Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Korean Criers

Here's the question:
I'm new to the Korean teaching scene, but I'm not a new teacher. I taught fourth grade in the US for a few years and did my training in a third grade class. I've been teaching in a public school for couple months now and am shocked by how much these children cry. I don't think I'm tough on them. Is it me or them?
It's them.

Korean school children have been ruined by the repressive culture and by their over-zealous parents. I'm quite confident that Korea is about to face an entire generation of whiners, quitters and criers. 

Always remember, Koreans typically react to embarrassment in three ways: anger, laughter or tears.

The question is related to tears, so let's discuss that. Korean culture is obsessed with academic competition, appearances and maintenance of structural social relationships. We all know that already, but these traits are directly related to the thin-skinned behavior witnessed by children (and adults).

Classroom competition is not always bad. People all over the world strive to excel in the classroom. However, that classroom competition is usually coupled with athletic competition or some sort of extra-curricular competition. When competition is limited to the classroom it tends to be diminished to numbers and bragging rights. The success is not shared with others and it's not celebrated publicly. Furthermore, it's commonly viewed (among students) that students who participate a lot in class are not doing so because they know the answer, but rather because they're showing off their talent. Being outwardly expressive or arrogant is a clear social faux-pas, so even the best students might choose to remain silent.

An English class is different from normal classes, though. Students are forced encouraged to speak and express themselves. They don't like this. Students are not used to being called on and they don't like being singled out. When an English teacher singles out a student and makes them answer a question, it puts pressure on that student. Sounds normal to Western students, but this situation can only end two ways in Korea: you get the answer correctly and sit back down quietly or you get it wrong and suffer the loss of face. 

Some students are so used to getting the answer wrong that they don't care anymore, but others are so accustomed to being the best, that something as simple as using the wrong tense can bring them to tears. This is pathetic, but the result of an overemphasis on educational competition and an extension of Korea's crippling obsession with face.

As a teacher you have a few options. 

1) You could ignore the criers and hope that they mature past this stage. 

2) You can accept this reality and protect students from failing.

3) You can try to be the revolutionary teacher who taught students that failure is a part of life and that it's okay to fail every once and awhile.

None of them are great options. I think accepting it would be the best, but protecting them from failure is what led us to this problem.  Parents want to coddle their only-child so much that any discomfort results in a tantrum.

So, I must give the advice that I have given many times before: You know the rules, now play the game.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Basics of Adult Language Institutes in Korea

Here's the question:
good friend of mine is interested in teaching English to adults. She has been working at the same hogwan with me for about 7 months now and is really miserable there. Let's just say shes not  'kid person'. So she has made some kind of negotiation with our boss and is going to be able to get out of her contract like 5 months early (that was luck). She loves Seoul and does not want to go home, so she is now considering a job working with adults. It is my understanding that most places looking for teachers to teach adults do not use recruiters and that they just hire directly. Is this true? If so, where is a good place to look at job postings for these positions? And also, do these institutions that teach adults provide the visa like the hogwans do? How exactly does it work? 
Your "friend", huh?

I think that after a few months of teaching kids in a hagwon, even the most well-intentioned and good-natured teacher has, at some point, breathed, "I'm not a kid person." Those gigs tend to have that effect on people, especially new teachers. Luckily, she's gotten permission to move on and soon that'll be behind her. Settled on that front.

Finding adult teaching jobs is pretty easy. First of all, take a look at what I wrote here and here. There are some simple tips and things to think about before applying. (Also, take a look at what Chris wrote about contracts.)  Second, you should think about whether you want to teach classes or 1:1. Both of them have their benefits and drawbacks. If your "friend" still feels inclined to make the move, then I would consider applying directly first. This way you can get around the fluff and recruiter sweetening. If the direct links don't yield any immediate responses, you can always go to the big job sites.

The adult language institutes are hagwons as well. And just like with the kiddos, they sponsor your E2 visa; provide housing or allowance (careful though --DE and Pagoda only give one-hundred bucks a month);  provide insurance and pay a pension. Flight tickets differ from place to place, so you'll have to ask about that. In your "friends" case, she's already in Korea, so they'll most likely pay for a visa-run at least.

 I usually recommend teaching adults to second-year teachers because there are a couple thing to consider if you're on your first go-around. Adult hagwons typically have split-shifts. You'll be teaching early in the morning (7:00-ish) and working late into the night (10:00-ish). With that in mind, traveling and weekday partying become more difficult. In fact, if you can't adjust to the split shift, then most of your afternoons will be spent snoozing and that's fine for some, but I encourage first-year teachers to experience more than just working and sleeping. I know that my first year was great because I worked from 10am-4pm. It allowed me to get to know the nation; culture and people quite well with all that free time. Plus, I got to travel out of the country with relative ease.

Luckily, not all adult hagwons offer only split-shift shifts. You might have to wait your turn for block, but DE, English Channel and Pagoda offer both split and block. YBM and BCM typically (but not always) only offer split. Even those gigs, however, come with some other perks. Many times, teachers will only have a certain amount of classes they have to teach. After that, it's up to them. This system allows many teachers to teach the morning block on some days and the evening on the others. That, and those two places only teach twenty days a month. That leaves for a lot of three/four-day weekends and longer breaks on "red days".

From what you told me, it appears that your "friend" is all set. As long as she has her docs in place, some nice interview clothes

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Koreans and Exercise

Here's the question:
I'm planning to live in Korea soon. And I was talking to some friends who studied abroad there recently. They tell me that unlike America, Koreans don't jog or run in the streets. I'm from Madison which is a very heavy biking and running city. I love to run outdoors and lift weights. I was wondering how Koreans exercise? Do they even exercise? One of my friends told me that they don't really exercise, but instead just eat less and diet. From the international students I see here, majority of the korean students are very fit. I was wondering if you had any knowledge on exercise in Korea.
Your friends are right. Koreans don't run, jog, speed-walk or bike on city streets.  It would be nearly impossible to do so anyways. I typically am out running or biking with my dog at 5:00am and even at dawn, I find it difficult to get in a solid workout without being interrupted by traffic, drunk twenty-somethings, trash or, my personal favorite, the puddles of vomit --or "pizza" as  Koreans call it-- which are flung all over the sidewalks.

They do, however, do a lot of exercising in other areas. There are countless gyms blanketing most cities that are usually pretty active from open to close. In most towns and cities, there are small parks that have body-resistance exercise machines. Those seem to be the most popular with the older crowd and especially with the ajummas. And if that wasn't enough, scores of ajumma can be spotted grouping together near any major waterway for some only-in-Korea-would-this-pass-for-exercise aerobics slash white-gloved hand movements. 

On the weekend, you'll find that most of the city parks are swamped with people of all ages exercising. They're riding bikes, running, jogging and walking dogs. Sports fields are full of people playing soccer, basketball and baseball. I like to play tennis and usually have to make a reservation nearly a month in advance is I want to play. In the summer, the rivers and lakes are bustling with skiers, windsurfers and jet-skiers. In the winter, you'll find it pretty packed on the slopes as well. Koreans certainly exercise, just in acceptable venues and the street, for the most part, is not acceptable.

I can't find it now, but I read a couple years ago that the average Korean child gets twelve minutes of exercise a day compared with the forty-eight minutes the American child was getting. In fact, it's getting so bad that child obesity in Korea is nearly double what it is in Japan and rapidly approaching America's rate. The adult rate obesity rate is getting pretty bad as well, but that's what happens when you work late and eat dinner even later. 

I guess dieting or eating less would be one way of staying slim and Koreans are just as apt to fall for diet trends as the rest of the world is (see the Japanese banana diet), but I think most people here (outside of Gangwon) see the value of an honest workout and a healthy diet -even if they are snobby about their foods' health benefits and/or superiority. 

Oh, and in case you're wondering where I've been, you can visit The Pious One...