Being better in teaching
November 15, 2010 11:26 PM   Subscribe

I want to make this short and excuse my uneasy temperment. I'm in Korea teaching English. Teaching for almost a month to be exact. No background in teaching nor attending a seminar for ESL teaching. It's very hard since I'm doing this in the middle of the last school semester. I don't know what to do to be honest. I speak Korean and this is a menace. They have huge expectations about me as I can speak both languages. I need to improve my teaching skills overall ASAP. But what to do?
posted by sanskrtam to Work & Money (29 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Tell about your students: what level(s) are they? What ages? What are their goals for studying English?

How many students are in the class?

Who is your employer? What type of class or school is it?

What resources do you have? Is there any chance there's a local library with books on teaching ESL?

I'm in a course on teaching English as a second language _right now_, and I just discovered a huge cache of relevant books in the local university library.
posted by amtho at 11:31 PM on November 15, 2010


You will probably be advised to lay down the law, set expectations about classroom behaviour, adopt consequences, and focus on discipline, discipline, discipline. Be strict at first, and lighten up later when you have won their respect.

Well, I'm going to say that you should avoid thinking about things like consequences and discipline, and think more about classroom management.

You need to think about delivering maximum results, with minimum effort. From my point of view, minimizing effort means minimizing the amount of speaking you as a teacher have to do in class. A great ration is 30/70 (while a truly classic Pareto ration is 20/80).

If you are a new teacher, it's tough to succinctly organize, explain and manage a classroom activity without doing a lot of speaking. However, the more speaking you do, the less the students listen.

The solution is worksheets.

Give students an easy worksheet to do for when they first arrive in class. Allow them to help each other out, whatever. Anyway, a worksheet helps the students calm down, focus, and, if it's easy enough (but not insulting to their intelligence), experience success within the first 10 minutes of class.

For a nice speaking activity, have students read out the answers to the worksheet. This should take less than 10 minutes. Exchange papers so other students can mark them. Give a prize for the top mark. Stickers work well, or candies (if the school allows food in class).

Next, give the students another worksheet. This should be more complicated than the first one, and perhaps should focus on whatever language functions or vocab your are studying that day.

Perhaps it's answering questions in sentence form. Or writing paragraphs. Include simple games on the worksheet - give 3 or 4 activitis, some easy, some more challenging, some more challenging. Include a crossword, a word search, a fill-in-the blanks.

This way, you can give the more motivated students something easy to do, you can give the barely motivated students something to do, and you can give the in-between students something to do.

By including easy activities, you can force the lazier students to work, rather than goofing off. By including harder activities, you can force the more motivated to students to work, rather than goofing off.

For the keeners, have a backup. This can be guided reading, with reading comprehension questions. That way, if they finish early, give them the reading to do. Give them stickers, too.

Finally, have a game. With the reading, write the questions on the board. Divide the class into groups. Have a keener in each group. Forbid the keener from talking. Ask the questions. The keeners have to transmit the answer to the less keen students. Winning group gets stickers.

If your students are really motivated, and tear through your material, make sure you create a shitload of worksheets. Unfortunately, that is one of the drawbacks of being a teacher.

If you're worried that I'm suggesting too many worksheets and not enough communicative activities, well, Rome wasn't built in a day. You're just a beginning teacher. Managing successful, communicative speaking activities is not easy, and often ends in disaster.

My suggestion is to plan for success - capture the students' attention with something easy to do. Take the focus off of you - avoid speaking as much as you can. Over time the class's confidence will grow, they'll relax, and you can experiment with more interesting activities.

If the kids goof off, try to figure out why. 99% of the time it is not because they are bad or disrespectful.

It's because they are bored and frustrated. And if the students are bored and frustrated, it is your responsibility to change the situation.

Save punishment for sociopaths - the kids with knives, or the kids who steal stuff.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:48 PM on November 15, 2010 [8 favorites]


I teach ESL in Poland.

If your students are between, say, 10 and 15 (we've found that teachers of both much older and much younger students don't find this particularly effective) use a simple classwide discipline system.

Imagine a paper/cardboard points "thermometer" that goes from zero to 100 and starts at 50 every lesson. A few students are missing homework, didn't bring their materials, or are not speaking English? The points go down for the whole class. Not dramatically - say five or ten points. Everything's going well, they're being responsive, they're working in English, they're doing their best? The thermometer goes up.

You can ask students why it's moving up and down, and while they should know the rules it helps to have them create them (what can we do in class? what can't we do in class?) and post them to reference.

Move it a lot: let them see you're being responsive. But don't use it to punish wrong answers - it's a tool for encouraging good behavior, not promoting language awareness. It's also general enough that no individual student feels picked on or targeted.

Record the points at the end of each lesson in your register and offer them rewards if they get to certain goals (say, five lessons over 85 points or something). If the system expands to the whole school, consider making it a competition, with the classes earning the biggest point totals in each age group/level earning a cool whole-class reward (we use cakes!).

MeMail anytime with more specific questions. :)
posted by mdonley at 12:07 AM on November 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


"and focus on discipline, discipline, discipline."

Not if you're in a hagwon. Not at all.

We really need to know more about your situation. If it's a kindergarten hagwon you need to speak with your boss immediately about expectations. What's more important, the kids learning English or them having fun and staying enrolled in the school? If your boss says the former and not the latter, it's quite likely he or she is lying. Hagwon are 100% about maintaining enrollment, and this means making the kids happy as opposed to actually teaching them English.

If you're a gyopo there's extra pressure on you to be sure, but at the same time you should avoid speaking Korean as much as possible.

But again, that depends on age. If you're teaching young children immersion is key. If you're teaching high school or college your Korean can be an advantage.

I may be assuming way too much and for that I apologize. Sounds to me like you're doing some sort of a camp or a fill-in for a teacher who quit or got fired? And you've been thrown into the deep end? And they told you they had a curriculum in place but it turns out they don't? This won't alleviate your anxiety, but at least you should know this is the prototypical hagwon experience in South Korea. Even an experienced teacher is more likely to fail than succeed, at least for the first few months. If you're only there for a month, don't even bother striving to be "good" at teaching, strive at being competent, efficient, and making sure the kids are happy above all else.

Sorry to be snarky. I have some other advice but please tell us your age group and a little more about your situation.
posted by bardic at 12:35 AM on November 16, 2010


When I started out in the ESL world I copied heavily from my co-workers, but I had really great coworkers. I'm not sure if that's possible in your situation. I also came into the job with little experience and, in my case, strong Japanese skill.

I remembered being totally frustrated my first 3 months doing eikaiwa in Japan. Poor commutation between the management and teachers including a lack of support or clear learning goals. After two years I eventually quit to move on to greener pastures, but getting thrown into a sink or swim situation like that really made me a stronger teacher in the end.

Basically take a few breaths. Do what others are doing. Soon you'll get your legs under you and you'll be able to start molding the class into something you'll be able to get your head around better.

Good luck!
posted by sleepytako at 1:00 AM on November 16, 2010


I have found good advice in a book called Smooth Moves, TEFL.net and Learning for Life (lower left corner). Do you need to improve your charisma? Your classroom control? nthing the call for more details. And don't worry. When I think back on my first month in Korea, I'm shocked by how bad I was. You'll improve-- being concerned is a giant first step.
posted by acidic at 1:07 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are you teaching in a regular school or one of the afterschool English cram schools?

I'm living in Taiwan and have a few friends from the States who are teaching English in larger chain cram schools. It's stressful for them too, and I think that some of them were feeling really overwhelmed about a month into teaching. You're not alone!

They have huge expectations about me as I can speak both languages

I think that this, rather than your lack of teaching experience, is the problem. Based on what I've seen of the English cram school culture in Taiwan, I would actually advise you to reduce your anxiety by politely but firmly refusing to take on unrealistic expectations. If you can't do something, don't do it. If something is an inconvenience, don't set a precedent of doing it anyways. There's nothing wrong with your boss thinking that you're nice, but that you're not the teacher they'd turn to with the biggest problems in the school. Be aware that going the extra mile might just encourage your bosses to assign you an extra two miles.

What's worked for my friends: be really, really nice to your Korean coworkers, because their attitude towards you can make your experience that much better. My friend brought in small gifts for her Taiwanese coworkers and went out of her way to befriend them. The difference in the small privileges and general support that she gets from her Taiwanese coworkers is HUGE.
posted by pluot at 1:14 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


What level? How old are the students? What are they expected to know/be learning? Does the school you're at have a goal in mind? Have you asked them? Do you have a textbook? Are there any resources (worksheets, printed materials) at your school that you can use? I'd love to be more helpful, but it would help everyone give you better advice if we knew what level you're teaching at.

Anyway, Dave's ESL Cafe got me through some of the tougher parts of being thrown in the deep end when I first started. There are lesson ideas and games in the forums.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:34 AM on November 16, 2010


There are a lot of EFL teachers and teacher trainers (some in Korea) on AskMe and I've seen some first-rate advice given. However, asking how you can be better at teaching without specifying the age/level of the students and the context in which you are teaching them is too vague to elicit very useful advice, unless Bardic or someone else has correctly guessed your situation.

Imagine someone asking how they can be a better writer without specifying whether they were writing for themselves or others, fiction or non-fiction, freelance or full-time, for adults or children...

Comment here with some more information and you'll get a lot more help!

By the way, I say EFL because in Korea that's most likely what you're teaching, not ESL. The difference is not the most important thing you need to know, but it might help you understand why certain resources and approaches just don't work in your context.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 2:47 AM on November 16, 2010


I teach from preschoolers to 6th graders (elementary). You know, a typical Korean countryside elementary school. Apparently this is the hardest kind of schools that many English teachers want to avoid.
posted by sanskrtam at 3:59 AM on November 16, 2010


Thanks for the update! All I can suggest for generally improving your skills is this book, but with a few more specifics we might be able to give some more detailed advice.

So this is a state school? Are you the only teacher of English for these kids or are you helping a Korean teacher? Do you have clear learning goals from the school management (e.g. passing a test / improving spoken English) or is it very general?

What problems are you having in your teaching? Are they connected with classroom management? Do you feel the students aren't learning as effectively as they could be?
posted by Busy Old Fool at 4:44 AM on November 16, 2010


State school. Only English teacher. General learning goals.

My biggest problem is that I came to this school during the latter part of the 2nd semester where it is extremely difficult to manage the students. The former teacher didn't give me a clear guideline of each grades and she lost some important materials for teaching after she left.
posted by sanskrtam at 4:48 AM on November 16, 2010


Well, okay. You need to make a plan. Get a big calendar and plan out your lessons for the rest of the semester. It's much easier to figure out activities months or weeks in advance instead of minutes before class, and you can always change your plans.

Then you need to learn some classroom management skills. There are several modes of successful teachers-- no-nonsense but respected, kind and adored, funny but effective-- and you should figure out what kind of teacher you WANT to be. Think back on your own education and pick a teacher or two to emulate. How did they manage their classroom? Figure out systems for discipline, rewards, group work, lectures, and evaluation. And remember, the needs of the little kids are quite different from the 6th graders. Little kids tend to be hyper but harmless, whereas you'll need to wake up some of the older students.

If you're engaging, kind, and no-nonsense about sleeping/cheating/misbehavior, you'll find that students really respect you. My hagwon students often tell me horror stories about school and it sounds like many teachers completely ignore their students. But many of them really like their English teachers because those classes are more interactive.

IMO the easiest way to teach is to follow a strict pattern every day with the occasional game or activity. That way, students know what to expect and you don't have to spend a lot of time explaining instructions. For example, in my hagwon classes (a bit older than yours) I do:

1) warm up discussion-- talking about the weekend or today's topic
2) exposure to material-- reading or listening, & comprehension check
3) a few minutes of thinking time
4) students respond to a prompt, I evaluate and they revise
5) role-play conversations relevant to the day's topic

For certain levels I need to throw a grammar lesson in there somewhere, or a vocabulary lesson. Where would you place a grammar lesson? If you wanted to integrate a writing activity, would it be at the beginning or end of class? How will you accomodate terrible and excellent students? There's not necessarily a RIGHT answer to all of these questions, but there is a right answer for YOU and you should think about it.

IIRC elementary students don't take English exams, but take a look at some middle school exams and you'll see the end goal.

Good luck! I would advise that you stop fretting about the negatives and realize that children are incredibly forgetful and will quickly change their behavior once you change yours.
posted by acidic at 6:42 AM on November 16, 2010


If this is a state school, then there are other teachers, right? You said you have Korean language ability, you might try to discuss the class goals and lessons with other teachers, even if they are in different grades. Make it clear that you feel bad about asking them to help you when they're so obviously busy, but that you want to do the best job possible. Be up front and open about your inexperience, and listen a lot. Ask lots of questions. Ask if it would be okay to observe other teachers, perhaps even other lessons with your same students.

Watch how other teachers budget their time in class, and how much time they spend on different parts of the lesson. For an example, if I'm teaching a new concept, I'll introduce it, maybe through modeling, or through reading (depending on their level). Again, depending on the level, either show the students how it works, or have them guess how it works on their own. In a fifty minute lesson, there would be a 3-5 minute greeting/introduction, followed by a quick check of homework (if any) which would hopefully take less than five to ten minutes. This really depends on what kind of homework you give, and how motivated the students are. If the students are motivated, you have students write answers on the board on a rotating basis, so that over the course of the class, every student is up there at least a couple times.

So, now you're about 10-15 minutes into a 50 minute lesson, and the students are antsy (at the sixth grade level). Get the students up, get them active, if possible, use the new activity to introduce the new structure. Running and writing (put students in teams, have one member race to the board, first student to finish gets the points) is one way to introduce a new structure. Hangman and charades can be a good way to review vocabulary and spelling.

Once you get them to understand the grammar point, make sure to get them involved in using it. Students retain more through pair work than through lecture, or through listening. Getting students to interact and use the English you're teaching them is key. You should, for the last thirty or so minutes of the class, you should try to have at least two activities or the students where they are using the vocab and structures. Longer than five to ten minutes in an activity, the students will begin to have difficulty focusing. One of your most important things to understand is how long before the students will begin to get squirrely, and make sure that you're activities are either keeping them active enough that it's not a factor, or that the activity can be completed before the students lose focus.

It's a lot to deal with. To be bluntly honest, my first year to year and a half of teaching (largely without training or any form of supervision) was a complete disaster. Just remember to learn from your mistakes. Try everything. Keep things that work, think about things that fail. If there's anything you can save from your failures, do it. Try to keep a scrapbook of lessons that work and lessons that you need to rework. You're not going to become a perfect teacher overnight, but you will improve over time.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:45 AM on November 16, 2010


I teach from preschoolers to 6th graders (elementary). You know, a typical Korean countryside elementary school. Apparently this is the hardest kind of schools that many English teachers want to avoid.

You need to avoid this kind of negative thinking. If that's impossible, you need to get another job. Who has time in their life for shitty experiences with no solution?

I still say simple, easy exercises that help the kids focus are your only solution.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:54 AM on November 16, 2010


I think this is the fifth time I read the same answers over and over again for the past month. Perhaps it isn't the teaching method that I have a problem now. Maybe it's something else.

Thanks but no thanks. You guys didn't help me at all.
posted by sanskrtam at 6:55 AM on November 16, 2010


Sorry for being a pessimist, KokuRyu et al. But I can never be an optimist. This is a burden I have to carry on for the rest of my life and I'm trying to perfectly cope this.
posted by sanskrtam at 6:58 AM on November 16, 2010


Thanks but no thanks. You guys didn't help me at all.

In order to be helped you need to:
  • Show appreciation for people who are giving you their time and expertise for free. There is some excellent advice in this thread, given the amount of information you've provided. I get paid (pretty well) to help novice teachers and they thank me. I know of at least one full-time teacher trainer who posts on AskMeFi. He hasn't commented here yet and if he reads your responses above, do you seriously think he will?
  • Provide as much detail as possible to help us find your answer. We're helpful people, which is why many of us are taking shots in the dark in the hope that they'll be useful. However, you've so far responded to dozens of questions with 90 words of answers and another 90 words of complaining. The thread as a whole, by comparison, is over 3,500 words long. Right now I have only the scantiest idea of what is going wrong in your lessons.
  • Show some desire to be helped. I know it's tough to be teaching when you don't feel you are doing a good job. I've taught some dire lessons and felt pretty terrible about it afterwards. But you don't seem to be able to go three sentences without saying something defeatist. You can teach these kids well, but you have to really want to and that's not the impression you're giving at the moment.

posted by Busy Old Fool at 7:29 AM on November 16, 2010 [10 favorites]


Wow, dude. I really don't know what you were looking for -- there's no magic pill that's going to make you an excellent teacher. If you've been reading "the same answers five times" (to paraphrase) over the last month, maybe you should realize that people keep saying the same pieces of advice because that advice works.

Perhaps it isn't the teaching method that I have a problem now. Maybe it's something else.

It's wise of you to see this, but less wise of you to disregard KokoRyu & others' comments about not having a negative attitude. Perhaps the "something else" that's hindering you is your attitude and unwillingness to take and apply the excellent advice you're being generously given.

Teaching is not for everyone. That's fine. The situation appears to be stacked against you. That sucks. But you ARE in this situation, and there are kids now depending on you for schooling. You need to act like a responsible adult and do the best you can with what you have. (And it would be awesome if you could try to do it with some degree of graciousness.)
posted by alleycat01 at 7:45 AM on November 16, 2010



Sorry for being a pessimist, KokuRyu et al. But I can never be an optimist. This is a burden I have CHOSEN to carry on for the rest of my life...


I don't know you, and I could be wrong, but when I read your comment, I just felt there was a word missing.
posted by walleeguy at 8:28 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


From a fellow ESL teacher in Korea:

Communication is key - you know that already, so no patronizing intended. But what happened to talking to your boss? Part of the problem is the lack of expectations given you, and that needs to become part of the focus. Since they seem to have expectations of you, it's fair to remind them of the expectations you have for them - understanding what they want, knowing your schedule ahead of time, getting paid on time, etc.

What sort of book / materials are you using? They may not be the best quality, but there's usually something to work with. Other stuff can integrate well - you could even generate word searches or unscramble puzzles from any internet-connected computer.

Starting a new teaching job in a new school means learning their system, their thoughts on homework, discipline, etc. If there are questions you have, ask them. Presuming you didn't get the Western-style tour (because hey, it's Korea) you probably have plenty of questions - and your co-workers have presumably been working within this system.

There's tons of stuff to try - and much of it is online, for free, without much if any registration needed. The trick is to try stuff out and see what sticks - and get the help you need for what you can't do yourself.
posted by chrisinseoul at 9:10 AM on November 16, 2010


I can imagine your frustration, not knowing which levels the students have reached.

I would suggest you give them a pre-test, with basics like simple phrases (My name is ___; how are you, I am fine; where is the restroom; can you direct me to ______; how much is this?), counting from 1-10 and then 20, 30, 40, 50....stuff like that. You are looking for ways to group the students in terms of ability. This will help YOU by pointing out the students who know the most already and can help you with the other students.
posted by misha at 9:35 AM on November 16, 2010


I just got a phone call from my co-teacher who looks after me. This is according to her but what hinders me the most is that the kids couldn't treat me well as a teacher.

They are taking advantage of my inexperience and that I'm not White and American. I'm Asian and Canadian. So they don't seem to be so interested about me. I'm too generous towards them. So I seem to be ignorable according to their view.

It's harder for Canadians to get a teaching job in South Korea thanks to the growing hoards of young Americans trying to pay their student debt and getting a teaching job here. But I can't believe I'm treated like an absolute crap by my students and indirectly by some staffs just because I'm not an American.

I don't like this country at all. Americans are treated better than any other foreign residents.

I don't know you, and I could be wrong, but when I read your comment, I just felt there was a word missing.

You don't know about my family background. So CHOSEN is ABSOLUTELY NOT a preferable word to describe my personal situation. Thanks but no thanks.
posted by sanskrtam at 4:29 PM on November 16, 2010


sanskrtam, a lot of us are trying to help you. We understand, from what you've told us, that you're having a very difficult time, and we understand that. I hope, for your sake, that you're less rude in your dealings with the other teachers at school than you have been here, because that kind of rudeness is a good way to permanently ruin relationships in most of Asia.

And honestly, the chip on your shoulder is what's keeping you from taking in any information. I have some bad news, and some good news. You're getting ignored because you're Asian. I've known a lot of Asian-American, Asian-Canadian teachers, and the response to them (initially) was disbelief, that they couldn't possibly speak English because they look just like the students. It's pretty much universal in English teaching in Asia. As I said, I know a lot of teachers of Asian descent, and they're all people who managed to work their way past the initial 'I don't want an Asian teacher' issue that's present.

As others have said, you've been given a pretty good deal of information, and a lot of it overlaps. It overlaps because it's good information. We've tried to show you simple, useful ways to manage classes, plan lessons, even supplied you with links to websites that help thousands of teachers every day. You don't seem interested in trying any of that out.

I hate to say this, but if you're totally uninterested in learning, listening to people who are trying to help you, or in keeping an open mind, maybe education is the wrong field for you. If you don't like Korea at all, why are you there? You, and your students, might be better off if you start looking at new career paths.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:02 PM on November 16, 2010


I can't learn anything when my circumstances make me insecure. Sorry but I'm one of those people who needs to be metally secure in order to learn something.

I know you would laugh at me for that reason but that's OK. I think I deserve some ridicules.
posted by sanskrtam at 5:55 PM on November 16, 2010


I can't learn anything when my circumstances make me insecure.

Then logically the only thing you can do is go home, take a TEFL certification course, and try again-- preferably in a non-Korean country with lower expectations.

Barring that, you could take an online certification course. Not as good, but possibly helpful.

Stop blaming your background and circumstances. There are plenty of successful Korean-Canadian teachers here. If you are a good teacher, nothing else matters. There are many, many critics of American teachers as well. You need to be your own ambassador. If your students and teachers think that Canada sucks, educate them. Talk about Canada's culture and your life back home.

Finally, I didn't want to say this earlier, but your attitude in this thread is so nasty that you do deserve some "ridicules". Hint: Is ridicule a countable noun? Look, your English is not great. You've made quite a few glaring grammatical errors and your sentences do not sound natural. I'd bet anything that some of your students have noticed this and consequently question your teaching ability. Many Korean English teachers are known to have awful pronunciation and speaking skills, but foreign teachers are expected to be perfect.

Sorry if this heightens your insecurity. But COME ON:

I'm one of those people who needs to be metally secure in order to learn something.

That is not how life works.
posted by acidic at 7:06 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


We're not trying to laugh at you, and you don't deserve any ridicule. You're in a high stress situation in a high stress job. You need to try to relax. If you want out of the position, get out, but until that time is possible, you've still got a job to do.

Do yourself a favor. Figure out what vocabulary the kids have learned recently. This will work best if you've got a themed unit (phrases for hobbies, like play video games, or animals, or numbers, or whatever they've learned recently). Make a set of flashcards with the words (crtl+mouse wheel lets you zoom in and out on Microsoft Word. Zoom out until you can see several pages at once. Switch to landscape view, use crtl+shift+> to make the font size crazy big), one word per piece of, say, A4 paper. Open the class with greetings (good morning, how are you), then practice having the students say the words out loud. Have them repeat the spellings with you (for numbers, one, O-N-E!), being as energetic and cheerful as you can muster.

After doing enough practice, have all the students stand up at their seats, then call out a word for the students to spell it. If the student spells the word correctly, they sit. Sitting is a great motivator, and this is one way to get everyone involved. If it doesn't work, or students don't seem to care if they're standing, or can't focus, then don't use it again. If it does work, it's an easy tool for practicing sentence patterns. It all depends on the class.

Once you've got the students seated, give them a word find.

This site and this site are both easy to use word find creators. Superkids has the option to eliminate backwards words if those are too difficult.

Have the students work in pairs, have them move their desks together to do the wordfind. The teamwork aspect gets them more active, and will help the class move along faster. If they do it alone, there's more chance of some students finishing quite early and getting antsy while waiting, and there's a good chance that weaker students might not even try. Pair up the stronger students with the weaker students so they can help each other.

When the word find is finished, split the class into teams, and place them in lines. Have them play hangman using the words you've been reviewing, where each round, one student guesses a letter, then rotate the next line to the front. Let the students name their own teams, and they'll have that much more fun.

When they're finished, if there is time, you can do the run and write I mentioned before. Now, instead of passively reading, you're getting the students to produce. If there are four teams, give four points to the team that writes the word correctly first, three to second place, and so on. If there's a mistake, offer the team a chance to send someone to fix the mistake for one point.

That's probably more than you need for a single class right now, but if you can get used to it, that's the kind of variety and speed you should be looking for in an elementary school class.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:12 PM on November 16, 2010


I find this ESL resource site to be somewhat helpful.

I think the most important thing I learned early on was to not try and dominate the class. I needed to learn to relax and let the students (even the kindergarten ones) control the flow of our lesson or activity. Encourage them to do most of the talking. Encourage them to raise their hands and ask questions (something your older students won't be doing with their Korean teachers).

Also, don't be afraid of repetition. You might feel like you're "finished" with a particular set of vocabulary or a grammar lesson, but children need reinforcement. You're not wasting any time by repeating things, and you'll lighten your load when it comes to lesson planning.

I had a small "mini-library" in my class of English books and comics. This was great, because it allowed for both "reading time" where I could slow things down if I needed a break and it worked as my reward system. I was never interested in giving out stickers and toys (although it's very common in the Korean system), so I made "go pick a book and read, you can sit wherever you want" our classroom reward. It worked really well. Great for the kids who finish assignments quickly as well.

As for the cultural stuff, that's not an easy thing to deal with, but trying to be the best teacher you can is your only path right now.

Teaching isn't easy, is it? It's a shame so many people think it's "natural" or that anyone can do it. For better or worse, you're going to gain a lot from this experience.
posted by bardic at 7:46 PM on November 16, 2010


I'm uncertain about what you want from this thread.

On the one hand, your question says 'I need to improve my teaching skills overall ASAP. But what to do?' As a result you've had many people suggesting effective ways to teach (Korean) children.

On the other hand, you've rejected the suggestions without any explanation of why they don't help you. You're not making a serious attempt to explain what goes wrong in your classes. You're giving lots of reasons why teaching can't possibly work out for you. You're saying that you can't learn anything because you feel insecure. So, what do you want from this thread? What sort of answer are you hoping to hear?

No one here is laughing at or ridiculing you. You're getting expressions of sympathy and suggestions of help. You can embrace the opportunity to make your situation better or continue convincing yourself that it is hopeless and there is nothing you can do. In reality, you've got plenty of advantages, but you seem to think that every circumstance is conspiring against you.

You feel that your students are ignoring you because you're not a white American. There are Korean teachers all across the country who manage to engage their students without even being foreign like you. You might have to work a bit harder at it than some of the young Americans, but even they find that the novelty wears off very quickly and they have to interest the students in learning.

Yes, there are some issues that are tough to deal with in Korea, particularly in the area of race. But at least you're not Indian or Nepali or black.

Yes, state schools in the countryside can have particular difficulties. But they can also be places where, after years of uninspiring teaching, your students will react with huge enthusiasm to someone who tries something new with them.

Yes, there are a very few employers that prefer Americans to Canadians. But you'll be ahead of the Britons, Irish, Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans. And far ahead of the Indians, Filipinos, Singaporeans etc. who can't get any job, no matter how good their English and teaching skills.

Yes, there are disadvantages to being an Asian native-speaking teacher. You won't get the automatic respect in the classroom a white face often gets. But there are plenty of advantages too. You won't be assumed to be sexually promiscuous and a 'loser back home'. Your Korean language skills mean that the kids can't be rude to you without you knowing about it and you can communicate easily with your colleagues. You know about the differences between Korean and English and this can help you predict the difficulties students will have with new language. Although L1 can be over-used in the classroom, it can be an effective tool for a teacher.

One of the teachers who worked for me was, like you, of Korean ethnicity and spoke Korean. At the start of every term there would be a few parents of students she taught complaining that their child was being taught by a Korean. I would respond that (a) she was Irish, not Korean and (b) that she was a fantastic teacher. I asked them to come back in a week if they were still concerned. They never did, because they noticed after one lesson that their kids were learning loads with her. She worked hard at being a great teacher and is now a great teacher trainer.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 5:01 AM on November 17, 2010


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