Friday, June 29, 2012

Summer Vacation Plans?

I hope you have some vacation time coming up!  For me, I have one more week of TOIEC camp and then I'm free for a few weeks until kid's camp.  I'll be heading down South to Busan, moving some of my stuff to my new apartment and chilling on the beach.  If you have time, but no plans, check out this site:

"Top 10 Places to Visit in South Korea."  Lots of travel advice and insider information for each place too!

p.s. Any readers from Busan?  Want to meet up?  I'll be there for a few days between July 16-27 (not sure yet). 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Reader Question: Distance vs in Person MA Degree

This one from Neil:

"I was wondering about what impression you get from your university and others you hear about regarding distance degrees. As several reputable ones are being created each year, I was curious if it counts against one who completes his or her degree online as opposed to in person. I'm considering a distance degree, an M.A. in Tesol, to eventually land a university job in the next few years. The other option is to return to the USA and earn the degree in person from a prestigious university, which is of course much costlier."

MA TESOL distance degrees seem to be fine to get a uni job in Korea.  The ones from Australia have a bit of a bad reputation, but apart from that, you should be good.  I would never go into a huge amount of debt if you plan to be an ESL teacher.  While you can make a decent living, the salary is not high enough to warrant having a crazy amount of student loan debt.  And, it also makes a lot more sense to actually have students to practice the things you're learning on when you're doing your MA.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Friday, June 22, 2012

Teaching TOIEC Listening Part 1: Some Tips from the Trenches

Toiec listening part 1 is picture description.  Students look at a picture and then hear 4 statements, 3 or which are false and one which is true.  They have to choose the true one.  It can be quite tricky and plenty of times I actually had to put some mental energy into choosing the right answer.  I'm actually going to see if I can take the TOIEC test with my students at the end of the camp and see if I can ace it :)

Anyway, here are my tips from the trenches if you are teaching this:

1. DON'T (let your students) MAKE ASSUMPTIONS. If there is an older lady, she is just an older lady, not a grandmother.  If people are in a building with luggage and it looks suspiciously like an airport, it might not be.  Ditto with a guy and a young girl: don't assume they are father/daughter.  If a guy is in a business suit and his back is to you, don't assume he is wearing a tie.  Etc, etc, etc.

2. Always look at the picture first!  Here is the system I taught my students to think about as they are looking at the picture:

W(ho):  Man/people/he/she/they (pronouns are very important).  For example: there will be a picture with 3 people, 2 of which are holding papers.  A statement will be: "They are holding papers."  This is false because "they" refers to all 3 people.   

What: (main action verbs).  I got students to think of the ones that are correct, as well as some incorrect verbs that they might hear to throw them off.

Where: A. Location/place (but don't assume).  B. Prepositions (next to, under, inside, etc)

When: (sometimes)

Vocab: think of the 5 most important words you'll need to know

It's easy for student to remember: W, W, W-1/2, (W), V

3. Vocab is huge.  HUGE.  If students get very low scores in this section, it's probably because of this.  My camp does vocab tests everyday and the TAs administer it, but if you're on your own teaching TOEIC listening, you need to be giving daily vocab tests.  

 4. If students don't know the answer to a previous question, just guess and move to the next question.  It's important not to waste time and thinking about the "W/V's" of the next question is a more valuable use of time. 

 Next week: TOIEC Listening Part 2.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A reponse to "Foreigners Can't teach Grammar or Anything of Substance"

Brian left an excellent comment in response to my latest post on foreigners teaching non-fluffy stuff.

Here is his comment:

"Somewhere along the line it became accepted as common knowledge that Koreans (well, Asians) have a superior command of English grammar, but simply lack speaking ability. This is due, they say, to Koreans (and Asians) studying almost exclusively grammar for 15+ years in school, but never actually speaking or using the language. Personal experience never bore that out, because their grammatical knowledge---in general, with some exceptions---was limited. While they did have some detailed understanding of some points, it was, as you sort of mention, due to their learning it in Korean, not in English.

Unless I'm being way too optimistic and generous, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a native speaker English teacher with a Master's and / or CELTA in a university who had a practical knowledge of English grammar inferior to that of a Korean counterpart. The weakness is that they often aren't able to explain or illustrate in Korean, and that's usually what's required, or considered "good" or effective. But the strengths---being able to show those grammatical points in use, to show and teach subtlety of meaning, and to understand different usage---makes up for that limitation, if the NSET is given the chance."

And, yes, I agree wholeheartedly.  I've found that Korean students are generally EXTREMELY weak at grammar.  Like not having the conjugations of the "be" verb down, or knowing how to ask a question in the simple past, or not knowing the rules for comparatives/superlatives.  I think a lot of it has to do with grammar being taught in Korean, in a way that is disconnected from real-life communication.  On the Celta course, I learned that teaching grammar is all about context and that without context, the lesson is complete waste of time.  Why even bother teaching grammar (or vocab too) if students don't know how and when and in what situation they can use it?  This is where Native Speakers can be far, far better than most Korean teachers.

And I've found that while teaching TOIEC listening, I encounter situations every class where I'm able to explain the subtleties of how and when and in what situation to use this one specific vocab item over another one.  An example from today: "Checking-out."  No student in my very high-level class knew a meaning for it besides borrowing a book from a library.  I was able to give an example situation of walking down the street and seeing a handsome guy or a sexy girl and checking them out.  Would a Korean teacher be able to do this?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I'm a foreigner, therefore I can't teach grammar or anything of substance

Just a small rant.  At my university (and from plenty of other people too), I get the line (from Koreans), "Koreans teach grammar, foreigners can only teach conversation."   

It happened to me just yesterday at my school's Toeic camp.  I'm working at the camp, teaching Toiec Listening.  I'm not teaching conversation, or general listening, or writing, or movie English, or any kind of fluffy "easy" stuff.  I'm actually teaching Toiec listening.  From a Toeic preparation book.  To prepare students for an actual Toiec test.  And yet, one of the Korean teachers at the camp still gave me the line about how it's more fun for foreigners to teach because we get to teach "fun" stuff and Koreans have to teach grammar.  Except, at this camp, foreigners are teaching the same content as the Koreans, which makes this line all the more ridiculous.  The foreigners are just teaching it through English, and the Koreans are teaching it through Korean.  

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Speaking Test Admin

This past semester, I've done something new for my speaking tests that I've never done before.  Usually, I would hold speaking tests for the entire class during their "class-time" on the midterm and final exam weeks.  It ends up being quite stressful for the bigger classes, because trying to get 25 students through in 1.5 hours is not easy.  However, this semester I got the students to sign-up for their time and come to my office.  I chose 5 days, for a total of about 20 possible hours. 

Things I liked:

1. It was nice to have more individual time with the students and not feel stressed about rushing them through.  I had 10 minute slots and let 2 students sign-up for that space.  Every 50 minutes, I "scheduled" myself a 10 minute break to relax and go to the bathroom or whatever.  I would occasionally squeeze some students into that slot if necessary.

2. I teach 3 different kinds of classes, so it was nice to have different tests interspersed throughout my day.

3. I liked having the students come to me in my office, instead of me dealing with them in the classroom together, when they're all feeding off each others stress because of exams.

Things I didn't like:

1. I felt very stressed the last day, because as student inevitably do, they choose the last possible time and day.  And then there are always lots of students who just didn't sign-up but thought they could breeze in the last possible moment and it would all work out.   

2. Some students didn't get the sign-up procedure.  I tried to make it beyond simple and explained it about 7 times, but the lowest level students just didn't get it and showed up during their "regular class time." 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Teaching TOIEC listening

I'll be working a three-week camp teaching TOEIC listening, parts 1-3.  It's my first time and I feel like a complete rookie.  Any tips/tricks/games/help would be much appreciated from my readers.  HELP!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Reader Comment/Questions...Chances

These ones from Christine in the form of a comment on a previous post: Getting a Uni Job.

"I see that many people are asking about their chances of getting a uni job without a masters or being outside of Korea... I have my Masters of Ed in Language Education and four years of teaching experience in public schools in the US and a public language center in Korea. My problem is that I don't have uni experience... I have been offered an interview at a uni, but the pay is significantly lower than my current pay and the vacation is only two weeks more. For this interview, I would have to fly there and take some time off work, so I'm not sure it's worth it. In your opinion, will this be my only chance? I guess I am asking... how are MY chances? I know I read your uni received 100 applicants at one point; how many qualified people usually apply to the average university?"

This is a very difficult question to answer, since I've never been on a hiring committee at a Korean Uni.  But, I do know that there literally are hundreds of applicants for the top Uni Jobs in Korea.  The ones out in the countyside with poor job conditions, not so much!

In my own recent experience of job hunting, I sent out 17 applications, got 3 interviews (one of which I couldn't attend) and 2 job offers.  I expect to get at least 2-3 more interview offers throughout the summer (which I will turn down).  I have 5 years uni experience, a Masters in the Humanities, a Celta and am a young, North-American female (which Koreans seems to like for some reason), which goes to show how competitive things are.  I think the jobs where I didn't get interviews ended up going to people with MA's in Education, TESOL, or English. 

So...your chances?  It's hard to say.  Some unis interview 5 people and hire 3.  Some interview 20 and hire 3.  This would be an excellent question to ask the hiring committee before taking time off work and flying over.  And of course, it all depends on how good you are at interviews.  I've had 4 Korean uni job interviews, which resulted in 4 job offers, but some people I know had like 7 or 8 interviews before they got a single offer. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Avoiding the end of the semester crunch

Although I am in the "crunch" this semester, due to being very busy for 12 weeks with the Celta (and  somewhat neglecting my uni classes), I usually try to avoid it.  Here's how:

1. Make your spreadsheets at the beginning of the semester (I assume everyone does this?!).  Although it does take a bit of time (for me, about 1 hour for 8 or 9 classes), I think it saves considerable time at the end. 

2. Input your attendance/grades as you go along.  Not only does this make sense if you might happen to lose your folder with all that stuff on it (never happened to me thankfully, but you never know), you'll be way ahead of the game come end of the semester.  I'd rather do 15-20 minutes a week instead of a marathon at the end.

3. Don't assign homework that is due for the last 2 or 3 weeks.  Not only are the students horrendously busy with other things for other classes, it can be quite stressful for you to get everything graded in time.  I made the last assignment for Internet homework due 2 weeks before the semester ended, so I had plenty of time to check their grades, and put them in the spreadsheets.  

4. I give students a study paper with potential exam questions on it.  I make an effort to input a question or two each week, based on the unit that we've just studied.  That way, I just have to quickly review it for any errors and then print it off towards the end of the semester.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Reader Question: Inferring good/bad Korean Unis based on # of foreign teachers

This question from a reader who wishes to remain unnamed:

"I was just thinking about good and bad universities in Korea (horror stories, etc).

Do you think there is any relation or association between the # of foreign English teachers at a university and the quality of the job?

How many foreign ESL teachers do you think a quality university should have?"

 My answer: interesting question that is quite hard to answer.  I can give you an anecdotal answer based on the unis in the city where I live (Cheonan/Asan).  My uni has a lot of foreigners (around 30) and it is also one of the best (possibly the best?) in terms of conditions for the foreign teachers (pay, housing, lack of micro-management, OT opportunities, no time-limit, full vacation, basic respect, etc).  However, the bad teachers get weeded out pretty fast at my uni, and it seems like 1 or 2 people generally get the cut every semester, so while conditions are good, it's not an ideal place for the slacker or someone who can't get along with the other coworkers.

However, there are 2 other unis around here that have lots of foreigners (30-40-50) who have to put up with things like unpaid camps, mandatory Church services, "free-talking" hours, crappy pay, lack of OT, unpredictable management, and sub-par housing.

As far as the unis with significantly less's kind of all over (just like the big unis) in terms of conditions.  So, I think there is really no hard and fast rule!  Just do your due diligence before taking any uni job. 

And the question about how many foreign teachers a uni should have?  Well there are just too many factors to really make any sort of generalization.  Is English mandatory?  One, two, three or four years of English?  Do Koreans teach in the program as well?  Is there a big English department?  Aviation students?  Global Business?  What's the total student enrollment?  Etc, etc, etc, etc!

In news from "Vancouver"

When Koreans (or Americans too) ask me where I'm from, I say "Vancouver."  Except "Vancouver," is actually my code-word for "Edmonton."  It's just easier than explaining.  Anyway,  although this is a secret code, I'm sharing it with you today because there is an interesting news story from my hometown.

Suspended Teacher in a fight for High Standards

The gist of it is that there is a new policy in Edmonton high schools that student's final grades are based only on the work that they have completed.  If they don't do something, there is no "0," or make-up required.  Apparently it's related to the self-esteem movement. 

Anyway, I applaud the teacher for standing up against this crap.  As an extreme example, I guess a student could do absolutely nothing all semester long, and skip all the tests, but hand in some easy assignment worth 5% of the final grade, ace it and get an A+ in the class.  Ridiculous.  And it's not like high school in Canada is hard.  For real.  You can choose how hard you want it to be!  When I was a student there were 4 different tracks of classes that you could choose:

1. IB Math for those who want to be taking University-level classes by the end of high school. 

2. Math for those who want to attend university.

3. Math for those who might want to enter a community college or trade school involving science/engineering of some sort.

4. Math for those who never plan on setting foot in a classroom ever again after high school.

It's a slippery slope, let's just say that.  Kind of reminds me of working at a Korean University where students expect to get an A/A+ just because they've been physically present at most of the classes, even if they've done absolutely no homework or performed well on the tests.  And, I have to make my classes almost ridiculously easy (including giving the exact questions that are on the test beforehand) or the majority of my students would fail.