Posts Tagged ‘esl’

A day in the Life

September 24, 2016

…of a guy trying to make a living as a freelance English teacher.

I don’t think this is a rant but a warning to others who might look for this kind of work in South Korea. To some extent I am, not thinking ‘aloud’ but thinking ‘atext’; working things out on paper. Welcome to the way my mind works. Caveat lector!

Yesterday I left the apartment at 8:30 with the expectation of returning home around 7:00 and working four hours during those ten-and-a-half.  Things didn’t work out that way and I am not sure what the result was.

First, I went to a factory that had been taken over by a multi-national which wanted all or most of the employees to speak English. I was there to administer an oral level test of ten employees.  I was never made aware of all the end results of my judgement. I know  in at least some cases, the students were tested to see what sort of English class would be a good fit. All the people I interviewed spoke about job stress and drinking too much alcohol. It is possible that if an employee’s level did not improve, they might be let go. I’m not saying that will happen but, some of the employees seemed tense. The range of ability was from very low to nearly native speaker level.

After the interviews were done, I spoke with the organizer. She works at a corporate English recruiting firm – does that company description sound right? She had placed an ad on Craig’s List for corporate private teaching and similar work and I had applied. Anyway, the original position was to teach an executive at this company. I was accepted. Then the executive decided he would rather have a Korean English teacher. Then they offered me this level testing gig. Then the executive decided he wanted a foreigner and I might have that job. The level testing gig was moved to a new day. …

The people at the recruiting firm were not exactly jerking my chain. As middle-men, they had to adjust to a variety of schedules and whims.

Another similar company has also hired me to teach a few classes in October that will conflict with teaching the executive. I may have to cancel or reschedule two days. It didn’t seem a big deal to me because of all the rescheduling I had been through at the hands of the recruiters.

We discussed this and the recruiter is delivering messages to and fro to see what to do when I miss those days.

So we separate and I have three hours until my next gig, which is maybe forty minutes away. I buy a drink at a Paris Baguette and type for a while.

At the next job I am replacing a teacher who had to return home for a funeral. I actually don’t know how much I will be paid. I had the time free and feel this is the compassionate thing to do. I do expect to be paid.

And when I get there, I learn they have nothing for me to do and I should go home.  I had already worked there Monday and Wednesday and had a schedule for Friday. No, they tell me, I am not needed because the students had come in the day before. I did not raise my voice but noted that I had organized my day around this work and had traveled a hour to get there and would travel an hour more to get home.

I am not good with money.

In this case, as noted, I wasn’t expecting to receive a lot of money for the work, but I do need to convince myself to fight for the hours to be paid for. It hardly mattered what the rate was, I deserved it for the 2.5 hours I had expected to work there.

I think I will be paid for a satisfactory amount of hours there.

At home two hours early, I checked my email and saw an email from the second recruiting company. This is the company with work in October. They have offered me a two day Presentation Skills in English class and a three day Presentation Skills in English class. They interviewed me for the two day class and offered the the three day one as well.  Both take place a significant distance south, in the same town but for different groups in different locations. The two day event will pay X won and the email I received asked me if I would do the three day class for X won. The pay for two days is good if not worth dancing over. The pay for three days – the same pay or 1/3 less per hour – is still good. Better than sitting at home, not being paid.

I am not good with money. Imagine a Victorian trying to explain inter-racial sex to another person’s children and you have an idea of how uncomfortable I am in walking the line between appearing to be greedy and having a desire for fair pay.

After I finish this post, I will craft an email explaining my point. My main concern here is that the same company is hiring me to teach similar material -but of differing durations – at the same cost. If a sixteen hour course is worth X, then a twenty-four hour course should be worth 3/2X.  A complicating point is that the money offered per hour would not be enough for one hour or even two. It would be worthwhile for four or more because I only travel once and the activity causes only one conflict rather than a continuing stream of them.

Freelancing is challenging!

September 8, 2016

things-you-should-know-before-hiring-a-freelancer

Image from.

In early July, I moved to Incheon, where my wife had been transferred, from Busan, where I had worked and my son went to school.  We were a happy family again…

A week later, I went to Gangwon Province to work at an ESL camp, returning to Incheon in mid August. Two weeks later, the whole family – all the in-laws – went to Jeju Island to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday.

In between all that and continuing to this moment, I have been looking for work.  Summer isn’t the peak hiring season for universities although I applied to all within, first 50 km, then 80 km and then as classes began, up to 120 km away.  Nothing.

I had been looking at piece work but didn’t want to commit in case I found a long term employer.  And so, now I diving into piece-work.

So far, I can’t complain about being too busy. I spend an hour or two a day on four websites: Koreabridge, Dave’s ESL Cafe, Craig’s List and Facebook specialty pages with job listings (you need to be invited to these so no link here). Of the group, Craig’s List has the best short term listings. Or, it has the most, which might not be the same thing.

Now is a good time to note that I have an F-6 visa, different from most native speaker English teachers, and working at a variety of places is permitted. As a university instructor, my contracts included a clause that I would not work off campus without the permission of the university. In other words, working off campus sometimes meant breaking the contract rather than breaking the law.

And so currently on my plate are:

subbing for a few days for a person going home for a funeral,

an interview for teaching one evening a week at a high school,

and working in a nearby suburb with a young professional and being paid by his corporation.

The thing is, the funeral was put off a week (I don’t know how that works), the professional wants to meet me today, next Tuesday but can’t, and not can because I don’t have subbing to do and the meeting I was going to have with the high school at 5:00 but couldn’t because of the subbing was moved to 6:30 and now back to 6:00.

I look at ten positions and mailed three to five applications a day and when I get responses, they don’t always include information on the position.  Today, I had to ask an employer (No, let’s say client. It sounds better) to refresh my memory on the details.

I now keep Google Calendar open all the time in a browser and will now record the details of every position I apply to in a dated file, “applications Sept 8” to help me keep track.

My brother-in-law is a dentist and an incredible guy.  The thing about dentists is, they are masters of production line throughput in a way that I don’t see with other medical doctors.  While the freezing is taking effect in a patient’s mouth, or an X-ray is developing (that might be an outdated phrase now, do digital x-rays develop?), he is doing the actual fingers-in-mouth work or interviewing a patient or parent…. At his home, he has horses and the farrier (I mean the guy who trims the hooves and works with horseshoes. I think that’s the right term) was in to work while I visited. The two discussed the similarities in their work, with my brother-in-law saying, “First, you find work, then you get a reputation, then you find work sites closer together and choose clients deliberately rather than desperately”.

That describes my plans, such as they are.  The three work sites are not close to home but will get me noticed.  The corporate work is likely to grow and in my interview, I described this first contract as a probationary one for both of us. We would both see how the other worked and hopefully grow from there.  They are interested and eager to find me work in my home neighbourhood if they can.

I gotta keep organized and on top of the schedules and check the postings every day.  It’s a good life if you don’t weaken.

Looking for news about English clubs or cafes at universities in Korea

December 16, 2014

I am the programs manager at the English Cafe on campus.  The programs have struggled and thrived and stumbled and are about to go through some big changes.  I’d like to know what people at other universities do to create extra-curricular content, fun content, voluntary content, at their universities.  I will post this link on the Facebook pages of KOTESOL and Gyeongsang branch – KOTESOL and a few other places.  I am desperate for some ideas and suggestions.

First, I should share what we did during the semester just finishing now.

The Cafe was independently run, so far as food, drink, and management were concerned.  Part of the Cafe manager’s contract was that we could run programs in there and she was wonderfully willing to help out.

1) There were daily games hours.  Each day, at an appointed time, students could play a board game with the teacher (or shut the teacher out and play among themselves).  We have English games like Scrabble and Boggle but also chess, Clue, Othello and others, ranging down in difficulty to Uno.  The winner of each day’s game a won 5,000won gift certificate for food and drinks at the Cafe.

2) In previous semesters, we had a daily Simpsons screening.  Students could watch, then answer questions with one student a week winning another 5,000won gift certificate for the Cafe.  Upper management found The Simpsons too low-brow and we were told to switch to documentaries this year and they didn’t go so well.  There were also some technical difficulties – the idea seemed a little boring but each doc should have generated some interest.

3) Once a semester, we ran a Scavenger Hunt.  There were four prizes: 20,000, 15,000, 10,000 and 5,000 won in Cultural gift certificates – these certificates are recognized at bookstores and, I think, movie theaters around the country.

4) Posters: Every two weeks, there was a new series of five posters, all on a theme and each with a question.  At the end of two weeks, the answers were judged and a student would win a 10,000 won Cultural gift certificate.

In previous semesters, teachers could count student attendance at Cafe events as part of their participation grade.  This year, that was no longer allowed and student participation dried up.  Really.  A few students did very well for themselves as there were few others to compete for the prizes.

Next year, the Cafe will run perhaps two events a semester and we may assist an English Club if one forms.  I want to know if your university has an English club, what the students do and what foreign staff are asked to do.  I will post further details at this blog and provide links to the Facebook pages mentioned above and summarize the responses I get.

Hope to hear your details!

 

Best Teachers and tests

March 16, 2014

I read a post by one Wangjangnim at KoreaBridge and raced off a quick comment. Briefly, Wangjangnim appears to be a hagwon owner and his post attacked teachers for two things – claiming to be skilled, to be the Best Teacher and for making and using tests that aren’t appropriate.

How do teachers measure their effectiveness, and here you will slowly realize why I am against how they do it.  Scores.  Teachers effectiveness are measured by the students scores, but there is a problem.  These tests are created by the teacher.  The lesson are prepped by same teacher.  The lessons are given by same teacher.  The test is given by same teacher.  The test is corrected by same teacher.  Anyone with half a brain immediately understands the problem.  Anyone with a smidgen of understanding of HR practices and ethics revolving around test taking knows that this is simply ineffective.

Tests cannot be objective under those circumstances.  OOOO you say, but that is why we have SAT tests and the like.  Generalized tests that are the same for all students and not dependent on the teacher.  Really?  Those tests are made by teachers.  At least, as far as I understand the Education Industry, tests are manufactured by those mostly occupied with the profession of teaching.  Nothing wrong with that.  Everything wrong with that.

My response there (very slightly edited to remove the silly typos):

There is a real problem with judging how effective a teacher is and I don’t think there is any good method to judge all teachers.  Well, there is no easy method.  If you want to judge a teacher, first test his/her students when they arrive, inform the teacher precisely what you want from him(skipping the ‘/her’ for the rest of my comment) and then test the student again after some time has passed.  Also, do this to more than one teacher so you can see if one is doing better than the other.  Then, make sure you understand, and use, statistics to properly decide if improvement has been made

You will soon find that making and administering a good test takes a whole lot of work.  As you appear to want communication skills instead of grammar and vocab, I suggest asking students oral questions or long answer written questions.  Then you will need to read every essay or listen to every single answer.

I don’t know any teacher that wants to teach TOEIC.  My students are required to take a TOEIC test and that affects their grade but we have never seen the test nor know when our students take it.  Administrators seem to like because it is the opposite of what I described above: it is easy to administer and easy to grade.  If you make a better test of English communication that is relatively easy to administer and grade, you will make a lot of teachers very happy.

I haven’t read your posts before, Wangjangnim, and I don’t know you or your place of business.  Your writing shows you have better English than most of the Hagwon owners I have known.  I am not attacking you personally, but your claim that:

“General Tests are scams.  Huge scams with children, an parents, as victims”

is probably true but, only in the same way, “Hagwon owners are scammers.  Huge scammers with children and parents as victims.” is.  Teachers teach to the test because parents and hagwon owners (and some university Deans) require them to.

I just feel you are attacking a group – teachers – that is not a free agent on the issue.  If you can make a better test, I really want to see it.

Now, there are parts to his post that I like and suggest I may have been too hasty in attacking it.  for example, how to do well in a job interview:

If you truly love your profession, a better strategy would be to show me your passion for teaching and to give indication to things you helped master in- and outside of the classroom.

And he includes some kernel of an idea of how to fix the problem:

We will only know who is truly a great teacher, once teachers stop evaluating themselves, and start being evaluated by the results they achieved with their students through proper assessment tools.  Until then, the ESL mess we are in will remain unchanged.

Teachers are indeed somewhat at fault with poorly learning outcomes in their students.  At the same time, many teachers are often given close instruction in how and what they are to teach.  I am mostly grateful for that as I could really get sidetracked into teaching zombie epidemic survival skills and anti-religious rants, neither of which have much value outside of Youtube comment threads.

On the other hand, I have been told to teach TOEIC skills from a TOIEC book and many teachers here are expected to do the same.  I have taught at a hagwon where the owner required me to be the parrot for movie lines.  We spent months watching Avatar, repeating each line “three to five times”.

I don’t know this Wangjangnim but I would sincerely love to hear if he has a test that can accurately test student’s abilities even when teachers do not ‘teach to the test’. One valid test I can think of would be to parachute students who have finished classes into central Canada and see how quickly they get out.   Ah, maybe a more urban area would be appropriate – we are testing English not wilderness survival skills.  I guess we could test for student’s motivations and their strengths to see how much immersion they can handle but then we run into the Hagwon problem – the owner has two clients: the child and the parent and the latter seems to want TOIEC.

 

I want to be fair to Wangjangnim and I really want to hear what a fairly articulate hagwon owner really thinks.  I hope that my attacks on his post are not fueled by the standard hagwon teacher/ hagwon owner tension and will be following his blog for a bit.

Wangjangnim’s original post.