Friday, 1 June 2018

25 Annoyances about Teaching in Korea

I have to admit that I do love living in Korea, but (you knew there'd be a but, didn't you?), there are somethings that annoy me. Below you can find 25 of my pet peeves that at times make me want to pull out my hair.

Applying for Job and Interviewing
Looking for a job is stressful. Add cultural issues to it and it can be very frustrating. Read on for 5 difficulties you may encounter.

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Getting new apostillised copies of your degree and recently issues transcripts
Listen: my degree and transcripts are like my birth certificate. They don't change. I was given a degree X years ago and I still have it. It's still valid.

Sending originals
This is a cultural issue. I've been told that you can go to a Korean university and get loads of "original" degrees similar to what we would get for transcripts. That's not the case in the western world. You get one degree. You might be able to get one replacement and you'll most likely have to pay a fee and jump through hoops in order to get it.

Personal info
I've gotten used to this now, but expect to put down your date of birth, age, visa type, address, phone, email, and civil status on your CV. Questions about your age, civil status, children (how many, when you plan on having them, why you don't want kids), religion, spouse, and religion are not off limits here. I've even been asked height and weight. Not comfortable with these questions? Try switching the topic politely by telling them that you'd much rather talk about how wonderful a teacher you are.

Lookism
You will be judged on your looks. While that happens everywhere, Koreans are pretty blatant about it. Get a professional photo taken and they will Photoshop the heck out of it. Stick that on your CV. Dress up for the interview, put on make-up, do your hair, and don't forget to shine your shoes.

Scanning and handing over all your docs
Every time I apply for a job, I send scans of my passport, alien card, degrees, transcripts, reference letters, and proof of employment. I don't blacken out any info. I send them as it. Am I worried that someone will steal my identity? Not really. This is Korea. That's just what's done when you apply for jobs.

However, handing over my originals: not going to happen. I had one employer tell me that they would keep my documents until I left. Remember how I mentioned that Koreans can easily get "original" degrees? Because of that, they don't treat your documents with respect. I've seen them folded, with holes punched in them, ripped, written on, spilled coffee on, you name it. It's been done.

My solution is simple. I bring my originals. I make the copies in front of them and I give them the copies. That's it. Works fine. There's no reason why they should have your originals.


Hagwons
Generally considered to be low on the totem pole are hagwon jobs. There are a number of reasons why they're not that good. Here are 5. For another viewpoint, check out the link under the photo on below.
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No Breaks
Getting a 10 minute break is considered a luxury. Many places only give 5 minutes. That's barely enough to push your way through a sea of screaming kids and go to the bathroom.

No Sitting
Horrible rule. Teachers have to stand all the time. Standing is going to wreak havoc on your body physically.

Holidays and Sick Days
Sure, you get 10 days of vacation plus Korean holidays, but many places won't even let you take 10 days in a row. They'll give you 5 for summer and 5 for winter. Hardly worth spending thousands of dollars to go home when you'll be jet lagged the whole time. Sick? don't even think of taking a sick day. Yes, it's in your contract, but it's an unwritten rule that you do to work unless you're dying.

Teaching hours
30 seems to be the norm. Teaching 6 hours a day is exhausting. Finishing at 8, 9, or even 10 at night is not that uncommon. Sure, you have mornings free, but finishing that late at night sucks.When you're teaching, you're always "on". Add to it that you're most likely dealing with kids who don't listen, you can't sit down, and the teaching material is crappy, and you're on your way to getting burn out, if you don't have it already.

Getting Screwed
Hagwon owners are unscrupulous. Many don't have a background in English or teaching; some may barely speak English. The reason they have a hagwon is because it's profitable. 11 month firings happen all too often because they want to get out of paying your flight. 


Public Schools
Government jobs in Korea are pretty easy, though you do have to worry about your school getting funding in order for you to renew your contract. Read on to find out about 5 other annoyances you might have to deal with.
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Desk warming
Sure, you only teach a maximum of 22 hours a week, but you'll spend the remainder of that time desk warming. And when school's not in session and all the teachers aren't there, you sure will be! The positive aspect of this is that if you manage your time well, check out 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for tips, you can get a lot done. Want a master's degree, to start a blog, or write a book? You'll have plenty of time to do so.

Blocking emails
Emails can't be checked due to firewalls, yet you can get on Facebook and Reddit. Yeah, makes perfect sense to me too!

Co-teachers
It's the luck of the draw. Sometimes you get a good one who will help when needed but usually lets you do your own thing. Sometimes they'll stay in the class the whole time. Other times they'll leave. Sometimes they don't speak English. Regardless, having a co-teacher is tough.

Pay Issues
Usually you won't have issues with public schools with pay, however, some teachers have reported that their schools don't take pension out, citing "foreigners don't pay pension", despite the fact that it's in the contract.

You'll also have to pay them a security deposit of 900,000 won. This deposit can't be deducted from your pay check (that's illegal), you're supposed to give it to them. Get a receipt or do a bank transfer. This deposit used to be for housing to ensure you didn't damage the apartment and was called a housing deposit. Nowadays, it's just for sh!ts and giggles since everyone (even those with their own housing) are required to pay that deposit. It makes no sense whatsoever.

Methods and Materials
Memorizing: Be aware that when it's test time, you might be told that not only should you give the students the questions ahead of time so that they can study, but also the answer. Um, come again? Yep, can't make stuff like this up. I think this is one thing worth fighting about. Just do it nicely.

Books: Ah, English text books at public schools. You often get them and go what were they thinking? The material can be lacking to say the least. I know people who were told to spend 45 minutes teaching the following:
  • Hi, My name is Minsu. What's your name?
  • My name is John.
  • Nice to meet you.
  • Nice to meet you, too.
Written by a native speaker who was likely forced to make a textbook. Check out the eye chart.
The "I say, you repeat" method of drilling is used a lot. It's further exasperated by the low English level of some of the English teachers. I'm not sure what tests public school teachers need to pass to become English teachers, but I will say that some of the English I've heard is absolutely atrocious. The pronunciation and grammar is just not good at all and this is passed on to the students. Furthermore, the Korean culture doesn't allow people to correct their elders. So if a teacher mispronounces something, even if there is a student who speaks English better (perhaps they lived abroad or have a parent who speaks English), they would never correct the teacher.

On the other hand, sometimes they give you books that are way above their level. Now, granted, Koreans are very good at test taking. Years of rote memorizing and test taking have prepared them to pass tests. But when you are told that you're supposed to teach TOEFL to kids who can barely make a sentence, you can't help but shake your head in disbelief.

Other times, you'll be given nothing. You'll be told to prepare your own lessons. This can be great, but you need to have a basic understanding of their level and be able to plan a simple curriculum.



Universities
Considered the creme de la creme of teaching jobs in Korea, they are not without their problems.
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Making Up Holidays
When you get red days off, you're likely expected to make them up. This never works. Students choose classes based on their schedule. It's pretty much impossible to find a time to meet that works for everyone. Usually only about a third of the students can make it. Then you run into the issue, of what the heck do you teach? You can't teach anything necessary, since most of the students won't be there. Any how about attendance? Can't make it mandatory, since students have other classes. So what happens is that you *wink, wink* tell students that you'll forget to take attendance. After all, you can't punish students for not coming to a class that isn't in their schedule. In the end, no one shows up if you're lucky. If you're not, you'll get one eager beaver student.

Grades and the Curve
Many Korean universities have high curves. By high, I mean that 50% may be allowed to get As. The key word is "allowed". You don't have to give half of your students As. You're welcome to give them all Cs if you want. However, students know what the curve is and will try to get you to max it out. They'll often ask about their ranking.

Grading on a curve can be a pain. If you have an amazing class, you're not allowed to give them all As. You will be forced to give out Cs to some students. Making sure you spread out the grading during the semester can help. Rubrics will be your friend. Learn how to make them and use them in class. Also be sure to pick meaningful assessments. Unfortunately, some students will need to get low grades. Fighting over grades brings us to the next topic: grievances.

Grievances
Oh, the complaint period, otherwise known as the grievance period. This is the time when a student can come to you begging and pleading for a higher grade. Common reasons are:
  • I made my best effort
  • My parents have no money
  • I will lose my scholarship
Notice that none of them involve subjective reasons, such as the teacher made a mathematical error when calculating the grade. Or that the student really can speak English. I always tell my students what constitutes as a good reason for asking for a higher grade. Many times students have come to me asking why they got a B or C and they can't even ask the question in English. Well, there's your answer.

More often than not the amount of time you have to enter grades and grievances just doesn't make sense. Some unis will give you three days to enter grades, but a week to change them during the grievance week. Who thinks this stuff up? Admin who has no experience teaching. It's much harder to get all your grades in order than to change a few. A tip: always leave extra As and Bs just in case you make a mistake. Then during the grievance period you can bump students up if you don't need them. 

The Language Institute's Office Hours
Often the language institute's office is separate from the teachers' room. Teachers will be given a card to open the teachers' room door, but not the office. The office will usually open from 9am-5pm and be closed during lunch, from 12noon-1pm. Yet, teachers often need things (updated attendance records, paper (I kid you not, paper is often rationed, like gas for heat!), or just information) from the office before classes start.

This is especially true at the beginning of every semester, when changes happen. I understand that it's hard to work long hours, but they should be open longer. Perhaps hire more secretaries and have them work different shifts. There's no reason to have numerous secretaries in the office twiddling their thumbs. Have them work 10 hours, 4 days a week and cut down the number of secretaries who are in there at the same time. If there are busy times during the day, have more secretaries work then. Seems like common sense, right?

Everything shuts down in Korea during lunch time. The office is closed and most other classes don't meet then, but English classes do. Murphy's Law states that lunch time is a perfect time for your computer to break or the projector to overheat. Speaking of technology brings us to our next point.

Crappy Technology Hand-me-downs
All unis claim to be "global" yet the English department always ends up with the worst stuff. Money isn't allocated well. What is often down is that when other departments get new computers or new anything, the old stuff gets sent to the English department. While I understand that desktops can last a long time, upgrading them is key. When it takes your computer 15 minutes to start up or your internet browser crashes three times before lunch, something needs to be fixed.

Teaching in General
 
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Useless Paperwork
Since admin has to prove things, they will often make you do useless paperwork. Some examples are self evals (that no one reads), printing out everything you did during the semester (always a waste of paper since no one looks at anything, but just stuffs it into a cabinet), or having meetings about the curriculum and writing up minutes (again, no one cares. You'll work all semester on it and the admin will just end up doing whatever they want).

Lack of Support
They may tell you the rules about grades or absences, but more often than not, they will throw you under the bus when you try to implement them. They will say, "up to you" which means that you can do whatever you want, but we won't stand behind you even if you follow the rules. They should really read a book or two about ed admin or how to teach English.

No heat or AC
Once the head office decides that winter or summer is over, the heat and AC get turned off. And if that means that you're sweating bullets or your hands shake because you're so cold, don't expect them to care; those same rules certainly don't apply to them. Oh and don't forget that the hallways and bathrooms won't be heated or have AC either.

Cleaning Your Own Office
Somehow this is never written into the contract, but I've worked at places that probably hadn't been cleaned in years. Whether they do this because they don't want the cleaners to be accused of stealing or to save money, it doesn't work. They need a new system. Keeping stuff neat and tidy, fine, I understand. But having to mop the floors of the office? Nope, not going to happen. Let the dirt pile up. 

Signing a Resignation Letter When Your Contract is Up
Even though your contract has an end date, they're still going to make you sign a resignation letter. Most likely it's so they can put all the blame on you for leaving

Conclusion
Well, there you have it. It sounds like I have a lot of complaints about teaching in Korea, but that's not true. It's just that different complaints apply to different teaching situations. Teaching in Korea sure isn't perfect, but it is a great job.

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Thursday, 1 February 2018

Should You Accept a Low Paying Online Job Teaching English?

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Yes, more likely thank not you should. I've written about teaching English online before and many of the jobs don't pay that well. However, you should still consider teaching English online. Let's find out why.

Some Money is Better Than No Money
If you aren't going to be working, it's always better to get something rather than nothing. Let's say you teach an hour a day for $10 an hour and do that for 20 hours a month. That's an extra $200, which isn't that much. However, in a year, that would be $2400, which is a nice chunk of change.

No Commute
Other jobs may pay more but more likely than not you'll have to commute. If you get a job that pays $30 an hour, but have to spend 30 minutes commuting each way, then you're really only getting $15 an hour. Plus, if you're in Asia, the timing seems to work well since most of the classes are in the evening and at night.

Experience
Knowing how to teach online can help you for future jobs since you're working with online platforms. The more you know about technology, the better. So even though the pay might not be that great, you're gaining experience.

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