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.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Some Summer Fun

It's that time of year again, when classes have ended and grades are officially in the computer system.  Time to relax, and rejuvenate.  I'll be heading down to Jeju Island in a few days for a summer of scuba diving.  If you're on the island, stop by and say hello.  I'll be hanging around Big Blue 33 Diving Shop in Seogwipo-City.  Or, come for a dive.  I can take you out, even if you're never been before (the advantages of being a scuba instructor).  It's a beautiful place, with lots of interesting marine life.  Kind of a weird mix of tropical and cold water. 

If you need some reading, or viewing this summer, here are my takes on that.  10 Books Worth Reading 10 Movies Worth Watching.

Prepare yourselves for infrequent posts.  I'll be busy with other stuff.  But, I'll be back in September with regular updates, and hopefully presenting at the International Kotesol Conference in Seoul in October.  

I know the plan, do you know the plan?

A simple thing that you can do to make your classes run more smoothly is to write the lesson plan up on one side of the board.  I never used to do this, but when I started doing it, I noticed a big difference in terms of keeping things organized and on track.

It's very easy to do.  For example, I'll write:

1. Review Game "Big/Bigger"

2. Page 32-Family Vocab + Conversation.

3. Grammar: simple past. Page 35
Partner conversation +class activity.

4. Homework: June 12 +19

5. Next week: Unit 7 +talk about final test

At the beginning of class, after the "Hello, the weather is terrible, how are you today?" spiel, I'll walk over to the edge of the board and go over the plan for the day.  And at the end of the class, I'll go over it again quickly, highlighting the homework and what's happening next week. 

I think the thing I like most about it is that it keeps students motivated until the end of class.  Sometimes, when there is no end in sight, it's tough to keep going.  But, each time I move to a new activity, I point it out and it's easy for the students to see where we're at.  If we're on the last thing, the students know they are almost done and will put in a final little bit of effort.

Review: Active English Discussion

I recently used this book by Andrew Finch for the aviation class that I previously talked about, and I've also used it for a more intensive conversation class that met 4 times/week over the course of a semester.  I've used other books in the series for kids classes as well.

I think the book is okay, but not great and I'll probably not use it again, if I have a choice about it.  I'll review some things I like and some things I don't like:


1. It's Korea-based, which makes for more interesting topics of interest to my students.

2. There are a variety of activities to do.

Don't like:

1. The readings are way too long for a discussion book.  You could spend a whole 50 minute class on the reading, and never get into the discussion.  You could actually use the readings for a reading comprehension class. 

2. A lot of the topics are old-news.  Family, school life, etc have all been covered by every basic textbook the students have previously studied. 

3.  For a discussion class, I like short, concise units.  Like 2 pages.  This book used about 8 pages/unit.  It's almost impossible to cover it one class, but to continue the topic into the next class is kind of weird too.  Just awkward.

Motivation, at Kotesol 2011

Hi everyone, an oldie that somehow stayed in draft form but never got published.  Anyway, here it is:

I attended a presentation on Motivation by Ralph Cousins at the recent Kotesol Conference.  I had to see who my competition was.  Haha!  Joking.  It's actually just an area that I've really interested in I guess.

He had a few good things to say that I already incorporate into my lessons.

1. Get everyone organized before class starts.  Make sure everyone is on the same page (literally!).

2. Less is better.  I usually pick a single grammar point or vocab set and I'll build a whole lesson on it.

3. Make contact with all the students.  Those who aren't engaged are the ones who act up.

4. Don't assume students know even the simplest things.  You'd be surprised at how many Korean Uni students don't even know the most basic, simple grammar (ex: she walkS/ He is goING).  I think mastering the basics is better than kind of knowing the more difficult.

5. Make a short list of what you're going to do in class and write it on the board.  This helps people stay focused.

6. Always model things first.  I will never turn students loose without them seeing me do it first.  NEVER!  It just doesn't work that well.

And some things that I'm going to try to do:

1. Focus more on my body language.  Point your ear towards someone to show that you're listening.  Hold your hands above your waist and facing up to show that you're open to what the person has to say.

2. Give students a one or two minute break every 20 minutes.  It will help them learn.

3. Don't look down on the poor students.  They are good at something else and are maybe late-bloomers that will succeed later in life.  Who knows.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What's the goal?

This past semester, I was one of the unlucky ones that got chosen to teach in the new aviation services program that my uni is starting up.  I haven't talked about it yet because it was so stressful and to blog about it would perhaps push me over the edge.  It's done now though, and I've gotten out of the program for next year so I can write a few posts about it without letting it get the best of me. 

Why was it so frustrating?  Because no one was in charge.  The English department at my uni wanted nothing to do with it, nor did the Aviation services department really when it came down to the nuts and bolts of books, and things to teach, and what the students actually needed. 

Anyway, the other 3 teachers and I pressed various people for what we were actually supposed to teach and this is what we heard over the course of the semester:

1. Anything!  Just general conversation.  Whatever!

2. In-flight announcements

3. Aviation interview English

4. The student's TOEIC scores are so low!  Help them with grammar!

5. Speaking practice. 

6. Self-introduction.  SELF-INTRODUCTION!!!

Does that seem confusing?  It sure was.  It made my head spin in circle, after circle, after circle as each week went on.  What did I end up doing?  Just using teaching a general conversation book.  I was too stressed about by the whole thing to try to make any more sense of it. 

And to add to the chaos, it was a non-credit night-class, but we were supposed to trick the students and give them tests and pretend that the class actually mattered, even though it really didn't.  Attendance?  Of course they had to come each night!  Were there any consequences for not coming?  No. 

What's my point of this little rant?  Having clear goals is essential.  Even general ones, such as "work on conversation ability" or "speaking practice" or "interview English" or "make English fun!" I can work with.  In retrospect I should have just chosen one of those goals I was given, ignored all the other ones and worked from there.  I tried to cover a little of everything, which didn't really work for me, or for the students and it made it the most stressful class I've ever taught. 

How much do your students pay in tuition?

An interesting article from the Joongang Daily about how much Korean uni students are paying in tuition, and the backlash against it.  The numbers thrown around are 6-7 million/year ($5500-6500 US) for tuition.  And this is for one of the top 3 unis in Korea (Korea University).  I know it's similar at my uni.

Anyway, I find the number extremely reasonable, especially when considering South Korea's feet are now stuck firmly in the first world, with one of the top 10 economies in the world.  I remember about 10 years ago, when I was going to uni in Canada, tuition was about that amount, or even more.  And why don't you try going to one of the Ivy Leaguers?  I'm sure the tuition would be 5-10 times (or even more) than students in Korea pay.  Kind of ridiculous.  But, protesting high tuition seems to a right of passage for students from all around the world!

8 Games to play with your students from Chris

Here is Chris in South Korea's list.  There are a few good ones, but also a couple of dubious learning value (such as Hangman), so use with caution.

Friday, June 10, 2011

It's that time of year again

It seems like I just did this same topic only a couple of weeks ago for midterm exams!  Time flies when you're having fun, or something like that.  Anyway,  if anyone is interested, the 2 speaking tests that I'll be administering this semester can be found below.  Basically, the students have to memorize the questions and will ask their randomly chosen partner one question from each set (there are 5 sets so 5 questions on the test).   They can't ask their partner the same question that they were asked, but must choose a new question.  I grade on various things such as grammar, fluency, pronunciation, and answer appropriate for question.

Top Notch Level 2 Exam
Top Notch Level 1 Exam

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lesson the cloud

If your uni is like mine, you'll end up teaching the same books for at least a couple of years.  Instead of reinventing the wheel each year with new lesson plans, an easy way to keep track of your lesson plans is with Google Documents.  It takes only a little more effort to write out my plan on the computer and print it out than if I do it by hand.  And then at the end of the week, I just throw out the plan because I have it online.  No more collecting papers for me.  The next year, I'll do a quick search in Google Documents, find the lesson plan and do a few quick modifications.  Usually, I'm pretty good at remembering what worked and what didn't from the year before. 

A few tips:

1. Label things clearly.  For example, I'll use, "Top Notch 2, Unit 1B" or, "Level 1, Midterm Exam Review Game" so as not to get confused the next year and waste time searching for stuff.

2. Plan things ahead of time.  If you're the kind of teacher who scribbles something on a piece of paper 5 minutes before class, this won't work.  Printers break, and run out of ink.  The Internet is sometimes down.  I usually plan 2 or 3 weeks ahead of time. 

3. Don't be afraid to scribble all over your lesson plan after your first class.  I teach the same class 5-9 times each semester.  The first class is kind of like a testing ground and I almost always make modifications based on how things went. 

4. Collaborate with your colleagues.  We don't do this at my uni, but I wish we did.  Imagine the possibilities if everyone used Google Docs and shared their lesson plans? 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Game Day...a good one for bigger groups

In one of the extra programs that I teach in at my uni, we have an "activity day" periodically.  For groups of less than 8, it's very easy to come up with something to do. However, what about those groups of 8-15?  A bit more of a challenge.  Something that works really well is "Spoons" or "Board-Marker."  Bring enough spoons or markers so that you'll have the same amount as people, minus 1.  Then, you need a deck of cards.  Sort them so that you have 1 set of 4/person, plus 2 extra for smaller groups or 3 extra for the bigger ones. 

Have the students sit around a table in a circle.  Put the spoons spread out in the center of the table.  Deal each student 4 cards.  You'll have a few extra cards in your hand.  Give one more card to the person on the left.  They look at it, and either keep it or pass it on to the left.  And so it goes around the circle. You keep dealing out all the extra cards and it's a speed game.  When a student has a matching set of 4, they pick up a spoon.  Then, all the students try to get a spoon.  The student that doesn't have one is out.  Keep reducing the number of spoons and cards as more people are out.  You'll eventually have 2 winners.  Give them a point and play another round.


1. Make sure students only have 4 cards in their hand at a time.

2. If you have a bigger group of say 12 people, reduce the spoons by 2 or 3 each time to speed the game up.  That way, if you're out in the first round, you only have to wait a few minutes until you can play again.