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