If you want all the details about what it’s actually like teaching english in Korean universities, then you’ll certainly want to pay close attention to this section. What follows is the ultimate guide!
Teaching English in Korean Universities: What’s the Deal with Paperwork and Prep Time?
I recently had a question about how much paperwork you have to do when working in Korean universities. The suggestion was that perhaps uni jobs in Korea are not so fabulous once you factor in this “unpaid” work you have to do.
I have talked previously about whether or not my university job in Korea is too good to be true, and in that discussion, I didn’t really touch on paperwork. So, here’s the deal about admin/grading/paperwork when teaching in a Korean university.
Cha-Ching: All Old Classes!
Let’s take this past semester as an example. I taught four, 3-hour credit classes. One of those classes was overtime since my contract is only for 9 hours/week. Of those four, I taught two sections of two different classes. The best news was that I’d taught both those classes previously, with the same textbook.
Since I’m organized and have all my PPTs, syllabi, homework assignments, etc. in Google Drive. I just pulled up all my old stuff and used that. Sure, I tweaked it a little bit because not everything worked well the first time, but overall, I could plan for these four classes in less than an hour a week, for a total of about 15 hours over the course of the semester.
For homework in those classes, I did the following:
- Making YouTube videos. These are really easy to grade. If students met the basic requirements, they got the full grade.
- A presentation. Also easy to grade since it happened in class.
- An English diary. Also easy to grade since I just skimmed through them and gave full points for meeting the basic requirements.
For each class, I probably spent about five hours during the semester grading all the homework for a total of 20 hours.
Midterm and Final Exams
I did have written midterm and final exams in those two classes, but the exam was only 50 minutes, so there was only 15 questions, mostly short-answer/fill in the blank/matching, etc. To make my grading life easier, each question was all or nothing.
I could grade each exam in less than a minute, so it took less than an hour for each class. Let’s say five hours total by the time I entered grades onto the spreadsheet. That equals 10 hours on grading tests for the semester.
Grades When Teaching in a Korean University
Entering grades onto the paper spreadsheets and then onto the computer system takes time. But, here’s the secret. If your test is worth 15%, make it out of 15 points. Homework is 20%? Have four assignments worth five points each. Because I made things simple, each class probably took me around 2 hours, for a total of 8 hours for the semester.
Portfolios for Teaching English in Korean Universities
At universities, you generally have to submit a portfolio of some kind with your lesson plans, student work samples, grading criteria, etc. Some teachers spend upwards of 20 hours on this. I spent around 15 minutes for each class, for a total of one hour. The secret is that nobody truly gives a shit about this, as long as there is a binder full of paper on the shelf with your name on it by the due date.
Credit Classes, Let’s Add it Up
Prep: 15 hours
Homework grading: 20 Hours
Grading tests: 10 hours
Grades: 8 hours
Portfolios: 1 hour
Total: 54 hours
54 hours spread out over a 15 week semester? That ends up being 3.6 hours/week, which isn’t that bad, especially when considering how much money I get paid for such a little amount of work. Please note, however, this is on the extreme low-end. There are plenty of people who:
- are far less organized than myself.
- care way more about things like portfolios.
- do crazy things like give full-on essays for homework/tests in conversation classes.
- actually grade homework with a fine-toothed comb.
- don’t teach the same classes semester after semester.
- are less apathetic.
- do crazy things like make students come visit them in their office.
Prep for Overtime Classes
This past semester, I had some other overtime classes that I taught for 8 hours/week. It was the same class, taught four times. The topic was presentations, and thankfully, I’d taught that very same course multiple times in the past so again, I went into Google Drive and pulled up my old PPTs. I even used the same textbook. Prep time for 8 teaching hours/week? Perhaps 15 minutes. Let’s round it up to four hours of prep for the semester.
Total Preparation/Grading/Admin Time for the Semester
54 + 4 = 58 hours
Total = 3.9 hours/week
jobry Teaching ESL in South Korean universities
Does Job Security Exist when Teaching English in Korean Universities?
“I recently bought and read How to Get a University Job in South Korea. I really enjoyed it and found that it answered many of the questions I’d had about applying for university work teaching English in South Korea. While reading the book, I was hoping that you might touch on the topic of tenure for university jobs. I’m currently teaching at a Japanese university and have found that securing a tenured position is extremely difficult if not impossible in most institutions for foreigners.
Working in South Korea, have you found that most employment is contract based with limitations on renewal? Or, are there stable, tenured positions with upward mobility?”
My Answer: Job Security? Non-Existent, Unfortunately
Thanks for checking out the book and also sending me your great question. I didn’t include this topic in the book simply because there are no positions teaching English in South Korean universities for foreigners that are tenure-track, and upward mobility is extremely limited in almost all cases. Most universities offer one year contracts (a limited number offer contracts of 2 years) and your renewal depends on the whims of the powers that be and until you’ve been at a place for a few years, you really should have some back-up plans come contract renewal time.
Lack of Job Security: Biggest Downside to Working in Korean Unis
This whole lack of job security is actually a major source of stress for foreigners teaching in Korean universities and probably the most negative aspect of the job, especially when some universities (my current one!) renew based solely on student evaluations. It’s a great job but you live basically in constant fear of having to change jobs before you want to.
Okay, well, the lack of pay raises is certainly another issue too, but that’s a topic for another article!
The Glass Ceiling: Alive and Well
As far as upward mobility goes, there is a serious glass ceiling for foreigners and you’ll never get past the lowest of low levels. While you can eventually move into something like my current job in the actual English department and teach better students and more interesting classes, the best you can really hope for is “head teacher.” But, this “promotion” usually comes with no pay raise and significant amounts of extra work so it’s often best avoided instead of sought out.
Korean Uni Jobs are Dwindling
And, kind of as an aside, the number of university students in Korea has already started to decline in the past few years and the drop-off will be extremely sharp in the next few upcoming ones. See this post of mine: The Korean ESL industry is Dying for more details about why I think Korea is not really an amazing destination for the long-term, like it was even 5 years ago.
Have a PhD? You Might be the Exception
The exception to this would be if you have a PhD in a field other than TESOL, but you’d still have a hard time getting tenure and moving up the ranks if you don’t speak Korean. It’s all about relationships here and greasing the right wheels, often with substantial cash payments and your lack of language skills as well as a large, large pool of bribe money would be likely to limit you significantly. Competition even for adjunct professor positions is fierce here, as it is in the west.
The Takeaway: Korea + Japan = Same
It sounds to me like the situation regarding tenure in Japan is basically the same as in Korea, so I wouldn’t recommend making a move based on that alone. If you want to spice up your life a bit and experience another country, well, go for it.
Is there a Time Limit for Working at South Korean Universities?
“I recently was offered and accepted a full-time English Professor position at *** University in Seoul. However, I found out that the maximum amount of time that non-tenured, foreign faculty such as myself can be employed there is four years.
As a result, I am considering Seoul-area universities in the future that don’t have any limits on length for employment and was wondering if you might know of any universities that would fit this description.”
It’s all about the Pension for Teaching English in South Korea
There are some universities in Korea that have this rule and some that do not (maybe 50/50). It has to do with the amount of pension money your school would have to pay you in your 5th year and beyond being significantly more than the amount required for the first 4 years.
We’re talking here about the Korea Teacher’s Pension and not the Korean National Pension so don’t get confused between the two. Private universities are on the former and public universities on the latter. It’d be very rare to see this kind of rule at any public university.
Maybe 4 Years is Enough for Teaching at a Uni in Korea?
That said, working for 3 or 4 years at a place is a decent amount of time and it’s probably still worth it to take the job, if it’s a good one. Being stuck in a rut is bad news, so you can just think of it as a mandatory kick in the butt to get yourself moving upwards and forwards in your ESL Teaching career to bigger and better things.
Seriously, once you get a few years under your belt, it’s much easier to find a job in better city. Or, something with fewer hours and better pay. Perhaps more interesting classes, or better students. The sky is the limit here.
I worked at my university out in the Korean countryside for 5 years and was most definitely ready for a change. I’ve been at the new place in Busan for 3 years and love it, but am starting to feel the itch, you know?
Of course, I’m not one to settle in somewhere for decades. If you are, don’t take a job with this time limit and you should be fine!
Some solid advice on factors to consider when deciding which ESL teaching job to take: The Wealthy English Teacher: Teach, Travel, and Secure Your Financial Future. It’s the first and only personal finance for English teachers book on the market.
I’m a Really Good Teacher, Will They Keep Me Anyway when Teaching English in Korean Universities?
Okay, so what about if you’re working at a university with a time limit, but you’re one of their top teachers (usually measured by student evaluations). Will they bend the rules and keep you?
In my experience, probably not and I’ve never actually heard of this happening. Unis are big bureaucracies and exceptions to rules are extremely hard to come by. It would likely have to go up the chain of command all the way to the university president. So, the people on the bottom that you’d actually talk to likely wouldn’t even let it get this far.
A rule is a rule and Korean administrations are simply not that flexible. It’s similar to how it would be in many countries with regards to this, so I’m not just picking on Koreans!
What about Grading Participation When Teaching ESL at a Korean University?
Grading participation in Korean universities—I did it for quite a few years but in the past 3, I’ve refused to do it. It basically has to do with the classes that I’m teaching-mostly advanced level ones for English majors. If you’re an English major, it seems like you should be graded on your actual English ability and not whether or not you try hard.
Are we Teaching in Elementary Schools?
We’re in a university here, not elementary school. I want to prepare my students for the real world which is why I expect them to show up on time for my classes. If you’re late for work at Samsung every single day, you’re probably going to get fired. If you don’t produce results, you’ll likely meet the same fate.
So in my classes, I don’t really care how students get there, but can you produce a 5 paragraph essay? Great. You’ll get an A. Can you achieve a reasonable mastery of the target grammar and vocabulary that we’ve studied during the semester. Awesome. Here’s your A.
Can’t do those things? Well, it’s time to pull yourself together and get serious about English. You’ll be in for a rude awakening in the real world when you graduate with a degree in English but are actually pretty terrible at it.
Gil Coombe: Loved your Presentation
Anyway, what inspired this post is a presentation I attended at the recent Kotesol International Conference by Gil Coombe, “Grading Participation in University English Courses: Why?” He gave 15 stellar reasons why you shouldn’t-here are some of the highlights and a few of my own comments. As an aside, it was an excellent presentation and one of the best I’ve ever seen at Kotesol. Nice work!
Why Grading Participation is Bad News:
Mastery of Course Content
Isn’t this important, more so than effort? We’re teaching in universities! Seriously. At some point (perhaps high-school?), it’s time to just expect competence in something that Korean students have been studying for a decade.
Participation Reflected in the Final Grade
Good students will participate in class, but will also do the best on tests and homework. Gil Coombe did a bunch of research and found that removing participation grades actually has no effect whatsoever on final grades. It’s just way more work for the teacher for basically no change in the actual grades of the students.
What about Introverted Students?
Grading participation in language classes really, really favours extroverted students. As kind of an introvert myself, I have a lot of sympathy for them and I really do think it’s unfair that quiet people get punished basically. Just because someone is quiet, it doesn’t mean that they’re not participating in your class.
Why do the Task?
You are failing as a teacher if you ever get into the situation where students are only doing a task because they’ll get some participation points. There are plenty of far better reasons for students to do tasks than this.
What Criteria to Use?
It all just seems so subjective and biased and I would argue that it basically comes down to giving points to the students that you like and taking away points from the students that you don’t. This certainly isn’t my style and I try to never, ever play favourites. Even if you try not to do this as well, it’s pretty hard to avoid when you’re handing out participation points.
And, if someone ever questions your grading, it’s so, so easy to point to a test or piece of homework to justify yourself. Participation points? How could you ever justify this? Min-Su spoke 17 times, but Ji-Su only spoke 11 times. Min-Ji looked happy but Ji-Won was always grumpy.
It’s Time Consuming
I’m personally kind of a lazy teacher. I recycle lessons. I’m all about teaching self-editing instead of editing writing work myself. I lesson plan, but only an average amount. Then, I get students to talk to each other for tests instead of with me. I go student-centered to the extreme and spent most of the class just kind of lurking around, eavesdropping. Grading participation each class just seems far, far, far too time-consuming and requires way more brain-power than I’m willing to spend.
What’s your Job?
I personally would rather be a facilitator of learning than a full-time assessor. I like to help while in class and judge only on tests. Finally, I hope that my students can just relax and enjoy the class and not feel like I’m always watching them. Big Brother just ain’t my style, you know?
Students Don’t Care About It
In Coombe’s experience, his students don’t seem to care one way or the other whether he graded participation in class. It’s a lot of work and so if students don’t care about it, it doesn’t really make sense to use them.
What’s the Deal with Cheating and Plagiarism in South Korean Universities?
A recent article from Time Magazine about plagiarism in Korean universities. You can see it here: 200 South Korean Professors Charged in Massive Plagiarism Scam. The gist of it is that these professors changed the author names and covers of textbooks and passed them off as their own, with the assistance of a publishing company. Sketchy, to say the least.
However, this is not surprising to me. If you’ve been in Korea for more than a few months, it’s probably not to you either. Keep on reading for my thoughts on it.
Academic Integrity Misadventures: Nothing New on this Blog
I’ve certainly talked about academic integrity misadventures in South Korean universities on this blog before. Here is just one such example from my Golden Handcuffs post:
No Academic Integrity in Korea
Over the years, I’ve seen the most ridiculous things that would fall under the category of academic integrity misadventures. In fact, it may be the subject of my next book, once I leave Korea.
Kind of a “tell-all,” about what it’s really like teaching in a Korean university and how ridiculous it all is. At first I was shocked by the cheating, plagiarism, lying, grade-fixing, diplomas to anyone who will pay for them, bribery, and paying for academic appointments, but no longer.
Now, I mostly just play the game because it’s way easier than fighting the system. Koreans have mostly given up too and they know that the system is screwed up but they feel powerless to fix it.
I used to fight and give that senior an “F” who never showed up for a single class, nor did a single assignment and skipped all his tests. What did it get me? Harassment, and stalking from the students and very little support from the admin in regards to the actual grade as well as the stalking situation. Now? Here’s your D buddy, don’t let me stand in the way of paying for your diploma. You paid your tuition, so it doesn’t matter how much you actually studied. Good luck in the real world.
Seriously, I’ve just given up. Most foreign English do after a year or two. It just starts to grind you down.
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 120 Pages - 02/24/2020 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)
How did only 200 get Caught?
So, let’s just say that when I read this article from Time, I was certainly not surprised in the least. It’s not like this kind of stuff is a secret. You could ask anyone who’s been working in a Korean university for more than a year or two and they’d tell you the same thing.
The only really, truly surprising thing is that only 200 professors were caught in the bust. I personally thought it would have numbered up into the 1000’s. Maybe it’s just the one publishing company that got busted but there are a ton of others out there doing the same thing.
Who knows. Maybe more will turn up?
What about Dissertations and Journal Publications?
As my one friend pointed out on Facebook, textbooks are only a very small area of the total volume of material being “written” and published. I’d venture a guess and say that the number of plagiarized dissertations and journal publications would also number in the 1000’s. That’s at the extremely low end.
It’s totally normal in Korea to force a “junior” to put your name on an academic paper. Most people would assume the “senior” did some work? This isn’t always the case.
Why not the Name and Shame?
Perhaps these 200 professors were named and shamed in the Korean media, but just not in the English versions. Anyone better at Korean than I who could tell me? If they weren’t, why not? It’s time for universities here to take a serious look at what’s happening inside their four walls and to clean up their act.
Everyone who teaches in Korean universities (and foreign students who study here) know that Korean degrees aren’t really worth the paper that they’re written on. When you get your degree just for paying the tuition, well, the actual learning becomes kind of an afterthought.
Cheating = No Problem
It all starts at the very bottom. Students cheat on papers and tests all the time. Then they caught and cry and beg for a second change. They get given a second chance by their Korean professors, often with no consequence. They continue doing this, on and on, and on and on, with the result being this sort of cheating ridiculousness at even the highest levels.
Students think I’m basically the meanest teacher ever for giving them a “0” on whatever they cheat on with no second chance, even if I’ve explicitly warned them that this would be the result. I mean, they’re actually surprised by it which leads me to think that every single one of the Korean teachers up until that point had either looked the other way, or given the second chance.
Please Understand our Unique Culture
Whenever I talk about the subject of plagiarism with Koreans, they often talk to me like I’m a total moron who has no understanding of the world that I live in. Please understand our unique culture. In Korea, it’s okay to cheat and steal and bribe your way to the top as long as you don’t get caught. Yes, I most certainly do understand that aspect of Korean culture, but it most certainly does not make it right.
Stealing something that someone else wrote and slapping your own name on it with a new cover? There’s no way this comes out looking anything less than totally sketch, no matter what country you’re in. It’s not okay just because everyone does it in Korea. Stealing is stealing is stealing. I REFUSE to do it! If I had my way, every student who cheated in my class would get a “0” and be expelled from the university.
The Problem With Plagiarism in South Korea
It really is a thing!
How to Prevent Cheating When Teaching English in Korean Universities
Here are a few things I did in my classes to prevent this problem.
Tip #1: Minimize Take-Home Assignments
Here’s how I deal with plagiarism in Korean universities when I’m teaching advanced level writing to English major students. I only assign 2 “at-home” assignments, both worth 10% of the final grade, for a total of 20%. I give extremely specific topics for a very specific type of essay, word-counts and requirements for things like thesis statements and topic sentences. Or, students have to do a speech in class for a speaking class.
It’s possible that students could cheat on this, but it would be quite difficult because the assignment is so specific in nature. Even if a few cheaters slip by me, it’s only 20% of their final grade so I’m not really worried about it because this will not propel a C or D level student into an A.
Tip #2: Maximize In-Class Exam Percentages
The bulk of the grade in my writing class (55%) consists of in-class exams that require writing a 5-paragraph essay in 50 minutes. I give the students a list of about 15 possible topics. Then on the test day, they have a choice of 2 of the topics which I choose at random.
I only allow paper or electronic dictionaries and not cell-phones. This makes it almost impossible to upload sample essays or something like that. While they can prepare some of their ideas at home, it’s an actual test of writing and not copying something they’ve already prepared.
Say a student really can’t write and gets only 30/55 on these final exams. Even if they get a perfect score on everything else (through cheating), their final percentage will be 75%, which equals only a C+.
Good Students=love it. Bad Students=hate it
It works for me, but I understand it’s a pretty intense way to do exams in a writing class. The students don’t love it because it’s actually quite a difficult exam. This is especially true if you struggle to write a sentence.
However, the better students appreciate the fairness of it, This is because the ones who can actually write will get the higher grades. Those who are terrible can’t bluff their way through it by getting a native speaker to write an essay for them, or plagiarizing, as the case may be.
I have a feeling these weaker students have been cheating and bluffing their way through English classes for years, with little consequence. Not on my watch!
Do I care too much? Maybe. But, I guess I like to pretend that what I do actually makes a difference.
What about Those I do Catch Cheating?
If I do catch someone who has copied something (it usually happens once or twice per assignment in a class of 20), I give the student a “0.” There’s also no second chance to re-do the assignment. I don’t even talk to them, I just write “0” on the top on their paper and then list the Internet site where I found their work.
They’re usually pretty embarrassed (as they should be). However, I don’t talk to them because I don’t even care what the excuse is that they’ll inevitably give me. Nor am I willing to give them a second chance, no matter what.
It would have been far, far better if they had asked me for an extra day to do the assignment in case of emergency instead of just copying something. The perhaps worst part is that students think that their teachers won’t notice.
Or, they could have written something terrible on their own. Then, come to my office hours and I would have helped them to make it better. But, they don’t.
Seriously, there are so many better solutions than cheating.
Top 10 Tips for Newbies to Teaching English in Korean Universities
I’ve just finished my 8th year of teaching in universities in South Korea and when I compare my first shaky semester as a naive newbie to now, it’s almost astounding the differences in my teaching and classroom management styles. Anyway, here are my tips for newbies teaching in a Korean University. They’re the ones that I wish someone had told me when I was just starting out:
#1: Students Levels May Be Lower than you Think
Your students will likely not be high level. While they may have an impressive range of vocabulary, they’re often extremely weak in actually using it and basic grammar points will need to be reviewed, again, and again, and again.
#2: Take a Rest, My Students
University is a party-time for Korean students, between Sooneung (university entrance exam) Hell and selling their souls to Samsung or Hyundai. You should adjust your classes accordingly; if you make them too hard with too much homework, the students will be unhappy. Give a little bit or homework and a few tests so you can have some self-respect but don’t stress too much about making it like a university class is “back home.”
#3: Pay Attention to Attendance
Never trust the students to “check” the box for their own attendance. They will lie and cheat for their friends so you need to personally do it. Trust me- I’ve been down this road before.
#4: I’m Sick Teacher! What Gives?
Don’t accept Kyeol-gung-wons (absence excuse papers) for minor things like colds. Reserve it for the serious such as a car accident/brain trauma/close family member’s death.
#5: Just Chill Out and You’ll Be Much Happier
Korea is a Bali-Bali (fast-fast) last minute kind of culture. Lots of decisions will happen just in time with regard to classes and schedules and housing. Don’t worry about it and just go with the flow because if you stress out about it, something terrible might happen to you by the end of your year, like all your hair falling out. I guarantee it.
#6: Korean University Students and Cheating
Cheating (cunning as they say in Konglish) is not such a serious offense in Korea as it is in the Western World. Most students think nothing of plagiarizing something off the Internet for a written assignment, or copying off their friend in the few minutes before class starts, or bringing a cheat paper to the test. Heck, I’ve even had students try to cheat during 1-1 speaking tests with me!
So give assignments and tests that minimize this and you won’t have to deal with it. I do exclusively speaking tests, with groups of 2-4 students in my office. There is no possible way for them to cheat (without me noticing!) and I simply don’t assign the “workbook” as homework.
#7: Class Sizes Matter (Consider when Taking a Job)
Before accepting a job, perhaps the most important question to ask would be, “What are the class sizes?” I’m not sure I would ever take a job with very large, multi-level classes. This was the reality in my first semester and it was extremely difficult. Now, some of my classes are down to 10 students and the difference is astounding because I can actually get to know my students as individuals and see them actually improve their English skills.
#8: Simple is Better
Syllabi, tests, activities, grammar points. Everything really.
#9: Paperwork, Stay on Top of It
Keep on top of the paperwork. Input attendance into the computer each week. Enter grades into your spreadsheets as you get them. Have at least a couple of weeks lessons planned ahead of time when working in a Korean university teaching English.
#10 Get a Hobby!
Your teaching impact does not equal your self-worth. You’ll have some terrible classes and students that don’t hate your class. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person, or a terrible teacher. Get some hobbies and friends and learn to leave your teaching behind you at the end of the day.
Why Don’t I Ever See My Boss in a Korean University? Is this a Problem?
Okay, so you’re teaching in Korea at a university and are left entirely to your own devices as far as what to actually teach. Is this a good thing, or bad thing? It depends on you and your outlook on things, but find out all the details about this reader question here, along with tips and tricks for how to thrive in this kind of environment.
Newbies to teaching in a university in South Korea: this is the article for you!
“At my uni I’ve been completely left to my own devices and whichever curriculum I develop is completely up to me. Having no supervision or a certain textbook that I’m required to use is great in many ways but also a little unsettling in others for a newbie. Do you have any advice as to how to handle this situation?”
Some Thoughts on No Supervision at Work and Tips for Newbies
Thinking back to my own experience of this many years ago, I do indeed remember the kind of unsettling feeling. The, “Oh crap! What do I do now?” There quite literally was nobody in administration who cared what I did in my classes.
I walked into the English office at my first university job, expecting to be handed a textbook with a syllabus, as per my experience teaching at Korean hagwons.
However, this was certainly not the case at all. Quite the opposite in fact as they expected me to be the expert in all things English teacher. I pulled something together and it eventually got better and better from then on. Here are a few of the things I did at the beginning before I landed on my feet and built up a resource of teaching materials and courses outlines, etc.
Coworkers are your Best Resource
Everyone likes being the “expert” and I’m sure they won’t mind answering your questions (just like I don’t mind answering reader questions). If you don’t have a shared teacher’s office, and rarely see your coworkers, send out a group email with your questions and I’m sure you’ll at least get a few responses. Or, find (set-up) the Facebook group for English teachers at your university.
Offer to take a couple people out for lunch and pick their brains. It’s going to be your best resource by far.
I remember back to that first semester. One of my coworkers saw me floundering in the teacher’s office and gave me a copy of his syllabus for a couple of the classes we shared. It was a serious gift! Another teacher and I used to commute together and I used that time largely to pick his brain about what to do in class with regards to management, grading, etc.
Tips for Newbies: Relax and Chill Out
Administration at universities in Korea generally have low expectations. Just show up to class every week, give some tests, input attendance and final grades, come to meetings, and don’t sleep with the students. Really. It’s not so difficult to do an acceptable job.
The foreign teachers who get in trouble are the ones that cancel classes, have “interesting” relationships with the students, are hated by the department secretary or their coworkers, or who just don’t do, or are late with the paperwork.
Now, of course as a professional teacher your own expectations for yourself should be considerably higher than just scraping by, but don’t stress about curriculum and stuff. No one else is. Just do your best. Nobody actually expects that much of foreign teachers in Korean universities. Whether or not any learning actually happens sometimes seems irrelevant. As with many things in Korea, it’s all about appearances.
No Supervision at Work? Use the Internet!
Do some searches online for things like, “writing class university Korea syllabus” or “freshman English university Korea.” You’ll find that many teachers post their syllabus online and this can be a valuable resource for you. It can serve as an excellent basis for what you do, and you may even wish to copy and paste large parts of them.
Just remember this #1 tip: Simple is better. If you teach freshman English, your students will probably be lower level than you think.
Got a University Job? Here’s How to NOT Get Fired
Over my years working in Korean university, come contract renewal time, I’ve seen plenty of people bite the dust for various things. However, all these reasons can be boiled down to “professionalism,” or lack thereof. Just think about it this way: it’s basically your job to keep as long as you’re a reasonably competent person and it’s more about how NOT to lose your job.
#1: Look the Part
I have coworkers who wear jeans or cargo-shorts, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap to class. In a land where appearance is everything, this is the fastest way to not be respected by your students, or your bosses. Even if you think that your boss works on the other campus and she’ll never find out, trust me, many Koreans on campus will know who you are, even if you don’t know them.
#2: Lay Low
Don’t stir up trouble and just spend your time flying under the radar. Try to have no negative contact with your bosses. The fastest way to get fired at my uni is to start accusing the other foreigners of things, so that the Koreans have to deal with stuff they’d rather not get involved with. UNDER THE RADAR!
The other part of this is to volunteer for some extra things, especially the ones that won’t cost you too much in the way of time and effort. For example, reviewing some textbooks for the upcoming semester. It might take you an afternoon to do this.
You don’t want to fly under the radar for the positive stuff!
#3: Go to Work Social Activities
That said, you should be sure to attend any and all work social activities such as dinners. I mean, I always had a really fun time at them because who doesn’t like free food and drink, right? I sure do.
But, some people would skip them for whatever reason. The result? Our bosses didn’t really know them at all, and if cutbacks ever came around, I have a feeling that these ghosts would likely be the first ones to get the cut.
#4: NEVER Cancel Classes
The other fastest way to get fired is to cancel classes. Yes, people do check and so unless you’re actually sleeping overnight in the hospital, you should do as the Koreans do and come to class. At least put in a token 30 minutes, take attendance and then send the students on their way.
#5: Make Your Classes Awesome
Plan for your classes and make them interesting, helpful and fun. Student evaluations really do matter. Speaking of awesome classes, check out ESL Speaking Activities for Adults. Or, this book filled with interesting, engaging and student-centered ESL speaking activities: 39 No-Prep/Low-Prep ESL Speaking Activities: For Teenagers and Adults.
You can check out this short video below for more details about putting your students at the centre of the class, exactly where they should be!
Not sure how to teach? Consider taking a TEFL certificate of some kind to bone up on your knowledge!
#6: Be Careful with Social Media
Watch what you do online on sites like Facebook with regard to saying bad things about your students, university or coworkers. Yes, people really do check. And yes, people have certainly gotten fired over things they did online.
At my first university, one of my co-workers went on Facebook and started doing all kinds of crazy things like calling his students stupid and saying other disrespectful things about them. He didn’t get his contract renewed.
#7: Boundaries: Get Some when Teaching English in Korean Universities!
Have appropriate boundaries with your students. You are their teacher, not their friend. Never have physical contact and even avoid being alone in your private office with a student. NEVER invite students over to your house and if you go out for dinner or coffee, be sure there is a group of at least 4 or 5 students.
Call me Whatever you Want, Just Not Professor when Teaching English in Korean Universities
Whenever I hear foreign teachers in Korean universities telling someone that they’re a “professor,” I cringe. Then I think, “Well, that’s a bit embarrassing, isn’t it?”
There are Clearly Exceptions
To be clear, there are some foreign teachers in Korea who most certainly should use this title. I’ve met maybe 10 of them during my decade here. They’re the ones that have a PhD, publish regularly, and are teaching something in a content area. As for everyone else? Well, not so muchee, as they say in Korea.
Think about it:
When was the last time you did any of the following:
1.Got a PhD
2. Published a paper in a peer-reviewed academic journal
3.Attended a conference other than Kotesol. Or, better yet, presented your original research at one.
4.Supervised a student doing a thesis.
5.Served as a student advisor in an official, academic oriented capacity.
6.Taught something where the ultimate focus wasn’t on English.
7.Had a job at a university, minus the 1-2 year contract. Or, got a promotion at work to anything other than head of the foreign teachers.
8.Attended a graduation ceremony.
9.Attended an MT (membership training/orientation).
10.Had your renewal based on points for things such as attending said MT and graduation ceremony.
11.Attended a department meeting with people other than your fellow waygooks and your boss.
12.Had a TA assigned to you.
13.Had a base salary of more than 3 million Won.
14.Got a Chuseok or Lunar New Year bonus of more than a loaf cake from Paris Baguette.
15.Got invited to a teacher’s day ceremony as anything more than an afterthought.
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 120 Pages - 02/24/2020 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)
Let’s talk about Language and Teaching English in Korean Universities
Sure, the students may call you professor. This word is meaningless and they most certainly don’t think of you as a “Gyo-su-nim” in the way that they do their Korean profs.
Your contract also most certainly does not say this. At best, you’re an instructor or lecturer but I’d even argue that lecturer is a bit too strong. When you “lecture,” it implies that you have an advanced level knowledge of something. While I most certainly do have advanced level knowledge of the language I’ve been speaking since I was basically out of the cradle, I definitely do not have an advanced level knowledge of English grammar that someone with a PhD in it would have.
What do I say when people ask me what I do? I tell them I teach English at a university. “Oh, just an English teacher,” Koreans say. Yes, that’s right. I am an English teacher who happens to work at a university. I do basically the same thing as a foreign teacher in a public school or hagwon, just with university students.
But, to each their own.
Top 10 Time-Savers When Teaching in South Korean Unis
If you’re looking for some serious time-savers for teaching ESL to university students in Korea, or around the world then you’re certainly in the right place! Keep on reading for the best time-savers so that you can have more time for the fun things that you actually want to do.
Top 10 Time-Savers When Teaching in a Korean University
Let’s be real. Teaching in a Korean university is probably the easiest job you’re going to ever have in your entire life. Teaching hours are light, prep + grading are usually minimal, and you have no expectations for results whatsoever.
However, some people do let the job take up a lot of their time, which could actually be spent doing other stuff. If you’re like me and have lots going on outside of work that you want to have time to do, here are my top 10 time-savers for when you’re working in a Korean university.
#1: Google Drive
If you’ve spent any time cruising ’round this blog, you’d know that I’m all about making my teaching life as easy as possible and saving time wherever possible so that I can write more books and do more blogging.
That’s not to say that I don’t spend a ridiculous amount of time doing prep: I do and if I’ve never taught a class before, I’ll put in hours and hours and hours getting ready for it. As everybody probably should.
But, I do like to save time whenever I can and using Google Drive is one way that I do it.
The moral of this whole story is that you really shouldn’t spend your time doing things you don’t really have to. Keep reading to learn more!
Love the Student Access to all your Teaching Resources
You know some teachers that are always getting emails, phone calls and texts from their students about A, B, or C about this or that? I try to avoid this if at all possible by using the power of the Internet. It’s a massive time-saver.
Here’s what I do.
In order to make my life easy and happy, I use Google Drive to make all my PowerPoints, worksheets, syllabus, etc.
Then, I put them all into a folder which I make public and share so that the students can have access to all the class materials outside of class. I have the students follow me on Twitter, so it’s really easy to share the specific link to each individual thing as well as the big folder.
Of course, don’t put the tests in there! I’ll organize it into folders kind of like this:
Smart Choice 1 Shared
Smart Choice 1 Private
The students will get access to anything that I put into that shared folder.
What about the School Intranet?
Okay, now I know that most schools have their own system of some kind for putting lectures or whatever up online. I’m never used this beyond the basics like putting my syllabus and contact information online.
First of all, it’s generally all in Korean and I’m not fluent in it so it takes way more time than it should. Secondly, it usually requires uploading each individual thing, whereas for Google Drive, I can just move something into the shared folder.
Finally, I’m using Google Drive to write all my lesson plans and make my PPTs, so why not just use the same system for all things? Makes sense to me.
#2: Grading, the Better Way
If there’s one tip that’s going to save you a ton of time come grading time, it’s this. Seriously. Keep on reading if you want to avoid pulling all-nighters getting your grades in order.
It’s easy, doesn’t take any time to do but’ll save you hours of time at the end!
Doesn’t Everybody Do This with Grading?
This is one of those things that I thought everybody did, but I’ve been discovering that it isn’t the case. Whether you use a spreadsheet of some kind, or just pen and paper, this tip will make your life easier and happier come end of the semester when you have to crunch all those numbers.
I work on grading throughout the semester and these days at the end, it takes me about 3 minutes per class of 20 to enter a final exam grade, total up the numbers and assign a letter grade. Some teachers-it takes hours and they’re doing all sorts of crazy things like pulling all-nighters in the office during grade entering periods.
Avoid the ESL teacher burnout with awesome tips like this one! Seriously it’s just not worth the stress.
Grading Made Easy: The Pro Tip
Okay, ready? This is the one tip that’s going to save you hours of your life, every single semester.
My rule is to never, ever write down a grade on my grade sheet that is not in the form it should be. What I mean by that is that if the test is worth 20% of the student’s final grade, I will always make the test out of 20 points.
Projects or homework are equally easy to do this way as well. 10%? Grade the assignment out of 10 points.
When you design tests, or assignments, it’s pretty easy to grade out of a certain number. For example, if you have a test worth 20 points, make 20 questions. If you want to make the test longer than that, each question can have more than 1 part.
Bonus: The Students Understand this System Easily
Besides saving a ton of time, here’s another added benefit to doing it this way.
An added bonus of this system is that students are often able to figure out their grades really easily. I can spell it out at the end of the semester like this:
Homework: 10 points
Group Project: 20
Final exam: 50
Because everything was marked out of the corresponding percentage (10, 20, 20, 50), even students who don’t really speak English can understand this system.
This can significantly reduce the number of complaints and questions you get at the end of the semester. This will also save you time, which is what I’m all about.
Compare this to the teacher who had all sorts of random grades. A test out of 42 points. Homework graded out of 14. How would you even start to explain how to convert all this to students who don’t speak the same language as you? Yes, it’s complicated.
#3: Stop the Homework Madness, Part 1
One of the biggest time-savers, or time-suckers is homework!
If it’s a conversation class, make the students do videos, either just talking by themselves, or interviewing someone. Then, have them put the videos on YouTube or Naver and email you the link. It’s far easier than dealing with stacks of paperwork, and the other bonus is that it practices speaking in a speaking class. If a student meets the basic requirements, I give them full points.
#4: Stop the Homework Madness, Part 2
Another form of homework madness is in writing classes. I’ve taught advanced academic writing a few times where students are writing 5-paragraph academic essays. Forms of madness for a class like this involve:
-getting nitty-gritty into every single grammar mistake
-requiring students to submit endless revisions
-attempting any sort of “group” essay writing
-weekly assignments or something of the sort
Call me ridiculously lazy, but I choose to focus on the big picture. I mean, if a student is a fourth year English major and has been studying English for 15 years, but doesn’t have a grasp of basic grammar, there’s nothing I can do to help them. I instead focus on big picture things like thesis statements + topic sentences, logical arguments and cohesive devices.
Endless revisions sent to me by email: my personal form of hell. Instead, I do some serious “self-editing” in class. It’s better for the students too! I won’t be there to hold their hand once they graduate and have a job where they have to write in English.
#5: Lone Ranger all the Way!
Some teachers are all about collaboration. I love the idea, in theory. But, my experience with it has been that it ends up sucking up ridiculous amounts of time. Everyone has their own way of doing things, and of course, my way is the best way! So although shared tests or lesson planning probably result in better tests or lesson plans, it’s going to eat away your time like nothing else.
#6: Embrace the All or Nothing
When grading, I do the all or nothing. Adding up 1/2 points here and there is another one of my personal hells. By using the all or nothing method, I can grade each midterm or final exam in less than a minute (a grammar/vocab test, essays obviously take much longer to grade).
#7: Don’t Take Attendance the First Two Weeks
At my university, the first couple of weeks in the semester are a total gong-show. Students are coming, students are going. It makes my head spin. I don’t even bother taking attendance the first two weeks because sorting out that chaos is just way too stressful.
#8: Stay on Top of the Paperwork
If you let the paperwork build up, it’s going to make your life more stressful. Grade homework within a couple of days. Enter grades into your spreadsheet as soon as possible. It’s better for the students too, because you can let them know their current score in the class, should they want to know.
***Important*** If you rock the paper grade sheets, as opposed to the spreadsheet, make sure you photocopy the sheets each time you add new grades. And obviously, store it separately! This way, you’ll be okay in case of losing grading folder disaster.
#9: Portfolios: Nobody actually Checks Them
Most schools require teachers to make portfolios with lesson plans, sample tests and homework, etc. The secret is that nobody actually looks at them as long as there is a binder full of paper with your name on the shelf by the due date. Do the bare minimum and not a scrap beyond that.
Not wasting time making fabulous portfolios is going to be one of the best time-savers for you when working in a Korean university. Some teachers spend 20+ hours doing it. I spent 10-15 minutes per class.
#10: Consider Overtime Carefully
I consider the overtime I do extremely carefully. Some things just aren’t worth the money if it will require a ridiculous amount of preparation because it’s a “serious” class that I’ve never taught before. I would possibly do it if there were opportunities to do it again in the future. But, a one-off? I’ll usually say no.
Another thing I avoid are those classes that are going to require extensive interaction with me. Small group discussions with Korean students are another one of my personal forms of hell because they’re usually ridiculously shy and it becomes all about me the entire time, which leaves me exhausted after about five minutes.
Time-Savers Bonus Tip:
I hate grading participation and think it’s overall, pretty ridiculous. I used to be all about it, but these days, I’ve just said no. Adding up all those little points each day is way too annoying and it’s just so wrong on so many levels.
Have your Say about Teaching English in Korean Universities
Do you have any tips for advice for people considering teaching English in Korean universities? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. We’d love to hear from you.
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Last update on 2021-10-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API