Tuesday, November 30, 2010

High drop-out rate of Native English Teachers due to lack of qualifications?

It seems to be, according to this article from the Joongang Daily.  I would just have to add a few things to the list:

1. Most unhelpful and/or creepy co-teachers in public schools who have no interest in working with a foreigner to conduct English classes.

2. Moldy, one-room hovels that pretend to be appropriate housing.

3. Not being paid for the work done.  Or not getting the promised benefits, such as health-care of pension.

4. Desk-warming with the janitor while all your co-workers are at home (public school). 

5. The old bait-and-switch.  You actually thought you'd be able to take one of those 4 weeks of vacation days or 5 sick days?!  Haha!  And that you'd only work 20 hours a week?  Haha!  

Anyway, Korea has definitely got some issues going on with the whole ESL industry here.  Part of it is the unqualified teachers, but the other big part of it is lack of policies/laws that protect foreigners in the case of unqualified hagwon owners masquerading as business people/educators or public school English teachers pretending that they can actually speak English and understand foreign culture.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Funny....and kind of true.

Want to teach in Korea?  Well, you should know what you're getting into first.  And the thing is, it really is true about crappy hagwons.   It happened to me in my first year. 

Thanks Stafford for the laugh and happy memories.

Korean culture in the classroom

I attended this presentation this past weekend at Kotesol about Korean culture and how to work with it in the classroom.  It was done by a second generation Korean-American, so he knew the fancy Korean words for loss of face or high school test.  Except, when it came to Korean culture I don't think he really knew what he was talking about.  He was telling us this story about how a class gave him a terrible interim evaluation, when he thought everything in the class was fine.  They said he was rude or something like that.  Instead of looking at himself and taking the advice for what it was, he confronted the students and sounds like he made a scene.   And I'm sure he got even worse evaluations at the end of the semester. 

In Korea, confrontation is such a big no-no.  Like bad, bad, bad.  If it is done, it has to be done with the upmost delicacy and in a such a way that no one loses face.  Think a win-win situation, not a win-lose one.  I don't think I'm skilled enough in the Korean social etiquette to even attempt this and I'm quite shocked that the presenter would think confronting his students like this was a good idea. 

He did have some good points about how in Korea, it's the teacher who has to work hard to make a connection with the students, whereas in other countries, the students will just accept you into the family without much effort of your own.  And that students are scared to appear either stupid, or too smart in front of their teacher or peers because of the whole shame/loss of face thing. 

Something that was omitted from the session that would have been most helpful to include is the positive aspects of Korean culture that you could work with in the class.  The one that most easily comes to my mind is the group dynamic thing they've got going on.  Back in the West, students are quite happy to be given a worksheet or something and told to do it. Or prepare an individual presentation.  In fact, many would much rather prefer this alone stuff to doing it in a group. 

Here in Korea, it's the opposite: people love doing things in a group or with a friend.  This works out in my class in that I'll rarely do activities that involve being alone.  Even with book work, or grammar exercises I'll tell the students to put their pencil down and read the sentences with correct answers with their partners.  And in games, I'll never let students go alone but put them in groups of 2-4.  This also helps overcome the shame factor because you appear stupid or smart with other people, so it's not so terrible!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

EFL Teaching Methodology + Must have resource books

Thanks to Kimchi Icecream, who is now in China for this great post.  2 things are helpful:

First, he talks about his teaching methodology.  This could be quite helpful for those getting prepared for interviews to get some ideas.

Secondly, he makes a nice list of books that should be in your resource library if you're an ESL/EFL teacher. 

Back to Basics

This past Saturday, I attended the Daejeon/Chungnam Kotesol conference, conveniently hosted at my own uni.  I will talk about some of the presentations in a couple posts.  But to start things off:

My first presentation was someone talking about motivation uncovered using surveys and blind variables and why students study English and how their motivations correlate with grades and high level and low level students and what differences there are in time studied outside class and if the teacher is handsome matters.  Wow...is that a most confusing sentence?  Yes?  That's what the presentation was like. 

Anyway, not much to take away from it, but since I make it my goal to extrapolate something from every single presentation I go to, I've kicked my brain into overdrive and come up with the following: people that do presentations like this seem to have way too much time on their hands.  Teaching ESL/EFL is a pretty simple thing.  A book (or not).  A blackboard to write on.  Notebooks and pencil.  Some handouts (or not).  To me, doing all these surveys and extrapolating all this data just wouldn't seem that helpful to me. 

And going along with this, I attended a session from Joshua Davies about Powerpoint's good and bad.  There was a lot of bad.  And you know, actually I never use PPT in my classes.  I could (and have in the past) but it just doesn't seem that helpful.  Like, I don't want to be competing with what's written on the screen.  And, I generally write very little text during a class anyway, so can write it on the board very easily.  Josh pointed out though that for some things, a visual can say it like words never could.  So, perhaps I will start to integrate more video or pictures into my classes next year.  We'll see.  But for now, no more nagging guilt feelings that I'm being a bad teacher by not using PPT.  I have a feeling that the students are doing fine without out.  Sticking to the basics works for me, due to my sparkling personality and beautiful-ness. Hahaha.  It's probably just the little stamp I give them in their books.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Reader Question...level of students

This one from Chris:

"I'd like to know a bit more about the standard of your students.  The reason I ask is that when I look at some of your games (although undoubtedly well designed) they appear extremely simplistic and almost aimed at children.  I'm sure most of my high school class would breeze through them!  How can than this be a class for a university or have I misunderstood something?  Is university teaching really about doing stuff like this?!"

Well Chris, the simple answer is yes, it really is like this sometimes.  Korean students (and parents), generally seem to want an entertainer vs an actual teacher when they have a foreigner in the classroom.  Those that are "real" teachers and conduct their classrooms as such generally have a pretty hard time teaching at a uni here.  I remember one of my old coworkers who was a principal back in the USA getting very low evaluations from the students because she actually had expectations for the students and was serious about teaching.  The handsome/funny/not too serious performer seems to be the one who thrives.

Of course, all situations are different.  If you work at a high-level uni, then yes, of course you'll probably forget the little games and stuff and it will be a lot more serious.  However, my uni is not high-level:

1. It's out in the sticks, away from Seoul.
2. It's a science/engineering school so the students are good at math and science, not exactly humanities stuff.
3.Anyone can get in.

So, some of my students can barely say hello and tell me their name.  If they have problems about homework or something, I have to resort to speaking my sketchy Korean because their English is non-existent  (of course some are freakishly good and almost fluent). So, I conduct class like they're in elementary school almost.  And, in some ways they are.  We're re-learning the grammar and vocab they should have learned then.  I give them such simple assignments that an 7 year old kid at a hagwon would be able to do it.  I give them the questions for the test a couple weeks before the test.  They are generally kind of jaded about English, so I try to make it fun and interesting and hope they'll leave my class and have a wee bit more confidence about actually using it in real life.  And actually Chris, the kindergarten kids you teach at your hagwon are probably much better than my students.

Anyway, at a uni you can generally do whatever you want in class.  Some of my coworkers are quite serious (we have thin walls!) and seem to be doing lots of paperwork and book activities.  Some are like me and play lots of games and have a happier class.  It's up to you.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fun...world cup style

Even though the fad has passed, this can still be a fun game that Korean students get kind of excited about.  First, write up some questions.  I use review things mostly but add in a few random ones like, "What time did you wake up this morning?" or "How long did it take you to come to school this morning?" 

Then, in class count up your students and make up a "draw."  You know, the round of 16, quarter-finals, semis and the final.  If you have an odd number and it doesn't quite work, make up some "last-chance spots."  So all the people who lost their game in the section of the draw can compete against each other for the last spot.  Write up student's names in the draw, randomly (I use the attendance list).  To add some more fun, and for smaller classes you can get students to pick a country.  For bigger classes, wait until the semi-finals before you allow country picking.

Anyway, ask the students a question from your list and the person to answer the fastest gets to move onto the next round.  That's it!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A fun vocab review game

Write the vocab words on a flip chart of some sort.  I use an old notebook and write one word/page.  Divide the class up into teams.  I find that 5-8 people/team works well.  One student from the team comes and sits at the front of the class facing his or her teammates.  I show one word at a time to the team but not the person sitting at the front.  The team has to give hints about the word, in English only, using no body language.  An example: EYE.  Hints students give: 2, on face, I can see.

I do 2 or 3 rounds of 1 minute each and the goal is to get as many words as possible in that 1 minute.  If the team uses body language or Korean, I discount that point.  This game is very, very fun.  Lots of laughs and happy times.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Teaching in North Korea

Thanks to Gusts of Popular Feeling for the link to the article in the Korea Herald.  Some fascinating stuff and not so wacky as I would have thought.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A fun game....telling a story

This is a game you can play if you're talking about interesting experiences, achievements, or telling stories.  Give the students a few minutes to write about something that they've experienced in the past.  The examples I give them are: paragliding or bungee jumping, meeting their girlfriend or boyfriend, a special vacation, eating an interesting food, etc. 

When the students are finished writing, have them put their names on the paper.  Collect them.  At this point, I'll usually put the students in teams of 2 or 3.  Then, read the papers out loud to the class and have the students write down the name of the person they think it is.  Exchange papers with another group, give answers and you have your winner. 

This works well in my classes because even though there are about 20 people, they know each other  well because they are all the same major and have all their classes together.  If there are some students not of the same major who are repeating the class, I'll make sure to put them in a group with other students who know the majority of the students. 

This could also work well for a smaller, more advanced level class of mixed-major students as a "get to know each other" kind of activity. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Switching from elementary to uni...Reader Questions

These ones from Kerry:

"1. Regarding the interview. What kinds of questions should I expect?  And what questions should I ask them?

 2. I'm making  2.6 million won a month here teaching 22 hours a week (plus desk warming until 5 pm) and was wondering if the pay/hours at universities would be close.

3.Typically, do universities provide housing? "

My answers:

1.About the interview, I've talked about it here already.  And actually, I'm not really the guru on this one, I've only been to 2 in Korea.  As for what to ask them...well, what's important to you I guess!  But, I'd caution you not to waste your interviewer's time with trifling stuff like whether your office has a printer, or if your housing has a washing machine.  They often won't even know all this logistical stuff. 

2. Typical pay is 2.0-2.5/month for 12-18 hours/week teaching.

3. Unis will usually provide housing.  If they don't, they'll offer you a housing allowance of 300 000 Won+ /month.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Reader Question...uni job without a masters

This one from Anne:

"I'm an ESL teacher in Korea, and have just started my second contract here. I have about four years' teaching experience, and hold a degree in English and a TESL 2.  My partner and I were hoping to crack the university job market after finishing our current contracts. We both have years of experience, but without Masters degrees, we're worried that competition would be stiff.  If you have any tips on how to approach the univeristy hiring process, I would love to hear them. I've read advice that you've given on your blog, but was wondering if you had any tips for our specific backgrounds."

I've talked about this before and have said that without a masters degree, it can be tough going to get a uni job in Korea.  Even people with masters in ESL are having hard times these days it seems.  However, you do have 3 things going for you:

1. You are in Korea, and will have 2 years experience (and hopefully references to go along with it). 
2. You have a TESL cert. 
3. Your degree is in English. 

There's always hope for people in your situation, especially at the lower-level unis.  I always see ads on ESL Cafe where the minimum requirement is a BA, but not to say that's who gets hired I guess.  Just apply to every single one of these ones.  And you could even apply to the ones where the minimum is a masters degree.  If you are organized, it doesn't take so much more time to apply for 100 unis as it does for 10.  A somewhat likely scenario is being able to scoop up one of the last minute jobs.  Like a uni had someone all lined up, but they backed out and now they're desperate and are just moving down their list of candidates.  But, for a couple?  Most unlikely I would think.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Keeping students on their toes (or edges of their seat I guess?)

Now, in some countries I hear these outlandish rumors of students actually wanting to talk in class.  Like students fight with each other for the most talking time and there is a rush of hands in response to any question that you might pose. 

Here in Korea, I seem to have the opposite problem.  Even in high-level classes a simple question will usually elicit either dead silence, or a kind of awkward pause before any answer.  It's like the students are all computing the complicated formulas of Confucian Culture as to who should answer first and that if this person doesn't volunteer, can they give an answer that could not bring shame to any of their classmates.  It makes me a bit weary and back in the old days, it even used to make me question whether teaching was for me.  Except now, I have more confidence and don't worry so much about it. 

But, how do I run my conversation classes when no one wants to talk with me?  Well, if less than about 10 students, I will personally ask every student in the class for an answer of some sort.  Sometimes, depending on the questions, I'll spread it out, so that each student can give one answer /3 or 4 of the things that we're talking about that day.  I'll pick the best students first, so they can be a model of some sort for the weaker ones.

In bigger classes, I put the students in pairs.  They do almost everything in class with this partner, and at times, I'll combine the pairs to make groups of 4.  For each thing that requires an answer, I'll ask for one person in the pair to give me an answer.  They can choose who it is.  This way, the truly terrible student who really doesn't speak English can hide behind their friend and avoid embarrassment.  And usually between the 2 people, they can come up with an answer of some sort.  And I don't make it random, I go in a circle, around the class by seating arrangement.  So literally, every group will have to answer the same amount of questions.  But, they will always have to be ready because they never know which area of the class I'll start in.  And whenever the students do something in a group of 4 that requires giving some feedback in front of the class, I'll  them choose their own spokesperson for the group.

Occasionally, I'll ask for 2 or 3 volunteers to answer a question to reward/give practice to the students who actually want to speak English.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

It's all about relationship

So I've been thinking lately about teaching, and what is really important.  I increasingly think that it's not so much about handouts, excessive prep and fancy powerpoints.  I think it's about all the relationships you can build with students.  If the students like you, they will want to learn from you. 

I remember back to when I was a student, and it's not the material I remember, but about the relationships I had with the teachers.  My favorites were the ones that were kind, and funny, and gentle and who cared about me as a person.  And those were the classes I cared about.  The arrogant, bad-communicators, and those with no social skills?  Well, it didn't matter how good their presentation was, or how relevant their material was...I just didn't care and only wanted to make it through. 

So how does that relate to teaching in Korea?  I have some coworkers who I see, as I'm walking by classrooms before class who have these crazy impressive powerpoint presentations.  And I see handouts that are left in classrooms by teachers before me.  They are also most impressive.  Except the teachers that have this stuff are generally those that I would consider weak on the social skill end of things.  They are definitely on the lower end of the well-liked people at my uni spectrum.  I think they use technology to hide behind, as a way of avoiding real interaction and engagement.

On the other hand, those that I would consider the most well-liked kind of people, seem to not have so many impressive handouts or powerpoints.  But, I think that they actually engage the students in a real, interesting kind of way and I have a feeling that their students are actually learning English. 

So, not that technology, impressive handouts=bad teacher, and no technology, no handouts=good teacher.  It's way more complicated than that obviously.  But, I would definitely think carefully about your purpose behind using this stuff.  Is it to further student's learning or is to hide behind?  Teaching is all about relationship and I think it's pretty hard to have a relationship with a TV screen or a piece of paper.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Public school jobs now require some actual credentials?

Check out this post from Joy about her recent public school job, job search.  Despite having 2 years of experience, she's having a hard time because schools seem to want to hire someone with a teaching or English degree or something similar. 

My thoughts?  Good for you Korea!  It's about time you stopped giving jobs to people with a BA in computer science (or something of the sort) and a pulse.  Not that I'm qualified as a "real teacher" but at least my degrees are in the social sciences, I had to write papers and take English classes.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chinese students in English class

I've had a few Chinese students in my classes over the years here in Korea, and from my experience, they are either far better than most of the Korean students or far worse.  By far worse, I mean don't know their numbers, colors, and day of the week and don't know what sounds the letters make.  What makes it tricky at my uni is that I teach mostly required classes.  The students have to pass 2 semesters of English to get their degree.  Anyway, how do I deal with these students who really can't read?  I get them to come to my office for some private tutoring once or twice a week for an hour or so and teach them how to read.  This improves the situation considerably and they can at least try to participate in class.  And I give them special, extremely simple tests on the stuff I've worked with them in my office about.  If they do okay, I give them a "D" in the class and they're on their way to bigger and better things.  If they are unwilling to work with me, I'll give them an "F."

Anyway, here is a story from A Geek in Korea about a particularly bad Chinese Student.  My main question would be whether this class is a mandatory one.  If yes, well, then, I can't believe that the Geek didn't show a lot more compassion.  The student hasn't made it his "goal...to fail a class so completely."  He is simply unable to perform to the same abilities as the other students, which is probably no fault of his own.  Maybe this is his first English class ever?

If this class is an optional class and the student signed up for it voluntarily, this changes the situation a bit.  But, the Geek mentioned that the student doesn't really speak Korean either.  So, the uni has to register him in something, and this class was probably one of the only ones even remotely possible.  So, again, a little compassion perhaps?  Have some private sessions with him in your office?  Work with him on his presentation, so he can do it in class without making a total fool of himself in front of his classmates. 

Anyway, poor guy.   And I don't mean the teacher.  I mean the student.  I just hope the teacher isn't as cruel in class to the student as he is in writing about him.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reader Question...how old is too old?

This one from Blair, wondering if 61 years old is too old.  He's tried EPIK, as well as some recruiters so far and has had, "You're too old," or no response at all. His question is whether it is worth it to apply to unis in Korea and China, and if yes, how to go about this.  He wants to work for 6 months-1 year.

I'd deal with the age thing first.  I've had a couple coworkers who were in their 50's or 60's.  And I've met some foreigners teaching in various kinds of jobs that were that old as well.  So, it certainly is possible.  However, in most places, it's the younger and the more handsome/beautiful, the better teacher you must surely be.   If you're willing to work in the countryside, then you would have a much better chance at getting a job.  But, being the only foreigner within 50 square kilometers is not so appealing to everyone. 

As for China?  Well, it's a much bigger place so I'd say your chances are certainly higher of getting a job there.  And  I would venture a guess and say that there is probably not a lot of demand for those 4000-6000 RMB jobs.  But, I don't have any information on the age thing.  

And the 6 month thing.  NEVER say this on your application to Korea.  All places want a minimum 1 year contract. 

As for how to apply?  Blair is wondering if he should just send a package to every uni in Korea and China (there are lists out there somewhere).  This is kind of a waste of your time I would think.  For one thing, unis in Korea generally don't hire out of country applicants.  Secondly, unsolicited applications don't get any attention (I've been there and done that in Korea!).  Based solely on my perusing the China job boards, it seems that unis there will hire from out of country. 

So my final piece of advice!  Peruse the Chinese job boards at ESL Cafe and ESL Teachers Board.  Follow the directions precisely for what they want in your application package.  Get a professional picture taken wearing a suit and tie.  And not that I'm the grammar police or anything, but your email to me had many typos and grammar mistakes.  Get someone to proofread your resume and cover letter.  If your resume was the same quality as the email, a native speaker (and fluent-ish Koreans or Chinese) would just throw it in the garbage.  Be concise.  You are quite possibly dealing with people who don't know English that well.  They just need the highlights of any teaching related experience you have.  That's it. 

Good luck.

Can/can't...a fun game

This week, my classes are learning about can/can't.  A fun game you can play is the following:

Put the students in teams of 2, 3, or 4 depending on how big your classes are.  They have to pick 1 animal, and 1 thing, but must keep it a secret from their classmates.  My 2 examples were:

Animal: Giraffe

1. It can eat leaves
2. It can't live in Korea
3. It can see easily over tall things

Thing: Air Conditioner

1. I can see it now
2. It can be bad for the environment
3.It can help me in the summer but not winter.

The students write their 2 secret words, as well as their 3 hints for each one.  Then you collect the papers and use them to play a game.  There are various ways you can do it, but I will go in a circle based on where the teams are sitting.   The team whose paper I'm reading has to be quiet and can't give hints.  The first team get the first hint and then they can have a guess.  If no answer, the next team gets hint #2 and a guess.  And so on.  If the three hints don't do it, I'll give additional hints so make sure your students write the answers on the papers.

Public school jobs in Korea

A decent summary of the Gepik/Smoe/Epik programs in Korea.  However, there is one inaccuracy.  These three do not encompass all the programs.  Gangnam, Chungnam, and Busan hire people apart from these programs.  There are probably more, but I don't know them off-hand.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A simple game to review vocab

I'll use this game once or twice a semester to either review vocab that we've studied in class that day, or to start off a new class to review stuff from the previous week.  I make a grid on my computer.  Maybe 4x5.  Then, I fill in the chart with half words and half definitions.  Examples from this week:
Exhausted/very tired. It's between my head and shoulders/neck. If I drink too much soju/stomachache.

Make a few copies and cut them out. Put the students in groups of 4 or 5 and have them put them face down on the desk.  They go around, one at a time trying to make a match.  If you make a match, you get to go again. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Student Evaluations

Another helpful thread on ESL Cafe, this time about contract renewals being based solely/heavily on student evaluations.  And, I've talked about this topic numerous times.  Anyway, check these two things out for some "pro tips" for happy success at renewal time.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Grade Inflation

There is a thread going on, on ESL Cafe, talking about "integrity in university grading."  If you've never taught at a Korean uni, you probably won't have any idea of what it's like and assume it's kind of the same as it was when you went to uni back in the Western world somewhere  Well, it's not. 

Standards here are extremely lax and getting into uni is basically a guarantee of getting your certificate 4 (for the girls) or 6 (for the boys) years later.  Homework, studying, reports: they all seem optional. 

Anyway...some of my coworkers stress continually about this.  Talk, talk, talk endlessly and compare it all to how it is back home.  In fact, it's often these same people that compare daily life kind of stuff to how it is back home and they find that Korea can never measure up.  This is not really a good way to live, because it just causes too much stress and your life becomes this weird warped reality.

So what should you do?  Just chill out.  Take a few deep breaths.  Go with the flow.  Yes, we all know that academic standards are non-existent in Korea, and that cheating/plagiarism is rampant but you can't change the system, you know?   What you can change is how you run your classes.

How does this work out in my classes?  They are easy.  Far easier than any uni-level (or even high school!) language class back home would be.  I have such low expectations that it would be almost impossible for students not to meet them.  It's a win-win for everyone.  I freely give out A/B's for moderate efforts and C/D's for minimal effort.  Only the truly terrible students get "F."  Seniors will always get at least a "D" for showing up/doing a little homework, no matter how bad their test scores.  This reduces my stress considerably.

Testing?  Of course students will cheat, which is why I do speaking tests 1-1 with me, where it's impossible to cheat.  Written kind of tests?  I spell it out to them before.  If I see a cellphone-fail!  Writing on desk/arm-fail!  Talking to their friend-fail!  And of course I make multiple tests with slightly different questions and in a random order.  Assignments?  If you copy off the internet-fail!  Copy off your friend-you both fail!  I essentially have no late policy for assignments.  I always give them 2 weeks to do it, and after that, it's a "0."  It's actually quite simple and doesn't cause me any stress.  If you spell it to the students beforehand, who can really complain to you when you give them an "F."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Steal the Eraser

Thanks to one of coworkers, Danielle for the basic idea of this game.

Divide the students into 2 teams.  Have 2 desks at the front of the class, facing each other, with an eraser in the middle of the 2 desks.  One student from each team comes and sits in the hot seat.  Rotate through so that all the students get a chance to play.  You then ask a question of some sort.  The first person that grabs the eraser can try to answer the question.  My rule is that you can take the eraser whenever you want, but I"ll only say the question once.  I then count 10 seconds down on my fingers.  Their team can help them with the answer, but only in English.  If correct, they get 1 point.  If not, the other team gets a chance to answer the question.

This week in class, we're studying "When I _________, I ______/ I __________when I ________.

So, I would say something like, "When I feel happy, I _________." Or "I'm late for school when __________"

And of course, to make it even more exciting or if one team is behind by a lot of points, have a "Bonus Round," where the teams pick their best 3 players and each question is worth 2 or 3 points, or something like that.