Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rules and perception

I've talked about rules many times already on this blog, but another reason that I like them that I haven't talked about is because you can be perceived as kind (and I actually generally am kind!)

My rules are quite tough.  For example, I say that I lock the door 10 minutes after class starts, and that if they're even 1 minute late, they won't get their participation point for that day.

But, the way that it plays out in class is that I'll generally give them about 20 minutes before I lock the door.  So, if a student comes at 15 minutes, they will be generally suprised and thankful that I'll let them in.  They won't be annoyed at me for not giving them their participation point.

And, I'll usually give students their participation point even if they're a couple of minutes later if I haven't officially started my class yet and am doing attendance, or handing out papers or having general chit-chat with a few students.  And students realize that they're a couple minutes late and I give it to them and they are surpringly thankful. 

So, I think in the end, it's better to be a hard-ass up front and then extend a little grace later instead of having no rules at the start and laying down the law further down the road. 

Public school in Busan? might want to reconsider.  Evaluations are now going to happen, and the result of a poor one is that you'll lose your job before the year is over.  Now, I have nothing against employers evaluating their employees.  And actually, I wish it would happen a lot, lot more at the uni level before decisions of contract renewal are made.  At the uni, you teach alone, expectations are generally clear and how you run your class is entirely up to you.  It seems much easier to evaluate someone's teaching skills in a situation like this. 

However, the public schools are an entirely different matter.  Like Brian says, no expectations combined with no plan to effectively use native speakers in the classroom makes for a tough situation for the foreigner.  So how could they reasonably be evaluated when they don't actually know what they should be doing in the first place. 

And, who exactly will be evaluating?  Someone with a masters or Phd in education and years of experience teaching a second language?  Someone who actually KNOWS English?  Or will it be some head office guy who has never been in a classroom in his life and can't actually understand what is happening in the classroom.

And, will the evaluations be done randomly?  If yes, perhaps head office will see how many native speakers are left totally alone in the classroom, and have become the head teacher, without the help of their co-teachers, despite only being "assistant teachers."  Will there be some recourse for these lazy Korean teachers?  Anyone can put on a little dog and pony show, but the real test is the random evaluation. 

And, will people be "let go" at the 10/11 month mark?  This could be an excuse to avoid paying airfare and bonus money in a quasi-legal-ish way.

Too many questions and no answers for a while.  All I know is that I'd avoid public schools in Busan for a year or two until we see how this all shakes down.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A quick warm-up game for all levels of adults

Put the students in groups of 2-3-4.  Have them pick 4 famous people, dead or alive that they'd like to invite to a party they are having.  Then, they have to say the reason why they're inviting them.  I do an example like this:

Person: Michael Jackson
Reason?  He can play some dance music for us.  Also, I want to know why he got so much plastic surgery. 

Give them a few minutes, depending on the level.  Then, I get the student to pick 1 or 2 of the people, depending on the size of the class and tell the rest of the class their answer. 

I've gotten an interesting array of answers and the students are quite interested to hear what the other groups have to say.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

On being left to your own devices

I've had an ongoing email conversation with Paul, who is a newbie to university teaching in Korea. Here is an excerpt from one of his emails:

"At my uni I've been completely left to my own devices and whichever curriculum I develop is completely up to me.  Having no supervision is great in many ways but also a little unsettling in others for a newbie."

Remembering back to own situation 4 years ago, I understand exactly how he feels.  Some thoughts on how to handle this:

1. Talk to your coworkers who've taught at the uni for a while.  Everyone likes being the "expert" and I'm sure they won't mind answering your questions (just like I don't mind answering reader questions).  If you don't have a shared teacher's office, and rarely see your coworkers send out a group email with your questions and I'm sure you'll at least get a few responses.

2. Relax.  Administration at unis in Korea generally have low expectations.  Just show up to class every week, give some tests, input attendance and final grades, come to meetings, and don't sleep with the students.  Really.  Now, of course as a professional teacher your own expectations for yourself should be much higher but don't stress about curriculum and stuff.  No one else is.

3. Do some searches online for things like, "writing class university Korea syllabus" or "freshman English university Korea."    You'll find that many teachers post their syllabi online and this can be a valuable resource for you. 

4. Read the archives of this blog for some more tips.

5. Ask questions on the Korean Job forums at Eslcafe.  Many uni teachers are on there and will answer any question you have.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Reader Question: Masters vs TEFL certificate

These ones from Sam:

"In terms of Uni jobs, will the Masters be better than the TEFL certification?
Second, which online TEFL certificate programs would you recommend and how many hours minimum would you advise?
Third,  Could you recommend several websites,books, or any resources to help me generate effective ESL lessons, games, and teaching techniques catering to the college level."
First, a TEFL certificate is almost worthless in Korea since most employers don't even seem to know what they are/care about them.  I think, if you  do one when you work at a public school you make a bit of extra money every month.  Besides that, not important.  If you don't have a Masters in something, your chances of getting a uni job here are small (but not impossible). 

Second, I would never recommend an online TEFL certificate because it's the observed/observing classroom teaching that is most helpful in becoming a good teacher.  I've heard amazing things about the CELTA course.  I plan on doing it one of these days.  

Third, check my sidebar.  I have lots of links to books, sites, and podcasts that I like. 

The amazingness of Google docs

Do you know the genius of Google docs?  It's helped me become a much more organized person, with regard to my teaching for the following reasons:

1.I no longer worry about USB sticks, or emailing myself documents, or any of that annoying stuff.  I just use Google docs and then I can open anything, anywhere that has internet.   This works amazingly well for any powerpoint stuff that I use in class.

2. I have a MAC, which in Korea sometimes just doesn't work out.  Many Korean computers are not compatible with any Word or Text MAC file that I would try to open on them.  However, by using Google docs this is not a problem.

3. I now keep a much better record of my lesson plans/syllabus/tests.  In fact, I do them all on Google docs and plan on keeping them forever.  And, it will be so easy to search for what I need.  And, I can revise them easily from anywhere.

You can check out A Geek in Korea's blog for his ode to Google Docs.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Your study habits are probably wrong

Thanks to my friend Ron for finding this most helpful article from the New York Times about how learning actually happens.  Some of the good stuff:

1. There is no such thing as "learning style (visual, auditory, etc.)"

2. Ditto with teaching style.  There are few commonalities between teachers who create an effective learning environment.

3. You learn better if you study the same material in different locations.

4. Varying the type of material studied in a single session can have better results than studying just one thing. 

5. Practice tests and quizzes are not just assessment tools but can actually aid in learning the material.

My thoughts:

#1/2/3 don't really impact my teaching at all.  But perhaps I will be less judgmental of the really quiet, or social skill lacking teachers that I've met and assumed were ineffective.  Perhaps it's not the case.

#4.  I think this is what all teachers are hopefully doing.  Even in a single 40 minute class, I'll try to hit all 4 areas (speaking/listening/reading/writing).  I try to do a different activity at least every 10 minutes.  Those classes that focus entirely on one thing, such as grammar or listening, have in my experience been a complete waste of time.  I was bored, the students were bored and their brains weren't engaged.  It makes sense.  And yet, language program designers keep making these classes, when a more holistic focus would be considerably more helpful. 

#5.  I did a biweekly quiz for one semester as an experiment.  I think it was actually effective in helping the students learn because nothing really gets information in the brain than having to know it for a test.  And then I'd combine that with review every class, and the same material tested on the midterm and final exams.  So maybe the students actually remembered what I taught them?! 

However, my school uses student's evaluations to a large degree when evaluating their teachers.  And since most students don't like tests, my evaluations were lower than other semesters when I had no biweekly test.  I don't want to lose my job, so that was a short-lived experiment. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Textbook Review: Breakthrough by Miles Craven

I used Breakthrough 2 by Miles Craven for one of my advanced conversation classes last semester.  Overall, I was very happy with it and would be happy using it again.  I liked it for the following reasons:

-interesting topics
-a good number of communicative type activities for use by partners.
-the grammar teaching concepts were manageable chunks but not too easy.  Exercises were helpful. 
-an adequate amount of material on each page.  Not too much, so that you get overwhelmed but no wasted pages either, as in some textbooks. 

My friend used this same book for all her freshman English classes here in Korea with good results as well. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Reader Question: Contact Hours

"It seems in most environments as though you see students for at most 2 hours/week (except the intensive classes or the camps).  That seems incredibly short, but you imply it happens in the public schools as well.  How common is that?  do most environments give ESL teachers many classes and very minimal hrs/class?"

It depends where you work.  At a hagwon you'll see the students more (2-6 hours/week).  Some people choose to work at hagwons because of this.  You really will get to know your students on an individual level and see significant improvement in their English ability.

Public school and uni?  1-3 hours/week seems to be the norm.  And yes, it's far too little for much long-lasting benefit to occur.  And you really won't see improvement in most of your students, or even get to know them individually.  It's frustrating to me a lot of the time.  In Korea, people don't seem so concerned with actually learning English, as opposed to the appearance of learning it.  And the appearance of learning it consists of having a foreigner, preferably a white North American at the front of the class for even as little as one hour/week. 

Reader Question...What to teach?

"It seems like you're almost completely left to your own devices regarding curriculum, testing methods, even classroom texts used.  Is that common?  I'm curious about the variations across programs/schools regarding institutional oversight."

Let me tell you about my experience.  I worked at 2 hagwons before I found a uni job.  At both hagwons, they gave me the books to teach and had a schedule of what pages to teach each day.  It was really quite simple and just required a few minutes of prep time.  I would say that most hagwons are like this, BUT, one time I did have a friend who was literally given no book to teach from.  She had to make her own materials each day.  She had a quite stressful year.  This is perhaps a question to ask your potential boss.  You will have a much easier year if books are provided for the kids. 

At the university, it can totally vary.  In many cases, you are given a book and expected to teach it but I've never been given a schedule of what days to teach what.  I've also taught classes like writing, or advanced conversation where all I got was the class title and had to figure out the rest.  In one case, I did a 2 week long summer camp for kids and was literally given no materials to teach from. 

And at public schools, it varies (from what I've heard, I've never worked at one) as well.  Sometimes you have a book, and a co-teacher, and a plan.  Other times, no one cares what you do, so you can do whatever you want basically.  This is actually not so bad at a public school, as compared to a hagwon because you usually only see the kids once/week (if not less!), so you can recycle your one lesson for every single class that week.  At a hagwon, you'll see kids 2-3-4 times/week.  And in most instances at public schools, you will have to plan a winter and summer camp, by yourself, full of fun things to do. 

As far as testing goes:

Hagwon: usually a 1-1 speaking test, where you have to give everyone above 80% to keep the parents happy.

Public school: usually no testing.  The Koreans teachers would never trust you with this.  If they do, you might make up 5 or 10% of the final exam questions based on the material you taught.

Uni: it depends.  I have complete freedom to administer tests and final grades.  At other unis though, they have a common exam.  My (totally untested) theory about this is that higher levels unis have more standards, and therefore common exams.  The lower level unis don't really care and so you're left to your own devices.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Reader Question: Country vs. City

Another reader question:

"You say you work "out in the country" at a "low-level uni"  But you seem to be in a position to have (or could acquire) options.  So why did you choose (or continue to choose) these conditions as opposed to city life or a different school?"

I'll address this question in 2 parts.  First the country vs. city thing and then the low vs. high level uni question.

Working out in the country has many advantages.  In general, it's much easier to find a job in the country since most people want to work near Seoul or Busan.  Plus, pay or vacation is often much better because they need to entice you to the countryside somehow.  And, the clean air, and peace and quiet away from the concrete jungle is obviously a benefit as well.  Cost of living is lower too, because you are away from the obvious temptations of Western goods and services that abound in Seoul and Busan.

Working at a low-level uni has some advantages.  Expectations for teachers are much lower, from the students as well as the administration.   High level uni teachers have a lot of pressure on them for results and the students there are used to the best.  Also, it's much easier to get a job at a low-level uni since all the students (and a lot of foreign teachers) want jobs at the big unis.  Korea is all about appearances and connections and having a high-level uni on your resume, with a recommendation from one to go along with it can be a ticket to bigger and better things.   

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.

Update on Anti-English Spectrum

This group loathes foreign teachers in Korea, and despite being relatively small and xenophobic, seems to get a lot of media attention and garners not insignificant amounts of influence among the powers that be who make decisions with regard to immigration policies.  Thanks to Gust of Popular Feeling for a comprehensive blog post on this group.  I'm happy to see foreign media exposing this group, and I hope that one day Koreans will be embarrassed enough by the negative press they're getting around the world to shut this group down. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Foreign Schools on Jeju Island

According to the NY Times, it seems Jeju is planning to be the hub of Western-Style education in Korea.  Good news for those with teacher's degrees looking to teach in Korea, I would think, since Jeju Island is, as everyone knows, the "Hawaii of Korea!"

My thoughts?  I think this is a good thing for Korea.  It will certainly be cheaper than sending your kid overseas, which Koreans do in droves.  And it will certainly be better for family cohesion, since the kid could easily fly home for Chuseok, Lunar New Year, as well as summer and winter vacation.  And it will most certainly be good for Korea, graduating students who speak English as fluently as they do Korean.  Also, they will have some critical thinking skills that Korean students usually lack, because the education system here is so focused on rote memorization.