Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Teacher Training Tips

Here's the question:

I read in one of your previous posts that you are a foreign head teacher at your school. I'm suspecting you might have some experience training new teachers. I recently replaced the previous head teacher at my school, and I have to train two new teachers coming in (actually, a dating couple). The teachers they are replacing were horrible. I don't know if it related to their training (done by the previous head teacher), their attitude, my performance, or what. I want to make sure that the new teachers receive proper training and understand things generally upfront. I'll also have to do this fairly quickly because we are without two foreign teachers now and the newbies will probably be put to work as soon as possible. Do you have any tips for training teachers?

Proper training can make or break a school and a proper welcome to Korea can make it or break it for a new teacher. And since you're the new head teacher, your ability to train properly can make or break you. Unfortunately, much more of this success has to do with them rather than you, but there are a few things that you can do to ensure you'll have a decent team of teachers.

If you can remember when you first arrived in Korea, the group of teachers or people that you were first surrounded by were largely responsible for your acculturation into Korean life and work. That group has more power than one might think and as a head teacher, it's wise to make sure that it's not full of the usual whiners who frequent Daves. I'm not saying don't be honest about what they should expect. If they were smart then they did their research anyways, but I remember some pretty big whoppers that were laid on me when I first arrived by some soon-to-be defunct expats. Were they true? Not usually, but I still remember most of them to this day.

3 Training Tips that work...

1) Expectations Game

Clearly laying out what is and isn't expected of the teacher is very important. I'm not talking about contractual expectations like being on time and dress code, but more about what a teacher can expect to happen when he gets in the class. They need to understand what the directors, parents and students want from their teacher. Sure, solid English education is paramount, however there are other hidden expectations that students want. For example, if you teach adults then teachers need to know that teaching their own life and telling their own stories (something that happens far too often) is not acceptable if unsolicited.

I might come-off as being too concerned here, but let them know the stereotypes that exist of English teachers. If you present it in a constructive way, then they shouldn't harbor any anger against Koreans. Sometimes you have an American (I've dealt with many) who has never been out of the country before now and you can tell they are a little hot-headed. I like to take them down a notch. It was good for me as well.

Discussing sexual weekend conquests and boozing is off-limits. It seems pretty clear, but I can guarantee that those of you how are also managers have had to discuss this issue again and again with staff. The student-teacher relationship is held to a higher standard in Korea, so treat it as such.

If you happen to teach kids, then you've gotta play to the parents expectations which, in many cases, is to be an entertaining and educating figure who pays extra close attention "their" student. Impossible, right? Not if you're good at controlling perception.

2) Attainable Goals

I talked about this before and I think it's the key to having a successful teacher and classroom. Students don't actually know their goals. Kids are sent into class to learn English so they can do well on tests. You shouldn't care about that. Adults enroll so they can become "fluent" or communicate with international clients. You shouldn't care about those either. Those goals are not real goals when it comes to language education. Fluency is a dream that might be reached, but when you set the bar that high, you're certain to fail.

Teachers need to set goals for their students. Learning a language is a slow and grueling process and taking on too much at once is a mistake. Set an attainable goal for students (like mastering past and future tense for kids; or having a flawless conference call for adults). Remember, Koreans see a lot of value in completing educational tasks and reaching preset goals. Once they hit that goal, reward them. Give them some candy or take them for a beer (depending on the age).

3) Don't Over-train

Those of us who have been in the industry or in Korea for a while have the tendency to overload newcomers with information. I do it all the damn time and have learned that it stresses people out and makes them feel like they're too far behind to even have a shot at success. As we all know by now, technical training for teachers is less about training and more about trial-by-error. So, have them observe a few classes, talk to a few teachers and write a few lesson plans. They'll get the hang of it soon.

In the end, I think it's about the circle of friends they begin with. I came in at a kids hagwon and met some great people. Many of them are still here today. They set the tone for me. They were typically upbeat about Korea, so that made its way to me. My biggest concern is that teachers arrive in Korea and find themselves in a small hagwon with few or no other foreign teachers. That can lead to isolation real quick which makes teachers unhappy which, of course, leads to poor performance.

I like to take new teachers out as much as possible and even encourage the school to have monthly parties. Camaraderie works and you don't want a runner on your hands.


Michelle said...

This is a very well written and helpful post. I especially agree with point number 3. I'm aware of my tendency to overload newcomers with information... you're right - it does overwhelm... so I've done my best to cut that out.

I ask new teachers at my school what they're interested in, and recommend some interesting places to visit at the weekend. For example, many people are into movies, so a map of Yongsan station, where the DVD stalls are, and directions on how to use the subway can be a good introduction to Seoul. I was very lucky with the people I met in my first school - this is what my co-teachers did for me in my first few weeks in Korea, and I really appreciated it.

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