Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Newbie looking for a public school job in Korea?

Think again...a lot of districts are cutting Native English Speaker positions, especially at the high school level so even experienced teachers will be scrambling around trying to find anything something.

Read here for the report from Gusts of Popular Feeling.   And as he points out: One such district to be cutting these positions is Gangwon-Do.  And yes, the Pyeongchon Olympics are scheduled to be held there in 2018.  Hmmm.  This is most definitely one case in Korea where conversational English would be much more beneficial than teaching to the test.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Make a list of games/activities

One of the best things I've done to help myself in lesson planning is to make a list of games/activities that I've used in class.  I actually started doing this my first year teaching at a hagwon and I've been adding onto it every year since.  Usually, I can look at a topic in the book and come up with a few activities or games that will work with the material.  But, if I'm at a loss, I just open up the document (in Google Docs) and quickly scan down the list to see what will work.  Often, I find something perfect that has been long forgotten. 

If you don't already make a list like this, I suggest starting!  It's perfect for things like camps where you see the same group for an outrageous amount of time (like 40 hours over 2 weeks!) and don't want to repeat things.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rewarding your Top Students

I try to do this every semester, but sometimes I forget and then I kick myself later!

Anyway, you can reward your top students for a long semester of hard work by excusing them from the final exam and giving them an "A+" (which they would have gotten on the final exam anyway).  I usually choose 1 or 2 students for the classes under 20 and maybe 2 or 3 in the classes bigger than 20.

I base it on the following criteria:

1. Grades (must be the highest in the class).
2. Attendance (must be perfect).
3. Homework (must have done all of it).
4. Attitude (must be cooperative and enthusiastic in class).

I don't tell my classes of this possibility during the semester, they only find out on the last day of class when I tell the one or two students. I do this as a way to reward the students who are just good students without any obvious motivation. And it's also easier on me, as I have about 15 less students (9 classes x 1 or 2) that I need to administer tests to and these students would get an A+ anyway. Works for me, works for them!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Is teaching ESL Abroad for you?

I get so many people visiting this site that are considering moving overseas to teach English.  They often have a lot of questions and concerns and want my opinion as to whether it is a good idea or not.  Since I don't know them, it's almost impossible for me to give them a good answer.  However, I've made a site with a few questions that people can ask themselves when they're making the big decision to teach ESL Abroad.  I hope it's helpful!

Is Teaching ESL Abroad Right for You?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A while back, I posted an entry called, "Ten Tips for Newbies to the Korean University Teaching Experience."

#2 on that list was:

"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."

And this was a reader comment:

"#2 is insightful, but why do you feel you have to worry about making your students happy? I agree, it might make you a more popular teacher, but is it the best way to teach?"

And my response:

No, of course it's not the best way to teach!  That much is obvious.  And actually, it kinds of wears on my soul, in a disturbing, maybe I need to leave Korea kind of way.  But the reality at my uni (but not all unis in Korea) is that student evaluations are huge.  Like the top three foreign teachers get special recognition each semester and the one or two that come out on the bottom seem to get fired.  And those in the middle stress out if they're below average, worrying that they'll be on the bottom in the near future.  At my uni, it seems to be almost exclusively what contract renewals are based on.  When this is the reality, keeping students happy is the first priority, and actual education kind of falls by the wayside at times.  Anyone who is on a yearly contract and works as a uni where student evaluations are closely scrutinized would just be naive to think they don't have to worry about keeping students happy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

It's camp time!

My uni has a 2-week kids camp every summer and winter, and I've managed to avoid it for the past couple years, but this year: it was time.  I have a homeroom class for 4.5 hours/day and a special Content-Based Learning Class for 1.5 hours/day, which is with different groups each day.

For that special session, I chose "Arts + Crafts" and have been making paper masks, complete with sparkles, glitter and straws and anything else fun that I could find in the teacher's room.  I highly recommend it, as it is quite easy to organize, requires minimal "teacher-talk-time," and it keeps the kids entertained for at least an hour. 

For the homeroom morning session (3 hours), there are no books, materials or anything else prepared by the camp, but it's entirely up to me.  I do some study time, with a variety of speaking/listening/reading/writing activities.  I try to do one worksheet or puzzle and then a game of some sort.  I try to alternate the games between whole class ones and ones that they can play with a partner or small group.  I chose a few themes such as animals, numbers from 0-1000, body parts, and months/days of the week/seasons  And then I have about 30 minutes of "free-time" before lunch.  I have a variety of card and board games that they can choose from.

In the 1.5 hour afternoon session, I read an Internet story with them (I like www.bedtime-story.com), which takes about 20 minutes or so.  I go around the class and have them each read a couple of lines until the story is finished.  Then, we have a bit of practice time for the final performance.  And to finish it off, about 30 minutes of movie time. 

The best tip I can give for a camp like this is to have a "stack."  I had my TA do a massive amount of photocopying for me on the second day of camp and now in the morning, I just pick a few things that I want to do that day.  It makes life much easier, instead of scrambling around trying to figure stuff out 20 minutes before class and having a line-up at the photocopier.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Little things that actually matter

Back in 2004, over the course of 4 months, in what seems like an entirely different lifetime, I hiked (most of!) the Appalachian Trail (or trial as perhaps it should be known as).  There are 2 ways to do it:

1. The ultra-light way.  These people are extremely focused on reducing the amount of weight in their packs in order to reduce the wear and tear on their bodies and are able to go faster and further, with less effort.  They are known to cut off tags, modify packs or even sew their own, spend huge amounts of money on the lightest sleeping bag, sleep under a mini-tarp and other things like that.  Often, they get mistaken for day-hikers, even though they are carrying everything they need for 4 or 5 days on the trail.

2. The everything but the kitchen sink style.  This needs no explanation.

I fell into camp one.  And I never regretted it for a second.  My mantra was: "ounces = pounds."  It means that while you may think that an extra t-shirt at 7 ounces, a few caribiners at 3 ounces, rain paints at 12 ounces, or a bear bell as 2 ounces, a novel at 9 ounces and a pot at 8 ounces doesn't really matter.  And actually, it doesn't really if you choose only one of these things.  The problem is when you choose them all, you have almost 4 pounds of extra weight.

I think that teaching is kind of the same thing.  Little things add up.  You can do the little things right and have the end result of happy students, progress made, smiling faces all around, and ultimately good evaluations at the end.  Or you can do all the little things wrong and have a pretty bad semester with non-participating students, frowning faces, and bad evaluations.  

Here is my list of a few of the little things that you can do right:

1. Be in class before the students.  Nothing looks less professional than someone who rushes around after the students are there, struggling to get the powerpoint up and all their papers out.  Contrast this to someone who is prepared by the time most of the students are there and is able to personally greet each one as they walk in the door, in a relaxed kind of way.

2. Where are you going?  People like to know what's happening.  Write up a little schedule for the day on one side of the board, and leave it there for the entire class.  Check off stuff as you do it, so everyone knows where they're at.  This can help you stay organized as well and not forget stuff.  Of course this assumes that you have a lesson plan (some uni teachers I know do not).

3. Avoid dead-time.  This requires some organization.  I will never, ever write more than a few words on the board while the students are waiting.  I come early and try to write most of the text I'm using for that class before they get there.  This means I usually do the grammar/vocab lesson first or second in my lesson plan.  Or, if I do it in the middle, I'll get the students working on something and then do my writing on the board.  Dead-time can be hard to recover from, because your students lose their focus.

4. Don't hide behind the powerpoint.  Teaching is about relationship.  It's not about flashy powerpoints.  Students just want to make a connection with you and with each other and have a place where they feel safe and welcomed.

5. Names are important.  If you can't memorize all the student's names, get them to use name-tags on their desks.  It's better than saying, "Hey...you...what is the answer."

6. Eye contact.  Try to scan the entire class within a 20 second period of talking.  Every single student. So you'll make eye contact with each student 3 times in one minute.   Most teachers have a dead-spot that they just don't look at for some reason.  For me, it's usually the first and second rows on the right.  I fight against this every class. 

7. Never put students on the spot.  This is a big no-no in Korea.  No ones like to feel shame because they didn't know the answer.  To avoid this, I'll always give the students some pre-practice before I elicit an answer, either by doing some writing in their books, or speaking with their partner or in a small group.

8. Smile.  This is important.  I actually get a surprising amount of comments from the students on my evaluations about how they like my big smile.

Another blogger's take on Getting that Uni Job in Korea

This article from Ted's Tefl Newbie.  And actually, you should check out the rest of his site too, it's generally pretty good stuff.  However, there are a few points from his article that I don't really entirely agree with.

He says to find a good list of schools (but doesn't link to one!) and then just apply to them all.  This can be extremely tedious, expensive and time-consuming, especially if done from outside of Korea.  And it's not particularly effective, if my own experience is any indication.  A much better bet would be to cruise the Korean Job Boards on ESL Cafe during prime-time hiring season (Nov/Dec +May/June) and apply to any and all uni ads that you see (usually 3-5/day during that period).

He does make the point that it's very difficult to get a uni job without a face-face meeting, or an introduction of some sort.  I agree entirely.  Probably 95% of people get their uni jobs in Korea through in-person interviews.  The other 5% are just lucky.  And a lot (maybe 50%?!) get their job through a friend, or friend of a friend.  I guess it's kind of like anywhere in the world: networks and  connections really do matter.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Reader Question...Uni Job without a Masters

These ones from Dain:

"I've been teaching in Korea for 2 years at hagwons but now I'm looking to get a university job for March.  I know that its difficult to get one, especially since I don't have a masters degree and I don't have any friends who work at a university. I am currently working on an online TEFL certificate and I do have an F4 visa. I was wondering if there is anything else I could do to make me a more competitive candidate for a university job? I also was wondering what is the best job board to find posted university jobs. I know of worknplay and eslcafe, but I haven't seen a lot of uni jobs posted there."

Let me address your questions in a few parts:

1. If you don't have a Masters Degree, it is very difficult to get a uni job in Korea.  Not impossible, just very difficult.  If you want to make yourself more competitive, don't waste your time with on online TEFL certificate, which isn't worth the paper it's printed on, but get a Masters degree in a TESL/Education related field, or do the Celta Course. 

2. You've been here for 2 years, but don't know anyone working at a uni?  If you knew this was your plan, you should have been networking for the past 2 years at places like Kotesol.

3. An F4 visa means that you're of Korean descent, but grew up elsewhere.  Can you speak fluent Korean?  If yes, this is a positive for you and I've actually seen some uni ads that request this.  If no, being Korean-American or whatever is actually a strike against you since most places prefer the "whitey."  This will make it more difficult for you to get a uni job, even if you do have a masters degree.

4. Maybe it's a matter of perspective, but I actually think there are a lot of uni jobs on ESL Cafe.  In prime hiring seasons, there are like 4 or 5 ads a day!  Now, prime-time is finished and that's why there isn't that many.

To sum it up, I'd be very surprised if you were able to find a uni position for March.  Most unis have already done their hiring and you really have nothing going for you that will distinguish you from any other candidate out there.  For example, my uni (way out in the countryside) hired everyone in December already.  They got over a hundred applications for just a few positions.  They didn't even look at people without a Masters Degree, but just threw them in the trash. I think a lot of unis are the same.  And my uni isn't even considered one of the "prime" jobs that the top candidates would want.