Category Archives: workskipops

Job Hunting in Hanoi

The two questions I get asked after I tell people I’m moving to Vietnam is: Do you have a job yet? What about a house lined up?

The answer to both prior to arrival was no. Unlike Korea, where you must have a job in order to get your visa (as the latter is tied to the former) and your employer arranges your housing, for Vietnam I was coming in with nothing but a hotel room booked for a week.

Now, from what I understand it is possible to line up both a job and an apartment before coming into the country. But I’ve also heard that it isn’t a great idea unless you’ve been here before, or possibly if you have friends here that can help sort you out.

Why is it not a great idea? Well, jobs and apartments seem very easy to get here. So why would you sign up for something without knowing what you were getting yourself into?

I’ll talk more about my apartment hunt in a separate post. For now, I’ll focus on how I’ve been job hunting.

For months leading up to leaving, I’ve been lurking on various Facebook groups trying to see how often jobs were posted and the kinds of offers being made. There are a good dozen groups that are just for job hunting in Hanoi. One often leads to the other, and all of them have thousands of members. Just try searching groups for “Hanoi”, “jobs”, “teaching”, or some combination and you will find a handful of them. Once you join one, you will often find the others as people post in multiple places. I haven’t found any one better than the other, although there are a few where it is rarer that people post.

There are also websites that you can check out – Craigslist Vietnam, The New Hanoian, and VietnamWorks, just to name a few. I did get an offer before I ever got to Vietnam via VietnamWorks, but overall I haven’t found as much on these sites as I see on the Facebook groups.

On the Facebook groups you will see schools/academies, individuals, and agencies all posting. Keep an eye on the posts and you’ll get a feel for who’s who and what’s what. I’ve been told to avoid agencies, but they can be hard to spot sometimes.

The other kind of posting you will see on these groups are teachers posting their availability and basically asking for work. I actually keep an eye out for these, not just to scope out the competition, but also to see if there are any good offers in the comments! I’ve gotten at least one interview this way.

In my first week, I’ve been contacted half a dozen times and I’ve already done three interviews with a fourth and fifth in the works. I’ve already verbally agreed to take one group on as a class, and I’m holding off on an academy’s offer until I finish with the interviews I have in the pipe. The other interview was with an agency. The job wasn’t right for me (even she said the salary was way too low for me) so I declined. I’m fairly confident that had I been less picky about where and with who I was applying, I could have been working already this week. There are definitely cover classes I could have picked up.

So if you are thinking of teaching in Hanoi, there is definitely a need for teachers here (especially qualified teachers!) and work is plentiful. I would recommend signing up for the various Hanoi Facebook groups before you even leave and start getting your finger on the pulse of the job scene here.

In another post I’l talk about my interviews, demos, and the offers that have come through. There have been three so far, and they’ve all been very different, so I’ll probably dedicate a post to each one.

TEFL’ing

As part of preparing to move on from Korea, the husband signed us up for a TEFL course so we could grab ourselves some certification. There are a lot of countries that require teachers to have certificates in TEFL, even if they have experience.

It’s clearly a box to tick.

I’m only in the second module and already a bunch of it seems like utter bollocks. Okay, maybe that’s not fair. I’m sure it is all soundly based in linguistic studies and has been tested in particular classrooms. Just not classrooms in Korea. I’m sceptical how much will be useful in classrooms in Vietnam.

So far, there has been extremely little that I could use in my teaching here. Firstly, it has been geared primarily toward teaching adults. If you are teaching in Korea, you are most likely going to be teaching kindergarten and elementary, maybe middle school. There aren’t too many jobs teaching adults. Secondly, much as I like the laid-back, natural-acquisition of language stuff that they are laying down, that’s not how it works in a classroom that is part of a Korean business. You need results. You need concrete results, such as fully completed books and ever higher test scores.

I think the issue is that the goal of EFL in Korea isn’t to become fluent in English, it is to pass a test to get into a good university. It *is* grammar focused. It *is* rule based. It *is* about being right or wrong so it does need to be corrected. And it does start when they are about 5 years old.

To be fair, I’m only in the third module of the course, and am hopeful that in the ten modules (eleven if you count the grammar module) that there will be some other things that I can take away and use while I am here in Korea. I don’t mind the studying, and I don’t even mind spending the money… I would just like the effort and expense to be worth more than a ticked box.

To finish up today, I can see now why so many new, fresh-faced young teachers that pop up in Korea with their TEFL certificates are often so disillusioned about what teaching English as a second language here is really like. It is so idealistic in the course, as though you will have all the time in the world with a class full of laughing, engaged kiddos hanging on your every word, eager to learn the mysteries of English, to teach them how to be fluent speakers and writers. Again, hopefully as I move further along the modules, they will have more information on how to deal with communication and cultural disconnects within the school administration, how to deal with just pushing through books because completing them is more important than teaching them, or students who are exhausted, bored, and wanting to be anywhere else in the world but in yet another hagwon class before they go home to have their supper at 10 o’clock at night. Because that information would still, even after five years of teaching here, be hella useful.

Into the light of the dark black night

For “Journal Writing” class yesterday, I gave my little guys an assignment to reinforce making the “Writing Hamburger” (main idea as the “bun” and the details as the “toppings”) as well as starting to create metaphors and analogies in their writing… without going into details quite yet about metaphor and analogy. They are seven.

The topic was “My Favorite Colour”. These three little weirdos all picked black. They were given the opening sentence (“My favourite colour is…”) and closing sentence (“I love the colour…”) to help them with the hamburger. Then they had to answer the following questions about their colour:

How does it look?
How does it taste?
How does it smell?
How does it feel?
How does it sound?

Haha. You should have seen the looks on their faces when they realised they were going to have to tell me how the colour black smells. But I gave them a load of example using my favourite colour (red, if you’d like to know) and they were off.

Lilly proofreading her work like a boss.

Lilly proofreading her work like a boss.

They did a great job! Some of the ideas were pretty basic (and they all seemed to think that black smelled and tasted like chocolate), but there were some real gems in their paragraphs that I would like to share with you. These are taken from all three children. Jessica, Lilly and Albert, 7 years old.

 

Black is scary, dark, and looks like a thief. It sounds like a ghost’s howls. Black is like a cat that rests in the library. It is the sound of lightning in the night. It feels like a ghost is holding my arm beside me.

 

I freaking love these children!

Did you have midterm exams at school? How did you feel?

There is going to be a handful of these “Speech of the Week” posts, I’m behind. Bad Teacher.

I am far too old to remember my high school midterms. At the hogwon (private academy in Korea) I teach at we have Big Assessment Tests (I call them BATs in my diary… as though I work at Hogwarts instead of a hogwon) every other month for our elementary students. It’s the closest thing I have in my life to a “midterm exam” these days.

BATs are stupid. They have the word “assessment” in them, but as far as I have seen, fuck all happens if a kid aces or fails the test. No one is held back, no one “levels up”. We just keep on trucking. Worse, the Korean stuff here just nerfs the scores so the parents don’t think they are wasting their money if their kid isn’t doing well.

It frustrates the fuck out of me. I wouldn’t mind the time it takes to make and grade the tests if there was any purpose to it at all. But there isn’t. I understand that we are running a business, but I think the way we do testing is costing our children, instead of just their parents.

Williamsaurus

William is Korean aged 10. He is a very smart and sensitive third grader with the cutest dimples when he smiles… so I’m always trying to make him smile.  He’s almost always got food on his shirt and he’s a funny kid although his sense of humour is sometimes strange. He is full of saliva and always smacks his lips when he reads. And he reads like a mini Korean Shatner.

So the other day in class there was some weird sort of brown spooge in his workbook. He had been eating chocolate when I came in the classroom so I said, “Ew. Is that chocolate?”

Without batting an eye, William scratches off the brown smear and sniffs at it. For a moment, I seriously thought he was going to eat. I would have let him. I’m a bad teacher sometimes.

Tell a Story

Today in my Tuesday/Thursday TOEFL class, they were asked to write an essay answer to the question “What would it be like to lose a friend, even for a good reason?”

These girls are 10 and in fourth grade. It’s a pretty heavy topic. And a page long essay? In their second language? These kiddos usually write 5-7 sentences. Not a pageful. And certainly not in the 25 minutes I have them.

For the first bit of class, we discussed the question. First and foremost: How could you ‘lose’ a friend? We first talked about how they could move away or change class so you don’t see them any more. We talked about how they could die and you would lose them forever (the Korean ferry incident was fresh in their minds, so they could actually really relate to that, even at 10 years old). Finally, we talked about how you could get into a fight so bad with a friend that you stop being friends, and lose them that way.

We always have these discussions before we start writing. It ensures the kids understand the question and how to answer it fully. Well, after discussing how one could ‘lose’ a friend, we moved on to how they would feel if the lost a friend. Their collective verbal answer? “Sad”.

Even if I got them to say that in a full sentence, they’d still only have one sentence and a page full of empty lines.

So I suggested to them that instead of directly answering the question, that they try writing a story about losing a friend. We talked about how the beginning could be about how good the friendship was; the middle about how the friend was lost; and the end about how bad it felt after they were gone.

I told them that the story didn’t have to be true for a test like the TOEFL, it just had to be well written and interesting. And that a story is sometimes easier to write instead of a direct answer. Especially if you needed to fill a page full of lines.

The good news is that Cindy followed my advice and her story turned out really good. I just hope that she remembers what I told them for future classes and future questions. I think that if she does, she’ll do well.

Throwing Ethan Under the (School) Bus

So this isn’t a complaint about my school specifically, it is more about the “education as a business” model in Korea in general. Most of the time I can make peace about the practice, even if I don’t always love how it is implemented. It is, after all, how I make my money. But sometimes things happen that just absolutely enrage me.

We are currently doing “Open House” at our school. This means that the parents come into the school and watch their little darlings have a “class”. Of course, it is a total farce. For one of my classes I was told show my Reading and Comprehension class (usually 35 minutes), my Language Arts class (usually 35 minutes) and do our Speech Contest song. All in 15 minutes. Yah. It’s nothing but a show, and it’s annoying, but I get it. Show ’em the good bits. No warts.

That’s not what pissed me off. What pissed me off is how I was told to handle one of my little guys during the Open House. This little bundle of awesome is named Ethan, and although he’s not the brightest crayon in the box, he sure tries hard and he has been improving.

The issue is that Ethan took just about a month off to vacation in Guam. Lucky little turd. But in light of that, I was told to make sure that Ethan didn’t do as well as the other kids, so that parents could see how much children improve in a month.

What? You want me to intentionally embarrass this kid by making him look stupid in front of his friends and everyone’s mommy and daddy to try and show how awesome the school is? ARE YOU MENTAL? HE IS FIVE FUCKING YEARS OLD.

The thing is, little Ethan already was never going to do as well as the others; he’s behind in his reading. He *isn’t* as good as the others, he wasn’t even before the vacation. But he tries so hard and he deserved to be given the chance to do his best for his mommy.

So I gave him that chance. Because being a good teacher is trying to always do right by your little guys. And that little dude may have fucked up his reading a wee bit (as per usual), but he was good at answering questions and he rocked the hell out of the song. I was super proud of him.

The administration at my school, however, can do one at the moment.