Tag Archives: Korea

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.

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Something to Blog About

It is unreal to me that it has been more than a year since I’ve last added a post to the ‘Tales. Unreal, and a little sad.

There was a time when I was a regular blogger, and I think the writing was good for me. There are a lot of reasons why I haven’t been blogging, even though there has been loads happening.

  1. After the Immigration Debacle of 2013, I felt like most of the people who were coming to my blog were only interested in reading about that nonsense, and for me that chapter is closed.
  2. I started blogging as a way to keep family and friends updated about what was going on in my life when I first moved to Korea in 2005, but with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a million other places to keep folks in the loop, blogging started to fall away as seemingly archaic and a bit much when my snippets and stories were so readily available in other, more convenient places.
  3. Blogs these days seem to be more about specialisation, not about personal spaces in which to just write and share thoughts about whatevers. Maybe that’s not true, and I’m out of the “blog loop” (probably not a thing), but it feels true. People are experts in things and they write about those things. I’m an expert in nothing, without anything really to add to what scores of others are already saying.
  4. I’m lazy.

That last reason is the biggest problem. I’m lazy and writing is work, even if I enjoy doing it. Still work. And I’m definitely work-adverse.

But recently, the husband (yah, got married since I blogged last year… this is what I mean. Shit is still happening in life – new job, new city, two new cats, new husband – but I just don’t bother writing it up) and I have started seriously talking about “what next”. What we are going to do after Korea and how to go about doing it.

We think we know the when and the where – a move to Hanoi, Vietnam in late 2017 or spring 2018 – and now we are going through the steps of figuring out here to there. And I think that could be a cool process to blog bits about. Someone might find it useful, but more importantly, I may think it is cool to look back and use the blog as a memory aid.

Part of what triggered the idea to write about all this was looking back through my pictures of my trip through Vietnam in 2007. I was lazy then and didn’t label any of the pictures – not even to differentiate between Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. I can look some of the places up now and try to piece it all together… but I wish I had been smart enough and motivated enough to just put a blurb on them in the first place. It may have really helped me attach more concrete memories to that trip.

I promise nothing. But I’m seriously thinking it may be time to fire up the old brain again and get writing.

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.

Random Children Chatterings

Although I do have complaints about my school, I have absolutely nothing but love for the kids I teach. They. are. amazing. They make me laugh almost every single day and all the hugs and smiles are great. Here are a few recent bits that happened that made me laugh.

Albert Speaks 1

Albert. Again.

This kid. Seriously. THIS KID.

Me: What is the opposite of “female”?
Albert: Jew.
Me: WHAT?! “JEW”??
Albert: No! Jew. JEW. (makes a ‘z’ gesture)
Me: Do you mean “zoo”?
Albert: Yah. Zoo.

I don’t have any idea what he was thinking. Neither did he, he wouldn’t even try to explain once Jessica said the right answer.

 Albert Speaks 2

The workbook had the word “near-sighted” in it, and the kids didn’t know that particular word. I broke it down into the two parts, and was trying to get them to give me another word for “sight”. They had no clue. Thanks, level-appropriate book.

So I pointed to my eyes, trying to get them to say “look” or “see”. What does Albert come up with when I pointed at my eyes?

Excitedly he exclaimed, “Dark circles!”

Clearly I need more sleep.

Nice Try, Robinsaurus

Me: (teaching analogies) What is to “hand” as “ankle” is to “foot”?
Robin: Hankle.