Tuesday 30 April 2013

Hot Topic: Grading on a Curve

From calcunation.com
At many universities in Korea grading on a curve or using a bell curve (relative grading) is the norm. Some schools do still do absolute grading.

When talking to teachers and students you will find that there are good and bad things about grading on a curve. Here's a recent discussion about grading on a curve.

Some teachers put all their students together and grade on a curve that way. Others divide them up by class and create the curve that way. 

  • It's realistic: we're constantly measured up against other people.
  • It factors in the difficultly of the course: you can do poorly and get a good grade.
  • It creates a level playing field.
  • Grades are distributed evenly.

  • Only a certain number of people can get As even if everyone does well.
  • People are competing against their classmates.
  • The standards of the course may not be meet.
  • Scores are inflated: people don't deserve the high grades they get.


Sunday 28 April 2013

Taking Maternity Leave as a TEFL Teacher

Having a baby overseas is hard enough, but when you're not sure if you're going to lose your job or not it makes things harder. Some countries, like Korea, aren't really nice to Koreans when it comes to taking maternity leave and are worse towards foreigners. What the law stipulates and what actually happens can be very different. And while they law may protect you, the time is usually limited to a couple months after you give birth.

I know plenty of women who have been fired while pregnant or shortly after giving birth. Others haven't had their contract renewed. Others have been forced to take leave without pay. Others have been made to pay their replacements. While these may be illegal practices, it's hard to fight when you don't know the language, have recently given birth, and your employer knows that you will do anything to keep your job. 

If you're going to give birth overseas you need to do your research.
  • Find out about maternity laws. (Korea requires you to be at your job for at least a year before you can take maternity leave.)
  • Contact the Labour Board and see if they can help you if needed.
  • See if other women at your work have gotten maternity leave.
  • Talk to your boss. 
  • Talk to immigration. (If you lose your visa and are involved in going to court over maternity leave, immigration will often give you a special visa so that you can stay in country.) You will also need to figure out what visa you will get your baby.
  • Find a daycare or nanny for when you go back to work.
  • Have a back-up plan or two. 


Saturday 27 April 2013

I Love Midterms and Finals

From ed.ac.uk
Midterm week just finished. I have to say I really love midterms and finals. It's a bit of a break for me. I know that some teachers get these weeks off. They write the exams, but don't have to proctor / invigilate them. Some of them have it even better, they have their TA do everything: write, proctor, and grade.

I have to do everything myself, but I don't mind. I like midterms and finals because it's a bit of a break from teaching. In the past when I taught writing, we also got one class off for grading. So if our class met twice a week, during midterms and finals we had the exam one day and I got the second day to grade, which was definitely needed.

I'm also able to spend more time in the office grading and catching up on things. Exams often take a bit less time than teaching. Although I plan for each oral exam to last 15 minutes, some students talk a lot less so that means I can relax between students.

This time around most of my exams have been oral exams and presentations, so I didn't get a day off for grading. It's still fun though. I put students in groups of three for oral exams and it's nice to be able to talk one-to-one with students. Smaller groups means less fear. I'm also able to gauge their language better and give them feedback; something that's hard to do in a classroom.


Friday 26 April 2013

Top 7 Places to Learn English

The following post is from a guest blogger.

From chubblywubbly.com
English is the language of International business and tourism and therefore in the 21st century is an important, if not an essential, skill. You can tirelessly flick through the text books and cram the grammar all you like, but the best way to master a language, at least conversationally, is by spending time in an English speaking country. Immerse yourself in your learning and allow it to become part of everyday life. If you wonder where, here are some suggestions.

London, England 
It may seem like an obvious choice but living in the English capital to hone your language skills could be the perfect choice. Firstly, London is often described as the world’s culture capital. This means that locals are very open minded and with 100 different languages spoken and cuisine from every corner of the world available on its streets, you´ll never feel like an outsider. London also attracts international students from all over the world, so you will have the opportunity to create a global network of friends. London is a thriving and exciting city known for fashion, entertainment and music. You´ll never be short of things to do due to the many tourist attractions, nightlife, theatres and shopping...

Torbay, England 
If the big city isn’t for you, how about the seaside? Torbay is a coastal town in Devon in the south of England. Nicknamed the English Riviera, Torbay is part of a cluster of towns stretching along the coastline, each with their own individual character. The nicest climate in the UK can be found here so you can enjoy the charming harbors and sandy beaches in the sun. The typical English town benefits primarily from tourism but next in line is the amount of English learners, meaning again you can make friends from all over the world.

Gozo, Malta 
You probably won´t have considered Malta´s sister island, Gozo. Sat in the Mediterranean Sea to the south of Italy, people often think the island may lack interest. However, although Gozo is smaller than Malta, it is also greener and more rural and life moves at a much more leisurely pace. This could be right up your street! Malta is often known as a tranquil heaven with pristine waters, beautiful coastline and has some of the best diving sites in the world. Also Malta is only half an hour away by ferry for day trips. Many people go to Gozo to learn English, meaning a strong student scene has emerged.

Silema, Malta 
But if you prefer the mainland, the beautiful seaside town of Silema is a popular tourist spot. The locals are known for their friendliness and hospitality and you will be able to relax in the warm, relaxed atmosphere. This makes Malta one of the safest places to live, which is perfect for English courses for children. Silema is full of shops, bars and restaurants and whilst you’re there you will be able to visit the many historical sites that Malta has to offer. Learn English in the former British colony whilst enjoying the Mediterranean beaches and yacht filled harbors.

Cape Town, South Africa 
Cape Town is one of the most iconic cities in the world and for good reason. Sitting on the seafront, it is the second largest city in South Africa and its legislative capital. It is full of color, excitement and natural beauty. By learning English in Cape Town you will actually live next to one of the 7 wonders of the nature, the Table Mountain. There are many things to see and do, such as the V & A waterfront. It is the place for dining, shopping and boat trips.

Fort Lauderdale, USA 
Want to experience life in the “sun shine state”? Fort Lauderdale lies on the east coast of Florida and has all you could ask for including coffee shops, restaurants, the famous Fort Lauderdale beach and the trendy Las Olas Boulevard. Whilst in Fort Lauderdale, you can enjoy great weather, a holiday atmosphere, travel to the Florida Keys or Port Everglade and enjoy miles of quality beaches.

Goa, India 
Goa is a former Portuguese colony which has created an intriguing culture, home to both Roman Catholics and Hindus. The architecture is a mixture of traditional Roman Catholic style buildings and authentic Indian temples. You can enjoy the best of Indian in terms of spicy foods, great weather, natural beauty and glorious beaches away from the craziness of some of India´s cities such as Bangalore or Delhi.


Wednesday 24 April 2013

Job Site: International Schools Review

I'll have to say that International Schools Review has gotten a lot more commercial and disorganised than what it used to be, but it's still a valuable site for those wanting to teach in international schools. While mainly for those who pay for a subscription at about $30 a year, there's still info available for free.

ISR has school reviews, articles, forums, and blogs all dedicated to info about international schools. The ISR Recruiting Fair Portal, which is in the articles' section, it very good as it tells you the good, the bad, and the ugly about international school job fairs. You can read reviews about them and decide which ones are worth going to. So if you're teaching at or considering teaching at an international school, check out ISR.

Got an idea for a job site?
Email me with your job site, name, and website (if you have one) and I'll post it ASAP.


Tuesday 23 April 2013

Hot Topic: Accepting Gifts from Employers

From formspring.me
I recently wrote about accepting gifts from students and while not as controversial a topic, accepting gifts from employers can be difficult. Many employers give gifts for important holidays. And most of the time everyone in the office receives the same gift. It's not meant as a bribe, it's simply a way to say thank you.

Issues arise when you're being singled out and getting gifts that others aren't. If this is the case it can make you feel like you're being bribed or bought. Politely, but firmly decline the gift. If things persist, consider talking to the admin if you can. In the worse case scenario, you might want to consider quitting your job. Hopefully things will work out for the best.


Monday 22 April 2013

Hot Topic: A Fine Line Between Gifts and Bribes from Students

From formspring.me
When I was in grade school we'd always get our teacher an end-of-the-year gift as a way to thank her for teaching us that year. In return we'd get a thank you card from her. Nothing else was expected.

Now that the tables are turned and I'm the teacher I find that many gifts have strings attached. Students may give gifts when they come to ask you to raise their grade. I've seen gifts range from a coffee to expensive jewelry and cosmetics. I've heard that in the Middle East gifts can be even more extravagant, such as designer clothes or vacations. In order to avoid this situation I let my students know what is an acceptable complaint and what isn't.

I also refuse to accept gifts from students because I don't want them to think I can be bought. I know that some students are accustomed to giving gifts for holidays or at the end of the year. If they really want to give me a gift I ask them to wait until the semestre is over and all the grades and grievances are done with. I simply don't want to be accused of favouritism or taking bribes.


Saturday 20 April 2013

Hot Topic: Surrendering to Cell Phones and Smartphones in Class

From Business News Daily
I give up. I just can't win the battle against smartphones. They're too fun and exciting. They capture students' attention like nothing before. And they're addicting. I honestly see cell phone and smartphone usage as an addiction. To be quite honest I'm not paid enough to deal with it, nor am I trained to deal with addictions.

My students can barely go all class without checking their Facebook, Kakao Talk, play games, or writing messages messages. The funny thing is that they're not really dealing with people, they're dealing with a machine. They get nervous and agitated if they can't check their smartphones. How bad is it? A lot of my students sleep with their smartphones next to them or under their pillow. It's the first thing they check in the morning and the last when they go to sleep at night.

I know people who have successfully used smartphones in class for activities, phoning for example works well. Doing research is great too. You no longer have to book the computer lab if they just need to read stuff online. However, for the majority of my class I really don't want anything to do with smartphones. I leave mine in my office on silent when I go to class.

Other teachers give students cell phone breaks in class, similar to coffee breaks. It seems nuts, but if it works, it might help your evals.

Some teachers I know collect the phones at the beginning of class and put them on a front table or desk that way they can ensure they don't get stolen. Others make their students turn them off. Others let them have their phones but take them away when they use them. Others take off points for phone usage.

I'm in the latter group. I've tried to take away phones when I catch them using them in class and I've played tug-of-war with students over them. It's not worth it for me. I teach adults. They need to exercise self-control. I tell them at the beginning of the semester that if they use their phone they lose points for the day. Of course I'll catch students using their phones and they'll immediately apologise, but to be honest, it's no skin off my nose: they simply lose points and I move on with my lesson.


Thursday 18 April 2013

Filing US Taxes as a TEFL Teacher

The following is a guest post by Greenback Tax Services.

As a TEFL teacher in a foreign country, you’re probably busy spending most of your free time devising lesson plans and immersing yourself in the local culture. For most TEFL teachers, teaching abroad is not so much about the money you earn, but about the enriching experience that follows. Most teachers are accustomed to earning a moderate salary that pays for living and travel expenses, with little left toward savings.

Unfortunately, even a moderate income in a foreign country is not exempt from US taxes. And for you, that means you are still required to file US income tax returns if you earn above the filing thresholds (see table below).

2012 Tax Year Filing Requirements for Most Taxpayers

Filing Status
Age at the end of 2012
Gross income at least

under 65

*65 or older

head of household
under 65

*65 or older

married, filing jointly**
under 65 (both spouses)

*65 or older (one spouse)

*65 or older (both spouses)

married, filing separately
any age

qualifying widow(er) with dependent child
under 65

*65 or older

* If you were born before January 2, 1948, you are considered to be 65 or older at the end 
of 2012.

**If you did not live with your spouse at the end of 2012 (or on the date your spouse died) and your gross income was at least $3,800, you must file a return regardless of your age.

Filing Taxes as An Expat

Contrary to what some people might believe, the IRS is not out to get expats.  All US citizens or residents who live inside or outside the USA are required to file US tax returns reporting their worldwide income. This does not mean that you will necessarily owe money, but you still do have to report your income. Tools like the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and the Foreign Tax Credit can help you reduce or eliminate some or all of your US tax liability. 

The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) allows US expats to exclude up to $95,100 (for the 2012 tax year) of their foreign earned income from US taxation. This amount is tied to inflation and will increase to $97,600 for the 2013 tax year. There are certain criteria US expats must meet to qualify for FEIE, however, namely the Physical Presence Test or the Bona Fide Residence Test.  Basically, if you lived inside a foreign country for at least 330 days in a 365 day period, then you would qualify for the FEIE under the Physical Presence Test. To see the complete list of FEIE criteria, click here

Important Tax Deadlines

Like most US citizens and residents living in the US, if you do owe taxes to the IRS, you are required to submit any payments by April 15th. However, as a TEFL teacher living abroad, you are granted an automatic two-month extension on filing your tax return (to June 15th). So, if you don’t owe the IRS any money, you can take advantage of the extension. It is important to note that you will need to attach a statement to your tax return listing why you qualify for this extension. If you need additional time, you can complete Form 4868, which can be filed electronically, and receive an extension to October 15th.

Other Considerations:

  • All income must be expressed in terms of US dollars on your tax return
  • Any amount owed to the IRS must be paid in dollars
  • Paper or electronic returns are available

While filing US tax returns might not be one of your top priorities, it is an important process that ensures you are compliant with US tax regulations. If you have questions about filing your tax returns as a TEFL teacher, Greenback Expat Tax Services offers professional tax preparation services for US expats. Get in touch with us today.


Wednesday 17 April 2013

No Compete Policy in TEFL Contracts

Some contracts state that you can’t work in that city after you finish working for them. Here’s an example from Dave’s ESL Cafe: ''For a period of 2 years after successful completion or early termination of the Contract, the teacher must not be engaged in any teaching business within municipal borders of the cities of X and Y.'' (X and Y being the two cities the schools are based in.) Is this common or even legal?

Different Countries, Different Rules
Japan: Glenski says “Have seen that in a few contracts here in Japan. Totally unenforceable. You are not working as an high-ranking executive for a pharmaceutical or aeronautics firm where business secrets are at play.

Peru: Andrew Johnson says” I had a contract like that in Peru. It prohibited work in several cities in Peru and Costa Rica. Places his former partner had schools. A few people I knew openly broke it and the owner did nothing.”

Saudi Arabia: johnslat goes on to say “I'm sure it is in almost all locations - but NOT in Saudi Arabia.”

Turkey: Sashadroogie states that “I have seen . . . many times in Turkey. Totally meaningless, of course. I doubt it is legally binding in any legal system in the world. Ignore it.” 

Is This Legal?
Tudor wants to know “How can a clause be enforced in a contract that has already expired?”

Choudofu explains that “. . . the contract has not expired. The work portion has been completed, but the non-compete clause is still in force, and will be for another two years. If you sign it, it's legal. It's also enforceable, but in civil court only. Too much trouble and expense for the school owner, which is why we 'think' it's invalid or unenforceable.”

HLJHLJ disagrees with choudofu and says that “It depends on the laws of the country involved. Many countries have laws against unfair, unduly restrictive or illegal clauses in contracts. If such laws exist, and such a clause falls under it in that country, then signing it makes it neither legal nor enforceable.

There are also cases in which the legal contract, which is often in the local language, reads differently from the English version, which is technically unenforcable. Some employers have been known to add restrictive text in English which they know cannot legally appear in the 'real' contract.

I think that contractual clauses prohibiting you from teaching ex-students of the school fall under the same unenforceable category. My ex-colleague was in that situation, she agreed to do private classes with an employee of a company that the school had sent her to classes in. The school owner found out and tried to sue her but discovered that the clause was worthless as the student and teacher were completely free to enter into any contract that they wanted.”
So what does all this mean? 
It’s a case-by-case basis. In stricter countries such as Saudi Arabia, I don’t think I’d risk it. In other countries it might just be there to avoid competition and be completely meaningless. The best thing to do is to talk to other teachers and find out what actually happens.


Monday 15 April 2013

10 Best Countries for Your TEFL Adventure

When I first started this blog I wrote about which countries were the best for teaching English in. This article contains another view from a guest blogger.

Moving abroad for a summer, a semester, a year or for even longer to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL) is an exciting prospect to say the least. Getting the opportunity to travel, meet new people, experience a new lifestyle or culture and discover more about yourself in the process has a certain allure. But where? There are so many countries around the world with TEFL opportunities and making the right decision for you is a very important one. Well, I am here to help with a few recommendations. Here are the 10 best countries for your TEFL adventure.

Considering Europe?
If you don't have an EU passport or permission to work in the EU it is still possible to teach English legally in the EU. Check out Europe for non-EU passport holders for more info.

1. France 
Want to experience typical French culture, fashion and cuisine in the streets of Paris, Marseille or Bordeaux, then TEFL in France is the choice to you. It isn´t one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world for nothing. Its trademark romantic ambience, famous quality wine, world renowned artists and passion for film show just why. It has the benefits of the big city whilst boding arguably the best beaches in Europe across the breathtaking southern French coast. Again with TEFL opportunities available between September and June, with summer schools also spread across the country and 20-25 working hours per week, you are sure to enjoy all that France has to offer.

2. Italy 
Fancy living and working in Florence, Rome or Venice. Well, these are some of the places where the opportunities to TEFL in Italy lie. Typically you will be able to find work from September until June, with summer school opportunities also available. You will need a BA degree in order to teach English in Italy and as with all destinations a TEFL certification is essential, so make sure you complete a before you go. With an average of 20-25 teaching hours per week you´ll have plenty of time to enjoy all that Italy has to offer. With 100,000 monuments to see nationwide and being the European epicenter of art, fashion and gastronomy, their influence is plain to see in every corner of the country.

3. Spain 
To teach English as a foreign language in Spain, a BA degree is not necessary and with a wage that will enable you to comfortably live the Spanish lifestyle you will be able to find that famous quality of life everyone talks about. The Spanish cities of Barcelona, Seville and Madrid are amongst the most popular places to TEFL. Sport crazy locals have an undeniably pleasant lifestyle of long afternoon lunches, fantastic nightlife, long summers and world class architecture. It is common to take on additional tuition lessons, but expect these to be late afternoon/evening as most students are professionals or attend university.

Latin America, perhaps?
You can find more info in FAQs for Latin America.

4. Brazil 
If you have your heart set on a TEFL job in South America, Brazil could be for you. As an emerging economic superpower, the demand for English teachers is booming. Although not mandatory, the best way to find a position to TEFL in Brazil is in person. The hiring process typically goes ahead from February to March, then July and August. Brazil has an exciting few years ahead, as they will host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. White sand beaches, thriving rainforests and passionate people are what you´ll find in this country.
5. Costa Rica 
Costa Rica could be your ideal destination. It’s a tropical paradise with welcoming people. It is considered one of the most environmentally friendly places on earth and prides itself on its vast national parks. It is often a requirement to travel to the country in order to interview. January, June and July are the best times to find work. It will be difficult not to fall in love with its natural beauty and relaxed lifestyle.

How about Asia?
Find more info about teaching in Asia.

6. Korea 
With one of the fastest growing economies in the world, TEFL in Korea presents an interesting opportunity. The cosmopolitan city of Seoul alone has 1000 language schools and with 25,000 English teachers descending on Korea each year, it is fast developing. With year-round opportunities; interviews conducted by phone; air-fare reimbursements; free accommodation and a one-salary bonus; a generous wage; low-taxes and typically 10-20 days paid vacation, it is easy to enjoy a desirable lifestyle and save money in the process. Korea is now the most technologically advanced country in the world and a mix of traditions such as martial arts and architectural treasures makes for a rich culture.

7. Vietnam 
Two decades of economic growth have created a young Vietnamese population hungry for education. Airfares and housing are not provided. However, a generous salary and a low cost of living will enable you to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. Interviews can be taken in advance or in person. With 20-25 hours a week teaching time, you will have plenty of time to test the diverse mix of Chinese Confucianism and Cambodian Buddhist cultures. From the mountainous terrene to the bustling cities you will be able to sample the local cuisine of spring rolls and noodle soup.

8. Thailand 
Want to travel to “The Land of Smiles”? The growing number of private and now public language schools has created a demand for TESOL in Thailand. With such a low cost of living you can enjoy a portion of world famous Thai cuisine for almost nothing. With strong Buddhist religion and stunning landscape you’re sure to fall in love. English teaching jobs can be found on 12 month contacts to teach both children and adults. Most interviews are done in person and housing and airfare expenses are not normally included. Working 20-25 hours per week will allow you to see a place that embodies the past and the future of south East Asia.

9. China 
Plain and simple, the job market for English teachers is the largest in the world. This is not the only thing that is the largest; the population, the amount of English learners (300 million) and its economic growth also are. This leads to a demand of adults wishing to learn English for international business. The cost of living is low, the wages reasonable and as free housing and flight cost reimbursement are common place for those teaching English in China, it seems like an attractive offer. A BA is not obligatory but it is preferred. China really is a diverse country, with its busy cities and ancient attractions, from Shanghai to the Great Wall.

10. Japan 
English Schools are scattered everywhere across Japan with millions of adults and all children from the age of five learning English. TEFL in Japan can be easier than you think as interviews are conducted throughout the UK, US and Canada 3-6 months prior. Osaka and Fukuoka are only two of the many exciting, bustling Japanese cities and Tokyo is the largest inhabited area in the world. From ancient cities to bullet trains and from traditional dress to advanced technological research, Japan boosts a diverse existence.

So, what’s it going to be…?


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