Category: Teaching English


Been out of commission for a little while here now doing a lot more consulting, and a lot less Korea. Too often does work get in the way of anything we’d rather be spending time with. Just to recap for anyone looking at this blog for the first time, Screw War Let’s Teach has been home from the Land of Morning Calm since August 28th, 2010. Reactions one year later? Still one of the greatest things we’ve ever done. Korea was great. And the whole teaching English thing? You’ll just to read more to find out.

What will you do for work when you return home from Korea? Oh, you don’t have a job yet? Yeah…. you’ll be back. No, seriously; everyone who says that ends up coming back. This is my third year, and I can’t imagine going back right now.

What’s interesting now is hearing what fellow ESL teachers have gone and done since fulfilling their teaching commitments. Some are still abroad– a few even at the same school– and others have returned home to the doom and gloom of US economic news. For us here in the Northeast Kingdom, more has changed in the last year than perhaps even during our stay in the R.O.K. For the better. For sure. But looking forward to an epic return to those glorious orange tents.

KOTESOL Conference Gwangju 2011

I’ve mentioned this acronym a few times, but this time it’s relevant to Gwangju. KOTESOL is holding a conference in the City of Light this Saturday, March 12 at 12:30 p.m. Where, oh where? Chosun University (본관 Bon-gwan), North Wing (북쪽 2F).  Admission? Free! Do they serve Hite or soju at these events? Anyone? We definitely had plenty of alcohol for our Teacher’s Seminar Day. One item of particular interest might be the Young Learner Classroom Methods: Guiding Young Learners into the World of Extensive Reading, presented by Bora Sohn for KOTESOL’s Seoul Chapter. I’m curious if this is more for adults learning to read a foreign language, or children. The delivery methods would  change with the age group, but the presentation’s takeaway is likely the same: Make them want it.


ER (Extensive Reading. Finally, another acronym!) has gained great interest in Korea as an effective language learning approach. Guiding young learners to become independent readers, materials must be introduced in a manner which provokes curiosity from the student. As a famous comedian once said, “Leave them wanting more.” Independent reading outside of the classroom should develop more naturally because the student actually wants to read. Materials alone cannot be depended upon. From a learner’s viewpoint, reading a foreign language book purely for pleasure is not as easy as it sounds.  It sounds more like work than anything else. However, the Teacher can trigger a positive attitude towards reading, and even willingness to read in a foreign language, with thought-provoking guidance. This presentation will review the characteristics of extensive reading and how it can enriching the learner’s reading experiences.  The speaker will then show how teachers can adapt supplementary activities to help young learners find pleasure in reading and relate the stories to their lives.


Bora Sohn received her MA in Applied Linguistics at Teachers College, Columbia University (USA). She is the co-author and co-editor of several Juice series books (Reading Juice for Kids, Speaking Juice for Kids, Grammar Juice for Kids) published by E-Public of Korea. She is currently working as a teacher trainer at Paju English Village, training Gyeonggi Province public school teachers. In her free time, she enjoys reading children and young adult literature.

You might also enjoy such topics as What Color is Your Personality? Mine is orange. But that doesn’t really say a whole lot about me, other than being exceptionally bright of course. I’d also have to say ‘bubbly’.  Orange and bubbly, yes. Like Fanta! But not all the time. Mondays would be black and bitter.  Read more about the KOTESOL Conference in Gwangju here.

To TEFL, or not to TEFL

By now you probably already know what the acronym stands for, but since trying to increase the search rankings of this website, I’m going to spell it out anyways: Teaching English as a Foreign Language. TEFL’ers are those certified and Internationally recognized as being qualified to teach students whose primary language is not English. Many teaching jobs abroad require TEFL certification, which is why we spent some time last year looking into the possibility of going through the program. According to my research, basic TEFL certifications can be achieved in a 40 hour training course and cost anywhere between $180-$260. TEFL diplomas require at least 100 hours of course study, and may be purchased for around $330-$600. Given the variety of TEFL course programs out there, you may find these numbers to be fairly low. Courses may be done online, or in a classroom at select locations around the world.

As someone that was already working full time to pay off a four-year degree, the idea of spending more money on school seemed contradictory. There is no question that having a TEFL certificate affords new teaching opportunities around the world. Do an interweb search on teaching jobs abroad and, the majority of the time, you’ll find (sometimes several clicks deep) the caveat “Internationally recognized TEFL or TESOL certification required.” So the question really becomes, where do you want to go? Europe? Japan? Thailand? TEFL….. TEFL…. TEFL…. The question that kept coming back to us was, “Why Korea, of all places?” There were a few reasons of course, but the following tidbit of information from our recruiter was a major selling point: TEFL certificates are not required to teach in Korean hagwons.

The same is true for the public school system. EPIK, a government sponsored program for recruiting native English speakers to work in public schools, offers in-house new hire training and has the following basic eligibility requirements posted on their website.

1. Be a citizen of a country where English is the primary language.
2. By E2 visa law, EPIK teachers should have a citizenship from one of the following countries : Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States, South Africa.
3. Must have studied from the junior high level (7th grade) and resided for at least 10 years or more in the country where English is the primary language
4. Hold a minimum of Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university.
5. Applicants with a 2 year associate degree or have completed minimum of 2 years in university can apply to
the TaLK program

Given the amount of people who ask me if I went through EPIK to get a job in Korea, I’d say the program is fairly popular. More important than anything else (in my opinion) is stipulation number 6 (not listed). Committing one self to a year or six months of living, eating, and breathing Asian culture could become a ball bust real quick without some degree of serious mental preparation. Some would disagree and use a water analogy to describe their prep methods. Either way, what EPIK refers to as a “willingness to adapt to Korean culture and living” is absolutely essential if only for the sake of preserving one’s own sanity while living abroad. If a TEFL certificate can give you that, it’s worth every penny.

missing all the good students

A 5th grader in one of the afternoon classes was caught drawing a caricature of Jason Teacher. With less than three weeks until departure from a year long adventure teaching English in South Korea, Jason Teacher could barely contain his emoticons. He snatched the picture from her unsuspecting fingers, and after examining it carefully, was reminded of a ‘how to scare an American’ joke. A polite suggestion was made to the student about the drawing. She sneered, then erased frantically.

Kindergarten Open Day

It’s been one of those months you just want to end, which is too bad because of all the wonderful sunshine. We’ve been preparing since the end of May for two days of Kindergarten open days which are happening right now. This is a time for the parents to see where their money has been going, as they sit in on our classes and watch us waygookens do a wide-eyed wobble in front of the whiteboard. Stress much? I finished two out of three open classes today and then had the pleasure of sitting in for a “question and answer” session with the parents. Did you ever see Lost in Translation? There is this great scene where Bill Murray is shooting a commercial for some kind of whiskey, and the director just starts rambling on and on in Japanese. Minutes later the translator turns to Bill and says something like, “Hold your hand higher.” Today in my meetings with the parents, one of the moms went on for maybe 3 minutes with facial expressions galore: Jason sawn seng neem this, and Jason sawn seng neem that. Then my partner teacher turns to me and says, “Why did you give her son a bad evaluation?” Hmmm, how do you say in Korean “royal pain in the ass“? The irony of this whole open day situation is that the parents come to the school for a taste of the everyday learning environment, but it’s all been rehearsed many times. Now I’m thinking about those stealth marketers you hear of in major US cities who are paid to approach total strangers with some fancy new wyziwig and ask you to take a picture of them in front of some retardation. I’m pretty sure a parent even asked today if we had done that lesson before because it seemed so smooth. Oh well, one more day and I’ll return to my usual routine of teaching English.

boseong green tea festival after children’s day

Over the weekend, we went to the Boseong Green Tea festival held in the neighboring town of — you guessed it — Boseong. Other than the mistake I made of taking two buses to get there, it was a solid trip. Much to my protest, Erica decided to make her own Green Tea from a bag full of freshly picked leaves which took nearly 2 hours of mashing, mixing, and burning. A local woman who spoke amazingly good English later explained to us that this was a real treat. Because it was the first harvest, and the tea had endured long winter months, it would be much stronger and have “real medicinal property”. Really though, I think it tastes almost fish like. Guess I’ve never really had good green tea.

Last Wednesday was Children’s Day, an otherwise random day off during the week which gave us a much appreciated break from the insanity. A few noteworthy incidents to report from the last week include: A student vomiting at random during lunch from eating too much rice (or perhaps it was the fish water), another exploding into tears because I took his pencil case (he threw it across the room first), and during our field trip to the World Photonics Expo, one little girl hurled a rock at the head of another student (direct hit). Never a dull moment at the unvarying six hour circus we call Kindergarten.

I went hiking up Mt Geumdang again —  a perfect way to relieve stress and forget about everything which does not concern another step upward and onward. This time, I paid a vendor at the summit 3000 KRW for a beer. As a service, she gave me a plate of those delicious dried bait fish some of you folks back home had the pleasure of sampling (I threw them off into the woods when she wasn’t looking).

Later that afternoon, I rode that so-called bike of mine along the river until I ran out of gas (metaphorically speaking). Pretty sure I ended up in the next town, but who knows.

Field Trip: 2010 World Photonics Expo

Finally, a field trip to some place other than the sixth floor of the school. This past Friday we took the Kindergarten students to the Gwangju World Photonics Expo, and apparently so did every other Kindergarten in the Jeolla province. See photos from the photonics expo on my first trip as an earlier post. Field trip is the wrong word for this actually. It was more like an on location photo shoot. We hustled from one garden to another all morning snapping goofy poses of the kids; I must have heard ‘1… 2… 3… kimchi’ a thousand times. A number of high schools were there as well, and I was surprised to see that all the boys had the same crew cut. “Why do all those boys have the same haircut?” I asked a Korean Teacher. It seems to me that schools would make the boys shave their heads in preparation for service in the military (Korean men are required to serve 2 years in the military before or immediately after college). But as usual when it comes to matters of cultural understanding, I was wrong. “The school worries they will be too focused on style and not on studies, so they must keep short hair” she replied. Seriously? Of course I didn’t believe her, so I asked another Korean Teacher and got a different answer. “Oh yes, the haircuts. Here in Gwangju they do it because its a kind of style, and everyone wants to fit in. If you go to Seoul, it’s not the same.” What I gather then, is that all the bad haircuts have something to do with style.

the 18th annual Teacher’s Seminar Day

Remember back in grade school when you got those random days off during the week for so called “teacher seminars”? Ever wonder what that actually meant for the Teacher? Not me. I was jumping for joy at the thought of Mega Man 2 and beanbag chairs. But for the first time this past Thursday, I had to attend school on Teacher’s Seminar Day.

In preparation for the seminar, the teachers we were divided into groups of four and assigned a book from which to create an original lesson. This needed to include games and activities. Two speakers (called “teacher” and “presenter”) were then arbitrarily chosen from each group to present the material in front of the entire staff– some of whom did not speak English (thrilled, I’m sure those teachers were not). For reasons forever unknown, I was selected to be the presenter for my group, which meant creating an outline and giving a 10 minute demonstration of games for reviewing superlative forms of adjectives. This one is fat. That one is fatter. His is the fattest. Riveting.

Three days prior to the seminar was the due date for handing in our materials to the Academic Director. A few groups forgot to hand in supplements, or missed the deadline altogether, and this did not go over well.  Rather than speak constructively to adults in a workplace, she chose to scold us like children in a classroom. Oh shit, someone forgot their homework… Get the stick! Koreans, from what I have seen at least, take things far too seriously at times. The seminar day, I thought, was supposed to be a fun way for us to share ideas. Sigh… Yet another communication error which does not involve the language barrier.

Actually, the seminar day was a pretty good time. It did bother me however, that although they said numerous times we were not going to be evaluated for the presentations, the director closed out the presentations by saying, “Nice job everyone. I will later be evaluating your group’s work and submitting it to the school owners”. Really? Another  ‘misunderstanding’ here as well? After our free lunch, we played kickball and drank soju– occasionally stopping to admire cherry blossoms and the mountainous stone facade in the distance. A few beers and a couple of boxes of fried chicken later, we had a three legged relay race. Our team won the grand prize… glass lock tupperware.

March misery

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, but it has been a long month. Sickness, scheduling conflicts, shitty weather, students that just don’t know when to shut the eff up…. it all added up to one miserable March. It was probably the hardest month for us since coming here in September. A lot of times with these new students, I feel more like a baby sitter than a Teacher. During story reading the other day, one little boy flapped his arms and blurted “bathroom”.

“Whoooooa Jack!” I said, lurching backwards. “Looks like it’s a little late for that there buddy”. Thankfully, his mother sent him to school with an extra pair of trousers.

Days later, in an Elementary School class, this one little girl (or rather, vampire with no cape) would not stop repeating after me. Normally, this is EXACTLY what you want from a student. Read. Repeat. Now do it again. That’s basically how every lesson goes. It’s brain-numbing at times. Had she at least been aware of what she was criticizing, and not just mocking Teacher, perhaps she’d of been sparred. Given the theme of things lately though, that was not the case. I told her I was going to get the Korean teacher after warning her several times to kindly stop. She laughed.

“Jason Teacher angry?” one portly little fellow asked with a smile.

Taking a deep breathe, I calmly swung the composite wood door open, and left the room. Already the students could be heard gasping from outside the classroom. Jason Teacher is fucking serious… And this time, this one and hopefully only time, will watch a student get what she deserves.

It was silent when the Korean Headmaster entered the room, a far cry from the zoo only 7 minutes before. “Which one?” she asked with extreme seriousness, whipping stick vigorously clenched in her right palm.

I looked the student straight in the eyes and watched her lower lip slowly start to curl. She was fucked, and she knew it.

“That one,” I said, pointing my index finger as I looked away.

Without hesitation, the Korean Headmaster slapped the ten year old girl in front of the class before dragging her by the ears into the hallway for some verbal abuse. Ten minutes later she returned, in tears and shaking profusely.

“She WILL NOT do that again,” said the Korean Headmaster (and she hasn’t). The teachers in neighboring classrooms later told me that the yelling from the hallway was scaring even their students. I could go on, but its all too trivial at this point. March also marked the beginning of the Asian yellow dust season. Every year during the Spring months, toxic yellow dust clouds from China blanket the Korean peninsula. Despite it all, I remain hopeful that April won’t be such a train wreck.

Have a nice life kiddies

Moving on to bigger and better things; Elementary School.  Thank God they are only young once.