Monday, June 30, 2014

Summer is here

People that aren't teachers often don't really understand the tiredness that comes at the end of a long semester.  It's not that my job is physically demanding, or even especially mentally taxing, it's just that I'm on stage, performing in front of groups of 3-40 people for a lot of hours each week.  I always have to be "on," and while I try to minimize my teacher talking time because I'm all about the student-centered classroom, it's not like I sit at the front of the class inactively.'s tiring.  And, I'm always happy when vacation rolls around because I can breathe, and rest, and relax. 

Here are some tips for how to get refreshed before the new semester starts:

1. It's quite tempting to do overtime in vacations to make more money.  You don't need to resist this urge completely, but a happy balance is best.  Work a bit, and rest a bit.  I'll usually work intensively at a camp for 2-3 weeks during my 10 week vacation, or I'll try to work 8-12 hours/week for most of the vacation period. 

2. Go somewhere.  Even a trip somewhere in Korea is helpful.  I generally try to leave Korea and go somewhere fabulous in Asia.  It reminds me of my happy life here.

3. Try not to get too burnt out during the semester.  Boundaries are extremely helpful.

4. Finish your grading as soon as possible. Don't let that stuff linger on for longer than necessary. 

5. Schedule an intense planning session of 1-5 days (depending on courses taught, etc), rather than doing it gradually over the vacation.  If you do this, you'll always be working.

Reader Question: Work/Life Balance

"I was just reading your interesting blog on teaching English in a Korean university.  I was wondering if there are expectations for research on top of the usual teaching/admin?  Does it provide for a decent work-life balance?"

My short answer: No.  Yes.

My long answer:  No, there are generally no research requirements and teachers at Korean universities are more along the lines of "English Teachers" or "adjunct lecturers" than full-fledged "professors."  There are some exceptions of course because there are foreigners with PhDs who are teaching in their field of expertise and those people would definitely have different expectations.

Teaching in a Korean university provides an excellent work-life balance.  It's more of a part-time job if you don't do any overtime and just work the standard contract hours.  Most people work 3-4 days/week and get anywhere from 2-5 months vacation.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The best possible class you could ever imagine

Think about the ideal situation for a class that you could teach.  It's interesting to think about and the reality that most of us find ourselves in is perhaps quite different.  Thankfully, in my current job, most of the classes that I teach meet many of these "ideal class criteria."  And, there are plentiful overtime opportunities at my uni that allow me to choose extra work that I find interesting.

Anyway, here are my top 10 ideal class criteria.  What are yours?

1. Class size= 10-16.  Any less can get boring and become too small if a few people drop-out for whatever reason.  Any larger can be hard to manage sometimes in terms of admin/grading, etc.

2. Student Motivation=high.  This usually is because the class is a voluntary one of some sort.

3. Student age=adults.

4. Class content= not conversation.  Basically anything is more interesting to me than basic conversation, even TOIEC prep classes.

5. Class content=something I haven't taught before.  I like the challenge of it and it's always good to add new courses to the resume.

6. Admin= hands-off.  Ideally, I could teach whatever the students need, however will best help them.  Teaching a certain page on a certain day, or covering a certain amount of material for a test isn't ideal.

7. Class format=structured.  I like lesson plans.  Students like a teacher with a plan.  My worst nightmare is a class which consists of "free-talking."  It's not really a class-it's just a waste of time.

8. Class time=between 10am and 7pm.  Earlier is tough, as is later due to tiredness (students and me!).

9. Book=optional.  It's best if I can choose it myself or design my own.

10. Multimedia.  I teach using various things including: PPT, podcasts, videos, Internet, smartphones, etc.  I would struggle a bit to teach in a classroom not set up for this.

Ideal classes can be found in Korean Universities.  Check out this book about how to get a University Job in South Korea

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The 4-hour killer class

This summer and going on into the fall, I'm teaching in this Internship preparation program where there are 4 hour classes, with the same teacher and same students.  It's a bit killer on the teacher, as well as the students but I try to make it as painless as possible.  The temptation is to just do 2 or 3 different, random things but I try to avoid that if possible and have some sort of coherent theme holding everything together.  Here's the rough sketch of my lesson for today:

Topic: Youth Unemployment.

1. Warm-up riddles.  Lots of students come late so I do some riddles for 5-10 minutes while people stream in.  This was the only unrelated thing.

2. Warm-up discussion questions about youth unemployment.  Talking with a partner and then the whole class together.

3. Reading-first time.  Quickly and some true/false questions. Compare with partner and then whole class.

4. Reading-second time.  Slowly and some difficult comprehension questions.  Talk with partner

5. Youth Unemployment Video-first time.  What is the program?  Talk with partner and then whole class.

6. Video-second time.  Would this program work in Korea?  Talk with partner and then with whole class.

7. Kiva Micofinance Organization.  Show the website and talk about what they do, watch their short video, etc.  Choose someone to "lend" money to.

8. Speech time.  Brainstorm ways to reduce youth unemployment in Korea.  Groups of 4. Each person choose their favorite and prepare a 2 minute speech about why it's the best solution.  Give speech to group and other 3 members must ask a difficult question.

Finish!  It was quite painless overall :)

Free: 40 Tried and Tested ESL Games and Activities

Sunday, June 22, 2014

2 Icebreaker Activities

Tomorrow I start the classes that I'll be teaching for the rest of the summer and into the fall semester.  They're students who are preparing for international internships, so they are reasonably high-level.  I want to spend the first couple hours in a relaxed kind of way, getting to know the students and letting them get to know me and each other.  Here's what I decided to do:

1. 2 truths and a lie.  We've all played this game before I'm sure.  The adaptation that I add to it is the question period time.  Depending on class size, you can give the students 2-5 minutes to "interrogate" each person about their statements to help determine which one is false.  It adds a fun element to it.  I get the students to vote on which one is false, and if they're correct, they get a point.  They keep track and we determine who in the best detective in the class.

2. The expert speed-dating.  Have the students think of 5 things that they know a lot about.  Then, choose 3 that they think will be most interesting to the other students in the class.  Then, they have to talk with a partner for 3-4 minutes about those topics in a speed-dating kind of way.  The timer goes off and they have to switch partners again.  It's a fun way for the students to get to know each other and they can actually talk about things that are more interesting than where they're from or what their major is.

Check out ESL Icebreaker Activities for some more ideas.

Free: 40 Tried and Tested ESL Games and Activities

Friday, June 20, 2014

English Teacher X=superstar

I'm a huge fan of English Teacher X and having read a few of his books, I can stand behind his advice 100%.  If you're looking to get into teaching English, you couldn't go wrong with any of these:

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Final's that time of year

The day has come when I can start to enter my final grades.  Since it's my 14th round, I've gleaned a few tips over the years that I can share with you:

1. Online programs, while fancy and cool don't necessarily save you time.  I used to use Google Spreadsheets but now I just go old-school with pen and paper.  My uni makes me submit a paper form filled out with attendance and all the grades, so it seems pointless to do my work twice and use some computer based thing.

BUT, if you do this style: be careful!  After you enter a grade, make sure you photocopy your papers and then store it in a separate location.  I keep one copy in my attendance folder in my "work-bag" and then one copy in my desk in my office.  If I lose my bag, or the building burns down, all is not lost.

2. Make your life simple.  If the final exam is worth 25%, grade it out of 25 points.  Homework is 10 points?  Yep, mark it out of 10 points.

3. Make your grading system simple enough that even the weakest student in the class understands it.  And then explain the system ( probably did in the first class already) in one of the final classes.  That way, the students can roughly calculate their own grades and you won't have so many questions to answer.

4. Tell the students that the only time you will change a grade is because of calculation error.  Parents being angry or not getting a scholarship will never result in me changing a grade and sending the email is a waste of time. 

5. Don't procrastinate!  It's annoying, but just be done with it and then enjoy your vacation.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

5 signs of a sketchy hagwon

I always get lots of questions from people contemplating a move to Korea and a lot of them seem quite apprehensive.  And not without good reason: there are indeed a multitude of horror stories about teaching ESL in Korea, especially at Hagwons (private institutes).  A decade ago when I came to Korea for the first time, the Internet was a thing but there certainly wasn't that much information on it about specific schools in Korea.  These days however, it's very easy to find specific information about a certain school, even a small one out in the countryside.  Google and Facebook are your best friends in this case.

Anyway, here are my top 5 signs of a sketchy hagwon:

1. You are the only foreign teacher.  If you are a newbie to Korea, this will probably end up being your worst nightmare.  The more foreigners, the better when you're a newbie.  As long as you're not a total freak, you'll have an instant group of friends and people to help you settle in. 

2. The contract is too vague.  Things like not listing working days (Monday-Friday) or working hours (between 10:00am-6:00pm or something like that).  The contract should also list %'s for things like tax, health care and pension.  And, there should be mention of how a "teaching hour" is calculated.

3. They have a bad reputation on the Internet.  It's probably for good reason.  If it's only one bad report, take it with a grain of salt.  But, more than that?  Steer clear.  The Facebook group for the expats in that city is a good place to start your research because they'll have "boots on the ground."  

4. They're a new school.  Financial troubles often cause new schools to close within the first few months or year.  You'll lose your job, as well as your housing, bonus and airplane ticket home.

5. Flights and housing are still standard for Korean hagwons.  A contract without these things would have to offer a ridiculously high salary. And a contact with no mention of health care or pension?  Sketchy!  These things are mandatory and all foreign workers should have them.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Sites I use to make my own "textbook"

This summer, I'm doing an internship preparation program for students who will be working in the USA.  I was given total freedom to teach whatever I wanted to teach, based on whatever book I wanted to use.  I chose not to use a textbook, for reasons I explained in my last post.  Instead, I compiled my own book, using the following sites:

1. ESL Writing.  I particularly like the listening stuff.

2. Breaking News English.  I mostly use the 2-page "mini-lessons."

3. Film English. Fabulous lesson plans based on short videos to be found here.

4. Business English Pod. This is my go-to site for everything job interviews.

5. My own lesson plans that I've used for various classes.  Examples:  Renewable Energy,  South Korea's Education System, and Problems with Studying Abroad.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Textbooks: it's a toss-up

I remember back in the olden days when I was just starting out as a teacher, I felt like I NEEDED a textbook, because without it, what could I possibly do in class to fill the time? It just seemed so complicated and stressful to have to figure out what the students needed and were interested in and then design my own materials.  But, as I've become a more experienced teacher, the less I've relied upon textbooks and if given a choice, there's probably a 50-50 chance of whether I'll use a textbook for a given class or not. 

I'll generally use a textbook in the following situations:

1. I'm inexperienced in teaching the subject matter.  This semester, I was given 3 sections of advanced academic writing.  Although I've taught writing before, I've never gone this in depth with it.

2. It is a content based class.  For example, if I were teaching an intro to psychology class in English, I for sure would use a textbook of some kind.  

3.  If forced to.  Most unis in Korea have some sort of mandatory textbook that they require you to at least pretend to use.

4. It's an exam preparation class, such as TOIEC speaking or something of that sort.  It's just too time consuming to come up with enough practice questions on my own without this.

If given a choice, I'll never use a textbook in the following situations:

1. A conversation class.  I find it much more interesting and useful to just design lessons around themes of some sort.  Structural based syllabi, upon which many textbooks are based are bad news in my opinion.

2. Advanced level students.  Authentic materials (real newspaper articles or youtube videos for example) are much better for these students than inauthentic stuff from a textbook.

3. A current events or contemporary issue in society kind of class.  How can you use a textbook for this?  It's far more interesting to talk about stuff that's actually in the news today.

For more details about this topic, check out Teaching Unplugged by Scott Thornbury, which is the first (and only?) book to deal comprehensively with Dogme ELT.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Kotesol International Conference 2014

Mark your calendars my faithful blog readers.  Oct. 3-5 2014 is the Kotesol International Conference 2014 in Seoul.

AND, I'll be presenting on the topic of, "Portfolios as a means of assessing EFL writing." 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Only positive....or flying under the radar

My theory about work-related stuff is one of two things:

1. Only positive interaction when necessary.

2. If it's not necessary, just fly under the radar.

What am I talking about?  Let me give you an example: last night was my end of the semester work dinner.  Now, my school TRULY does not have a lot of social activities/meetings.  Usually around 4 times/year, which is actually extremely minimal compared to all the other places I've worked in Korea.  And the thing is, there were some people who actually didn't come for various dubious excuses or another.  It's not like it was terrible: it was a delicious, free dinner with all the alcohol you could drink. 

It's all so bizarre to me.  Some dinner and some drinks go a long way to making life happier at a Korean university. And it's a 100% positive interaction with the admins.  And, it's not "mandatory" but it actually kind of is, so it's not one of those things you can just skip and try to fly under the radar.  Like people actually notice.   Whatever.  Each to their own I guess, but if you skip stuff like this, don't be surprised when your contract doesn't get renewed for some reason or another, or you get no lucrative OT offers, or you don't get classes beyond the freshman English.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Avoiding giving more than you have to give

Today is boundaries, part 3.  I've previously talked about:

Today is all about students who are actually my students, by which I mean the ones who are actually in my for-credit classes, like you know the ones that the students actually pay tuition for.  In previous years, I taught mostly freshman English and they will generally do almost anything they possibly can to avoid talking to the foreigner.  However, now that I've moved to the English department, students actually want to talk to me (all the time) and they would suck me dry if they could.  Like until I was literally a pile of bones on the floor, unable to speak or move or think.  I obviously want to avoid this.  Here are my tips:

1. You should give students some of your time and having office hours and meeting with students is actually part of the job of a "professor."  But, try to meet with students only during your set office hours, if at all possible.

2. NEVER make appointments with students in the rushed 3 or 4 minutes before or after class.  Ask them to email you with some possible times.  They usually won't because their urgent request is usually something that is due that evening or early the next morning.  This follows under the category of, "Your last minute problem and stress does not need to become my problem and stress."

3. Have strict due-date deadlines and then a severe penalty for missing it.  Mine is usually: -100%.  Harsh, yes but I plan out my grading times and feel really annoyed about stuff trickling in on student's schedules and not my own.  But, I do give students 2-3 weeks notice of due dates for each assignment so there is no possible last-minute excuse that could work.  And, if submitting stuff via email, I'll usually give students a grace period of 12 hours or so.  Like due at midnight, but I won't enforce a penalty if they submit it to me by the next day when I actually get around to grading it.

4. Grading.  Do NOT get into the habit of re-grading stuff.  I have to grade essays this semester, which can seem quite subjective.  So, when I hand them back, I make a big show of how students can re-submit their essay for grading again, but they could the same score, or higher, or LOWER.  And, I tell them that I won't overlook anything, but will go over it with my red pen looking for every single grammar, vocab and punctuation error that I kindly overlooked the first time.  Number of essays re-submitted for grading this semester:  0/400.

5. Grading: do it quickly.  Like in 2-3 days if at all possible.  Students appreciate it and you won't have it hanging over you causing stress and worried students contacting you all the time.

6. Phone number.  I have given it out in the past, but I haven't this semester.  Students can contact me via email or twitter and I promise to respond within 12 hours.  Phone numbers mean text messages, phone calls and Kakao messages which students expect an instant response to.  There is NEVER an English teaching emergency, hence the lack of need to respond to anything immediately.

7. Take a deep breath.  Your job is actually pretty chill.  So chill out.  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

English interview class-videos

One of my favorite homework activities for an "interview skills" class is to have the students make a video.  We practiced a few things in class like "self-introduction" and strengths/weaknesses and then for homework the students had to make a video of around 2-3 minutes answering these 3 questions.  I like it for the following reasons:

1. I have 40 students in my class.  Individual feedback is almost impossible in class.  I also have a chance to give them feedback before the final exam (a practice job interview).

2.  The students actually have to pull their stuff together instead of just bluffing their way through it like is possible in class.

3. It's kind of a high-pressure situation, like a job interview.

4. The students have a chance to see/hear themselves.  We've talked about things like body language, speaking with confidence, etc so my hope is that they can apply this to themselves.

5. It's kind of novel.  Korean students love using their cellphones!

Try it out!  But, one tip.  Don't have the students send you the actual file.  That's annoying and maybe bad for your computer.  Get them to put it on youtube or naver blog and send you the link.  It's reasonably easy and all students seem to be able to figure it out.  I tell the students that they can delete it as soon as I send them an email with their grade/comment.

Minimum Wage in Korea Lesson Plan

This is a speaking/reading lesson plan for advanced level students.  My class is 2 hours but you could adapt it for shorter or longer, especially if the students read the article before coming to class. 

Should the Minimum Wage be Increased lesson plan.  It's based on this article in the Korea Herald.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Preventing Plargiarism when teaching writing

There's a thread over on the foreign professors in Korea Facebook group about blatant plagiarism on writing assignments.  Some of the stuff is pretty shocking, but other attempts are definitely more subtle in nature. 

Anyway, here's how I deal with it.  I only have 2 "at-home" assignments, both worth 10% of the final grade, for a total of 20%.  I give extremely specific topics for a very specific type of essay, word-counts and requirements for things like thesis statements and topic sentences.  I guess some students could cheat on this, but it would be quite difficult.  And even if they could, it's only 20% of their final grade so I'm not really worried about it.  It would be impossible for a student to cheat their way to an A in my class.

The bulk of their grade (50%) consists of in-class exams that consist of actually writing an essay in 50 minutes.  I give the students a list of about 25 possible topics and then a topic is randomly assigned to them depending on what desk they happen to sit at.  I only allow paper or electronic dictionaries and not cell-phones, so it's impossible to upload sample essays or something like that.

It works for me, but I understand it's a pretty intense way to do exams in a writing class.  The students don't love it, but I think that the better students actually appreciate the fairness of it and that the students who can actually write will get the higher grades, while those who are terrible can't bluff their way through it by getting a native speaker to write an essay for them, or something like that.

Portfolio Update

This semester in my advanced writing classes, the students were required to do a "portfolio" which included all the writing that they did in class and outside of class as well and counted for 20% of their final grade.  They were supposed to do things like extra practice essays, keep a journal, or do a movie review.  They also had to keep track of how many times they received feedback on their writing in my office or in the school's "Global Zone."

I've been grading them the past couple days and some students have done exceedingly well.  It's quite obvious they have taken responsibility for improving their writing and have done A LOT of extra work each week.  And, it's also obvious that some students have done essentially nothing, even in class during things like the "free-writing" time I give them at the beginning of each class.

What I'm really loving about it is how easy grading is.  It only takes me around 5 minutes/ portfolio to flip through it and get a general idea of how the student has been doing in the class and how much extra writing they've done.  It's a VERY easy way to get students to do a lot of writing, without physically having to grade it all, which would be impossible for me to do with over 100 students.