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?