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.