Sunday, November 30, 2014

Reader Question: Getting Hired from Overseas

"I'm over in the U.S. I have a MA in TESOL, have been teaching 3 years college level, and previous to my States experience 5 years in Bangkok.

I have the travel itch again...but am a divorced mama with a 6 year old daughter. Any chance you know of similar experiences to this at UNI level in Korea?

If it were just me, I could pick up some bags and go... are there any hiring fairs for Universities in the U.S.?"

My answer: unfortunately, it's extremely difficult to get hired at a Korean University from overseas since there are so many people in Korea with the proper qualifications available for in-person interviews. University Jobs in Korea are not like international school jobs that hold hiring fairs in the US; they simply advertise and then interview locally.

If you want to persevere and try your luck, check out this book which contains the basic information about finding a uni job in Korea, as well as a specific section about what to do if you are overseas.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

What Working at a University in Korea is Really Like. Part 4: Classes (or, what I do for 4 hours)

korea uni
What Working at a Korean Uni is Really Like

If you missed the first 3 parts of this series, check out:

Korean Universities: Schedules

Korean Universities: Classes

Korean Universities: Office Politics

One of the common questions that I get from Hagwon and public school teachers is what I actually do in my classes.  In hagwons, it's extremely rare to have the same students for more than an hour at a time and 40-45 minutes is more common.  In public schools, the class lengths are about the same and the Korean co-teacher usually does the bulk of the heavy lifting.

My classes range from 1.5 hours-4 hours with the same group of students.  4 hour classes can be quite hard to teach so I'll use that as my example.  Here's how I would I use the time (if I was given no materials that I had to teach):

I'd pick a topic such as "Youth unemployment in Korea," "Microfinance" or "Renewable Energy."  I choose stuff that I'm actually interested in and you'd be surprised-even seemingly difficult topics such as these can be adapted and made easier for as low level as high-beginners.  Things like movies, hobbies, food and pets are TOTALLY overdone and I refuse to use topics like these unless forced to (if I'm given a textbook with them in it, or have extremely low-level students-but I generally try to avoid total beginners!).

Hour 1: an introduction to the topic.  This usually involves some very general warm-up questions, key vocabulary, a sample conversation, or something like "describe the picture" for lower levels.

Hour 2: we get into the reading or listening (quite often both).  If you find articles from Breaking News English, you can do the listening first with some sort of "big-picture" questions.  I'd usually listen twice, with the first time just being simple true/false or matching or something and then the second time, I'd increase the level of difficulty and use some short answer or fill in the blank stuff.

Then, I'd get the students to read the same thing that they just listened to but they'd have to answer some serious "critical thinking" or advanced level "reading comprehension" questions where the answers require processing the information in a deep way, or the answers are very subtle and require some "reading between the lines."

Hour 3: Discussion questions based on what they just listened to and read.  The students would have to discuss in small groups of 3-4 people and then we'd talk together as a class.

Hour 4: Some sort of activity.  For example, when I talked about microfinance, I showed a couple videos from Kiva and showed the students my own portfolio of who I lent money to.

Or, it might involve a debate of some kind.  For example, on the topic of Youth Unemployment, it might be something like, "Who has the final responsibility for solving this problem: youth, the government, parents, industry or universities?"

Or, it could be a survey activity.  For advanced levels, they'd have to make their own survey question or two, ask their classmates, process the information and then report back to the class their results.  For lower levels, I'd probably give them the questions already prepared.

Or, I might do some writing activity of some kind where the students have to share their opinion on the topic.  But, I will quite rarely do this and my activities are generally slanted towards speaking.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Life on the Inside: what working at a Korean University is really like. Part 3: Korean University Office Politics (Drama)

In case you missed parts 1 and 2 of the series on working at a Korean University:

Korean Universities: Classes

Korean Universities: Schedules

Today, I'll talk about "office politics" at Korean Universities.  The amount of office politics you have to deal with really depends on the office/housing/classroom situation. 

For example, at my previous uni there was a fair bit of drama because most of us lived together in the same building, had offices all in the same hallway and classrooms next to each other.  In addition, we lived in the countryside and so ended up being friends with each other and spending time together outside of work, generally.  This meant that you saw a lot of your coworkers and sometimes more than you actually wanted (for certain people).

At my current uni, we have three campuses so I literally never see some people. We share offices with a couple other people, but again, it's kind of rare to actually see a coworker in the office.  Our classrooms are spread out everywhere so it's not common to just run into people randomly.  We live in a big city so everyone has their own friend groups, which most often don't consist of coworkers.  And, there is no university provided housing and people just find their own.  I literally live on the entire opposite end of the city from some of my coworkers.  Drama is non-existent.  Like in my 2.5 years there, I've encountered literally no drama whatsoever.  I like it.  A lot. 

While not necessarily a major factor to consider when taking a job, I'd take #2 any day.

How to avoid the drama?  My top tips:

1. Don't gossip about other people!  NEVER speak badly about one of your coworkers.  Assume it will always get back to that person.

2. Make friends outside of work.  If you're having a hard time at work, vent to them and not a coworker.

3. Live away from your coworkers, if possible.  I'd take housing allowance over provided housing for sure.

4. Use the giant headphones if you have a shared office.  Give off the vibe that you're doing work and not available for idle gossip.

5. Attend all social activities and make an effort to actually get to know your coworkers, on a friendly, but not BFF level. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Speaking of Speech Videos

Whenever I teach presentations and public speaking, I use the most fabulous Speaking of Speech: Basic Presentation Skills for Beginners.  Today, I had a moment of panic because I somehow lost my USB stick with all the videos on it.  But, never fear!  Youtube saved the day as someone helpfully uploaded them all.  Thank you Mr. Kim, whoever you are.

Speaking of Speech Videos on Youtube.

Monday, November 24, 2014

University Job in Korea Without a Masters Degree?

Masters degree
Uni Job Without a Masters Degree

In my book,How to Get a University Job in South Korea: The English Teaching Job of Your Dreams I mention what you can do if you want to teach at a university with only a bachelor's degree.  While really difficult, it is not entirely impossible to work your way into a uni job if you plan on staying in Korea for the long-term.

The best way to do it would be to take a job like this university language instructor position where you only need a bachelor's degree plus a year of experience, which is calculated at various rates, but essentially you'd be able to get it with 2.5 years of experience teaching at a public school or hagwon.

Then, hang on to that job for a few years, with 4 being ideal and you could potentially compete for many of the better university jobs out there.  Or, just stay for 2 years and spend that time doing a master's degree in which case the world would be your oyster.

Life of the Inside: what working at a Korean University is really like. Part 2: classes

Please see part 1 of the series: Schedules if you missed it.  Here's an excerpt from my book How to Get a University Job in South Korea: The English Teaching Job of Your Dreamsthat explains about classes.

"Your job (working at a Korean University) will often consist of teaching mandatory Freshman (and sometimes Sophomore) English courses. Schools vary in how they administer this, but it can involve one 3-hour per week course during either the student's first or second semester, or it could involve something like four 1-hour per week courses over the first two years of a student's program. You will sometimes be able to teach other classes like writing, presentations, or business English to students in majors like business, airline business, tourism or English. It really depends on the university. Student English levels range from almost fluent to very low. All of these classes involve designing a syllabus, administering tests and homework, and giving final grades."

I would add that what classes you teach can really make a big difference in terms of job satisfaction.  While you often don't have much say in your first year or two and will have to take whatever you get given to you, if you can move up in the world into teaching things besides mandatory freshman English, your job will probably be much more rewarding, although more will be required of you in terms of preparation and grading.

For example, at my current university most of the teachers teach 9-12 (separate!) classes of around 30 students only once/week for 50 minutes.  It's almost impossible to get to know the students and it's not easy to develop a friendly relationship.  For a "real" teacher who is serious about their teaching, it can be quite demoralizing.  But, it is a very easy job and if you are pursuing other interests outside work, it can be quite ideal since you'll have to expend very little in the way of mental energy.

I work in the actual English department so I no longer teach freshman English classes but instead I teach English major classes.  This semester, I have 4 classes (one of which is overtime) with about 20-25 students in each one.  I teach each class twice a week for 1.5 hours each time.  It is really possible to develop a decent relationship with many of the students and to actually help students improve their English skills in 3 hours/week.  Although more preparation is required and student demands are higher (some of them are extremely high level), it's a far more rewarding job as a teacher because I can actually see improvement in my students.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Kotesol's Teaching in Korea Job Board

Korea tesol

If you're looking for an English teaching job in Korea, check out Kotesol's new Job Board.  My guess is that they'll end up having mostly university jobs, which are perhaps not listed on ESL Cafe (because employers won't have to pay) so it could be well worth it to get access.  It's free for now, but come 2015, you'll need to be a current Kotesol member.  And, if you need some more suggestions for getting a job in Korea, especially a university one, check out: How To Get a University Job in South Korea on Amazon.

Life on the inside: what working at a Korean University is really like. Part 1: schedules

teaching English Korea schedule
Korean University Schedules

Thanks to my friend "E" for the suggestion of this series about what working at a Korean University is really like with the students, classes, administration and other various things.  I'm going to kick it off with schedules, or what my days basically consist of.

If you work at a fabulous university, your schedule will consist of only 3-4 days/week of teaching.  You may even get a long weekend like me, this semester since I get Friday off (however that was due to my own scheming and the kindness of one of my coworkers).

A lot of people end up having classes 5 days/week, but even this isn't really terrible since it will usually only consist of either mornings (9-1 for example), or afternoons (1-5 for example) and not both.  Your actual teaching hours will be around 12-15/week, so you'll have plenty of time for grading and admin and other general duties related to the job.  The best places try to give you a block schedule which means that you'll teach for 3-4 hours back-back instead of a split shift kind of thing where you have large breaks within your day (4 or 5 hours).

Generally, you don't have a lot of say over your schedule, although both my previous and current unis have been amenable to requests, like when I needed Tuesday and Thursday morning off to do the Celta course, or switching a class with my coworker to not work 5 days/week.  Some places do the seniority thing, where the longest serving teachers get first pick of schedules, but that seems like a lot of hassle and it's not that common I think.

I personally don't really care about my schedule that much since I have a nice, semi-private office (with 2 other people) and my own computer.  As a bonus, it even has a phone, heating and air-con as well as wicked fast Internet which is definitely a better set-up than I have at my own house.  If I have a 4 or 5 hour break, I'll just do lesson planning or grading and work on my online ventures, such as this blog or my recent book about University Jobs in Korea.

The worst possible scenario related to schedules is 5 days/week but with only something like 9 or 10 teaching hours, which means that you'll end up coming into work and teaching only 1-2 hours a day.  If you have a 5 minutes commute like I do, it's not terrible but many of my coworkers come from the other end of the city (1-1.5 hours) so for them it's not ideal.  You can sometimes salvage this by trying to pick up some overtime during the days, which is readily available at my uni, but that's a bit of an anomaly.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reader Questions: Getting a University Job in South Korea

Some reader questions from Kyle:

"Would you be willing to give some advice?  I'd like to teach at a Korean University with my Masters in Ed. , a K-12 ESL Certificate (State of Michigan and North Carolina), 4 years of K-8 licensed US teaching experience, and 15 years of K-12 ESL teaching experience in Taiwan.


1. Would being 47 years old make it difficult for me to be hired by hagwons, public schools, and universities?

2. What's the best path to getting a Korean University job that pays at least US$30,000 per year?

3. Is it best to travel to Korea first and job hunt or secure a job before leaving?  (I'm thinking Visas and paperwork here, in addition to the benefits being there before signing contracts).

4. Do you recommend any websites/blogs about working in Korea?

5. Can a qualified teacher like me just show up and find a job or is it always seasonal on schedule like hiring in August and in February?"

My answers:

If you're looking for advice about getting a university job in South Korea, check out my book:

How to Get a University Job in South Korea

It'll have all the information you need, and if not, send me another message and I'd be happy to help.

But, more specific answers:

1. Yes, 47 is a bit old but it's not impossible, especially if you look "young" for your age.  The prime age for most places is between about 25 and 40.

2. See the book!

3. It can go either way, depending on how adventurous you are.  It's often possible to find a better job when your boots are on the ground, but the job market is pretty tight for job-seekers these days and you can burn through a lot of money while waiting for the right one to come along.

4. Check my sidebar for a few blogs that I like.  As far as I know, nobody else is writing exclusively about teaching in Korean universities besides myself.

5. Universities hire seasonally, as well as public schools but hagwons hire year-round and you can literally start almost any week of the year.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Using Timelines-Present Perfect Continuous-Present Perfect

In my advanced conversation class, a chapter in Touchstone Level 3 has a section about the present perfect continuous and the present perfect.  It's actually pretty complicated grammar and not something that students can understand that easily.

For example, what is the difference between these two sentences?

1. "I've been watching Survivor since I was in university." (present perfect continuous)

2. "I've watched survivor since university." (present perfect)

Both are talking about repeated activities that happen mostly in the past, but what is the difference?  It's subtle.  In the first case, it's an activity that began in the past, but is still happening now.  In the second case, it's an activity that began in the past, but it's a bit ambiguous whether or not the activity is happening in the present.

To explain this to students, timelines can be really helpful. 

 Present Perfect Continuous



Present Perfect



Monday, November 17, 2014

How to Make Writing More Interactive

In one of my lower-intermediate conversation classes, we were studying about "evening routines" using Touchstone 2, Unit 8

I did the evening routine listening on page 83, and then followed it up with the writing exercise at the bottom of the page.  In order to make it more interactive, I did the following:

The students had to make 3 or 4 "test" questions based on what they wrote.  Then, they read what they wrote to their partner who had to listen carefully.  Finally, the student asked their partner the test questions.

It was quite useful in making "writing" more interesting than usual and also provided some additional listening, writing (questions) and speaking practice.  The test questions provided a reason to listen.  There were lots of laughs and smiles and good-natured joking when a student couldn't answer their partners questions, or got them wrong.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

There's never enough time!

Yes! I agree completely with this article in the Huffington Post about how, as teachers, we know what is ideal and all the fabulous assignments we should be giving and all those teachable moments we should be taking advantage of but how most days, it's just kind of like triage because there's never really enough of us to go around. 

Having 125+ students who all want 1-1 extensive feedback on their writing, or that same number of students who envision hours of "free-talking" with me, their teacher just doesn't work out if I want to have some semblance of life outside of work.  Triage is the only solution most days.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Fabulously Fun Relative Clause Speaking Activity

relative clause game
Relative Clause Speaking Activity

This week, my classes have been studying about using relative clauses.  The first class was heavy on the grammar with this quite serious self study relative clause worksheet and some writing practice based on these relative clause family and friend questions. For the second class, I wanted to lighten it up and bit and do some more kind of "fun" things, so I made this "Who or What is it?" game that the students really enjoyed. Here's how to do it:

Make a list of things or people and cut them up into little pieces and put them in an envelope.  Put the students in groups of 4 and the first person has to choose a paper at random and keep it secret. Then, they give hints about it, preferably using relative clauses.

For example, if they chose Barrack Obama, they could say things like, "This is a man who's from the USA." "I'm sure he's someone everyone knows." "He has a lot of power which he uses to influence the whole world."

The other 3 people on the team get to guess who it is and whoever guesses it correctly gets to keep the paper, gets 1 point and then is the next person who chooses a random paper and gives hints.

In order to avoid endless incorrect guesses, I said that if you made an incorrect guess, you were "out" of that round unless all the other people also had incorrect guesses, in which case it starts over.

I gave the students about 15 minutes and at the end, the person in each group with the most points got a small prize.

Check out this Ebook if you want to  get a University Job in South Korea

Free: 40 Tried and Tested ESL Games and Activities

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Quiet Time is Okay (or, I'm not an Edu-tainer)

A common thing that many English teachers in Korea fall into is feeling like they need to be an Edu-Tainer (Education Entertainer).  I think it's mostly because of how foreign English teachers are portrayed in the media: as clowns (Babos in Korean) or dancing monkeys.  This means that some teachers always feel the need to "perform" and keep the students entertained, excited and happy no matter what. 

I resist this at all costs for the following reasons:

1. I'm not naturally an "entertainer." I'm a bit shy and so being on stage isn't really something I crave or want. 

2. Learning can't always be "fun." Sometimes, you need to memorize vocab, or explore a difficult grammar concept in depth.

3. Students are different.  Some like being entertained, some like working quietly by themselves.

4. I'm all about student-centered classrooms.  An Edutainer is all about a teacher-centered classroom, which is something that I think is really bad for students.

5. I consider myself a "real" teacher.  I actually want my students to take my classes seriously and learn something.  I think this is probably best achieved by taking myself seriously as an educator and not falling into the Edutainer trap.

Check out this Ebook if you want to  get a University Job in South Korea

Monday, November 3, 2014

Touchstone Series: a Short Book Review

I used the Touchstone Seriesyears ago at my previous uni and remember hating it.  Like the pages were filled with all these "speak like a native speaker" sections which were just bizarre, and each page had so much stuff crammed into it that it usually stressed me out.  Maybe part of the problem was the program I was teaching in; I "shared" the book with other teachers and was assigned 1 or 2 pages/class so had to teach the pages I hated instead of just skipping over them like I normally would.

Anyway, it seems like a new edition has come out and Touchstone is not as terrible as it once was.  Plus, I usually just choose 1 or 2 pages out of each chapter and then add in my own material so the I just don't use the pages that I don't like.  I still much prefer a series like 4 Corners or World Link but I don't have any major complaints about Touchstone for a general, 4-skills kind of textbook.