Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Preparing for your interview

And another question from Paul:

"I found your blog very useful and so thought I would ask if you have any recommendations/tips on what to prepare for in an interview with a Korean university?"

I am not an expert on this topic, having not actually been to many Korean uni interviews.  A basic search on Google or ESL Cafe Korean Job Forums could be quite fruitful.  And in fact, I do remember this having been discussed a number of times on ESL Cafe.

However, I'll tell you what my experience (and that of friends as well) has been.  

1. Be prepared to answer questions that you'd think are way too personal and potentially offensive.  It's a different world here.  For example you'll likely hear stuff about religion/significant others/age/health.

2. Unis are looking for long-term people (usually!).  If you give the impression that you're a backpacker here for only a year or two, you won't get the job. 

3. Some unis require a teaching demo, even if they don't tell you ahead of time.  I've heard of it being sprung upon people and they've had to come up with something on the spot.  Be prepared for a 5-10 minute lesson. 

4. I got a lot of questions about ethical kind of stuff.  A student is caught cheating.  A student wants to come over to your house.  If it's not obvious, a safe answer would be, "What is the university policy...I'm prepared to follow it, whatever it is."

5. Bring all your documents.  Schools will likely not hire someone who doesn't have all their stuff together and who they can't start the visa process for right away. 

6. Smile a lot.  Be outgoing and friendly.  Koreans love this in a teacher.

7. And this should go without saying but some people are not so smart.  Wear a suit!  All the interviewers will be wearing one.  With dress shoes.  And a jacket.  And a briefcase/professional looking bag for your documents.  Leave the backpack and sandals and crap like that at home. 

And of course, reading a book on the topic never hurt anyone I'm sure:

That's all I got for now.  Readers...any more hints?

Maximum number of years at a uni

 A reader question from Paul:

"I am concerned about being told that Korean universities have a mandatory firing policy after 4 or 5 years.  I plan to be here for the long term so wonder if it is even worth my while to consider working at a university if this policy is indeed in place."

I periodically cruise the Korean job ads on ESL Cafe and many unis do indeed have this kind of policy.   As far as I know, there is no official government policy concerning this.  However, there is a pension thing going on.  In your 5th year, as a member of the Korean teacher's pension plan (of which many unis belong to), your school has to pay a substantially bigger amount of money (like 50% of your contribution as opposed to 5% in years 1-4).  Now, I can't claim to be an expert on this whole thing and this is really only my guess as to why schools have this policy.  Hopefully some of the readers can enlighten us further. 

What I do know is that some of my coworkers have been at my school for 10 years or more.  And a few other schools that I know around my area don't have any sort of policy either and people have been there for decades. 

So ask before the interview and find out if your school has this policy and don't waste your time on schools that do. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Low level classes

They are all too common in Korea, especially at the mid-low level unis.  Combine this with the generally shy and un-talkative Korean students scared of embarrassing themselves in the world of extreme Confucianism and you end up with this nightmarish story from A Geek in Korea. 

Some interesting stats...

...on who the English teachers in Korea actually are.  From Gusts of Popular Feeling.

Visa changes for teachers in Korea

From the Joongang Daily.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The photocopy machine

For some teachers, it seems to be their best friend.  And I'm the first to admit, that in my first year of teaching it was my best friend too.  I was teaching kindergarten /elementary school kids and was clueless as to how to go about this.  My school offered no real practical help, nor did the books we used, which filled about 2 out of the 20 hours that I was allotted to teach each class, each month.  I had never taken a training class or read any books about teaching ESL.  So, I had a lot of  class time to fill.  I did this by handouts.  Coloring, math worksheets, whatever I could find in the teacher's room.  The connection to English teaching was quite vague.  I'm sure you can extrapolate from this that I was a very ineffective teacher and whatever the kids learned was in spite of me, not because of me.

After 5 years of teaching in Korea, I hope that I do a lot better job at teaching than I did back then.  And I'm pretty sure that I do.  Do I still use the photocopier?  Occasionally...perhaps once for every 4 classes that I have.  World Link, the main book I teach from has an excellent Teacher's Resource Book with games and activities for the students that are interactive and communicative.  Smart Choice, the other book I use a lot has an okay workbook that I will use once in a while by way of review.

Some of my coworkers seem to make a handout or copy some sort of puzzle or game for every class that they do.  I've even seen some of them sitting in the corner reading a book after they've given the papers out.  It makes me question their effectiveness as a teacher.   It's mostly just laziness that makes teachers resort to the photocopier.  It's an instant lesson plan as opposed to thinking and processing how to make the given material interesting, relevant and engaging.  It's easier in class too.  You can just give the handout, sit back and relax for the rest of the class as opposed to an interactive, communicative lesson where you need to keep the energy up and keep the class moving along and on task.  But is it good for the students?

NO!  Of course it's not for the following reasons:

1. When you have a handout, you don't really need to process and think and debate and wonder about the language.  You just circle whatever answer you think is maybe okay.  This is no way contributes to meaningful use of the language.

2. Language is a social thing and learning it happens in dialogue.  If you're doing all this paper busywork, then you're not really engaging and learning.

3. The 4 language skills are writing/speaking/listening/reading.  I try to do activities that use at least 2, and hopefully 3 or 4 of these skills.  Worksheets?  They might cover one, if that. 

4. It's boring. 

So, to sum it all up.  Photocopier does not equal toxic in low doses IF the things copied are chosen with care.  Used everyday?  It's just laziness and I'd question how much learning is actually happening in the class.

Teaching Writing

As an ESL Teacher, this is one of the hardest things to teach for the following reasons:

1. Sometimes teachers are not that great at writing themselves (see the poor grammar/spelling on Korean forums at ESL Cafe/ hopefully not on this blog!) 

2. It requires serious content based teaching.  For conversation classes, a little chit-chat here and there counts as "learning/teaching."  For a writing class, it doesn't so substantially more prep is required.

3. Students can often "fake it" in a conversation class but in a writing class, it's all down on paper for the world to see and mistakes are made in an obvious kind of way. 

4. The students in a writing class all have very different needs.  And even if they are at similar levels in their conversational abilities, the spread in writing ability can be huge. 

5. It easy to make boring and difficult to make interesting, as opposed to conversation classes that are very easy to make interesting. 

Anyway, here are 10 helpful websites to use when teaching writing compiled by David Deubel over at EFL Classroom.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

You need to be quiet...

In general, Koreans don't have the same degree of "I shouldn't be talking now" that we do in Western countries.  For example, Koreans will talk with their friends, chat, laugh, and talk on the phone in the middle of a marriage ceremony or through a movie.  In class, the same deal.  Talking to friends, text-messaging, talking on their phone...it's really no big deal in a class with a Korean professor.   Now, maybe it's just that, despite that people have described me as being more Korean than a Korean, I still think like a Westerner in a lot of ways.  This includes the need for students to be quiet in the classroom, if I, or another student is talking. 

How does this counter-cultural requirement get enforced in my classroom?  I start early, from the very first minute I start talking on that first day of class.  I explicitly state it as a rule.  If someone is talking when I'm talking, I'll stop the class and just look at the person, with a not-so-impressed look on my face.  They know what they're doing and will stop.  Or their friends will tell them. 

If the problem is persistent, I will do one of two things.  1. If I like the student, and they generally try hard but are just talkative, I'll separate them from their friends and give them the "special seat" at the front of the class, alone.  2. If I don't like the student and they don't try in class and talk just to be obnoxious or make me angry, I'll give them 2 warnings and on the third, I'll kick them out and mark them absent. 

Doing either of these 2 things sends the message that you're serious about the rule and any further problems are generally minimal. 

Why do I care so much (besides the obvious fact that I think it's very rude and it's a basic respect thing)?  If I was just lecturing, I wouldn't really bother because the students who wanted to listen would sit at the front and ignore the people talking at the back.  But my class in an English conversation class, where it is vital that everyone is listening because we do so many different types of activities and games.  If students don't listen to my instructions, class would be chaos and it just wouldn't work.  And, although I do very little in the way of lecturing (5 minutes a class usually), what I do say is of vital importance and students need to listen and understand if life is going to be happy for them in class and on the tests.   

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The pass

A genius blog entry from David Deubel about "Small Musts" in the ESL/EFL classroom.  I want to talk a bit about:

10.7 Not asking students what they learned. End each class with a review of the target language/expressions/vocabulary. Also, end each class by asking them if they are happy. Just by reminding them they can be happy – they will be a little more.

This is something that I did a while back at the beginning of the next class.  I'd always do a quick review of the previous week or two, either in the form of a warm-up game or activity, or just a few questions from me to the whole class.  But, I really, really like the idea of doing it at the end of class as well.  I think language learning is all about hearing/learning/seeing something enough times that it's impossible for you not to know it.  One or two exposures to a vocabulary item or grammar point is not enough for it to really "stick" in your brain.  And I also plan to get back onto the review at the beginning of the next class train.  I don't really know why I got off.  I just kind of forgot I guess. 

10.9 Not allowing students to “pass”. Students are human beings. They have emotions. They sometimes just don’t want to answer. They should always be allowed the safety of being able to say “pass."

In Korean universities (at least mine!), students are generally quite lazy and showing up seems to be equated to passing the class in their minds.  Asking them to answer a question, such that they actually have to pay attention is often entirely too much.  Giving students a "pass" option would, in my poorer classes result in a continuous series of "pass" "pass" haha "pass" "pass" hahaha.  So, this is how I do answers:

1. I will ALWAYS give students time with their partner to answer the question before I will ever make someone answer in front of the class.  This way, they at least have some answer they can say.  Or, if I don't give the students time, I will ask for volunteers to answer.

2. The students in my class sit in groups of 2 or 3.  I will almost always go by groups.  Like one person from the group has to answer this question.  Then onto the next group for the next question.  This way, if there is one person who is really poor at English or just doesn't want to answer they have their friend to help them.

Friday, July 2, 2010

You're expendable...

So, I've just run across David Deubel's blog and found this post about the #1 piece of advice to teachers, which is: You are replaceable and will likely be forgotten.

Harsh, but true words.  And how does this affect my teaching?  I think of the 2 extreme groups of coworkers that I've had in the past/have now.  

The group at the one end doesn't really care.  Perhaps they are married to a Korean and have a kid or something, so feel trapped and like they can't get another job, but it is obvious to almost everyone that they really have no passion or skill for this job.  Or those solely here for the money, also with no desire to improve their teaching skills.  Or, there are some who really aren't "people" people and it's strange that they would pick teaching as their profession when they'd probably be much happier sitting behind a computer in a cubicle somewhere.  Anyway, these people don't really make much of a connection with students because I think students can tell if you want to be there or not, or if you really like them, or not.  This teacher will be forgotten the minute the students walk out of the final exam, and likely didn't really have any impact on the students at all.

The group at the other end puts everything they have into teaching.  Everything.  At the expense of their health, social life, family and hobbies.  They will phone students who miss exams, give endless "second" chances on homework even if it means huge amounts of extra admin, and get taken advantage of by administration at every opportunity because, "it's for the students."  But, I think these teachers often don't really make very strong connections either because I think the students sense that something is not quite right about them.  Like having no hobbies or social life because you care so much about teaching is just weird and kind of needy or something. And I wonder if these teachers who give too much really have an impact upon the students either.

And what does that leave?  My style in the middle of course! Haha!  I put a lot of effort into making my classes fun and happy, and setting up an environment where long-lasting, real learning can occur.   I try to be kind, gentle, funny, and accepting of all.  I treat students with respect, don't play favorites, grade fairly and also respect their choices to attend classes,or not,  to take exams, or not, to do homework, or not.  Students earn the grade that they earn in my class. 

I like my students and think that they know this.  I'll take my smaller classes out for an icecream or dinner and get to know them.  And they'll let me into their lives, telling me heart-breaking stories about sickness and divorce and death (in broken English!) about their family lives that I'm honored that they'd share with me.  But this is the thing: no matter how strong of a connection I've made with a student, I don't expect it to last beyond that time we had together.  I give out my email to all students and my phone # to the good ones, but they rarely contact me.  This is okay.  I just hope that, for a semester I was an influence for good in their life.  Expecting anything else is setting yourself up for disappointment I think.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I can't tell you!

Tefl.net has a teacher training section and under it, they have "20 teaching tips."  They are simple, and many of them are obvious to an experienced teacher but it would be helpful for a newbie to review this list.  I checked out #12, eliciting student responses. 

The author makes the point that she will almost never just give answers to the students.  Instead, she'll get the students to help each other with things like, the past tense of a verb.  Or, when she introduces vocab, she'll give hints about it and get the students to guess.  Her reasoning is that you don't want to end up spoon-feeding the students because this won't be helpful for them. 

My thoughts: I will almost never directly give the students anything.  The students here have studied almost all the stuff that we do in class before and it's just a matter of putting it together and being able to remember it in a coherent way.  So, I will often just put charts/forms up on the board and get them to sketch in the details.  For example, talking about appearance.  I'll put up, "Height" "Weight" "Hair color." Then, I'll get them to list a few things under each category, giving them hints if they leave out any of my target vocabulary.  Students are genuinely interested in a chart with nothing in it.  There's a little element of excitement.  If you put up a board full of text, it seems overwhelming and students will lose interest quickly. 

In my classes, if students ask a question of some sort, I will always say, "What do you think?"  It's too easy for them to just ask me for an answer without really thinking it through.  I will refuse to give them an answer until they make at least one guess.  I know it frustrates them sometimes but the students learn I will eventually give them the right answer and will also give them praise if they guess the right one, or give them a hint if they're close so they're willing to do it.  I want my students to genuinely think things through. 

English Only!

An interesting story from Brian about Kaist, a university here in Korea that has an English only policy.  It was recently introduced, controversially by their Korean-American president, but may be on the outs, since his term is soon to expire and he's not being renewed.

Anyway, my thoughts on this.  If Korea is actually serious about being the "Hub of Asia," as they seem so desperate to be, it's time to start instituting more English only zones.  Not only universities, but by teaching certain subjects in middle and high schools in English.  Hire foreign teachers, certified to teach high school math or science or whatever, if you must, until Koreans are able to take over.  This will open the doors to foreign students by breaking down the language barrier that makes it so difficult to exist, much less thrive here at times as a foreigner.  And make a decree that all national universities will be English speaking zones only.  Soon, other universities would follow suit I think.  Then, instead of graduating students who don't really know English, but got a good score on the Toefl test, students would actually be fluent.  And able to converse with the world outside Korea.