Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A reader question about the Celta

This one from Jill:
 "At the moment I am seriously considering a teaching job in Korea-preferably in or near Seoul and preferably in Uni or Public school. I have teaching credentials but no ESL Cert. Do you think I should get the Celta?"

 The Cambridge Celta is the standard in the one-month ESL teaching programs.  Of course, having a Masters degree in Tesol or something is better, but if you don't have the time, money, or inclination then this is the next best thing.  That is, if you want to go teach in almost any country besides Korea.  I cruise the ESL Cafe international jobs board periodically and it seems like almost any job in Europe, South America, the Middle East, many parts of Asia want a Celta certificate along with a uni degree.  Koreans, even English teaching professionals generally don't even know what the Celta is and will often hire people based on appearance vs. actual qualifications.  So my advice for you?  Spend the Celta money to hire a professional photographer to take the picture that you will attach to your resume.  Only kind of joking. 

Actually, if you are serious about teaching, then the Celta is a very good thing to do.  You will learn how to teach ESL and make it work in the classroom.  I've basically only heard good things about the course.  So, do it for your own improvement but don't expect it to get you anything in terms of pay or additional job offers in Korea.  And...if you work in public schools, there are pay scales.  Having a Celta will get you an additional 100 000 a month or something like that.  But so will a cheap-o 100-hour online thing :)

More on teacher evaluations

...this time about public school Korean co-teacher's evaluations of the native English speaking teacher.

Read the article first, and I'll also add my $0.02.  I've never taught in a public school but have had numerous friends who have.  It's a mixed bag.  Just like any job you work at, there are the lazy people, the conscientious people, the incompetent people, the kind and sweet people, the racist people and the plain evil people.

Your co-teacher (s) at a public school may be kind and sweet, but can't speak English.  This could work out okay with only some minor frustrations.  Your co-teacher could be totally competent and speak flawless English, having lived overseas for 5 years, so she even understands your culture and where you're coming from.  This is ideal.  Your co-teacher could be a racist old ajosshi who hates foreigners and doesn't speak English and resents having you in his life and his classroom.  This is the nightmare situation.  You could have the lazy co-teacher who smokes all the time and who you literally never see, even when you're supposed to be "co-teaching."    Your co-teacher could be entirely clueless about communicative, task-based teaching, as perhaps you are as well so perhaps you will have a bad year.

So, the idea that these Korean co-teachers evaluate the native English speakers seems good on paper but in practice, it's kind of ridiculous.

And, kind of as an aside, if you're thinking of coming to Korea, know this: even public schools are a bit of a crapshoot.  While you will get paid on time every month (usually), and not ripped off (usually), depending on your co-teacher, your year here could be a living hell.  Or, if could be delightful and happy.  Who knows.

Task-Based Teaching

While cruising the internet, I came across this helpful site from David Nunan.  It looks like an online course that is currently underway.  So far, only lesson one is up on the site but it looks like the other ones will be up soon.  He has a helpful summary of two different approaches to methodology:

"Transmission model
The first approach is known as the transmission model of learning. The word 'transmission' captures the philosophy of the approach. 'To transmit' is to send someone from one person or place to another. So this approach involves sending something, in this case knowledge, from a teacher to a learner. The teacher knows - the student doesn't. The teacher's job is to recreate the knowledge in the mind of the student. The philosophy leads naturally to a teacher-centered classroom in which the learners are passive recipients of input fed into them by the teacher. Language classrooms predicated on this approach are characterized by rote learning, memorization, and repetition.

Experiential model
The alternative view is that the transmission approach simply doesn't work, that if someone is to learn, then they have to do the learning for themselves. This approach is know as experiental learning. The role for the teacher is to create the conditions through which this can happen. Again, the label ' experiential' gives a clue as to the essence of the philosophy. Learners learn through active experiences in the classroom – 'learning by doing'. This philosophy leads to learner-centered classrooms in which learners acquire skills (rather than memorize facts) through hands-on experiences. Methodologically, students will engage in role plays, simulations and other active learning tasks. (For a comprehensive overview of this approach, see Kohonen, 1992.)"

In many traditional subject areas in the humanities or social sciences, learning happens mostly through transmission.  Your teacher knows more about history than you do, and he or she transmits that information to you.  In other areas though, such as physical education, music, or even engineering, science you learn through an experiential model.  Playing sports, an instrument or by time spent in the lab working out problems.  

I think both the transmission as well as experiential models have their place in the esl/efl classroom.  Some things, such as vocabulary or verb conjugations just need to be memorized.  There is really no way around it.  But, the need for this transmission model is really quite minimal, and indeed it must be if the learning is to be long-lasting, beyond the final exam.  Language is impossible to separate from the experiences of daily life in which it's used and so it's the role plays and real-life learning situations of the experiential model that prove most helpful.   How does this practically work itself out in my classroom?

1. I will almost never have a class discussion where the students talk with me directly unless there are less than about 5 students in the class.  I will ALWAYS put them in partners or groups of 3, have them talk amongst themselves about whatever we're discussing that day and then I'll poll a representative from each group to tell me and the class what they talked about.  This way, I'm in the background and the students are responsible for their own learning/progress.  I provide feedback through the answers I get at the end.  I will usually not correct mistakes unless they blatantly inhibit understanding, or more than 1 person makes the same mistake.

2.  I use role plays involving real life situations.  I'll usually start the students off with few beginning lines of a conversation, give them about 15 minutes to finish the conversation, memorize and then present to the class.  I act as a resource, not the center of the activity.

3. I play a lot of games in my class.  This again puts me in the background and I like how it mimics real life.  The students have to understand directions about how to play, in English.  Then, they will receive a handout or set of cards or something, all in English and they need to figure out what to do.  It puts the responsibility for understanding onto the students.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Some Musings on Student Evaluations of Teachers

If you've taught at a Korean uni, you know the student evaluations definitely have an impact upon your renewal prospects, with some unis more than others obviously.  In Korea, unis are definitely in the business of offering a service: "education" to the students.  It's a world where students are king, and such things as the senior being excused from all classes because they got a job, or a senior being unable to fail any of their last year's classes happens.  Anyway, the result is that the teacher in Korea often feels forced to cater to the whims of students and become more of an entertainer than an educator in order to get high scores from the students.  It's a tough line to walk sometimes.   From the New York Times Website.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"How are you today?"

In all my classes, I try to elicit a student question for me, in response to a question I've asked.  Example: at the beginning of my smaller classes (less than 10), I'll usually ask students, "How are you today?" for lower levels or "What's happening/ what's up?" for the higher level classes.  I'll go around the class and then when everyone is finished, I'll just wait.  Someone will have to ask me the same question.  I try to always give a very vague but interesting answer so that students want to know more information and will ask me some questions.

In real-life use of a language, it's not just one person ask, the other one responds.  It's a back and forth kind of thing, so I try to model this in the classroom.  And actually, you might be surprised at how weak most Korean students are at asking simple questions, since they've generally never been expected to do this before.  This is a simple step in the right direction. 

Just finish the contract...

A story from Brian in Jeollanam-Do about this guy working for a Busan public school.  He got a uni job, so gave his resignation, effectively only working 3 months out of his year-long contract.  The local school board got wind of it, talked to the uni, who withdrew their offer and now he's out of a job. 

My take on it?  Just finish your one-year contract.  If you're a sucker and take a job that is not the best, put in your time and look for greener pastures for your second year.  You should have done more research before you came to Korea (my research place of choice is ESL Cafe Korean job forums). The exception of course is if your school provides inadequate housing, steals your money, doesn't provide health insurance, etc.  But if things are generally okay and above board, do the time. 

There are always uni jobs to be had for September and March (the majority at this time because it's the start of the academic year).  If your timing is bad, take a vacation for a month or two or do a summer/winter camp somewhere or extend for a month or two at your hagwon (most will be open to this).  Or, if you have an eye on a uni job, and plan on that for your second year (to get a uni job in your first year is extremely rare in Korea), plan to start a public school or hagwon job in Aug/Sept or Feb/March for your first year.  Then the timing will all work itself out. 

Anyway, no sympathy from me! 


So in an effort not to idle my summer away watching TV and doing other such useless things, I've begun a plan of self-improvement, covering various areas.  Part of this is a quest to improve upon my  teaching English abilities.  My plan is to watch a video or read an article of some sort, everyday and reflect on the ideas learned.  This article is from Dr. Andrew Finch called "Group Testing-Student-Designed Tests."  You can find it at Learning for Life in the academic corner.   While I'm not sure about the idea as a whole, one quote on page 2 got me thinking:

"Any test that is used in any English class must have a definite purpose, since tests are intrinsically threatening and can cause undesirable levels of anxiety and worry, which can harm the learning process."

In other articles of his I've read, he talks a lot about the classroom conditions necessary for a student to learn English.  One of the big ones is that it's relaxed and students don't feel stress.  I would most definitely agree.  I think "vibe" is hugely important in learning a second language.  If the classroom atmosphere is happy, fun, and friendly, students will want to interact with you and each other.  If it's stressful and scary, the last thing anyone will want to to do is open their mouth.

A couple years ago, I did a biweekly review test of the previous unit, at the start of the class.  And that semester things did not go so well in many of my classes but I could never quite figure out why.  I have a feeling that a test, to start every other class just led to too much stress in the classroom and no matter what I did, it just lingered even when the test was done.

So, what am I saying?  I'm considering doing away with written tests altogether for next semester as kind of an experiment.  I'm not sure how much students actually learn for the long-haul when studying for them.  On the other hand, interesting projects or assignments, alone or in a group seem to be much more helpful.  I'm thinking of a breakdown like this:

1. Participation/attendance =20%

2. Midterm speaking test (assignment?) =20%

3. Final exam speaking test (assignment?) =20%

4. Internet Homework.  I want to create forums and then post a question each week that they have to write up a few sentences in response to.

5. A group Project.  I'm thinking of getting the students to teach a 15 minute "review session" of each unit.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Describing People (or anything for that matter)

A simple warm-up game that you can use to generate some interest in this topic that is often review for many students.  Make up a handout with pictures or names of famous people (around 20 is good).  Give some hints, such as,  "He's American," "He's black," "He's a sport player," "He plays golf."  By this time the students will have guessed Tiger Woods.    They will then cross Tiger Woods off their list.  Turn it over to the students and they will take turns describing the people to each other.

This game would also work for almost any topic (animals/food/clothes, etc)

Sunday, June 20, 2010


...until the last week of August, so there may be sparse updates on here.  I'm usually inspired to write by things that happen in the classroom.  In the meantime, check out my personal blog, Just Wandering for my travels and happenings this summer.

Monday, June 14, 2010

It's a choice

So I was talking recently to one of my friends who is teaching here in Korea about the dilemma of failing students at a uni.  It seems that not many of the Korean professors will do it, and will almost never do it to a senior.  You pay the money, come to 11/16 classes, and you get the degree is generally how it works around here.

Now, my class standards are low.  Shockingly low compared to what I went through in Canada.  They are in completely different stratospheres actually.  You'll pass my class if you come to *most* of the classes, show up for the 2 written, and 2 speaking tests (having studied for an hour or two before-and I give them the questions beforehand), and do 2 homework assignments that take about an hour each.  That's it.  But, at least 10% of each class can't quite manage this and end up with astoundingly low grades of like 24%.  So, I fail them.

Then, they will inevitably come to my office with the, "I'm sorry teacher, my father is very angry, please help me, sorry, sorry, sorry."  It used to pull at my heart strings until my friend helped me shift my thinking.  Now, I use the, "It was your choice."  It was your choice, my student whether to come to class or play with your friend,  or sleep in.  It was your choice whether to leave early enough to allow for a busy shuttle bus or to cut it too close so you missed the class.   It was your choice to pick a school that was 3 hours away from your house.   It was your choice to do the homework or not.  I'm not your mother to be chasing after you for it.  It was your choice to cheat on the exam, so that I had to give you a zero.  It was your choice to just skip the exam and lose the 15% that went along with it.  It was your choice to not study for the test, even when I give you the questions ahead of time.  It was your choice to not try hard to speak English in class so that you had no participation points. It was all just your choice and now, once it's too late, and you have an "F," it's not my problem, it's yours, my students.  See you next year perhaps.  

What is easy is not always the best

I had an interesting conversation with a co-worker today about how to work the communicative approach but still get good student evaluations. He said (and I'd agree) that most Korean students just like to show up, get their grade for attendance, let you tell them the answers and pages to study for the test, memorize a few key things and be done with it. Actually learning English through engaging with it in a real kind of way is secondary. And I can understand, because for most of them learning English isn't really necessary at all. And so if you give in and appease them with this teaching style that essentially demands nothing of them, you'll probably get very good evaluations, which get looked at pretty closely during contract renewal time.

But I think other styles can work, although they are a bit harder to implement at the beginning. Basically, in a 90 minute class, I will talk in front of the class for about 5-10 minutes. Usually about 5 minutes explaining grammar, and about 5 more minutes on admin stuff and explaining activities. Although this style is not what Korean students are used to, in the end I think it puts the responsibility for learning English back into the student's hands. I'm more or a guide than a guru, which Koreans don't really understand at first. But by the end of the semester, most of my students say that my class is their favorite one out of all their uni classes or the best English class they've ever taken.

Friday, June 4, 2010

It explains a lot

Let's just say this: That when you're teaching at a middle of the road or low end uni in Korea, you're not exactly teaching the brightest and the best as you might be back home.  A shockingly high 82 % of high school graduates go to uni in Korea.

Wow. I thought it was high but I had no idea it was this high.  No wonder college eduated people are working at cell-phone shops, driving taxis, arranging flowers and cutting hair. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A fun activity about travel

This week, in World Link Book 1 we were learning about travel and places to go on vacation.  For a fun activity, I put them in groups of four and gave them a little assignment:

Choose a place your group wants to go on vacation (outside Korea).  Why do you want to go there?  What season do you want to go and why?  What are you doing to do there (3 or 4 things)?  Are there any special clothes or things you need to bring? 

I gave the groups 15 minutes and then I had one person in each group report their answers to the class and I wrote a quick summary on the board.  I gave a small prize to the groups with the most interesting answers.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

English teachers from India

An interesting new development from K-land.  I'm not so sure this will really pan out.  Moms seem to love the white face, blond hair and blue eyes here in Korea and black/Asians have generally had a hard time finding jobs here, even if they are from North America.  Indians, generally equated with migrant workers and therefore lower on the social totem pole (in Korean thinking...not mine!), might have an even tougher go at it.