Friday, December 5, 2014

Life as a Freeway Flier: University ESL teaching in California

            Today my co-worker strolled into our wing of desks (there are numerous wings of desks in a gigantic space of 50+ teachers) and said “Marie’s here today!” I sarcastically rolled my eyes at him and said, “I’m here! At least I think I am.”

            This semester, I have almost forgotten that I am a freeway flier because I have partly become very comfortable with my schedule and partly because I don’t even know what planet I’m on most days anyway. During my first months shuffling between 2 schools this year I actually got on the wrong freeway in the morning  4 times. But for the most part, I’ve been pretty successful sticking to the 5 North and 8 East. A while back in 2012 I was working at 3 schools in one semester. I taught in a tiny language school in La Jolla from 9am-1pm. Then I drove 20 minutes east and worked for 3 hours tutoring in an ESL/English lab from 1:30-4:30pm at a local community college. After that I hopped right back on the freeway to go teach a 3 hour night class at another community college up north. The drive up there was during rush hour traffic and it took me 1 hour. I usually ate dinner and relaxed in my car from 5:30-5:45pm and then rushed inside the teacher’s room to make copies for my class. Class went from 6:00pm-8:50pm and I drove home. 45 minutes later I wound up home around 10:00pm and started planning my classes for the next day.

            I drove 90 miles a day. The total time ended up being 2.5 hours a day with the 5pm rush hour traffic thrown in. I was a true freeway flier.

            You may be asking me, why on earth did you sign up for that kind of schedule? It just kind of fell in my lap and I couldn’t say no. As a part timer, I had classes canceled on me earlier in the semester that were my main source of income. So I kept tutoring for a little cash, got another gig at a language school, and a few weeks later was asked to teach a night class. When you are trying to get into community colleges and universities in adult education, you never say no. You also never quit a job once you have begun a semester. Your students depend on you to succeed and you have a duty to serve them. So even with my outstanding history of being a no girl, (because I know my worth) I had to get over myself and say yes.

            Luckily my schedule as a freeway flier now is nothing like it was during that wild spring in 2012. I teach at a community college up in northern San Diego 2 days a week. The 45 minute drive up there does take a toll, however I skip all of the traffic these days since I leave at 7 am. I lucked out with 2 back-to-back classes, which never happens in the part-time world, and I’m back home by 1:30 – 2:30 everyday. I cut out right after my office hours to avoid the 3pm deadlock. When I get home I immediately start planning lessons/grading for the next day.

            The next morning I get to sleep in since I teach in the afternoon at the other University 2-3 days a week. I usually feel pretty relaxed because I’ve had time to unwind al little and I drive a quick 20 minutes to the campus. I teach from 1:00-6:00pm and go straight home to pig out. The quick turn around from Tuesday night classes to Wednesday morning is sometimes tricky, however if I’ve planned ahead and made all of my copies I’m usually fine the next morning.  The key to my success this semester is that I am not a “double dipper,” meaning I don’t do two colleges on the same day.

            The freeway flier life is definitely a tough one. I have no stability when it comes to classes. If a class suddenly has low enrollment and gets cancelled then that’s it. I’m simply out of a class to teach until the next semester rolls around. Once you have been in the part-time game for a while, you start to learn which classes and schools do and don’t have issues with enrollment. Luckily I’ve gotten set up with classes now that seem to always be fed by eager students. We actually had students’ waitlisted this semester for an introductory academic writing class.

            Some days I feel like I’m a crazy person and don’t know where I am. I’ve not only been a freeway flier, but a plane hopper over the past 4 years. Hopping from Korea, to Japan, to Macau, and to the U.S. in between, working so many gigs in a short time frame, has been intense to say the least. However, I feel so blessed to have learned about so many different programs, curriculums, and projects along the way. Some mornings I wake up and still think I’m in China. Other mornings I remember waking up in China and asking myself “What on earth and I doing here right now?” So when my co-worker made that comment to me this morning, I had the same question. I didn’t know what I was doing or where I was.

            Some days aren’t so bad at all as I cruise down the freeway and slowly make a mental transition. At some point while I’m driving home for 45 minutes, I begin to leave the college classes I taught behind and start thinking about the university classes at the other school for the next day. A gradual shift happens where I debrief from the days’ lessons and start to focus on planning the next day’s events. I don’t even think about my classes up north until the next day comes to an end and vice versa. My mind shifts and I feel just fine.  I get to reflect on what went well in my lessons and what didn’t and I usually come to some kind of realization that what I accomplished was meaningful. Some days I’m even happy to be a freeway flier because the sense of freedom that comes with not having a salary. I don’t have to be at my job from 9-5pm everyday. I make my own hours and show up whenever I want. When I decide its time to go home, I leave. That is something that I see as a great benefit. If I want to go home and lesson plan and grade in my pajamas I can. Though I’m not salaried, I make a pretty good combination of paychecks that allow me to live decently in San Diego. My patchwork of jobs has somehow worked out.

            I definitely won’t continue as a freeway flier forever; though job market for full-time ESL teachers in California is virtually non-existent.  I’m happy to serve my time in the departments that have given me so much support and training as I  patiently wait out my turn for a full-time position. I’m young, and with only 4.5 years of teaching under my belt still have much to learn. So for now, life goes on. I’ll keep flying around on freeways and flying around on airplanes as much as I can to support myself in this insane field. I have no plans to go back abroad right now, but who knows. The last time I came home from Japan I told myself I was back in California for good.  My days abroad were over. However, after the 90 mile a day driving schedule and class cancelations, I hopped right back on a plane headed to Macau. And my year in Macau was the most rewarding year abroad yet in terms of my profession and personal life.

Time will tell if I can make my mark here in California and get hired on as a contract instructor. Until then, I’ll be flying up and down the I-5 and I-8 and everything else in between all while enjoying the coastal views and some techno music too. (Gotta get pumped up for class right!)

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

The language police will forever change the way you view text books

A book review of The Language Police.
      Can you imagine reading a book that never uses the words "man," "founding fathers," "blind person," "bus boy," or "Adam and Eve?" Instead books would have to read: Eve and Adam because it's sexist to say a man's name first, and we should refrain from saying bus boy for the same reason thus the word dining room attendant should be used instead. Diane Ravitch, author of The Language Police, has exposed America's bowlderized text book industry beginning with her own experience growing up in the 1950's where text books were scrutinized for being socialist or offending conservatives. Then she delves into the panels of trained bias detectors in the 1970's where they conducted Differential Item Functioning (DIF) to delete test items that were biased based on how different demographics scored. If Caucasians or Latinos happened to perform poorly on a question it was blamed on their socio-economic or sociocultural characteristics and the question was deleted.

      For centuries America's textbooks in all disciplines have undergone extreme slandering of original material that in many cases has lead to inaccurate information, bland text, dumbed down materials,and angry authors (of those still living). Ravitch's book informs readers about the history of censorship regimes that have been employed by the government, major publishers, and test companies.

      How can the language police be stopped? Ravitch argues that "the only strategy to achieve this goal is through competition, sunshine, and educated teachers (pg. 165)." The state-wide adoption process needs to end. States and publishers must publish their bias guidelines and sensitivity review panels along with their curricula vitaes. Any questions or items that are removed or altered need to be released to the public with explanations. Finally, teachers need to be educated instead of relying on textbooks as a crutch. These teachers will reject textbooks that have errors, are bland, are misleading, or are politicized and will make educated decisions about what kinds of readings are acceptable for their students needs.

      "In a perfect world, teachers would be so well educated that they wouldn't rely on textbooks" (pg. 169)." I can personally attest to the importance of this quote as I see textbooks as a supplement or as organizational help to my courses in ESL. Whatever information is in my ESL or writing textbooks I can easily adapt or create my own version to better suit my students interests and my own personal teaching style. Why not record your own voice for listening materials and tests? Make your materials interesting and fresh instead of another rote activity? We should be teaching topics that are controversial and let students explore discussion and communication skills that they will encounter on a daily basis outside of the classroom.

      Teachers should not avoid controversial topics like text book publishers do. Their idea of utopia inside the classroom should not become your own because you have enough common sense and teaching skills to reign students in and avoid problems when learning about or discussing such controversial topics. One of my co-workers gave an amazing presentation in support of using "controversial" topics in classrooms specifically to avoid the boring textbooks and sleeping students she commonly encountered. There is nothing wrong with doing it as long as a teacher has an exit plan and an organized, collaborative, and open environment where freedom of ideas are encouraged.

      I hope you enjoy reading Ravitch's book and if you are a teacher don't get disinterested with it because of the common struggles we face. You may be asking the question "Well what teacher has the time to worry about creating authentic materials or notice errors in textbooks?" Supplementing and changing textbooks won't happen over night, but over a slow process of informed and contemplative decision making starting from the bottom, us.

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Korean nursery rhymes for adult Korean language learning

Image 1
A book review of Tuttle’s Korean Nursery Rhymes: Wild Geese, Land of Goblins and Other Favorite Songs and Rhymes
                In an effort to get my Korean language skills going again, I’ve been keeping my eye out for easy reads which often includes children’s books. Children’s books are not just for parents and their children; they are also great for language learners. I’m a huge fan of using music in my ESL courses and I wrote my Master’s thesis on student and teacher perceptions of using music in adult ESL. So Tuttle’s Korean Nursery Rhymes: Wild Geese, Land of Goblins and Other favorite Songs and Rhymes by Danielle Wright was an easy pick for me when I wanted to find a book with beginner Korean songs. The nursery song book does a fantastic job presenting some of Korea’s traditional and modern nursery rhymes in a way that makes language learning simple for any age.
                Each rhyme has bright and beautifully designed images along with Korean Hangul, Hangul written in English, as well as English words. Seeing the nursery rhyme presented in 3 different ways is great for slow learners like me, who are learning how to form sentences, and can only pick out a few words in a sentence. I can practice reading my Hangul first, to see if I know any of the words and then I can rely on the English translation. I can also improve my pronunciation by listening to the accompanying CD in both Korean and English. The Korean singer, Ah Young Jeong, has a sweet voice that is characteristic of any young child happily singing a nursery rhyme which helps these songs easily get stuck into your head.
                One of my favorite songs in the book is called “Little Fox” or “yeo-uya.” The song is about a little fox and someone asks him “Little fox, little fox, what do you do?” He replies many different thinks such as “I’m Sleeping” (Jam-janda) or “I’m eating rice” (Bab meoknunda) and the narrator replies “sleepy head!” (jamkkureogi!) and “with what on the side?” (museun banchan?). This song in particular is great for learning how to use Korean verbs and adjectives in a short and simple sentence.            
                Another song that is useful for learning facial features and directions is called “Here, There.” A light pink backdrop with flowers surrounds a mother holding her baby as the baby playfully inquires about facial features. “Where are my eyes?” (Nun en edoi issna, yogi) “Where are Mommy’s eyes? There!” (Eomma nun eun eodi essna, yeogi). A song like this will help you to remember vocabulary like eyes and nose as well as the different pronunciation of “Yogi” and “Yeogi” which are very similar. Getting down the slight differences in vowel sounds is difficult and listening to a song like this one will definitely help you make the round mouth you need for “Yo” sound and the parted lips you need for the “Yeo” sound.
                Sit back and relax to the tranquil melodies as you easily master the Korean language alone or with your little one. Singing along to the rhymes will make you feel accomplished and will absolutely aid in your vocabulary retention. Tuttle Publishing has many more bi-lingual Korean Children’s books like this one. Another similar book is titled My First Book of Korean Words: An ABC Rhyming Book that is also useful for Korean language learners of any age. Check out more of their books at

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Sick in Macau: an adventure in Chinese hospitals

A view of the casinos from my hospital room  at Kiang Wu Hospital in Macau.
          As many of you may have noticed, I have not been updating regularly in Macau. However, I have been responding to your comments. The lack of posts is not because of my difficult work schedule, or my lack of dedication. Rather, it's simply because I have been enjoying life and waiting until the urge to write came back to me again. In September 2013, I became really sick and after 2 weeks in Macau in and out of the hospital, I flew home to California for another 2 weeks to get a full work-up. After a colonoscopy, 2 cat scans, and 15 pounds lighter, luckily I found out everything is A-OK and all my health issues were due to a thyroid disorder called hyper-hypothyroidism which is easily manageable.

3 months later, I am finally feeling back to normal and strong and in-shape again! And my time in the hospital in Macau makes a great story right? So after finally deciding that I had to see a doctor I walked a measly 10 minutes from my apartment over to Kiang Wu Hospital. There are only 2 hospitals in Macau that accept my national health insurance plan provided by the University. I found the fact that there are only 2 hospitals fascinating and after doing some research I later realized there is only 1 public hospital.  Reuters did a great piece titled "One public hospital, 36 casinos: Macau's skewed bet on prosperity." It is a little funny when you think about how many casinos there are here and only 1 public hospital. But we also have to  keep in mind that the population in Macau is relatively small and women here have the 1st highest life expectancy rate in the world in terms of longevity. The Macau Daily Times article reported that according to the Central Intelligence Agencies latest report, "Macau actually beats Japan in the longevity stakes, coming in second worldwide with an average life expectancy of 84.43 years topping the Japanese figures of 83.91.
         So, with such a healthy city, I guess in all reality the hospitals are doing pretty good to service the population here. As I noticed with my own hospital experience, they will try and hold you hostage to get as much pay off as they can get! The young girl sharing a room with me simply had a bad cold and stayed in the hospital with an IV for 5 days until she was well again. Her boyfriend came over regularly and hung out, and she was just hanging around reading Chinese gossip magazines all day until someone brought her food and entertained her a bit.
I wobbled over expecting to receive a follow-up appointment with a gastro-specialist, and instead, because of my extremely low blood pressure was thrown a hospital gown and admitted 15 minutes later. I did actually need medical care at the time, but there was no way that I needed to be there for one week as the doctors were insisting. They spoke good English, but they really didn't know what do to with me. They also stick to a very simple frame of mind focusing only on treating your symptoms and not trying to diagnose the real problem. I also realized (and I quote my co-worker) "People simply just do whatever the doctor tells them too here because they are like God and they know what is best for you." Which sounds completely ridiculous to any Westerner that takes full responsibility for their health decisions and goes to several doctors to seek out 2nd and 3rd opinions.
        Basically to get any tests ordered within a reasonable amount of time, you need to sit there as an in-patient, or else you have to brave the long ticket lines of the out-patient department and scheduling line which can often result in waiting 1-3 months before you get any tests run. This is simply due to the fact that there is not enough medical equipment or doctors to service all of the patients in the hospital. And the fact that there are only 2 hospitals in Macau that accept the national health insurance.
        Not wanting to pay up front at a private doctor, I flew home to use my American insurance and see doctors who really knew what they were doing. I'm not saying all doctors in Macau are bad, but the second I got home, they immediately started testing me for a million things that the doctors here would have never considered based on my symptoms. It could have been months or even longer before I was diagnosed if I had waited in Macau.
         So, lesson learned. When you are stuck in a really bad health situation, make sure you have a back up plan in case you are working outside of the country and get sick. You might just end up like me, taking all 10 of my sick days and hopping on a flight home to see a doctor.

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Monday, November 25, 2013

My apartment in Macau: a mansion compared to my old shacks in Japan and Korea

This is my third time video taping my apartments in Asia. This apartment is going to seem like a mansion in comparison to my first two apartments, which were tiny little studios. This obviously reflects my higher position and pay bump due to completing my Master's degree and getting a University job abroad in Macau. My first two apartments were filmed in Korea, and Japan.

Right now I am in what is called "temporary" off campus faculty housing for the university. My rent is subsidized by the university so I pay a measly $104 a month plus utilities for a 3 bedroom apartment. However, when you live off-campus there is no guarantee you will not have roommates. When I first moved in there was a Portuguese teacher here and then another teacher from the ELC moved in and there were three of us. After 2 months the Portuguese teacher's temporary time was up and so then it was just the two of us.

Come spring I will have this entire apartment to myself if no other teachers are in need of temporary housing. I was supposed to get moved to the on-campus faculty housing at the new university. However, the construction was never completed and I am hypothesizing that I will be here until the remainder of my 10 month contract. Those that are senior teachers only have 30 days in the temporary housing and are then required to find their own apartments and also receive a small housing subsidy.

I hope you enjoy the live tour! I live right now in the most historical area of Macau near the Red Market. Its great because almost no expats live over here and you get a more cultural side of living in Macau. I am enjoying both the Chinese and the Portuguese life over here! The tourism in Macau is huge and we see a lot of people from all over the world each weekend. It's actually hard for me to find people my age that are living here! If you have any additional questions that I didn't answer for you don't hesitate to leave a comment.

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thoughts about teaching in the TESOL field in Asia

Students at University of Macau during a Mexican cooking demonstration.  

An old professor of mine asked me to share some thoughts for new teachers in the field of TESOL abroad in Asia for her new book.

What are the biggest mistakes teachers make when they first go to teach in these countries?  

Teachers are always bound to make mistakes when going abroad to work. I have taught in Korea, Japan, and China and probably one of my biggest mistakes is not asking about the nitty gritty details before taking on a position.  You don’t want to come off during the interview as a pushover, so you remain quiet and try and seem comfortable and cool right? But, this is one of the worst things that you can do, as you may be kicking your-self months after taking a position for not thoroughly and critically evaluating your new position beforehand.  As I have applied to more positions overtime, the process has gotten easier and I remember to make a giant checklist of items that I have questions about and sit there crossing them off and making more questions during my interviews.

1.      Not asking enough questions

If the interview is cut short, which it almost inevitably is, I make sure to e-mail back over my final questions or call again to get my questions answered. A lot of programs and schools are short on time during the interview process. They are brief and leave a lot of vital information out of the picture. One example happened to me recently while applying to The University of Macau. Because their University is expanding and a new campus is being built, they could not guarantee my housing stipend when I first signed my contract. I had to wait several months until I found out about my housing options through the University for off-campus faculty members. 3 months after I had signed my contract I heard back from the University with my housing package. Still, I forgot to ask if this housing was for the duration of my 10 month contract which I assumed it was. Little did I know that the University had only secured my off-campus apartment for 6 months with the hopes of moving me into the on-campus housing as soon as construction was finished. Because I was not nagging the office and administration about every tiny minute detail of my contract, I ultimately ended up with more stress upon arrival to the country. Uncertain if I was to be moved again, I could not truly settle in to my living space or purchase furniture because of the lack of communication between the administration and the University itself.

I also had a similar experience in Korea where I was told by the school that I would have assistance finding housing. They sold this as a plus side of taking a contract with their school since other workplaces teachers are left to deal with their own housing and hire a real estate agent. However, they did forget to mention that there was an exuberant fee associated with their housing assistance and I forgot to ask because I assumed that this was a perk of the position. Assume that nothing is a perk, and assume that anything offered will come with an extra fee until it is written in stone otherwise.

These are things that you need to be upfront with during your interview. You need to be detailed with your recent experience and expectations. If you do not share with your future workplace what you expect from the position and contract itself, you may find yourself wishing that you took more time to get acquainted with their position and school policies and environment.

2.      Not understanding that other countries are still developing

      Many teachers assume that because they got hired at the top notch college or school that they will have high quality access to the internet and state of the art equipment. This is often not the case and is hard to discover without visiting the new workplace in-person before-hand. A company or school may tell you that you will have access to projectors, computers, etc. but expect that there may be a lack of technology that you are used to living in the United States or other countries that have the latest technology. I taught at a University in Japan that gave me access to ONE computer in another teacher’s classroom to do attendance each day. That meant that I had NO computer to use in my classroom at all and no projector either. Everything had to be done with a simple chalk board and white board and I had to think creatively to plan my lessons without any access to technology at all. Even today at one of the most prestigious universities, the internet is often very slow because of so many classes going on at the same time. Thus, I cannot just hop on You Tube to show a video in my class or pull up an article. I need to download the clip before class and save it to my computer which takes extra time.

3.      They may think that their recent teaching experience or recent program will apply to their new workplace.
       This is NEVER the case! Each time I have taken a new position I have had to completely re-evaluate the way that I teach in order to apply my skills to their program. No program is alike and each University has their own guidelines and curriculum. For the first time I find myself in a program that is not focuses on specific language skills such as reading, writing, grammar. Etc. but strives to align itself with the core curriculum since the courses are a part of the required core classes at the university. Instead, I have found myself learning to adjust to the new curriculum which is focused on academic skills and aims to help students succeed in all of their university courses which a majority are conducted in English.

4.      Do not assume that the country you are applying to will understand or recognize your certifications or degrees.

Many schools abroad do not understand what a M.Ed. or an M.A. in TESOL entails. Instead, they are still asking teachers to have certifications such as the CELTA or DELTA. But, in other countries a CELTA or DELTA will not be recognized as a high enough certification for teaching or it may be a required certificate to work in their programs. Each country will have its own idea of the best certification or degree required for its program. Your current educational background may mean something very different in another country which is something that is often confusing for new teachers in the field. The field of TESOL is always changing and is relatively new in nature. Teachers that want to be extremely marketable for a position should try and receive every certificate and diploma possible to maximize their potential for securing a job.

5.      Not understanding the difference between language schools, universities, and teaching programs.

There is a huge difference if you are contracted by a private company to teach at a school or university versus being hired at the school or university directly. When searching for jobs, I often find myself researching the top schools in that country and looking directly for jobs on their websites. I also contact previous and current employees of these schools and ask about their experiences working for that particular school via linked-in and online teacher profiles.  I have never gone through a staffing agency or government teaching program, although if you do decide to do so, it is not a problem. However, many teachers find that when they leave a job in Korea or Japan they do not have high level positions that will allow them to move up within their profession. If you are teaching at a “Hagwon” or “Private Language Institution” in Korea, this will not allow you to secure a job at a University or public school in the states or U.K. Many teachers forget that even though they have been teaching for so long abroad and have learned how to become a great teacher within their school, they still do not have high enough certifications and work experience to get them into a job when they decide to return home. They will still need to further their education after these teaching experiences. So, if you are just going abroad for the experience a TESOL course or certification is best for you. But if you are trying to become a teacher as a life-long profession than I would strongly consider furthering your education ASAP to maximize your job potential and expertise in the field. 

What Cultural Aspects should teachers think about before going?

1.       Your style and experiences of teaching and learning may be completely different than that of your new students.

After teaching in 3 different countries I see the difference between expectations of the student and teacher the most devastatingly obvious in China. Students are passive, and walk into the classroom expecting the teacher to stand in front of the class and lecture while they take notes and sit in quiet throughout the course. In Western culture, the students are required to challenge the teacher and participate in class by asking questions and contributing to discussion. This is something that most students coming out of High School in China have NEVER done before in their lives. These students need to be taught the concept of critical thinking. This takes time and will not happen within a month or two of courses. Students are EXTREMELY nervous to explain their opinions or even raise their hand and share an answer because of fear that they will be ridiculed by their teacher and classmates.

2.       Your everyday work environment may be very different

You may be used to chatting freely in the office with your co-workers or sharing lesson plans and eating in the office.  But, in a different country these common work settings may change completely. In Japan and Korea, teachers were often expected to eat each meal with their colleagues or students on-campus. Where as many teachers in Western society may eat alone, this is not seen as a natural or viable option during the lunch or dinner hours in many Eastern countries.

Your office may be extremely quiet. My first thoughts on teaching in Japan and China were that my work environment was extremely dull. Teachers did not openly collaborate with one another during their office hours, and I often found myself leaving the office completely to escape from my cave down in the cold and dark dungeon.  However, sometimes the school required me to be on campus from 9am-5pm regardless of my teaching hours which was the case in Japan. Many teachers in the states can make up their own daily schedules around their teaching hours. However, while teaching abroad, this may be a different scenario. Luckily, I am allowed to work from any place at my current position in China. However, I understand that the local Chinese people think that if you are not physically in your office, you are not getting any work done and you may be seen as a lesser colleague for doing so. My advice is to try and engage is as much cross cultural communication as possible in your office as the locals may have completely different expectations of the work environment. Often a sterile and cold environment can be changed if your co-workers understand that you appreciate their input and social interactions in your everyday work life.  They may believe that they are distracting you, while you may believe they are rude and cold. This is a common misconception between those working in the Western world versus the Eastern world. Do not be afraid to share your culture with others and do not be expected to conform or mold your own culture to a schools professional environment. Staying completely true to your own culture may not be possible, however you can go through your every-day life as normal as possible while staying respectful of the countries expectations.

3.       Your students are stupid because they are quiet.

I can’t tell you how many teachers fall into this trap. Upon my first weeks of work in China a teacher said to me, “Oh yes, the level 0 students are very stupid. They do not know how to write at all.” Don’t listen to blunt or mistaken comments such as these. Often times there are teachers that are INSTITUTIONALIZED and have NEVER TAUGHT IN ANOTHER COUNTRY so they are out of touch with reality in their classrooms. Their teaching styles may be extremely dated and their expectations of students may be extremely low. This is simply not the case. The students coming into higher level university ESL programs simply have never had the opportunity to engage in any kind of sharing or reflections. Many of them are taught to take a test and remember the answers to questions. This is the only kind of learning that they have ever encountered before. Teachers need to be patient, and give these students many opportunities to produce ad practice their reading, writing, and speaking skills on a regular basis. Teaching down to these students will only hinder their learning. Often times I will be surprised by a student that is extremely quiet and shy in the classroom when I read their writing. This is because I find that they are even smarter than the students who try and participate in the class. Teachers need to remember that ESL students are processing information at all times and this takes longer for some students than others. How much a student is actively participating in class may not be an accurate measure of how smart this student is.

Other suggestions for new teachers

1.      Don’t be afraid to leave a position early

If a school is simply not meeting your expectations, than don’t feel obligated to finish your contract. Most schools will respect your decision that their program simply isn’t meeting your needs as a teacher and isn’t a good match. It is hard to find the perfect program that satisfies your needs and desires as a teacher. Don’t be afraid to try out many different schools and settings and even say no to positions or leave positions because you just didn’t feel comfortable working there. I currently know several teachers in the field that have changed programs and schools after only 2-3 months of working because they did not see the job as a “good fit.” This is ok! Many new teachers feel obligated to stay at their position out of fear that their reputation may be damaged for leaving. However, if you politely explain your situation to your current supervisor, they are sure to understand that it is often times difficult to find a good match between a school and a teacher. Don’t let fear or money stop you from finding a better position that will suit your personality, creativity, and goals. If the job isn’t meeting your expectations, then just leave. The good thing about this field is that you are sure to encounter many other people that have done the same, and many other supervisors who will appreciate your decision to leave a program early before they start investing in you as a teacher. There is always another job out there that is waiting for you.

2.      Don’t expect to be on vacation all the time!

Many new teachers in the field think that when they go abroad they will have an abundance of vacation and leisure time. This is often not the case as you are overwhelmed with adjusting to a new culture, moving, creating adjustments to your teaching, fitting into a new program. All of these things take time and you may find yourself busier than you previously thought. Teaching abroad is not a good means for traveling. Yes, there are perks that you are closer in distance to neighboring countries than you previously were if you are from the U.S. But in general, you will be working just as much as everyone back home if not more. Because I am so familiar with teaching in the States it is much easier for me to create a lesson plan or conduct research in that setting. However, living abroad often requires me twice the time because I am trying to take into account differences in culture and learning styles that I didn’t previously have to focus on as deeply.

3.      Travel or visit the country you plan to work-in beforehand.

Many times new teachers in the field of TESOL are  just excited to go to a new country and experience teaching abroad for the first time. However, moving to a new country is a HUGE decision that should not be taken lightly. Before each contract I have taken, I had previously traveled to the country or conducted a job interview in that country to make sure that I could see myself in that environment. I knew that I could live in Korea easily after spending 2 weeks there in the year before applying for a position. I also knew that Macau would be an easy place to live in because I had been and lived in North Eastern Asia multiple times, and knew that the European influence would remind me more of my home culture. Upon traveling to Vietnam in 2011, I knew that there was no way that I could ever apply for a teaching position there simply because I did not feel comfortable in that environment. For me, I need to be in a location that is extremely safe and provides a higher salary and middle to high cost of living. This meant that most countries in South East Asia were immediately off my list as their crime is much higher than countries like Japan and Korea. I know this about myself, and thus I take is into consideration when I am considering a country to live and work in. Knowing yourself and your living expectations is extremely important when factoring in a new job in a new country. 

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  Creative Commons License  Gone Seoul Searching by Marie Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

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Creative Commons License
Gone Seoul Searching by Marie Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at
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