some attempt at appearing legitimate?

Hanna said...

Obviously, I meant "stick in the wheel"... some days, I think I need someone to teach me English!

Jackie Bolen said...

@Sofia...I didn't go through an agency to get 2/3 of my jobs in Korea. The agency that I used for my first one is no longer in business. That said, if I was forced to use an agency, I'd go with Footprints or ESL Planet.

And actually, if you want to work at a uni, it's all about connections and contacts, because they don't use agencies to recruit and instead do it themselves. Check www.eslcafe for the job ads.

@Hanna: Who knows really but my guess is that a lot of it has to do with government funding/stats. The more masters, the better.