Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Teaching Resolutions

Here are my New Year's Resolutions with regards to teaching:

1. Plan lessons at least 2 weeks in advance. In the past, I have been very organized, planning stuff weeks ahead of time but for some reason last semester, I got into the bad habit of doing it only a day or two before, which really isn't my style.

2. Email my students back immediately. I also have been good at this in the past, but last semester I would check the email and then wait a day or two, for no really good reason.

3. Don't teach overtime classes that I hate just for the money. I stayed strong on this one last semester. It's always a temptation but I know how unhappy it will make me feel. Teaching basic conversation, or "free-talking" with students is the most terrible thing I could almost imagine and no amount of money will make me want to do it.

What are yours? It's the perfect time to make some decisions about how your next semester will look. And remember, keep 'em realistic and well-defined so you actually have a chance at meeting them.  Maybe your resolution is to learn a few new things about teaching ESL. To start, check out this book by Jeremy Harmer. It's simple, practical and an excellent book for beginners or more experienced teachers.  How To Teach English (with DVD)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

How to Avoid the Emails After Grades go Out

Some teachers have a very different system from me-they essentially tell the students none of their grades throughout the semester, nor how they actually calculate the final grade. They instead rely on vague subjective kinds of things like "improvement" or "effort." Students in Korea at least don't seem to mind this, bizarrely and I think it might actually help those teachers get good student evaluations because probably even the worst students might believe that they could actually get an A+ in the class, despite not really being able to actually write in a writing class, or converse in a conversation class. And the students who believe they're getting an A+ in your class will give you the best evaluations.

I, however, veer towards the opposite end of the spectrum. I spell everything out to the students in terms of how I will calculate grades on day 1 and then I review it at the end of the semester before final exams. I return all work to the students in a timely manner (less than a week) and let students look at their midterm exams. I use this system for the following reasons:

1. It eliminates the possibility of playing favorites, which I think is really unprofessional.

2. Students equate effort, studying and actually knowing the material with getting a good grade. Most classes with a foreign teacher up to the time they get me have involved, "Oh, just try your best," and "Communication is most important, don't worry about everything else." I set my standards far higher than that and expect students to live up to them. By the time they are 3rd or 4th year English major students at a mid-top ranked university in Korea, it's time that they have gotten a solid grasp on things like the past tense and use of the various future tenses.

3. I can defend any grade I have given to any student to the admin if required. With cold, hard numbers.

4. And finally, I get almost no frantic emails from students asking about their grades. They have put 2 and 2 together themselves and can't really argue with me.

Do you want to work at a Korean University? Check out: How to Get a University Job in South Korea: The English Teaching Job of Your Dreams

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Teachers Need Breaks!

Teaching can be a pretty exhausting thing, especially ESL because you constantly have to grade your language to the level that you are teaching and having "conversations" about weather, hobbies, sports, house chores, schedules, etc can be mind-numbing. Although I teach mostly higher-level classes and can generally avoid those subjects, I still am "on-stage" for 15-20 hours/week, which can be tiring for someone like me who is naturally somewhat introverted. I submitted my grades a week ago, flew to Canada to visit the family and have been not thinking about work this entire week and I feel really good. Like last semester was this long-distant memory.

So, what I'm saying is this: even though you might be tempted to work the whole vacation if you teach at a Korean university because you can make a whole lot of extra money, it is usually not the best idea. It will leave you starting the new semester as less than full strength, and by the end of the often grueling 16 weeks, you will literally have nothing left. Money isn't everything and you need to think about your long-term mental health, especially if you plan on teaching at Korean unis for more than a year or two. Enjoy your amazing vacation time, even if you just have a staycation. When else in your life will you get so many weeks off?

How to Get a University Job in South Korea: The English Teaching Job of Your Dreams

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Reader Question: Is the Delta Course Possible in Korea?

Short answer: 2/3 of it.

Long answer: It's really easy to complete Delta modules 1 & 3 online by using The Distance Delta, which is a collaboration of The British Council and International House. Bell also has courses but I haven't heard amazing things about it. Module 1 requires a written test, which you can only do at the British Council in Seoul twice a year.  Module 3 requires no test and you just submit your paper online.

The tricky part is Delta module 2 which requires observed teaching. I looked at all the angles and think it's basically impossible to do in Korea unless you actually work at the British Council. Your only option is to go abroad to do it, which will take you 4-8 weeks and most of the courses are in Europe.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Our Students and the Job Market in Korea

In my job, I teach many first year English major students and I often run into students who have grown up in a foreign country for at least a period of time and are fluent (ish) in English and are far better than almost anyone else in their major, even the third or fourth year students.

Then, I also encounter third or fourth year English major students who are pretty terrible at English. Now, I have no idea what their TOIEC score is, but what I do know is that they cannot communicate in written or spoken English, in even a basic way. And I feel kind of scared for them because when they graduate from university, who will give them a job? They are going to be in the 20-30% of young Korean university graduates who are unemployed. Their only skill is English and they are not at all proficient in that.

So, I try to catch students in their first year, especially in the first semester and give them a bit of advice if they come to my office for a chat, or we have a friendly kind of relationship. 

For those who are fluent in English already, I tell them to switch majors. Study something like engineering, or business, or education, or another language like Japanese or Chinese because then they'll have that, plus English.  2 marketable skills instead of one.

For those who are unable to communicate, I suggest that perhaps English really isn't the major for them. I mean, they've studied English for 10 or 12 years already and if they haven't gotten a grasp on the simple past or body-part vocabulary, will they ever be proficient enough to use it to get a job?  I tell them to switch to another major, preferably business or engineering and then study English on the side.

I get a feeling that their Korean professors who are all in the English department aren't telling them this because it's like saying that the classes they are teaching are useless, kind of, in a way. And their parents probably have no idea how much better, or worse at English they are than their peers. So foreign teachers at Korean universities, does that perhaps leave us to tell it like it is?

Sound like the job for you? Check out this book on How to Get a University Job in Korea.

Monday, December 15, 2014

I feel the Irony

At the end of my classes, I give out an anonymous survey asking the students questions like what was their favorite and least favorite part of the class and how were the tests/homework (in comparison to their other classes).  It never ceases to amaze me and actually makes me feel like it's perhaps time to leave Korea, and perhaps get out of teaching altogether.  Here's why:

Students always approach me and say that they want to improve their English skills and sound like a native speaker.  I try to be helpful and mention that it takes a lot of hard work and that to sound like a native speaker they actually need to become obsessed with English and be immersed in it, basically all the time through things like reading English books, newspapers and magazines, watching English TV and movies without the subtitles, and by making friends who you have to speak English with.

The students I teach are English majors, which means that when they graduate from university, they will probably have few marketable skills besides their English ability so it is definitely in their best interests to at least be proficient enough to get a job due to that alone.  Which is why I push my students pretty hard to improve their English skills and have very high expectations for them.

Now, the part that is so ironic and makes me feel amazed and stressed out, and a wee bit angry.  As I type this, I feel my blood pressure start to rise.  Anyway, on the survey, almost without fail students mention that:

I give too much homework because I gave them 4 assignment throughout the semester unlike their other professors who only gave them 2 things.  That's in a 16-week semester, so one small thing to do in a single month.

My tests are too difficult and that they require actually studying and knowing the material extremely well. And that it's not fair because I grade with all or nothing.

And that I don't really take into account "improvement" but instead just have high standards for everyone.

And that my classes are too difficult because I require things like differentiating between the future forms and knowing which situation to use them. Or, that I don't necessarily teach vocab or spend lots of time on it in class (things like body parts, or household furnishings), but that I point it out and expect students to know it for the test. Or, that I don't spend time teaching basic grammar like the simple past, I just point it out for reference but I expect students to know it perfectly for the test (they are English majors after all, not freshman engineering students).

Or that making students spend 2.5 hours out of the 16 week semester speaking in English to one of the professors at my school in the "Global Zone" was way too difficult and such a burden for them.

Or, that by only giving 10% of the grade to attendance, it's not fair because they attended every class and I should give them more credit for that.

And, it just makes me question what kind place do I live in where expectations for university students are so, so, so low. It's time for me to roll on out of here I think.

Anyway, still want the job?  Here's how:
How to Get a University Job in South Korea: The English Teaching Job of Your Dreams

Free: 40 Tried and Tested ESL Games and Activities

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Get your Presentation Proposals in! Kotesol National Conference 2015

I'm going to be the program director for the Kotesol National Conference on Saturday, May 30th 2015 in Seoul and I hope to have lots of fabulous presentations to choose from.  Which means that YOU should apply with your best idea or two.

If you have nothing super-original going on, please consider the ELT 101 thread, which is geared towards those new to teaching and so could just cover the basics of teaching listening, or classroom management, or task-based teaching, or just about anything else you could think of.  Practical is good!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Paperwork: Don't stress!

If your uni (or perhaps public school too) is anything like mine, they require massive amounts of paperwork in things like lesson plans, comprehensive attendance reports, homework/tests grading criteria and samples of student work to compile this huge portfolio thing for every class.  It doesn't make me annoyed because my job is actually pretty easy and since I'm organized with everything on Google Drive, it doesn't actually take me that long just to print up everything and kill a small forest in the process. 

Anyway,  in my years of working at a couple unis in Korea, I can confidently put myself and my coworkers into three groups as it relates to this topic:

1. Those who stress publicly by posting on the teacher's Facebook group or sending various emails to everyone or hassling the admin.  These people have serious stress over things that don't really matter  such as how to get online homework into paper format.  Or, making up massive grading criteria spreadsheets for oral exams.  Or, transcribing oral exams into paper format.  These people are an admin's worst nightmare.

2. Those who just do what they need to do and don't make a big fuss about it.  Their portfolios are "perfect" in that they contain what is needed and nothing more, nothing less and are of course turned in well before the deadline.

3. Those who can't follow simple directions and put everything necessary into the portfolio.  This may be due to not being able to read, laziness or disorganization because they simply don't have things like samples of student work. These people are an admin's worst nightmare.

What am I and what should you be?  Number 2 of course.  The secret is that the department secretary will take a cursory glance through your portfolio and then it will be filed on some shelf for a few years, collecting dust after which it will be thrown in the trash.  No one is analyzing your course looking at your teaching methodology and seeing how the program could be improved.  No one is checking to make sure that you're actually teaching what you're supposed to be teaching.  By doing number 1, you're just wasting hours of your life which you can never get back.  By doing number 3, you just look totally incompetent and it may cause your department to wonder why they gave you the job in the first place.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Wages for Expats in Korea are on the Decline

Wages in Korea for expats (I'm not really sure about the situation for the locals) have been stagnating for the past 10 years or so, especially for English teachers and things are just getting more and more expensive, especially in Seoul. 

When I first came to Korea in 2003, the average starting wage for a public school teacher or hagwon teacher was around 2 million won.  Today, it's much the same and some public school teachers are working for as little as 1.8 million, while the average hagwon starting wage has increased a bit to around 2.2 million.  The potential for saving a considerable amount of money is still there, especially with the free airfare and housing, but it's much harder to live comfortably on 500 000 or 600 000 than it was back in the old days and I'd say the average expat probably spends between 800 000-1 million/month. 

Unis are a whole different thing entirely because there are just so many more factors to consider beyond the base salary.  Airfare and housing are often not included in the package, although places may offer key (deposit) money or a monthly housing allowance.  The wage per hour has to be considered because the base hours can range from 9-18+ per week and vacation can range from 4 weeks to 20 weeks per year.  And overtime opportunities are what can actually increase pay significantly and this actually matters a lot more than the actual base salary.

Here's an article from Expat Newswire with more details:

For Expats in Korea, Race to the Bottom Wages are Here

Looking for the big money?  The Middle East is probably where it's at these days:

Japan on the rise, Korea on the decline for English Teachers?

An interesting article from Expat Newswire:

TEFL Job Market Reversal as Japan Demand Rises, Korea Flounders

It's pretty high on the anecdotal evidence and low on actual stats, but it feels true to me.  I've been in Korea almost 10 years and it really is much harder to get a job these days in Korea than it was back in the old days.  

It's still possible to get a hagwon job easily enough but they seem to be getting pickier and pickier about things like gender (females), country (North Americans) and skin color (white).  Public schools are cutting Native English speaker positions left and right, especially at middle and high schools.  Universities have upped their requirements such that even someone with a masters degree and a couple years experience at a public school or hagwon in Korea can find it quite difficult to get their first uni job.

Maybe Japan is the answer?  

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Want to be a Wealthy English Teacher?

Check out my other blog, Freedom Through Passive Income to learn how and more specifically this book review on expat investing.

Student Evaluations and Gender Bias

Gender bias student evaluations
Student Evaluations and Gender
Here in Korea, many of our contract renewals at universities depend almost entirely on student evaluations (for better or worse).  You can argue all day about the effectiveness of this, but an interesting, yet somewhat disturbing article from Slate about gender bias and student evaluations.  And where does this leave me, who doesn't really conform to normal female stereotypes? On the bottom, it seems.

Still want to work at a Korean University as an English teacher?  Here's how to get that job:

Thinking about Teaching ESL in South Korea?

Teaching ESL South Korea
Teaching ESL in South Korea

You'll want to check out these sites first.

For the positive:

Top 5 Reasons to Teach ESL in South Korea

For the negative:

Top 5 Reasons You Shouldn't Teach ESL in South Korea

Sketchy hagwons, stagnant salaries for English teacher and lack of job mobility are 3 of the big ones.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

ESL Textbook Reviews

One question that I often see tossed around on the Facebook groups related to language teaching is what textbook other teachers like.  I have a site called ESL Textbook Reviews that talks about my specific choices and I'll also list a few of them here. 

General 4 Skills Textbooks:

Academic Writing

Public Speaking and Presentations

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Classes are done for the semester

classes are done
Classes are Done!

Happy, happy times here in Busan as I've just finished teaching my last class of the semester, which is actually my last class until March since I've decided to have a mental health break this vacation and spend some time in Canada visiting the family and then to Vietnam for some beach therapy with friends.

Next week is speaking tests/presentations which are pretty low stress for me this time around because I'm not actually interacting with students and instead just observing.  (Check out this blog post for my run down of various kinds of speaking tests and the pros and cons of each).

Then the Monday after that is the final written exam for all my classes, which is even lower stress and pretty easy marking (1-2 minutes/student).  No 1/2 points here!  It's all or nothing.

Some final grade calculating which will be reasonably easy due to my diligent upkeep of that throughout the semester.

Anyway, long story short is that I've done all the hard work of the semester and only the easy stuff remains!  Yeah.

Like the sounds of working at a Uni in Korea and not having any classes until March?  Want to know how to get this job?  Check out this most fabulously helpful book (written by me!)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Top 5 Vocabulary Teaching Tips

Teaching English vocab
Vocabulary Teaching Tips

A helpful article that I ran across from Edutopia.

The Must Dos of Vocabulary Instruction

I particularly like #1-Be Selective.  Yes!  Less, is more basically all the time with anything related to teaching.  It's better that your students know a few things really well than know lots of stuff, not really at all.

For more vocab teaching ideas, check out another sites of mine:

ESL Vocabulary Activities

Reader Question: Night-Classes Only?

evening university class
Teaching Night Classes Only

From N.T:

"I just bought your book and read it. Thanks for the info; I enjoyed your style of writing as well.  I was curious if teaching late afternoon or night classes exclusively was at all possible. I know some universities occasionally have a teacher teach one or two, but I'm not sure if one is able to avoid morning classes altogether or if people ever try to do this. Perhaps some people make arrangements for classes they are taking as opposed to teaching? If one is able to do this, is there any guarantee that this can continue for the rest of the employment term?"

My answer:

First of all, thanks for the positive review of my book (How to Get a University Job in South Korea: The English Teaching Job of Your Dreams).  A short answer to your question: no, it's probably not possible.  Check out this blog entry of mine for further details:

That said, if you have a very good reason for requesting a certain schedule (children, or doing a course of some kind), most unis will try to accommodate you, but it would be rare that anyone would guarantee you anything from one semester to the next.  And, of course you should never say something like, "I can't wake up for 9am class" at an interview because it will make you look totally unprofessional.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Why I Love Working at a Korean University

A guest post of mine over on another blog (TEFL Tips) about Why I love working at a Korean University.

Sharon's blog is quite fabulous by the way and I strongly recommend checking it out, especially if you are looking for a job somewhere else besides Korea.  You'll want to check out her series on, "The Best TEFL Jobs in the World," which is helpfully grouped by country.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Serial Podcast for ESL Students

Free: 40 Tried and Tested ESL Games and Activities

The Serial Podcast for ESL Students

My latest addiction is the Serial Podcast.  If you haven't heard of it, you are perhaps not really living on planet Earth and you should definitely check it out, but be ready to binge listen because it's crazy addictive.  I'm personally losing some sleep, waiting for episode 10 which was a week late due to American Thanksgiving and have had to start listening to podcasts about the podcast (Slate Serial Spoiler) in order to get my fix.

Anyway, when it came time to decide on something to study with my three, reasonably advanced and motivated students I decided to use this podcast.  I wasn't sure if it would be too difficult for them or not, but with a combination of the transcript (Episode 1 Serial Transcript) and the Podcast itself, they seemed to understand most of it.  They were pretty hooked on it right from the start, with all their papers filled with various colors of highlighter and notes and translations of words into Korean.  I seriously think that they'd studied 10+ hours in only the few days since I'd seen them last.  Our discussion was really interesting and filled with insights about human nature and other good stuff like that.  It was work that didn't really seem like work and it made me feel happy to be a teacher.

If you have high-level students, definitely consider the Serial Podcast.  I'd actually like to do an entire class using just this podcast and hope I have the opportunity in the future.

In case you're looking for more Serial transcripts:

Serial Episode 2 transcript

Serial Episode 3 transcript

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Reader Question: Getting Hired from Overseas

"I'm over in the U.S. I have a MA in TESOL, have been teaching 3 years college level, and previous to my States experience 5 years in Bangkok.

I have the travel itch again...but am a divorced mama with a 6 year old daughter. Any chance you know of similar experiences to this at UNI level in Korea?

If it were just me, I could pick up some bags and go... are there any hiring fairs for Universities in the U.S.?"

My answer: unfortunately, it's extremely difficult to get hired at a Korean University from overseas since there are so many people in Korea with the proper qualifications available for in-person interviews. University Jobs in Korea are not like international school jobs that hold hiring fairs in the US; they simply advertise and then interview locally.

If you want to persevere and try your luck, check out this book which contains the basic information about finding a uni job in Korea, as well as a specific section about what to do if you are overseas.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

What Working at a University in Korea is Really Like. Part 4: Classes (or, what I do for 4 hours)

korea uni
What Working at a Korean Uni is Really Like

If you missed the first 3 parts of this series, check out:

Korean Universities: Schedules

Korean Universities: Classes

Korean Universities: Office Politics

One of the common questions that I get from Hagwon and public school teachers is what I actually do in my classes.  In hagwons, it's extremely rare to have the same students for more than an hour at a time and 40-45 minutes is more common.  In public schools, the class lengths are about the same and the Korean co-teacher usually does the bulk of the heavy lifting.

My classes range from 1.5 hours-4 hours with the same group of students.  4 hour classes can be quite hard to teach so I'll use that as my example.  Here's how I would I use the time (if I was given no materials that I had to teach):

I'd pick a topic such as "Youth unemployment in Korea," "Microfinance" or "Renewable Energy."  I choose stuff that I'm actually interested in and you'd be surprised-even seemingly difficult topics such as these can be adapted and made easier for as low level as high-beginners.  Things like movies, hobbies, food and pets are TOTALLY overdone and I refuse to use topics like these unless forced to (if I'm given a textbook with them in it, or have extremely low-level students-but I generally try to avoid total beginners!).

Hour 1: an introduction to the topic.  This usually involves some very general warm-up questions, key vocabulary, a sample conversation, or something like "describe the picture" for lower levels.

Hour 2: we get into the reading or listening (quite often both).  If you find articles from Breaking News English, you can do the listening first with some sort of "big-picture" questions.  I'd usually listen twice, with the first time just being simple true/false or matching or something and then the second time, I'd increase the level of difficulty and use some short answer or fill in the blank stuff.

Then, I'd get the students to read the same thing that they just listened to but they'd have to answer some serious "critical thinking" or advanced level "reading comprehension" questions where the answers require processing the information in a deep way, or the answers are very subtle and require some "reading between the lines."

Hour 3: Discussion questions based on what they just listened to and read.  The students would have to discuss in small groups of 3-4 people and then we'd talk together as a class.

Hour 4: Some sort of activity.  For example, when I talked about microfinance, I showed a couple videos from Kiva and showed the students my own portfolio of who I lent money to.

Or, it might involve a debate of some kind.  For example, on the topic of Youth Unemployment, it might be something like, "Who has the final responsibility for solving this problem: youth, the government, parents, industry or universities?"

Or, it could be a survey activity.  For advanced levels, they'd have to make their own survey question or two, ask their classmates, process the information and then report back to the class their results.  For lower levels, I'd probably give them the questions already prepared.

Or, I might do some writing activity of some kind where the students have to share their opinion on the topic.  But, I will quite rarely do this and my activities are generally slanted towards speaking.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Life on the Inside: what working at a Korean University is really like. Part 3: Korean University Office Politics (Drama)

In case you missed parts 1 and 2 of the series on working at a Korean University:

Korean Universities: Classes

Korean Universities: Schedules

Today, I'll talk about "office politics" at Korean Universities.  The amount of office politics you have to deal with really depends on the office/housing/classroom situation. 

For example, at my previous uni there was a fair bit of drama because most of us lived together in the same building, had offices all in the same hallway and classrooms next to each other.  In addition, we lived in the countryside and so ended up being friends with each other and spending time together outside of work, generally.  This meant that you saw a lot of your coworkers and sometimes more than you actually wanted (for certain people).

At my current uni, we have three campuses so I literally never see some people. We share offices with a couple other people, but again, it's kind of rare to actually see a coworker in the office.  Our classrooms are spread out everywhere so it's not common to just run into people randomly.  We live in a big city so everyone has their own friend groups, which most often don't consist of coworkers.  And, there is no university provided housing and people just find their own.  I literally live on the entire opposite end of the city from some of my coworkers.  Drama is non-existent.  Like in my 2.5 years there, I've encountered literally no drama whatsoever.  I like it.  A lot. 

While not necessarily a major factor to consider when taking a job, I'd take #2 any day.

How to avoid the drama?  My top tips:

1. Don't gossip about other people!  NEVER speak badly about one of your coworkers.  Assume it will always get back to that person.

2. Make friends outside of work.  If you're having a hard time at work, vent to them and not a coworker.

3. Live away from your coworkers, if possible.  I'd take housing allowance over provided housing for sure.

4. Use the giant headphones if you have a shared office.  Give off the vibe that you're doing work and not available for idle gossip.

5. Attend all social activities and make an effort to actually get to know your coworkers, on a friendly, but not BFF level. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Speaking of Speech Videos

Whenever I teach presentations and public speaking, I use the most fabulous Speaking of Speech: Basic Presentation Skills for Beginners.  Today, I had a moment of panic because I somehow lost my USB stick with all the videos on it.  But, never fear!  Youtube saved the day as someone helpfully uploaded them all.  Thank you Mr. Kim, whoever you are.

Speaking of Speech Videos on Youtube.

Monday, November 24, 2014

University Job in Korea Without a Masters Degree?

Masters degree
Uni Job Without a Masters Degree

In my book,How to Get a University Job in South Korea: The English Teaching Job of Your Dreams I mention what you can do if you want to teach at a university with only a bachelor's degree.  While really difficult, it is not entirely impossible to work your way into a uni job if you plan on staying in Korea for the long-term.

The best way to do it would be to take a job like this university language instructor position where you only need a bachelor's degree plus a year of experience, which is calculated at various rates, but essentially you'd be able to get it with 2.5 years of experience teaching at a public school or hagwon.

Then, hang on to that job for a few years, with 4 being ideal and you could potentially compete for many of the better university jobs out there.  Or, just stay for 2 years and spend that time doing a master's degree in which case the world would be your oyster.

Life of the Inside: what working at a Korean University is really like. Part 2: classes

Please see part 1 of the series: Schedules if you missed it.  Here's an excerpt from my book How to Get a University Job in South Korea: The English Teaching Job of Your Dreamsthat explains about classes.

"Your job (working at a Korean University) will often consist of teaching mandatory Freshman (and sometimes Sophomore) English courses. Schools vary in how they administer this, but it can involve one 3-hour per week course during either the student's first or second semester, or it could involve something like four 1-hour per week courses over the first two years of a student's program. You will sometimes be able to teach other classes like writing, presentations, or business English to students in majors like business, airline business, tourism or English. It really depends on the university. Student English levels range from almost fluent to very low. All of these classes involve designing a syllabus, administering tests and homework, and giving final grades."

I would add that what classes you teach can really make a big difference in terms of job satisfaction.  While you often don't have much say in your first year or two and will have to take whatever you get given to you, if you can move up in the world into teaching things besides mandatory freshman English, your job will probably be much more rewarding, although more will be required of you in terms of preparation and grading.

For example, at my current university most of the teachers teach 9-12 (separate!) classes of around 30 students only once/week for 50 minutes.  It's almost impossible to get to know the students and it's not easy to develop a friendly relationship.  For a "real" teacher who is serious about their teaching, it can be quite demoralizing.  But, it is a very easy job and if you are pursuing other interests outside work, it can be quite ideal since you'll have to expend very little in the way of mental energy.

I work in the actual English department so I no longer teach freshman English classes but instead I teach English major classes.  This semester, I have 4 classes (one of which is overtime) with about 20-25 students in each one.  I teach each class twice a week for 1.5 hours each time.  It is really possible to develop a decent relationship with many of the students and to actually help students improve their English skills in 3 hours/week.  Although more preparation is required and student demands are higher (some of them are extremely high level), it's a far more rewarding job as a teacher because I can actually see improvement in my students.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Kotesol's Teaching in Korea Job Board

Korea tesol

If you're looking for an English teaching job in Korea, check out Kotesol's new Job Board.  My guess is that they'll end up having mostly university jobs, which are perhaps not listed on ESL Cafe (because employers won't have to pay) so it could be well worth it to get access.  It's free for now, but come 2015, you'll need to be a current Kotesol member.  And, if you need some more suggestions for getting a job in Korea, especially a university one, check out: How To Get a University Job in South Korea on Amazon.

Life on the inside: what working at a Korean University is really like. Part 1: schedules

teaching English Korea schedule
Korean University Schedules

Thanks to my friend "E" for the suggestion of this series about what working at a Korean University is really like with the students, classes, administration and other various things.  I'm going to kick it off with schedules, or what my days basically consist of.

If you work at a fabulous university, your schedule will consist of only 3-4 days/week of teaching.  You may even get a long weekend like me, this semester since I get Friday off (however that was due to my own scheming and the kindness of one of my coworkers).

A lot of people end up having classes 5 days/week, but even this isn't really terrible since it will usually only consist of either mornings (9-1 for example), or afternoons (1-5 for example) and not both.  Your actual teaching hours will be around 12-15/week, so you'll have plenty of time for grading and admin and other general duties related to the job.  The best places try to give you a block schedule which means that you'll teach for 3-4 hours back-back instead of a split shift kind of thing where you have large breaks within your day (4 or 5 hours).

Generally, you don't have a lot of say over your schedule, although both my previous and current unis have been amenable to requests, like when I needed Tuesday and Thursday morning off to do the Celta course, or switching a class with my coworker to not work 5 days/week.  Some places do the seniority thing, where the longest serving teachers get first pick of schedules, but that seems like a lot of hassle and it's not that common I think.

I personally don't really care about my schedule that much since I have a nice, semi-private office (with 2 other people) and my own computer.  As a bonus, it even has a phone, heating and air-con as well as wicked fast Internet which is definitely a better set-up than I have at my own house.  If I have a 4 or 5 hour break, I'll just do lesson planning or grading and work on my online ventures, such as this blog or my recent book about University Jobs in Korea.

The worst possible scenario related to schedules is 5 days/week but with only something like 9 or 10 teaching hours, which means that you'll end up coming into work and teaching only 1-2 hours a day.  If you have a 5 minutes commute like I do, it's not terrible but many of my coworkers come from the other end of the city (1-1.5 hours) so for them it's not ideal.  You can sometimes salvage this by trying to pick up some overtime during the days, which is readily available at my uni, but that's a bit of an anomaly.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reader Questions: Getting a University Job in South Korea

Some reader questions from Kyle:

"Would you be willing to give some advice?  I'd like to teach at a Korean University with my Masters in Ed. , a K-12 ESL Certificate (State of Michigan and North Carolina), 4 years of K-8 licensed US teaching experience, and 15 years of K-12 ESL teaching experience in Taiwan.


1. Would being 47 years old make it difficult for me to be hired by hagwons, public schools, and universities?

2. What's the best path to getting a Korean University job that pays at least US$30,000 per year?

3. Is it best to travel to Korea first and job hunt or secure a job before leaving?  (I'm thinking Visas and paperwork here, in addition to the benefits being there before signing contracts).

4. Do you recommend any websites/blogs about working in Korea?

5. Can a qualified teacher like me just show up and find a job or is it always seasonal on schedule like hiring in August and in February?"

My answers:

If you're looking for advice about getting a university job in South Korea, check out my book:

How to Get a University Job in South Korea

It'll have all the information you need, and if not, send me another message and I'd be happy to help.

But, more specific answers:

1. Yes, 47 is a bit old but it's not impossible, especially if you look "young" for your age.  The prime age for most places is between about 25 and 40.

2. See the book!

3. It can go either way, depending on how adventurous you are.  It's often possible to find a better job when your boots are on the ground, but the job market is pretty tight for job-seekers these days and you can burn through a lot of money while waiting for the right one to come along.

4. Check my sidebar for a few blogs that I like.  As far as I know, nobody else is writing exclusively about teaching in Korean universities besides myself.

5. Universities hire seasonally, as well as public schools but hagwons hire year-round and you can literally start almost any week of the year.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Using Timelines-Present Perfect Continuous-Present Perfect

In my advanced conversation class, a chapter in Touchstone Level 3 has a section about the present perfect continuous and the present perfect.  It's actually pretty complicated grammar and not something that students can understand that easily.

For example, what is the difference between these two sentences?

1. "I've been watching Survivor since I was in university." (present perfect continuous)

2. "I've watched survivor since university." (present perfect)

Both are talking about repeated activities that happen mostly in the past, but what is the difference?  It's subtle.  In the first case, it's an activity that began in the past, but is still happening now.  In the second case, it's an activity that began in the past, but it's a bit ambiguous whether or not the activity is happening in the present.

To explain this to students, timelines can be really helpful. 

 Present Perfect Continuous



Present Perfect



Monday, November 17, 2014

How to Make Writing More Interactive

In one of my lower-intermediate conversation classes, we were studying about "evening routines" using Touchstone 2, Unit 8

I did the evening routine listening on page 83, and then followed it up with the writing exercise at the bottom of the page.  In order to make it more interactive, I did the following:

The students had to make 3 or 4 "test" questions based on what they wrote.  Then, they read what they wrote to their partner who had to listen carefully.  Finally, the student asked their partner the test questions.

It was quite useful in making "writing" more interesting than usual and also provided some additional listening, writing (questions) and speaking practice.  The test questions provided a reason to listen.  There were lots of laughs and smiles and good-natured joking when a student couldn't answer their partners questions, or got them wrong.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

There's never enough time!

Yes! I agree completely with this article in the Huffington Post about how, as teachers, we know what is ideal and all the fabulous assignments we should be giving and all those teachable moments we should be taking advantage of but how most days, it's just kind of like triage because there's never really enough of us to go around. 

Having 125+ students who all want 1-1 extensive feedback on their writing, or that same number of students who envision hours of "free-talking" with me, their teacher just doesn't work out if I want to have some semblance of life outside of work.  Triage is the only solution most days.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Fabulously Fun Relative Clause Speaking Activity

relative clause game
Relative Clause Speaking Activity

This week, my classes have been studying about using relative clauses.  The first class was heavy on the grammar with this quite serious self study relative clause worksheet and some writing practice based on these relative clause family and friend questions. For the second class, I wanted to lighten it up and bit and do some more kind of "fun" things, so I made this "Who or What is it?" game that the students really enjoyed. Here's how to do it:

Make a list of things or people and cut them up into little pieces and put them in an envelope.  Put the students in groups of 4 and the first person has to choose a paper at random and keep it secret. Then, they give hints about it, preferably using relative clauses.

For example, if they chose Barrack Obama, they could say things like, "This is a man who's from the USA." "I'm sure he's someone everyone knows." "He has a lot of power which he uses to influence the whole world."

The other 3 people on the team get to guess who it is and whoever guesses it correctly gets to keep the paper, gets 1 point and then is the next person who chooses a random paper and gives hints.

In order to avoid endless incorrect guesses, I said that if you made an incorrect guess, you were "out" of that round unless all the other people also had incorrect guesses, in which case it starts over.

I gave the students about 15 minutes and at the end, the person in each group with the most points got a small prize.

Check out this Ebook if you want to  get a University Job in South Korea

Free: 40 Tried and Tested ESL Games and Activities

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Quiet Time is Okay (or, I'm not an Edu-tainer)

A common thing that many English teachers in Korea fall into is feeling like they need to be an Edu-Tainer (Education Entertainer).  I think it's mostly because of how foreign English teachers are portrayed in the media: as clowns (Babos in Korean) or dancing monkeys.  This means that some teachers always feel the need to "perform" and keep the students entertained, excited and happy no matter what. 

I resist this at all costs for the following reasons:

1. I'm not naturally an "entertainer." I'm a bit shy and so being on stage isn't really something I crave or want. 

2. Learning can't always be "fun." Sometimes, you need to memorize vocab, or explore a difficult grammar concept in depth.

3. Students are different.  Some like being entertained, some like working quietly by themselves.

4. I'm all about student-centered classrooms.  An Edutainer is all about a teacher-centered classroom, which is something that I think is really bad for students.

5. I consider myself a "real" teacher.  I actually want my students to take my classes seriously and learn something.  I think this is probably best achieved by taking myself seriously as an educator and not falling into the Edutainer trap.

Check out this Ebook if you want to  get a University Job in South Korea

Monday, November 3, 2014

Touchstone Series: a Short Book Review

I used the Touchstone Seriesyears ago at my previous uni and remember hating it.  Like the pages were filled with all these "speak like a native speaker" sections which were just bizarre, and each page had so much stuff crammed into it that it usually stressed me out.  Maybe part of the problem was the program I was teaching in; I "shared" the book with other teachers and was assigned 1 or 2 pages/class so had to teach the pages I hated instead of just skipping over them like I normally would.

Anyway, it seems like a new edition has come out and Touchstone is not as terrible as it once was.  Plus, I usually just choose 1 or 2 pages out of each chapter and then add in my own material so the I just don't use the pages that I don't like.  I still much prefer a series like 4 Corners or World Link but I don't have any major complaints about Touchstone for a general, 4-skills kind of textbook.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Relative Clauses- Student-Centered Style

Relative clauses are important and we use them all the time in the English language.  Of course Native English speakers just use them naturally and rarely make mistakes and even use reduced relative clauses all the time without even noticing it.  The problem comes when teaching them to students because while important, it's also something that most students aren't really confident in, and it's also very heavy on the grammar and metalanguage (language used to talk about language-"reduced relative clause" for example).

So what to do? 

1. Skip that chapter in the book and save yourself a headache?  No! It actually is important and useful (for intermediate and advanced level students-I'm not sure I'd attempt this with beginners). 

2. Become a Powerpoint warrior?  No!  It goes against everything good and holy student-centered teaching.  It's the least effective teaching method and students usually just end up sleeping.

3. Attempt to teach it in a student-centered way?  Yes!  It seems like the best solution to me.

I made this Relative Clause Self-Study Worksheet in an attempt to get students to "discover" the grammar without me lecturing about it.  I'm going to point out the page in the book with the grammar explanation and direct students to refer to it if they are unsure; all of the students have studied this before so I'm hoping they can activate their prior knowledge.

After doing this worksheet, students will do a page in their book focusing on the forms (very controlled practice).  They'll compare with their partner first and then we'll check answers as a class.

Next, they'll think about 1 person-a friend or family member and write down 5 or 6 sentences about them, using relative clauses (2-3 object clauses and 2-3 subject clauses) (somewhat controlled but less than previous exercise).  They'll share with their partner who will think of some interesting follow-up questions.

Then, it's finally time for free(r)-practice!  I'll put this up on the screen: Friends and Family Relative Clause Discussion Questions and ask students to choose 2 or 3 questions to answer.  They can think of 3 or 4 sentences/ question, one of which must use a relative clause. They'll share their answers with their partner and have a discussion together.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Thinking about coming to Korea to Teach English as a Second Language?

teaching ESL Korea
Teaching ESL in South Korea

Maybe you've found your way to this blog through a Google search about Teaching ESL in South Korea.   On this site, I generally talk almost exclusively about things related to teaching at universities in South Korea, but here are some of my other sites that you might find helpful in making your decision:

Top 5 Reasons to Teach ESL in South Korea

Top 5 Reasons you Shouldn't Teach ESL in South Korea

(who doesn't like a bit of balance?!)

Top 10 ESL Teaching Myths

Check out this book if you want to  get a University Job in South Korea

Monday, October 27, 2014

Advanced level small classes of burnt-out students= Settlers of Catan

These past few weeks, I've had some classes of students who are preparing for internships in the USA who are burnt out.  They've been studying for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for the last 4 months or so and they've had enough.  The classes are getting smaller and smaller as students are going to the USA, having to prepare documents or going to the US embassy for interviews.

These days, it's only 3-5 students and all of them speak English extremely well so I decided it was time to teach them how to play Settlers of Catan.  I love playing board games and so anytime I can do it in class, I will!  Other teachers in this program are showing movies, chit-chatting about random stuff or going out for lunch so I don't exactly feel terrible about the lack of "serious-study."

Anyway, I gave a quick run-down of the rules in about 15 minutes, in English and they understood easily enough, despite the fact that none of them had played the game before.  We got set-up, with a bit of coaching from me about the initial placements and played a couple games.  The students seemed to really enjoy it and I did as well!  They even spoke English basically the entire time without any prompting from me, which I was impressed with.

Give it a try in your classes if you teach small groups of really high-level students.  They're usually so tired of the normal "conversation" classes that they'll probably be happy for a new challenge.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tefltastic: Fabulous ESL Games, Activities, Worksheet and other goodness

I was perusing the Internet this morning, searching for some fun activities or games to use in my classes to review the future verb tenses and I ran across TEFLtastic.  It is indeed quite a fantastic site and I found exactly what I was looking for here:

Future Tenses Games/Worksheets

It's almost like he does what I do, just better.  Check it out!