Saturday, December 31, 2011

Camp time!

I'm on my way home from a quick visit to Canada for Christmas. 2 week Kids camp starts tomorrow. Although I am no kids teaching superstar, I will admit that they are pretty cute, and usually eager to participate in class, which is a welcome change from my uni students. More updates soon, I promise.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Reader Question...Masters degree but no experience

Hey there readers. 3 cheers for the semester ending! I decided on a spur of the moment trip to Canada to visit the family but one long layover, a cancelled flight and no more flights for 24 hours to Edmonton has= an outrageous amount of sleepy hours hanging around the San Francisco Airport drinking coffee. The good news is that is sure is cheap and you get a full cup! Anyway, only 12 more hours or so and I should be in the Great White North, relaxing at the parent's house eating Christmas Baking and fighting the crowds at Wal-Mart.

Here is a reader question from Natalie. She has a Masters Degree (I'm assuming it's unrelated) but very little in the way of Esl teaching experience and has not been to Korea. She wonders if she can get a Uni job in Korea and how to apply.

It is very difficult to get a Uni job for your first job in Korea. Most people get their start at a public school or hagwon and then work their way up to a uni in their second or third year.
Most unis will want in person interviews but will not offer any compensation for coming from overseas for them. However, if you still want to try your luck, check out They have lots of uni job ads on there.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Reader Question...OT

Another one from Neil:

"Is it generally frowned upon to say no to OT when asked or offered?"

At my uni, it's totally up to you whether you want to work OT or not (besides the mandatory credit-classes that just appear on your schedule...most people get 1 or 3 OT hours and have no say about it).  That said, most people want to do OT and there's generally enough to go around that everyone gets at least 4 or 5 hours/semester.  And there are always plenty of classes during the vacation periods, and again, these are optional but it seems like a lot of people want to do it.

At my good friend's uni it's a similar kind of thing.  Except there actually isn't that much OT floating around, and it's actually quite difficult to get.   

It's definitely something to ask about at your interview since it can vary wildly between unis.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Reader Question: Shifts/Hours

This one from Neil:
"Please forgive me if you have been asked this before, as you seem to have been asked everything, but what is your weekly schedule like, and how different is it from your colleagues/foreign friends? How many hours per week do you need to actually work to perform well? What kind of "shifts" do you have, even if they are self-imposed?"
Let me start with a basic overview of the jobs in Korea and the hours they require:
1. Public Schools.  The easiest to define, it's generally from 9-5-ish.  Add on a bit less, or a bit more to either side and you have it. 

2. Hagwons.  Kindy/elementary Hagwons generally require morning/afternoon shift.  Think 10-2, and 3-6.  Or, you could find one that is only kindy and work something like 9-3.  Non-Kindy Hagwons generally require 6-8 hours, starting at around 2 or 3 and going until 8 or 9.    Adults hagwons have terrible split shifts, like say from 6-9am and 6-9pm.    

3. Unis.  Hard to define a set-schedule.  Most places schedule classes only 4 days/week, but that's not always the case.  Some days, I'm busy and on the go from 9:30-6:30 with only brief breaks in between but then on other days, I only have 1, 1.5 hour class.  It's just kind of luck of the draw in terms of schedules and it changes from semester to semester.  Last semester, I worked night classes 2 nights a week, which was kind of annoying, but that's life.  And, if you do only the basic hours set by your uni (12-18), your life will be pretty relaxed.  It's the OT that brings in the real money, but also the stress of dealing with a million classes and more prep, and different expectations, etc.  Some semesters, I've done up to 15 hours of OT/week and my life was insanely busy.

By way of example, here was my schedule this semester (15 regular hours +8 OT hours). 

Monday: 10:30-12, 2:10-5:30
Tuesday: 9:30-3:40 (no breaks!)
Wednesday: 10:30-1:40, 2:55-4:35
Thursday: no classes
Friday:10-2 (Usually prep +paperwork time),  2:10-5:30

I spent minimal time on prep this semester, say 2 hours/week.  That's only because I've taught all the books a few times before and saved all the lesson plans.  If I was using a book for the first time, I would spend around 8 hours/week or more on prep.  Admin paperwork generally takes me an hour/week. 

As for grading, some people spend days on in, for me it takes about 10 minutes/class since I do only speaking tests and I've been inputting grades all semester and have it on Google Spreadsheets.  Same with admin I guess.  It seems like some of my coworkers are always outrageously busy doing busywork and various things for their classes, reinventing the wheel or something like that.  Others, like myself prefer to work smarter, not harder. 

As you can see, this question is kind of complicated!  And there really is no definite answer.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Response to my last post "Ten Tips"

Joe Seoulman has typed up his response to my lastest blog post.  You can check it out here. 

Here is Point #4 from my original post:

"Don't accept Kyeol-gung-wons (absence excuse papers) for minor things like colds.  Reserve it for the serious such as a car accident/brain trauma/close family member's death."

And Joe's Response:

"This one is complicated. Unlike North American universities, Korean colleges check attendance, and if a student misses too many classes they fail. Part of the system is that they get a note from the doctor. After my own experience with getting a doctor’s note (for an extension on an assignment for my doctoral studies), I now treat these all with a grain of salt. In my case, I sat down with the doctor and told him what I needed it to say. I told him the dates and he wrote what I asked him to write. I paid a fee for the document and that was it.) I’ve had students come in at the end of the semester with one of these notes for each day they had missed throughout the whole semester. Now I know what she did......"

Please go to the link and read the rest of his response. I actually should have made myself clearer.  At my uni, 5 unexcused absences = "F."  4 absences is no problem.  I very openly tell the students this at the beginning of the semester.  They can miss a few classes and I don't care, which is why I don't accept excuse papers for minor things  They have 4 "free-passes" already.  If they have a serious problem and are going to miss more than 4 classes, then I deal with them on an individual basis.  Anyway, I find that the students who miss more than 4 classes because they are sleeping in, or are hungover, or playing with their friends are the ones that will fail the class anyway based on their test and homework scores, so it kind of doesn't matter in the end. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ten Tips for Newbies to the Korean University Teaching Experience

Teaching ESL Korea
Teaching in a Korean University
Semester 9 of my time teaching ESL at a Korean University is coming to a close, with only 5 more classes of speaking tests to administer and some spreadsheet grading magic to make happen.  And when I compare my first shaky semester as a naive newbie to now, it's almost astounding the differences in my teaching and management style.  Anyway, here are my tips for Newbies to Teaching in a Korean University.  I hope they're helpful to you.  I wish someone had told them to me when I first started.

1. Your students will not be as high of level as you think.  While they may have an impressive range of vocabulary, they're often extremely weak in actually using it.  And basic grammar points will need to be reviewed.  I have plenty of other posts about handling low level students in Korean Universities.

2. University is a party-time for Korean students, between Sooneung Hell and selling their souls to Samsung or Hyundai or Kia.  Adjust your classes accordingly.  If you make them too hard with too much homework, the students will be unhappy.  Give a little bit or homework and a few tests so you can have some self-respect but don't stress too much about making it like a university class is "back home."

3. Don't trust the students to "check" the box for their own attendance.  They will lie and cheat for their friends.  You need to personally do it.  And carefully.  It's the only fair way.

4. Don't accept Kyeol-gung-wons (absence excuse papers) for minor things like colds.  Reserve it for the serious such as a car accident/brain trauma/close family member's death. 

5. Chill out.  Korea is a Bali-Bali (fast-fast) last minute kind of culture.  Lots of decisions will happen just in time with regard to classes and schedules and housing.  Don't worry about it and just go with the flow.  If you stress out about it, something terrible might happen to you by the end of your year, like all your hair falling out.  I guarantee it.

6. Cheating (cunning) is not such a serious offense in Korea as it is in the Western World.  Most students think nothing of plagiarizing something off the Internet for a written assignment.  Or copying off their friend in the few minutes before class starts.  Or bringing a cheating paper to the test.  So give assignments and tests that minimize this and you won't have to deal with it.  I do exclusively speaking tests, with groups of 2-4 students in my office.  There is no possible way for them to cheat.  And I simply don't assign the "workbook" as homework.  Check out Culture Shock Korea for some more insight into Korean Culture.

7. Class sizes really do matter.  Before accepting a job, perhaps the most important question to ask would be, "What are the class sizes?"  I'm not sure I would ever take a job with very large, multi-level classes.  This was the reality in my first semester and it was extremely difficult.  Now, some of my classes are down to 10 students and the difference is astounding.  I can actually get to know my students as individuals and see them actually improve their English skills.  It's far more rewarding.

8. Simple is better.  Syllabi, tests, activities, grammar points.  Everything really.

9. Keep on top of the paperwork.  Input attendance into the computer each week.  Enter grades into your spreadsheets as you get them.  Have at least a couple of weeks lessons planned ahead of time.

10. Your teaching impact does not equal your self-worth.  You'll have some bad classes and students that don't like you.  It doesn't mean that you're a bad person, or a terrible teacher.  Get some hobbies and friends and learn to leave your teaching behind you at the end of the day.

For the best tips on how to get one of these prime university jobs in South Korea, check out this fabulous book (by me!): How to Get a University Job in South Korea: The English Teaching Job of Your Dreams.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Top Notch 2 Speaking Test

This is the Speaking Test that I'll be giving my students for the second half of the book "Top Notch 2."

-30%, 1-1 speaking with the teacher (3-4 minutes)

-Grammar (10%), Fluency (10%), Interesting, detailed answers (5%), Comprehension (5%)

1. Picture: “There is(n’t)/are(n’t)______ (a lot of, some, etc) ________. Pages 50/53

2. Page 62.  Are you healthy or unhealthy?  Why?  Give 3 reasons +1 more question: Who/what/when/why/where/how (often).

3.  Did you use to _________ in High School/Middle School/Elementary School?  +1 more question.

4. Page 75: “What about you?”

5. What would you do if__________? (Page 110/119)

6. My problem is: ____.Give me some advice.  (You’d better (not) ____, You should (n’t)_____)

No more Native Speakers in Korea?

A news report that Seoul plans to gradually reduce the number of Native Speakers in their Public Schools to zero by 2014.  Apparently parents would rather have Koreans who are fluent in English teach their kids.  My only question is where all these fluent Koreans will come from?

Anyway,  I'm interested to see if this all pans out since the obsession with/hatred of Native English Speakers in Korea seems to change month by month.

Perhaps China is looking better and better all the time? 

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.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review: an under-rated "Time-Filler"

In the regular classes that I teach, I have freedom to teach whatever I want based on "Top Notch 2."  However, in of the extra programs that I teach in, we use "Smart Choice" and are assigned 1-4 pages for each 50 minute lesson.  For anyone who has taught Smart Choice before, you know it can be a little hit and miss in terms of quality pages (although I generally like the book). 

And what to do when you have only 2 pages assigned for that day, 1 takes about 7 minutes and the other one is complete crap?  My coworkers seem to bring in random puzzles and activities unrelated to what the students are studying, based on the worksheets I see left in the classrooms when I go in there.  Others, youtube videos, or something of the sort. 

Me: Review.  And lots of it.  Students need to hear things like 37 times (my scientifically based guess!) before they remember it for good.  Why don't you help them reach this number?  My goal is to have the students groaning "WE KNOW IT ALRIGHT! NO MORE!"  when I start to go over the grammar concept or vocab "one more time."   If you know it, you know it and you've walked away from my class with something solid to take with you for the rest of your life.  A little random puzzle or youtube video?  Will the students remember anything (helpful!) from that 2 minutes after class ends? 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Do you test and tell?

I was talking with my colleague the other day about doing speaking tests and whether to give students immediate feedback or not.  He's at one end of the extreme and doesn't tell his students a single grade (including their speaking tests) they receive the whole semester until they see it on the University Intranet system.  I'm at the other end and my students know what grade they're going to get before the semester ends.  And, they always know their test grade immediately after it's finished. 

Since my uni bases renewals almost solely on student evaluations, I like to factor that into what I do in class.  One of the things we're evaluated on is "Fair and impartial grading."  When I tell them (and actually write down) every single mistake they made on the speaking test and tell them immediately after it's finished, it's quite obvious why they got the score they did.  However, if I was a student and did a test and got no feedback, I would think that it's annoying.  I would be even more pissed off if I got a low final grade but had no idea what my scores were or the breakdown of the grade even was.  And so I have a feeling that my colleague has extremely low scores in this category.  How could he not?

What do you do?  Tell or not tell?  I thought everyone did the same as me until I heard this yesterday.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Kotesol 2011 International Conference...the Good and the Bad

I've just returned home from a couple of days at the Kotesol Conference in Seoul this past weekend. As is usually the case, it was a mix of good and bad.  Here are my thoughts:

The Good:

1. As always, the venue is fabulous.  It's convenient transport-wise, has plenty of restaurant choices outside the main gate, and is big enough to not feel too crowded. 

2. I enjoyed some of the presentations I went to and picked up a few practical things for the classroom.  Even the not-so-helpful ones weren't horrendous, as was the case last year.  The emphasis on "101" workshops seemed popular and I noticed on the schedule that there weren't that many presentations on purely researchy, non-applied stuff.  This was my main complaint from last year. 

3. It was nice to see some people from way back in my early days in Korea.  Plus, I got to meet a member of the Seoul Podcast (did you know I was on the Podcast once?!) in person, where previously we'd only talked on the Podcast.  I also met a few people who follow the blog, which is always nice.   If you want to make contacts or see random people you haven't seen in years, this is the place to do it.

The Bad:

1. Pre-Registration always seems to be a nightmare on the website.  It was perhaps different for me, since I was a presenter, but I got what seemed like 6 million emails from many different people about registration.  It was quite unprofessional and in my experience from organizing similar things, having one contact person is a very good thing.  Any attendees with reports about pre-registration on the website?

2. Presenters had to pay more in conference fees.  This is totally ridiculous in my opinion.  After all, without presenters, there is no conference. One of my friends decided not to do her presentation as a protest against this.  I will be joining her next year if things stay the same. 

And what did I get for my extra fees? 

A. Being changed to a new classroom that wasn't even on the map.  I was amazed that anyone even came.  I would have just thought it was annoying and given up. 

B. A 9:00 Sunday Morning presentation time.  I'm not from Seoul so it forced me to stay overnight, adding to the expense of my weekend.   Perhaps the Seoul-ites could be given these early-morning slots?

C.  No "room monitor" until about 1/2 way through my presentation.  A Tech-guy interrupting my presentation 2/3 of the way through to make sure I had no tech problems.  It was purely sink or swim on my own for getting the computer and projector and powerpoint set up. 

Anyway, I'm kind of neutral on the whole thing.  In the future, I'll be sticking to the conferences where I don't pay more in fees, or get to go for free for presenting as a matter of principle.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Speaking English at home

Koreans are all about education.  Everything I read talks about how Koreans spend the most per capita on education, and in my experience here, it feels true.  Huge numbers of high school kids attend University, even the ones who are not academically inclined and would perhaps be better off just getting a job or attending a technical college to equip them with a practical career.  Children as young as 3 years old attend English and Music hagwons.  Older children do the circuit from English hagwon, to math hagwon, to science hagwon to music hagwon and finish it off with a dose of Chinese.  This is a daily affair, and ON TOP OF the regular day of school at the local elementary or middle school. 

I get approached by Koreans every couple of months, wondering if I will teach private English lessons to their kids ( I don't do it because it's illegal and I get enough legal OT at my uni to keep me busy).  The thing is, these people that approach me are fluent enough to have this entire conversation with me, in English.  In many cases, they work as translators or English Teachers, or are in some field like International Business. 

And so my answer to them is always the same: just speak English to your kids.  They'll pick it up, even if they answer you only in Korean.   Read English books to them when they're young, instead of Korean ones. Watch English TV or cartoons and cover up the Korean subtitles with paper.   The bonus is that these kids won't need to sit through some English lesson with me, or go to a hagwon. Plus, it's free!  And they'll be far better at English than their peers who attend hagwon or private English classes. 

For most of these people that approach me, speaking English isn't that difficult for them because they've mastered the basics and could speak it in their sleep.  Many of them have lived overseas.  I wonder why they don't speak it at home?  Is it laziness?  A non English-speaking spouse?  Lack of knowledge about language aquisition?  They are obviously not apathetic if they are willing to shell out  money so their kids learn English.  Bizarre. 

Anyone with insight into this phenomenon? 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Reader Question...Can I get a Uni Job?

"I'm 42, black, female and have a BA in Business and a MS in Organizational Development. I just got a TEFL certification and I want to work at a University in Korea.

I applied to EPIK out of desperation but I would love to work at a college instead. Ewha's Womans University doesn't take online applications and wants my degree apostilled in the mail but I can't do it since it's the only one I have and won't send it without an actually offer.

I put my age and race in because one recruiter said he and others don't like working with blacks because companies don't think of us as Westerners and don't want us to have "Black Talk"."

My answer:

1. Black people have an EXTREMELY HARD time finding a job in Korea.  And now that there are so many economic refugees from North America, it's even more competitive.  I've heard stories lately of blond haired and blue eyed ladies having a hard time finding a prime job.   My uni has hired a couple black people over the years, so there is some hope.

2. Not that I'm really in the know about immigration policies, etc, but I'm pretty sure that you have to Apostillise (how do you spell that anyway?!) a COPY of your diploma, not the actual thing.  It's something to check out.  I personally would never get some stamps on my University Diploma. 

You have a lot of things going against you and will probably not find a uni job.  You are black, a bit older than desired, not in the country for interviews, seem to have no prior ESL or teaching experience, haven't lived in Korea before, and don't seem that well-informed about what is required for the visa.

You never know though, some people have gotten uni jobs where I never would have thought it was possible.  A more realistic scenario would be to come to Korea and work at a hagwon or public school for a year, make connections and then be in country to interview for uni jobs the following year.

Friday, October 7, 2011

It's that time of year Again!

Midterm Exams are just around the corner and I've just made my exam/evaluation criteria.  They are for the book "Top Notch 2."  Maybe they're helpful to you.  I give much of the credit to my coworker David for his helpful Evaluation Rubric that he generously shared with me. 

Midterm Exam Speaking Test Evaluation Rubric

Top Notch 2 Midterm Exam Speaking Test

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Upcoming Presentation at the Kotesol International Conference 2011

As you might have read already, I'll be presenting on the topic of Motivation on Oct. 16th at the Kotesol Conference in Seoul. 

Here is a preview of my Powerpoint presentation and a copy of the handout I plan on giving out.  But, perhaps you should just come check out the presentation?  I promise fun interaction and no Death by Powerpoint.  I hope that everyone will walk away with some new ideas for the classroom.  And, I'd love to meet some of the people that read this blog.

Kotesol Presentation Handout

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


On Tuesdays, in addition to the regular credit class that I teach, I also teach 5 OT classes.  These are smaller classes of about 10 students who sign-up for extra English.  The classes are 45-50 minutes long and I have to cover 2-3 pages of the "Smart Choice" Textbook.

My style of teaching is totally interactive.  I will NEVER stand up at the front of the class and lecture with the exceptions of the first day syllabus explanation and when I talk about the tests or homework assignments.  Even with the grammar lessons, I will always leave lots of gaps on the board and work together with their students to get them to help me fill it in. And I will ALWAYS do an example of what I expect for when I set up a conversation activity.  In this instance, the students usually have to ask me 3-4 who/what/when/why/where/how questions beyond the initial question (such as, "What's your favorite movie?")

The first 4 classes on Tuesday seem to love this style.  They are all participating, giving me some answers and feedback.  And the class just works, with everyone seeming to be happy and not sleeping and learning something.  However, the last class is a nightmare.  Dead silence.  It's a perfect storm of quiet, low-level, unmotivated students with not a single bright light mixed in.  I soldiered on with my normal style for a couple classes but yesterday, I switched it up.  I went into Robo-Teacher mode.  No interaction, just lecture, kind of like the standard Korean style.  I would ask my normal questions but then just answer them myself.  Leave the blanks on the board but just fill them in myself.  Then I handed out worksheets based on the lecture.  And they seemed to love it.  Like all smiles and thank-you's at the end of class.  Back into their comfort zone of what they've had their whole lives. 

Anyway, what I'm saying is this: do whatever it takes.  If you have a "dead-class" don't stress yourself out trying to force interaction.  It's just not worth it.  Just lecture, as per the standard Korean way.  I know it's not ideal for actually learning, but it's only the second time I've had to do it in over 4 years at my uni, so my track record for interactive is still intact.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Homework, and not doing it

So here in Korea, standards at unis are pretty lax.  As in almost everybody, as long as their mommy and daddy pay tuition will get the degree.  The result is that in my classes, expectations have to be ridiculously low in order to not fail the majority of the class.  And speaking English is not even really a requirement.  Showing up for class and putting forth a very, very minimal effort with studying and doing homework is.

My school has this new online homework thing in the classes that I teach (using Top Notch) because they want to transition to "Blended Learning" (online +classroom).  It's worth 20% of the student's final grade.  In general, I like it and I think the students don't mind it either.  But, there is usually about 1/4 of the class who just straight refuses to do it.  I'm not sure why.  I hold their hand and show them how to sign-in and open the homework and do it and submit it for grading.  And, if you get it wrong, you just have to go back and change the answers to the right ones (it's ridiculously hard to not get 100%).  And I remind them each week in class when the next 2 weeks homework is due.  It's actually a source of major frustration.  15 minutes a week for 10 weeks in order to get 20/100 points in a class?  It's almost too easy and unbelievable to me that students don't do it.

I've become a naggy old crank, hassling my students about homework.  Aish.   Is there a better way?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Kotesol International Conference 2011 Presentation

It's official...I'll be presenting during the terrible most coveted 9am on Sunday morning slot at the upcoming Kotesol International Conference in Seoul Oct. 15/16.  I guess my blogging fame has not spread to the masses yet.

Anyway, I'm presenting on Motivation.  Book your rooms and set those alarms early!

Monday, September 26, 2011

A writing activity for beginners

In one of the extra classes that I teach, "Writing" was on the schedule for today.  The only problem is that they are beginners, so it can be kind of difficult to make it happen in an interesting, easy-to-understand kind of way.  So, this is what I often do in this situation:

Take whatever you're studying in the unit.  In this case, it was free time leisure activities.  Then, make a fill in the blank paragraph on the board or Powerpoint.

I live in ______.  In _________, people like to __________, _____________, ______________, and _____________in their free time.  Young people think ____________is __________because ______________. 

First I fill in the blanks using the city where my uni is (and where I happen to live).  Then, I turn the students loose to do their own hometown.  It takes about 5 minutes.  My hope it that the students can get the hang of making some interesting, grammatically correct sentences and still use some of their own creativity and thinking power.

A fun game to review "P.P."

Have your students write four "I've....." sentences.  3 are true, 1 is false.  Then, if you have a small class (under 8), have the students read out their sentences and the other students guess which one is false.  For more advanced (or just really small) classes, they can ask some questions to try to figure out the false one.  Once the students guess (individually), they get a point for a correct guess.  If you have a bigger class, put the students in groups of 5 or 6 and let them play together while you supervise.
teaching esl grammar

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Some Oldies (Classroom Activities), Round 2

A few practical things for the classroom from waaaay back in 2009:

An Interesting Writing Activity for ESL Students

An English Grammar Review Game

A Couple ESL Vocab Games

1, 2, 3 strikes...and you're out

In my classroom, I try to only deal in positive behavior because I think that 98% of my attention should be given to the people who are genuinely trying to learn.  And of course the challenge is to engage everyone, so that 100% of the class wants to be there and learn English in a productive, cooperative kind of way.  I do this mainly through my reward/motivational system that I use.  However, there are times that this fails and I'm forced to pay attention to disruptive people, as was the case yesterday.  Here is what happened:

Strike 1: When I start class, I expect everyone to stop talking.  These 4 boys continued their conversation despite me looking clearly at them and waiting for them to stop.  I foresaw further problems, so I split them up by moving 2 boys to the front of the class.  The 2 boys remaining at the back improved their behavior so there were no further problems.  The 2 boys at the front were a different story.

Strike 2: The lesson continues and I'm doing a short grammar lesson.  I expect silence when I'm doing this except when I'm asking for some feedback.  Of course, if someone is confused they can ask their partner for help, but it's usually obvious when it's not idle chit-chat.  These 2 boys at the front were chit-chatting away, quite loudly so that is was enough to distract other students.

I said to them, "This is #2.  #1 was moving to the front.  If #3, goodbye and I will mark you absent."  The lesson continues.

Strike #3: We were playing a game that involved each team giving an answer.  I don't mind a little banter back and forth between the teams as long as I can hear the answers clearly.  These 2 boys were being obnoxiously loud so I told them to be quiet because I couldn't hear the answers from the other teams.  This was strike 2.9.  A minute later, they are being way louder than is appropriate in a classroom (yelling), so I asked them to leave.

I like the 3 strikes because almost nobody gets to 3, even kids.  In fact, most people calm down and act appropriately after the first warning. After the second one, students get the seriousness of it and usually feel quite bad about it and most of them apologize to me after class.  Anyway, if you're struggling with discipline, try it out and see if it works for you.

Readers: what do you do for discipline in your class?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

7 Reasons to Teach ESL at Home

Most of the readers of this blog teach ESL outside of their home country.  However, here is a nice article about teaching ESL at home.  I'm almost convinced...if only the pay for Canadian ESL Teachers was better. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Your students are not morons

I was having an interesting conversation with a couple of my coworkers the other day about how the teachers at our uni think about the students.   Obviously some of them (I hope me!) treat them with kindness, and respect.  Others think that the students are total idiots because their English ability is so low.  The thing is, we work at a science and engineering school so most of our students are in these fields and obviously languages are not their strong suit, science and math is.  Just because someone is bad at English doesn't mean that they're a moron.  My coworker mentioned that if people judged his intelligence based on his Korean ability he'd rank somewhere in the 3-year old toddler range. 

So what I'm saying is this: treat your students with respect, even if they don't know a word of English.  They are probably very good at something else.  Or, have just had a hard few years but life will get better for them later.  Or, they just want to be a taxi driver, so who really cares if they speak English or not.  As a teacher, you have a chance to show kindness and love, and have a positive influence in people's lives.  Starting with the basic premise that your students are stupid idiots is not a good way to do this. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

On why I don't speak Korean in front of the class

My Korean language ability is at an extremely high beginner level (venturing into intermediate?) but I will never, ever speak it in front of the class.  It's often better than the English ability of many of the students that I teach.  Check out A Geek In Korea's story for why speaking Korean is not such a good idea (unless you're really good).  It just seems like a testing ground frought with mine-fields and potholes where the potential for me to make mistake after mistake is just too high, which makes me look ridiculous and stupid, which is something I ALWAYS try to avoid when teaching. And after all, it's not a Korean class.

However, I will use my Korean for speaking 1-1 with students who genuinely don't know English well.  Like they ask me for a translation of a word, or need to talk about why they won't be in class next or something like that.  Sometimes with Chinese students, it's the only way to communicate because sometimes they literally can't even read English.  And, if we're learning new vocabulary that I think the students don't know already, I'll look it up on Google translate and write the Korean on the board for them.  And I'll use the Korean for things like absences, attendance, future verb, etc that the students really don't know usually. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Reader Question...which city to live in (besides Seoul)

These ones from Kristy:

1. Are you still in Korea?
2. Also, I'm trying to decide which city to live in (not Seoul).

1. Yes, I am still living in Korea, despite always saying that this will be my last year :)  When you've been here 6 years, and have a car and a cat, and friends, and a life, and an excellent job with good salary, it's hard to make the break.  

2. As for which city to live in, the choices are plenty.  There are  a few basic options:

A. The big cities like Seoul, Daegu, Daejeon and Busan.  These places will have everything foreign available and plenty of expat clubs and cultural experiences to partake in.  While Busan is a bit of an exception, since it's at the ocean, the others are concrete jungles for the most part so if you like your "green" then they might not be for  you.

B. A satellite city of Seoul like Bundang, Incheon or Suwon.  They are similar to "A" in terms of opportunities and concrete jungle-ness.

C. Jeju Island.  This can be a very isolating place but it's perfect for the outdoor lover who likes scuba diving, hiking, biking, surfing, etc.  I would move to Jeju in a heartbeat, if I could find a comparable job to what I have now (it doesn't exist: I've looked!)  But think about it: anytime you want to leave Jeju, you'll need to take a short plane ride, or a long-ish boat ride.

D. A smaller city, such as Cheonan (where I live), Chungju, Sokcho, Changwon etc.  They have between 200 000- 1 000 000 people.  There are enough expats to get your fill of all things foreign, and will even have a few foreign restaurants but the pace of life will be much slower and it will be easier to escape the concrete.  I find that I spend outrageous amounts of money in the big cities because I'm tempted by foreign food and bookstores, but in Cheonan not much is happening so it's easier to save.  And I also spend a lot of time at home, playing board games with friends and drinking my homebrew, or having a BBQ with coworkers.  So, it's just different than Seoul.

E. The countryside.  This can be a nightmare if you're a newbie to Korea.  Think about how life will look in a small town with only 3 foreigners (who you maybe loathe) and no Koreans who speak English well enough to hold a decent conversation.  It will be a long, long year unless you come with a partner and you can help keep each other sane.  I would personally never do it. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Is Korea Worth it? You be the Judge, Part 2

An update to my previous post about the new visa regulations and the hassle it was.

Is Korea Worth it? You be the Judge, Part 1

About 6 months after starting the whole process to get my diploma certified (I'm Canadian so no Apostille, instead my process is different) and my Criminal Background Check certified, I received the package yesterday from my mother. 

And the EXTREME annoyance that I felt at the start of the process has greatly dissapated and the moderate annoyance I felt part-way through when I wrote that last blog entry has fizzled out into a buzzing mosquito amount of annoyance.

So it's probably time to re-visit the question of whether Korea is worth it or not.  My answer is that it depends.  The paperwork is a huge hassle, but much less so if you're actually in your home country doing it.  Like say you've finished uni and have your degree and transcripts and want to go to Korea 4 months later.  It would definitely not be too annoying and I would say to go for it. 

However, if you're in another country besides your home one and are looking for the basic level ESL Job at a hagwon, then no, it would not be worth it in my eyes.  Hagwon jobs are notoriously bad and salaries have been stagnant for the past few years while the cost of living keeps increasing.  And does anyone know whether interviews at the consulate in your home country are still happening these days?  If yes, I wouldn't fly back home just for that rigamarole. 

If you have your eye on the prize though (a Korean Uni Job), then jump through all the hoops and get it done, because once you get one of these jobs, life is pretty good here in the ROK in terms of salary, teaching conditions, vacation, and OT opportunities.  However, it's hard to find one of these jobs without a Masters and experience, so don't get your hopes up, newbies to the ESL Teaching world with only a BA!

I'm been blathering on.  To sum it up, is Korea worth it?  Yes, in some situations.  In others, probably not and look at some other countries first (Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, Middle East).


As the years go by, I'm learning more and more about how to do things efficiently.  For example, thanks to the genius of Google Documents and having done the work already, (refer to this previous post I did about it: Lesson Planning in the Cloud) I'm able to do 4 weeks worth of lesson prep in about 1 hour.  With all the holidays at the beginning of semester, it basically brings me up to midterm exam review.

And the online homework thing for the main book I use: Top Notch.  Here is an old post about Top Notch Online Homework  The question that nobody could answer last semester (the first time my uni used this book/online program) was if you could assign the homework once and get it to filter down to all of our 8 or 9 sections, or whether we had to assign the same homework 8 or 9 times.  I ended up assigning the same homework 8 or 9 times, as did almost all of my coworkers.  However, this year we all learned the secret to assigning it only once.  As a result, time spent assigning homework dropped to about 2 hours (for the entire semester).  I'll just have to check the final grade at the end.

I feel good about start of the semester efficiency and wanted to share my happiness with you.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

10 Tips for Getting ( and Keeping ) a Teaching Job Overseas

I see that I'm featured in this article on Footprints Recruiting.  It's actually written by someone who used to live in Cheonan and she asked some people for help for an assignment she had to do for her journalism course.  Anyway, it's good stuff so check it out.

It's Amazing...the stuff my coworkers do!

When the new semester starts, I always ask the students who their previous teacher was.  And I write it down on my attendance sheet.  As the semester goes on, I hear more and more little tidbits about what the previous teacher did, or didn't do.  Like they never spoke English in class, or did some crazy thing for the test.

Something that I'm finding out immediately on the first day is whether the previous teacher did the mandatory online homework thing.  We were supposed to do online homework that corresponded to our textbook and make it worth 20% (or more) of the student's final grade.  Pearson Longman has a whole system set up to use with "Top Notch" or "North Star" that is quite easy to use. 

As I pull up the website to remind students to sign-up, I ask, "Did you do this last year?"  "No!"  is the response I keep getting.  Which I find shocking.  My uni made it mandatory and some teachers just didn't do it.

My general rule about life at my uni (and perhaps why I'm still here 5 years later) is to follow the rules.  As with any job, if you follow the rules, you can probably keep your job.  If you don't, well, not so much.  The secret to success in working at a Korean uni!

First Day of Class

And so it begins...another semester, my 9th at this same university.  After 8 semesters, I'm still nervous for the first day of class.  Anyway, here is my plan for today:

1. Teacher Introduction.  I basically give my name, and how they can contact me. 

2. Attendance, and I pass around an information sheet so I can get their names, phone numbers and email addresses. 

3. Textbook stuff.

4. Rules and attendance policy. 

5. Grades and assignments this semester.

6. Online Homework: I will show a short video and do a demo for how they can sign up.

7. Homework for next week: sign up for online homework thing and buy book.

Then I let them go early.  I'm all business on the first day and for the first couple weeks.  Then, once I get to know the students better and they know me and we have a kind of respect thing going, I loosen up and have more fun with them. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

More reader questions....contacting unis

These ones from Matt:

"Should I contact universities by phone, email, snail mail? What do they prefer over there?

Are there many non-English degree professors teaching English in the universities?"

1. I always think a snail mail package is much more impressive, but more expensive and time-consuming on your end.  You'll have a hard time getting through to the person who actually hires on the phone.  And email is an easy way to contact a huge numbers of unis.

Your best bet is to look at job ads ( and follow the directions PRECISELY.  Many people don't and the applications just get thrown out. 

2. Yes, most people don't have English degrees.  A master's degree in anything is good enough, especially for the lower-level unis out in the countryside.  It might be a challenge to get a job in Seoul with something not related to English, education or TESL. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Reader Question...uni job with a partially completed Master's Degree

More reader questions:

"I've been in Korea over two years teaching English at the elementary level. I've noticed most (or maybe all) of the job postings require minimum of a master's degree. Do you believe it's possible to get a position with a partially finished masters in education?"

My short answer: YES!

My uni has hired plenty of people in your position over the years.  And yours being in education gives you a leg up on a lot of people who have a masters degree in basket weaving, or something of the sort.   Just be sure to have proof that you have actually started (such as a transcript of completed courses so far) and include this in your application package.

I have a feeling that you wouldn't get a job at a top tier uni in a big city, but the ones in the countryside would likely be happy to have you.

Reader Question...only a 2 year associates degree

These ones from Jenniffer:

" I was intested in joining JET/ EPIK but was concerned it might be a problem as I am still in college and only have my two year associates degree currently. I was more interested in the public schools or universities rather than the hagwans and what have you's
I'm also still trying to decide between countries, I thought China would be a big no no for me seeing how our countries have a delicate relationship right now."

To answer your questions in two parts:

1. You will have an extremely hard time finding a job in Korea with only a 2 year "degree" (I would hesitate to even use that name for it).  I have heard of some people working for peanuts out in the countryside in some sort of special program or something, but perhaps the best option is to just get a 4-year degree if you're serious about teaching ESL. 

As for a uni job?  Impossible, even with a 4-year degree.  You have no experience or connections.  Public school jobs?  They are very competitive, and even with a 4-year degree not that easy to procure these days. 

2. China.  The average person on the street won't care that you're an American.   Just don't sport your flag proudly on your t-shirts or whatever and try to blend in and act chilled out (a good rule for any time you travel abroad).  And, this is the one country in Asia where you might actually have a slim glimmer of hope for getting a job with a 2-year thing.

Back to work!

Hello my readers...I hope you're still lingering around, after my extended absence.  Jeju got quite busy with diving, and friends, and going away dinners and other good stuff like that. 

It was back to reality yesterday with the orientation meeting my uni has every year before the semester starts.  It's essentially the only mandatory meeting we have, and it's only twice a year, so it's another reason why I appreciate my uni.

Anyway, the meetings usually feature the top 3 teachers (based on student's evaluations) out of the 26 of us doing a short presentation.  And yes, for the first time, I was in the top 3.  I presented on my reward/motivation system.  It was essentially what I did for my previous Kotesol presentation and what I will do for the Kotesol International Conference 2011 in Seoul Oct. 15/16.

Now, time to get that syllabus in order and organize my online homework thing, and print off attendance sheets and perhaps do a lesson plan or two, or three, or five.  It's my style to plan at least a few weeks ahead to avoid the mid-semester crunch.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Is Korea worth it? You be the judge

Despite having lived in Korea for 6 years and having no run-ins with the powers that be (with the exception of a minor kerfuffle with one horribly sketchy hagwon owner in my first year), this is what I had to do to renew my E2 teaching visa for the upcoming year.

1. Get a fingerprint form from the Canadian embassy in Seoul.  This was after a trip to the CSI police station in my city where they told me, "We don't have fingerprint forms."  Hmmm.

2. Get the form in the mail.  Go back to the police station.  Get my fingerprints done.  Courier to my mother in Canada, along with my diploma and photocopies of passport and other such things.  She got a bank order and sent the form away to get my check done.  It can take up to 6 months.  It took about 6 weeks for me.

3. Order an up to date transcript from my uni in Canada to get sent to my mother.

4. Thankfully, my mother works at a law office so this next step was free and simple.  Photocopy the diploma and criminal record check and get them notarized by a lawyer.

5. Gather up the transcript, originals, notarized copies, photocopies of stuff, more money orders and send it to the Korean consulate in Vancouver via courier.  They do a little something and send it back to my mom.

6. She sends all this crap to me, in Korea, via courier.

I estimate it cost me (okay, well mostly my mother!) over $300.  It would have cost more if my mom didn't work at a law office.  And what if I didn't have someone in Canada I could ask to do this for me?  Impossible.  I still need to get a health check done as well.  And keep in mind, this wasn't for my first-time visa application.  I've lived in Korea for 6 years.

Is Korea worth the hassle?  I'm getting weary.

Friday, July 22, 2011

If you want to, you will

So there always seems to be lots of talk about natural talent.  As in someone either has "the language ability" to be a good second-language speaker or not.  I totally get this concept in areas like elite sports or orchestra-level music, because hard-work can only get you so far and you definitely need the genetic edge to make it to the top.  But, there are plenty of people out there who have no natural talent in music, or sports, or language ability that can become competent in their chosen area through time and effort.

This summer, I'm working as a guide for scuba divers who already have their certification cards.  In theory, they are totally competent to look after themselves, and just need a guide for navigation, and to organize tanks, and lunch, and the boat trip.  And there really are some excellent divers, who are more experienced in the water than I am!  And these people are a joy to guide, and it becomes just a fun, non-stressful dive for me.  I relax, and spend my time looking for the small, interesting little things that these people seem to appreciate.  And they point out cool stuff to me.  And we have a good time.

And then there are those totally ridiculous divers who essentially need me to hold their hand.  Some of these people even have 10 or 15 dives, so really should have a handle on the basic things like how to get under water, and stay there.  I need to be vigilant almost every second of the dive in order to make sure everyone gets back on land, alive.  On the breaks (and in the water), I give these people hints and tips in order to help them become better divers.  I make what I do outrageously obvious, so that it's almost impossible not to notice and emulate.  Except, they just don't care and the second dive will go the same (or worse!) than the first.

So, what am I saying in this long-winded kind of way?  If someone wants to be good at something, they will be.  If you want to be a good scuba-diver, you'll take a tip from an instructor and put it to use on the next dive.  You'll pay attention in the water and see what your guide is doing and imitate them.  You'll ask questions and focus your mind before the dive.

Those that want to be good English speakers, will be.  They will study outside of class and ask questions in class.  They will talk to the teacher after class, just for a bit of conversation practice.  They will email the teacher to say hello.  They will find foreign friends or penpals.  They will watch English movies or TV or read English books, just for fun.  They will find an extra class they can take to practice what they're weak at.

As time goes by, I think that maybe the teacher doesn't actually matter beyond the very, very basics?  Like teaching someone how to set up a scuba tank.  Or, teaching someone the alphabet and the basics of how to read.  Thoughts, comments?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Making Grading Easier

This is one of those things that I thought everybody did, but I've recently been discovering it to be not the case.  I use Google Documents to do my grading.  Of course, a lot of people use some sort of gradebook online that is set up to keep track of everything.  If you do use something of this sort, this will not be applicable to you.  But for those that use spreadsheets or just paper, this will make your life much simpler.

My rule is to never, ever write down a grade on my grade sheet that is not in the form it should be.  What I mean by that is that if the test is worth 20% of the student's final grade, I will always make the test out of 20 points.  Projects or paper homework are easy to do this way as well.

Some things are more difficult to do this way.  For example, the online homework that I did this year gave me a final grade out of 100%, but it was worth only 20% of the final grade.  So, before I entered the grade, I quickly multiplied it by 0.2 and then wrote in on my paper.  And for my reward system, each stamp is worth 2% of the final grade, so I would multiply by 2 when I was checking stamp counts. 

Doing this will make your life easier, come final grade time.

Kotesol International Conference 2011

I've just received notice that I'll be one of the presenters at the Kotesol International Conference 2011 in Seoul on October 15/16.  It will be along the lines of motivation/reward systems.  If you saw the last presentation I did, some things will be changed so come again!  Anyway, mark your calendars.  I'd be happy to meet some of my readers.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Some things to avoid when looking for a uni job in South Korea

These days, some uni jobs in Korea that previously used to be good jobs are going downhill. Some things to look for (and ask questions about) and avoid:

1. Camps during summer/winter vacation. If they're paid at a reasonable rate (20 000 Won +/hour) then no problem. If not, I'd look elsewhere.

2. No housing or housing allowance. If this is the case, your salary should be at least 3 million Won. If not, you're getting ripped off. Alternatively, living in a student dormitory is a recipe for disaster.

3. Teaching kids/uni students. Some unis are going uniwon (Uni+hagwon) style. Chances are, you'll spend most of the day teaching kids and have very strange hours, like in the early morning and late at night.

4. Mandatory weekly meetings or "English cafe" or "free-talking hours" work. This will get annoying fast. A small amount goes with the job but hours of it every week will make you hate your life.

5. A massive turnover. If the uni is hiring 10+people, there is likely a reason why so many people left the previous year. Ask some questions on a place like www.eslcafe to find out why. There is perhaps a good explanation, such as the uni is just expanding their programs. Most good unis will have very low turnover and hire only a handful of people each year

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Avoiding the end of the semester chaos

When I compare my end of the semester to that of some of my colleagues, I see a huge divergence in styles.

All that remains for me to do during final exam week is to enter the final exam grade (which are speaking tests that I evaluate as the students are speaking) on my spreadsheet (which has the formulas already set-up), which takes about 5 minutes/class.  Then, I just have to enter the final grade into the computer system, which also takes about 5 minutes/class.  Basically, 10 minutes after each class leaves my office from the test, their final grades are in the computer. 

Some of my colleagues seem to pull all-nighters on the day before grades are due.  It seems stressful and a little bit outrageous to me (and perhaps prone to errors).  Anyway, some tips to reduce grading stress in your life:

1. Keep up with attendance, if you have to enter into a computer system.  I spend about 10 minutes doing it Monday morning before my first class, for the previous week.  Doing a whole semester's worth during final exam week is far too tedious and time-consuming.

2. Use a spreadsheet system to keep track of your grades.  You won't make mistakes in adding and it will save time later.  Just cut and paste the student's names and ID numbers from your computer system into Google Docs or Excel.  And of course, enter grades as you get them.  I generally did it the same day I had a new grade in a class.

3. I like the spreadsheet as well because it gives me a backup.  Some people have all their information on a single piece of paper that they carry around with them from class to class.  This seems risky.  What if they lost it?  I don't think they make copies of it.

4. Don't leave your office until the final grades are in.  For example, if you have 2 Monday classes, don't leave your office that Monday night until the grades are in the computer.  Same with Tuesday, etc.  Procrastination leads to stress!

5. Double-check your grades to avoid mistakes and problems later.  After I've inputted all my grades, I go back and make sure my spreadsheet grades match what I have on paper.  Then, I go into the computer system and double-check that the final grade matches what I have on my spreadsheet.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Basic Thoughts on Getting an ESL Job

I'm sure that at least 50% of the resumes/pics get thrown in the garbage for the following reasons:

1. The picture is totally unprofessional. Wear business attire and have a head shot done against a plain background.

2. Tripel chek you're resume+cover leter for grammer/spelling error. (Haha!)

3. If the job ad states that they want scans of your diploma, send them! Ditto with reference letters, etc. Incomplete applications just get thrown out.

4. Don't say that you "just want to make money" or "I want to travel to Asia." Instead, maybe you could say, "I'm considering teaching as a future career, and I'd like to get some experience in this field" or "I'm very interested in ________culture and language and I'd like an opportunity live in _________ and work closely with some students."

If you do these things, you'll have beaten out most of your competition.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

ESL teacher burnout

Well not much to report from Jeju, just a lot of rain. It kind of crimps my usually active lifestyle. Anyway, I've had lots of time to read and think and relax. Teaching makes me feel tired and by the end of the semester I feel like I couldn't possibly do another week. Along that theme, here are my tips for avoiding burnout when teaching Esl:

1. Most importantly, look after your health. Get enough sleep, exercise and eat well. If you're tired and hungover, and have a full day of teaching, it will be the biggest nightmare imaginable.

2. Don't reinvent the wheel. Most Esl textbooks have at least a few good things you can use. Use them for at least half your class. Then, if you need to, put your time and effort into making up one superstar supplemental activity. But doing 2 or 3 of these extra activities for each class? Burnout!

3. Make testing easy. I have a colleague who records all his speaking tests and doesn't grade while the students are speaking but goes back and listens to his recording. That's double the amount of work I want to do! I listen and grade at the same time with 2 students speaking to each other and find it easy enough to do. The students never complain that the grading is unfair either.

4. Unless you're truly strapped for cash, just say no. At my uni, there is so much OT that I could probably work every minute of the vacations if I wanted to. Except I don't want to because if I did, I would return to my job in September hating my job and my life. Everyone needs a vacation if you want to be able to do the job for more than just a year or two.

5. Get along with your colleagues. Drama is exhausting. If you don't like someone, just avoid them.

6. If you have a shared office, try to avoid it. It's gossipy, drama central. And who can actually do work there efficiently? It's better to find a spot where you can put in a couple quality lesson planning hours rather than 5 distracted hours.