Thursday, November 24, 2011

Keeping your Cool

In Asia, "Losing Face" is a big no-no.  An easy way to do this is to publicly express your anger in a loud/confrontational kind of way.  This causes either you, or the group/person that your anger is directed at to lose face and cause embarrassment and shame.

Teachers, anywhere in the world are tempted to lose their cool, become angry and start shouting at their students.  In Korean Universities, this is even more tempting because we often teach students in required classes who are apathetic, lazy and just don't care about our class.  Their highest goal is often not failing and having to take the class again.  Of course, there are good students mixed in and even certain majors (fashion/nursing/ international business, etc) that see the value of English to their lives who are a joy to teach.

And so when you're in a class, and students are sleeping, texting, talking to their friends, don't have books or pencils and generally not paying attention, it can be extremely hard to not get angry.  I've been there.  And done the yelling thing.  And it NEVER produces the result that you want.  It just sets up this antagonistic kind of relationship where it's teacher vs students, instead of the students getting on the same page as the teacher and working together with them to improve their English skills.  My coworkers that lose their cool never seem to get that great of evaluations.

What's the alternative to losing your cool?  My tips:

1. I try to avoid the situation in the first place by shifting my attitude.  I get that many of the students don't really want to be in my class in the first place and don't take it personally when they don't seem to care.  It's not that they don't like me, it's just that they don't like English.

2. I set up my class in a way that gives me the power.  If a student doesn't have their book or pencil, I kick them out of class from the start (They have one free chance).  I don't allow late students (after 10 minutes).  I don't accept excuse slips for absences for minor things.

3. I have a variety of fun, and interesting activities and games so that the students on the edge of caring/not-caring will be engaged and get on the same page.

4. If one student is fraying my nerves, I use 3 strikes and you're out (2 verbal warnings and then on the third I ask them to leave).  And I'll do it all with a smile, and in a very calm way.

5. If the entire class is getting to me and I feel on the verge of losing my cool, I'll step out into the hallway for a couple minutes to collect and calm myself.  I rarely get to this point but about once a year, it's necessary.   The students can sense my annoyance and stepping out for a minute often has the effect that teachers think yelling will have, but it does so in a way that nobody loses face.

6. Remind yourself that it's just a job and not worth sacrificing your mental health over.  Of course, with the better classes and the good students it's often more than a job and there is the potential for actually having a positive impact on student's lives.  But for the poor students and the terrible classes?  Don't stress out about it and know that all semesters eventually come to an end. 

7. Be kind to your students and treat them respectfully.  Students will not respect you if you don't offer it back.  Students will not be kind to you if you're not kind to them.  Students won't follow you and accept your leadership if you're not a person that they want to be around.

Tips on How to Get Good Evaluations

There's a thread on ESL Cafe with plenty of excellent advice.  Lots of things seem just like basic teacher things to me:

-being in class before the students arrive

-maintaining your "game face" at all times and not losing your cool

-being careful what you say

-the importance of being seen as being "fair" and "nice"

-a transparent grading system

-preparing a wide variety of games and activities

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Some days, it just works

I'm currently working on my bi-annual chest cold of death, so I've been trying to minimize my "talk-time" in class in order to conserve my energy and my voice.  In my extra non-credit 45 minute classes today, there was basically nothing worthwhile to do in the book, so I improvised with my own conversation activity.  

First, I wrote on the board:

What are 5 things you're an expert in?


I then filled in the blanks with my own answers: Cooking/ Canada/ Teaching English/ Scuba Diving/ Reality TV

I gave the students about 3 minutes to do the same.  Then, I narrowed my list down to the 3 that I thought were the most interesting to other people and wrote them on a folded over paper that can stand up on the desk.  Once the students had done the same, we all broke off into groups of 2 and had 5 minute conversations about the topics on the papers.  After 5 minutes, we all switched partners.

This is a beginner (ish) class but they were all asking and answering questions in a relevant, understandable kind of way *(in English!).  It made my heart feel happy.  

Saturday, November 19, 2011

3 Cheers for Korea!

So over on ESL Cafe, there is a thread on the Korea Forums from a Canadian guy who is leaving Korea after 7 years.  He basically craps all over Korean Culture and thinks his own is far superior.  Being from Canada, I can empathize with him to a degree, but every civilization has their high and low points and I find it quite helpful to periodically list things that I love about Korea.  Here they are, just in time for my adopted holiday: American Thanksgiving (my school has a big dinner for American Thanksgiving, but nothing for the lowly Canadians).

1. Health Care.  I have a bad cold, so I went to the doctor.  The visit cost me under $3.  The doctor speaks English, and is obviously very well-trained and knows her stuff.  No appointment.  Just walk in, but the wait is rarely more than 10 minutes.  4 days of meds cost me under $2.  Want anything besides the basics?  She refers you in a jiffy and you again just walk in, no appointment necessary.

Also, I've had some back pain recently.  A trip to the oriental doctor for acupuncture, heat massage, electrical impulse treatment and suction cup things costs $5.

Thank you Korean National Health Insurance!

2. Efficiency.  Everything in Korea is freakishly efficient.  Hungry?  Make a call and 20 minutes later you'll have reasonably priced, delicious food at your door, delivered by scooter.  

Want internet?  They'll be there the next day to set it up.

Air-Conditioner installed?  1 hour after the phone call, they were at my house.

A package delivered in Korea?  1 day and about $3 later, anywhere in the country. 

3. Public Transport.  Not that I make very much use of it these days now that I'm riding in style with my own wheels, but for 5 years I lived in Korea without my own transport.  And it was ridiculously easy and cheap to get anywhere you wanted, efficiently.

4. My financial situation.  I generally live off my Overtime money and save my monthly salary each month.  For this I'm very thankful.  Most English teachers can save at least $1000/month quite easily.

5. Travel opportunities.  It's cheap (ish) and easy (ish) to get anywhere in Asia.  I've been to about 25 countries during my 7 years in Korea.  And one more (Bali, Indonesia) coming up this winter break!

What's your list?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sample Lesson Plan for "Top Notch 1"

I get a lot of people requesting that I post some sample lesson plans.  Of course, lesson plans are often not really transferable because we all have different goals for our classes, as well as use different books.  But, here is the lesson I taught this week for my Freshman English Classes at the Uni Level.   I use the book, "Top Notch 1."  My class is 90 minutes long, with no break.

1. "What's up?" Banter/going over the plan for the day/nagging about homework :) (5 minutes)

1. Warm-up review game (20 minutes).  In this case, I used the "Rock/Scissor/Paper" game.  The previous 2 weeks, we've been studying about advice (had better (not)/should (n't) and countable/uncountable nouns.  So I made up some strips of paper with matching problems/advice and questions such as, "Do you have any water?"  "Yes, I have some."

I cut them up and give each students 5 papers.  Then, I give them 10-15 minutes to stand up, walk around and find their corresponding partner.  Once they do, they play R/S/P and the winner takes both papers and gets one point.  At the end, the students with the most points get a small prize.

2. Grammar Lesson Presentation/book practice (15 minutes).  "I used to......But now I......."  I put 4 examples on the board and then the students did some practice in the book for 10 minutes.  We went over the answers together.

3. Conversation based on the grammar point (20 minutes).  I had students write 3 questions in their books..."Did you used to ________in high school/middle school/elementary school."  Then, I asked for volunteers to ask me these three questions.  Each one was followed with a follow-up question (example: Why didn't you smoke in high school? or "Who did you steal money from in middle school?")

Then, I turned the students loose to ask these 3 questions +3 follow-ups to their partner.

4. A group activity based on the grammar point (30 minutes).  In this case, each group of 3-4 had to choose 1 important invention (I elicited a few examples first and wrote them on the board to get them started).  They had to make 4-5 sentences and at least 2 had to use "....used to.... But now..."  ".....didn't use to.... But now...."   After about 15 minutes, the whole class listened to each group and I gave a small prize to the group that was the easiest to understand, interesting and had big-pictures ideas.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Student Evaluations

My uni seems to take student evaluations (of foreign teachers) very seriously.  Like the top 3 people get recognized each semester and the bottom 1 or 2 seem to get fired.

My coworkers express a lot of frustration over this system because it seems like some students just randomly fill the evaluation out and don't take it that seriously.  Like just marking, 8,8,8,8 and not even reading each thing.  For example, one of the criteria is "never cancels class" or something to that effect.  I've maybe canceled 2 classes in my 5 years here (due to cold of death...I should have canceled 2 weeks!) and I still don't get 100% scores on that. 

But the thing is, since my uni recognizes the top teachers, you can always see who's in the Top 3.  And the top 3 each semester have always been people that I thought were pretty decent/good/excellent teachers.  And there truly has never been someone in there that I couldn't figure out why. 

So if you want to get high evaluations from your students, just do an excellent job of teaching and don't worry about the rest.  Prepare.  Dress professionally.  Be kind and respectful of your students (they can tell, despite the language barrier).  Don't look down on those who are poor at English.  Don't cancel classes.  Make your tests fair and easy to understand.  Be creative.  Prepare some more.  Grade their tests and homework with helpful feedback.  Maintain appropriate boundaries.  Help the slow ones to the best of your ability.  Be generous with your time. Relax and have a joke and a laugh with your students once in a while. 

That's it.  Pretty simple.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Reader Question: Demand for English Teachers in South Korea

This one from Dave:

"I'm probably going to be applying to a public school for a job starting in september.  Can you tell me if the demand is still high over there considering the new protection measures (blood tests, etc) enacted a few years ago?"

Any time unemployment is high (now!) in North America, there is a flood of people that seem to come to Korea, as well as don't go home if they're already here.  Who wants to try to find a job back in the States these days?  Korea seems like a pretty good option: a job, housing, money saving potential when compared to living in your parent's basement, applying for 10 jobs/day and not getting any phone calls back.  I've heard stories from old friends.

Anyway, that means that it's not that easy to get a job in Korea these days, especially at public schools or unis.  I have no idea what your qualifications are, but with a BA/no teaching experience/no overseas experience you might find it a bit challenging to get a public school job.  Experience and a Celta or something of the sort will definitely put you in a better position. 

You do however have time in your favor.  By applying early for the public schools jobs, your chances improve considerably.  I've seen many recruiters says in their public school ads, "First come, first served" and they don't even seem to process the late appliers. 

If you're looking at a Hagwon job, the basic requirement still seems to be a BA/clean criminal background check and a pulse. 

Tuition Costs at Korean Unis

An interesting article from ROK Drop. 

"You get what you pay for."  Yes, that pretty much sums it up.

Making a Terrible Book Work

Those who have been around the ESL Teaching world for a while have all had the experience of admins (who often have never set foot in a classroom as the teacher) choosing books for classes.  Once in a while it can work.  Often, it doesn't.  They tell you that it's a "Conversation Class" and that the students wants "free-talking" but hand you a book that is a grammar/vocab book or something of the sort.  This actually happened to me in one of the extra classes that I taught at my uni a couple of years ago.  Here is a Geek in Korea's story of a terrible textbook.

And actually, this reality has become my life these days.  This semester my uni is using "Top Notch" as our Freshman English Book.  While initially it looked promising, it gets worse and worse the more I dig into it and try to plan lessons.  It's a perfect storm of uninteresting topics/extremely confusing grammar practice/terrible supplementary activities/screwed up, unintuitive online homework/bizarre, useless vocab.  So what do you do in this situation?

Take something from the book and make it work.  The students will be angry if they have been required to buy the book and bring it to class (which I do require) and then you don't use it that day.  So, I choose a grammar point, or a topic, or a sample conversation, or some vocab and build my lesson around that, aiming to do at least a few minutes of something from the book.  If the grammar is too confusing (which it most often is), I'll prepare a handout with my own simplified version of it.    And the class works.   If I stuck with the book for more than about 10 minutes, it wouldn't.  .

Contrast this to the last book I used, "World Link."  It's a breezy tropical-island beach hut dream compared to "Top Notch."  Easy to understand grammar/useful vocab presented well/superstar supplemental activities/fun surveys and interactive activities/easy to use conversation starters.  I would use the book, or supplementary activities from the teacher's resource book for almost the entire class.

So, what I'm saying is: be flexible!  You have a good book?  Use it.  Your life will be easier and you won't have to spend horrendous amounts of time on lesson planning.  A terrible book?  Make a "token" effort to use it.  Besides that, get your serious lesson planning on and make an interesting lesson for your students.  Yes, it will be more work than just slaving away from the book but your efforts will be appreciated (hopefully) by your students.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Did you know......

....that Korea has 4 seasons?  Joking!  Of course we all know that.

Anyway, did you know that English Grammar has 8 basic parts of speech?  Despite being an English Teacher, I didn't know this for the first couple of years I was teaching.  Here is a little site for Grammar Newbies:

Basic Grammar for ESL Teachers

And did you know that Flashcard games and activities are where it's at!  Here are my Top 5 Flashcard Games honed from my years at the Hagwon and teaching kids camps here at my uni.

Free: 40 Tried and Tested ESL Games and Activities

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reader Question...Contact with Unis

This one from Dan:

"My wife and I just moved to City X last month to teach in a Hagwon. I have a Masters in Social Work, and my wife has an MBA and a Law degree. We live right next to the university here and wondered how to make contacts there for possible work next year.

Is there a way to introduce ourselves directly to department heads? Or do we need to find some kind of contact that will introduce us? Any suggestions for how to make contact?"

My answer:

I hope you guys make it through the year at a hagwon. It can be a tough time, especially for those that have had real jobs in the real world back home.  My top tip for you is to remember that it's a business and don't get stressed out about decisions made from this standpoint, as opposed to actual educational goals.

Anyway, to the question.  Making contact with those in charge of hiring at that specific uni can be quite difficult.  You probably won't even be able to figure out who these people are until you see a job ad posted somewhere like ESL Cafe.  Your best hope is to make friends with the foreigners at that uni.  Hang out in the local expat bar in town and you're sure to meet a few of them.  Or, attend a local chapter meeting of Kotesol and you'll meet lots of uni teachers there.

Become friends with these people and they will probably be happy to introduce you to their bosses, or drop off a resume when it comes time.  By the way, the new uni semesters start in September and March, so you have to time it right.

And of course, keep your eyes on the job ads, especially ESL Cafe. 

Thoughts on keeping your Korean Uni job

At my uni, it seems like one or two people bite the dust each contract renewal time, for various reasons. However, all these reasons can be boiled down to "professionalism," or lack thereof. Anyway, here are my top tips for being a professonal and keeping your job at a uni in Korea.

1. Look the part. I have coworkers who wear jeans or cargo-shorts, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap to class. In a land where appearance is everything, this is the fastest way to not be respected by your students, or your bosses.

2. Lay low. Don't stir up trouble and just spend your time flying under the radar. Try to have no negative contact with your bosses. The fastest way to get fired at my uni is to start accusing the other foreigners of things, so that the Koreans have to deal with stuff they'd rather not get involved with.

3. The other fastest way to get fired at my uni is to cancel classes. Yes, people do check!

4. Plan for your classes and make them interesting, helpful and fun. Student evaluations really do matter.

5. Watch what you do online on sites like Facebook with regard to saying bad things about your students, uni or coworkers. Yes, people really do check.

6. Have appropriate boundaries with your students. You are their teacher, not their friend. Never have physical contact and even avoid being alone in your private office with a student.