Category Archives: Thoughts & Rants

Into the mind of a Korean teenager – ask me anything!

One of the few traditions I keep is in the final class of every year to allow my students to ask me any question they like, with a guarantee of an honest answer. The students simply write their question on a slip of paper, fold it up and put it in a box. I then spend around 15 minutes answering the 30-40 questions. We always have a lot of fun and of course the students love it. Anyway, here are (almost) all the questions I have been asked so far this week!

Note: lots of questions were repeated, so I removed duplicate or similar questions.

How Not to Run a Language Course

I recently pulled my finger out and, after four years of living in Korea, signed up for Korean classes at a local academy. So far I have had five classes totaling 10 hours of tuition, and I can honestly say I have learnt nothing in that time. It’s certainly been an interesting experience for me, unfortunately it hasn’t been interesting as a language learner but as a language teacher. So now I am going to share what I have learnt about how not to  run a language course in the chronological order in which I learnt them.

Note: this turned out a bit more ranty than I planned, oh well, I guess I’m pretty annoyed about my Korean class!

1) Don’t locate your school down a dark, non-signposted and poorly lit alley where dogs ferociously bark and growl at your students, in a building where, due to lack of lighting, if you turn left after entering the front door you will fall down a flight of concrete stairs (that you can’t see due to there being no light).

Continue reading How Not to Run a Language Course

Well, I think I can genuinely say this is the most interesting guest blog post I have ever had. Thank you William Owens, an English teacher currently based in the UK, for making me frown, laugh, angry and happy at the same time!

This piece of writing is self-contradicting. It criticises blogs, both the way they are written and the way they are received. It also takes the form of a blog, written in exactly the way I mean to criticise, to be received in exactly the way I mean to criticise. I mean to use all of the devices I frown upon in this piece; they arePicture useful, even essential methods that enhance the credibility of that which is written and lend weight and coherence to the writer’s argument.

And this is the problem. Blogs are not intrinsically bad things; a person travelling the world sharing their experiences with family and friends, a software developer charting their trials and errors that others may benefit from them, or a bedroom philosopher, eager to share their reflections about life and the world, yet not perceiving the need to do so through established channels of extended, supervised study and publication, are all valid, helpful, worthwhile forms of blogging and merit their place on the internet.

Or so many believe. 

I wish to highlight the third member of the above group, and differentiate them from the others. That person, as we all do, has opinions, based on information which they receive, and the processing of that information by their mind, which is itself the product of their personality, experiences, and previous information they have received. That body of previous information existing in the opinion-former’s mind is very rarely complete – the opinion-former is unlikely to undertake academic-level research in order to inform their opinions. In fact the opinion-former themself is unlikely to follow any academic guidelines: they are complex, time-consuming and painstaking (see e.g. Swales & Feak 2004 for an entire book about them), and wholly unnecessary for the context; it is, after all, only a blog. 


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“Only a blog. “

And yet, and yet. The opinion-former, guarded from academic standards by this maxim, nonetheless wants their blog to be read; and not only read, they want it to be absorbed, considered, and to become part of the information that informs the reader’s future opinions, reflections and decisions (which they in turn may blog). They want to influence people, to change minds or inspire discussions, and so they must write in a way that readers will respect. To achieve this, they borrow from the academic standards they simultaneously shield themselves from. They cite and critically analyse the body of academic literature. They conduct and report empirical research. They give a well-considered and well-structured background to their piece, highlight the flaws in their own writing, allude to alternative viewpoints and encourage the reader to consider the issue from every angle. And so the opinion-former becomes the opinion-writer, and with a few splashes of academic referencing and a sprinkling of facts and figures, the whole thing begins to look very credible.

It isn’t. 

A blog is not academically reviewed, not checked for accuracy, or logic, or adherence to academic standards; the author is free to misinterpret sources, omit vital information, make up facts and statistics and come to wildly inaccurate conclusions without ever justifying or being held to account for them, or indeed corrected (it’s only a blog). In terms of its validity as a trustworthy, reliable, citeable piece of writing a blog has a level of validity equivalent to a caps-locked, misspelt, racist youtube comment about another commenter’s mother; the difference is that it looks proper. There is, indeed, every possibility that it contains thoroughly-researched, wisely-considered, objective, critical and insightful views on the issue at hand; and there is every chance that it is a drivelling pub-rant, full of uninformed, emotional knee-jerk reactions to issues the author doesn’t fully understand, or care about enough to study. However it is far more likely, in my experience, to lie between the two, and closer to the former than the latter, which is the most dangerous position.


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Because people think it’s real.

Despite having the credibility and extrinsic worth of an octopus predicting the results of the world cup (which happened), blogs often read like academic papers and their adherence to some, if not all, academic standards gives the impression that they should be considered as occupying a middle-ground between youtube comments and academic journal articles. This is evident from the citations of other blogs appearing in blogs, much as one academic article references another. This blog

http://eltrantsreviewsreflections.wordpress.com/2013/06/11/native-english-speakers-in-korean-public-schools-were-destined-to-fail/

does exactly this, sprinkling its core of academic malpractice with unfounded opinions and generalisations based on anecdotes. It is duly responded to here:

http://www.alienteachers.com/1/post/2013/06/issues-facing-the-korean-net-program.html

in which  the author painstakingly assures us – with underlines for emphasis – that the piece is based on anecdotes and opinions, and thus not generalisable to anything at all. And then, disclaimer out of the way, proceeds to write their blog like an academic essay, backing up their propositions with references to and analyses of academic literature and frankly making some very good points, interspersed with the promised anecdotes and opinions and, academically admirably, abstaining from directly implying any implications of these observations to the world at large.

It is tempting to cite these “well-written blogs” in essays. It’s even more tempting to give credence to them. If we read them without our critical, academic hat on (it’s only a blog after all… and who enjoys wearing the hat?) we could quite easily be convinced that this is a middle ground between academia and non-academia – a casual, amateur academia –with its own casual, amateur validity. Otherwise, surely, it’s no different from the rant of a pub-dwelling oaf.

It isn’t.

I wish to make the point that academic standards and reviewing exist for a reason, so that we can trust that what we read is credible, accurate and thoroughly researched. Those standards and processes are created and enforced by experts, considerably more expert than the vast majority of us writing and reading blogs; if we presume to sidestep them and self-govern our output, that property is lost, in full. Attempting to recover it in part, by following academic standards in part, serves to give a sense of credibility and often serves to effectively make a point, but those of us reading such pieces would do well to remember that a blog is not more than, and cannot be more than, a brain-fart. It is a squash-faced, farting, slobbering, shaggy, loveable mongrel dog; it belongs in the park, not at Crufts, and putting a dress and make-up on it does not make it half a thoroughbred Shih-Tzu.

Don’t pay attention to any of this by the way. It’s only a blog.

References:

Swales, J. M., & Feak, C. B. (2004). Academic writing for graduate students: Essential tasks and skills (Vol. 1). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.


Comments

Mark
13/06/2013 07:24

Hear, hear. Whenever asked why I don’t blog, I shall reference this brain fart.

Reply
Chris
30/07/2013 19:36

Very interesting piece of writing. It definitely made me think about the value of blogs. One thing I would comment on is that teachers writing blogs aren’t exactly the same as bedroom philosophers. They have professional experience, much of which may not have been adequately addressed by academic research in this rapidly changing modern world. If a professional waits until s/he has the “professional credibility” nothing may get expressed…which frankly might damper professional competence. I can say from personal experience that blogging was a profoundly useful experience to improve my teaching practice and my attitude to the challenges inherent in the teaching profession.

Issues Facing the Korean NET Program

This is my second direct response to an article published here. The article was, unfortunately for hard working NETs in Korean public schools, a plethora of generalizations based on half-baked truths, completely void of any facts and based purely on the experiences of the author who had worked in one public school in Gyeonggi-do. Whilst I believe sharinPictureg one’s experiences is an integral part of teaching, I don’t believe it is suitable to draw such large generalizations about the roles of other teachers from them. In fact, it was quite surprising that someone who later claimed to have an MA Education degree would post an article that makes such broad generalizations from such limited experience. In this article I try to offer a more balanced view of some of the issues involved and, where possible in the spare hour I have between my speaking tests, draw on the facts available to me.
             
I have tried to keep this analysis as objective as possible, however I feel it is important for you to bear in mind that many of the ideas I discuss are based on my experiences and those of people who I know, I therefore do not claim that what I discuss in this article is generalizable to the whole of, or even the majority of, NETs experiences in Korea.

Historical & Cultural Influences

To discuss the current state of English language teaching in Korea it is important to understand the historical and cultural background from which it developed. I am going to try and cover the main points here as briefly as possible. You see, the modern Korean education system can still be considered in its infancy, as finding its way and its place in a culture that has changed beyond all recognition in the past 50 years. As late as 1945 Korea had no formal public education system. Its education had, for the past 3000 years, been based on Confucian and Buddhist teaching spreading south from China. This was, of course, before the oppressive regime of the Japanese denied many Korean children education (Thomas & Postlewhaite, 1983). Following its liberation, Korea introduced a public education system based on a Western model and, by the 1990’s, had reached a high school graduation rate of 90% as well as almost completely eradicating illiteracy.

Confucian teaching has, however, (and quite understandably) maintained a strong influence on everyday life and the education system. I mention this because it seems as if many NETs, coming from their Western idealized background, expect Korea to have, in a period of 50 years, completely eradicated these 3000 years of cultural influence. At the same time as this educational transformation, Korea also developed from an impoverished nation to what can now be considered an economic heavy weight on a global scale (Park, 2009). As such, in 1995 the Korean government decreed that there was a need to increase the English language communicative proficiency of the nation, and in doing so also decided to adopt the communicative language teaching methodologies current being utilized in Europe and north America (Li, 1998). To help with this transformation, the English Programme in Korea (EPIK) was created, with the objective of placing native speaking teachers in Korean public schools to help promote cultural understanding and increase the authenticity of language use (Song, 2012).

Teacher Centered Learning

I have tried to keep a very complex background as concise as possible, but I feel it is important to be aware of this background if we are to discuss many of the problems NETs face. One of the main criticisms levied against English education in Korea, and one of the main problems NETs encounter, can be seen as a direct influence of this cultural background. That is, both teachers and students find it difficult to move past the heavily teacher centered ‘hierarchical’ learning environment (Hu, 2002) that evolved from it. Although, in my experience, there are noticeable changes in attitude being made, most classes are still teacher centered, and students understandably struggle when a NET suddenly expects them to be able to deal with a communicative, student centered, approach. It is simply a method of teaching they are not accustomed to and is in direct contrast to Korea’s cultural background. However, I think it is important to reiterate that changes are happening, teachers are trying to adapt to a student centered approach, but, understandably, it is difficult when there is 3000 years of culture having an opposing influence on you.

Knowledge Based Learning

The second problem many NETs struggle to overcome is the influence of the University Entrance Exam which has had a strong washback effect over the entire educational system. This exam is a multiple choice ‘right or wrong’ selection of extreme significance (Choi, 2008). As such, English education in Korea is also seen as being able to be taught on the principles of ‘right or wrong’. For a NET to explain that often, in the English language, something could be right, or it could be wrong, as language is fluid and constantly changing, they are often met with a complete lack of understanding, only to be asked again which answer is correct.

This knowledge based view of learning is again strongly influenced by the historical background mentioned above, and is in direct contrast to the communicative approaches being advocated by the Ministry of Education. However, again it appears to me that there are signs of this way of thinking about language, and the corresponding examination system, changing, but it is important to remember we are talking about 15 years Vs 3000 years of influence.

Korean students, being so competitively exam focused, were often found to be unmotivated by the idea of an English class that would not be in their University Entrance Examination, students often entered the classroom with the attitude that the class was unimportant as it was not on the exam (Jeon, 2009). This, coupled with the clash of teaching methods described above, caused NETs serious problems in the classroom. This was magnified by the fact that, as I describe in more detail below, NETs sometimes did not possess the knowledge or skills to overcome these issues, not that this was necessarily through any fault of their own, it was simply that many did not possess the experience or qualifications necessary for this combination of issues.

Influence of NETs

There are also structural issueswith the EPIK program itself that have held it back. The first of these is that EPIK set itself the goal of hiring a huge number of NETs in a very short space of time, and while a large number of NETs arrived in Korea with the attitude of working hard for a year and making their time here as effective as possible, a number also came with the attitude that their time here would be a working holiday. Of course, it is possible to argue this could have been avoided if they had only hired teachers with basic qualifications (which they now do) or checked resumes more thoroughly. The effect of this was that there were a number of unprofessional and/or unqualified NETs employed into the public education system (Jeon, 2009). While many NETs were doing fantastic work in their schools, the media were, of course, focusing on those that did not take their job so seriously, creating a climate whereby all NETs were, by some, stereotyped as unprofessional and a waste of money.

The influence NETs could have was very limited. They were often not allowed to contribute to the exam system or to teach by themselves and were simply left to their own devices. While many teachers were left with the overwhelming workload of preparing 22 different communicative based lesson plans a week (22 classes a week is the stipulated amount of classes a NET should have) others were left to teach only two different lessons a week as their main formal responsibility and had little formal guidance as to what they should fill the other 15 hours a week with.

This combination of factors meant that a number of teachers didn’t use time outside of classes effectively or appropriately as they were not formally required to do so. There was also little communication from the central organizers as to what should be done with this time. This meant that, for those that came with the intention of treating the time as a working holiday, it was a golden opportunity to get paid to do very little. On the other side of spectrum, for those that NETs that came highly motivated, it was a change to engage in many activities, to experiment, to learn about their trade or to form creative ways of engaging with their students in a way they may not have had the chance to in a normal public school teaching role.

I feel there is a general misunderstanding as to what we mean by using this time effectively, you see while Korean teachers had mountains of paperwork and other formal requirements, NETs didn’t. A NETs role was simply not that of the average public school teacher. For me, simply speaking to students around the school can be considered a useful way to spend this time. In fact, this may be the only chance a student gets to speak one on one with a non-Korean before entering university. Even having a conversation with a co-teacher is an effective use of this time, it is a chance to build up the confidence of Korean teachers, for them to practice expressions they are unsure about or for them to ask you questions about English they are unsure about. While this certainly isn’t formally considered work, it is certainly not being paid to do nothing.

One cannot deny that a reasonable number of NETs did spend this time doing nothing, but I want to make it absolutely clear that I believe this was their choice. As I’m sure any serious public school teacher anywhere in the world would agree, there is almost always something that can be done, be it speaking with students, engaging in reflective practice, grading assignments, developing the syllabus and materials or in this case simply communicating with students and co-teachers. While some NETs did chose to do very little, there were also many NETs in Korea who would still be working long after the final bell rings, as, to overcome the challenges described earlier, a huge amount of effort, knowledge and time is required outside of the classroom. In fact, to overcome these challenges, being an effective NET in a Korean public school can, in my opinion, be considered one of the most challenging teaching jobs around, especially for those asked to teach in many different schools and, often, many different levels. These are people I’m sure would not consider themselves paid to do nothing. 

Co-Teaching

The final issue I wish to discuss is that of co-teaching. Personally, I am convinced that co-teaching can be an extremely effective method of teaching, yet many NETs in Korea complain of the inefficiency, ineffectiveness and inadequacies of this method. I am certain they are correct and not just complaining for the sake of it (mostly). So at what point does a potentially effective method of teaching become ineffective? I believe a major reason is the lack of guidelines and training in how to co-teach effectively. In three years I have been to several development workshops provided by the MoE, yet I have never been to one with my co-teacher. There is also the fact that Korean teachers are, like most public school teachers, overworked. They are, therefore, often happy to sit back and take a rest or catch up on other duties, and understandably so given that they also are probably not aware as to how effective co-teaching can be. These highly qualified and trained co-teachers were also given the (in my opinion) demeaning role of having to help the NETs with their day to day life such as getting internet installed, helping when things go wrong, ordering internet shopping items etc,. This meant that, while co-teachers were often not provided with adequate training and support, they were also understandably begrudged about their role as a co-teacher. Of course, this was not always the case, many co-teachers (if not the majority) loved working with their NET, but it was an issue that often surfaced and could have easily been dealt with and overcome.



The EPIK was not doomed to failure from the start, but there have certainly been a combination of factors that have made it less effective than it perhaps should have been. Some are the result of 3000 years of cultural influence, some are the fault of the way the program was administered, some were the fault of unprofessional NETs seeing their time in Korea as a working holiday, some were due to a lack of utilization of the large amount of professional NETs here to do their absolute best, and some were simply the result of an educational system that was not prepared to absorb 20,000 NETs into its core. But, overall, I also believe there are a huge number of hardworking NETs who will reflect on their time in Korean public schools with a sense of pride for what they achieved and the influence they had while teaching in Korean public schools, who see their time as anything but a failure.

If you feel there is an issue I’ve missed, or something I have not presented fairly, I really would love for you to let me know. I will happily add any missing perspectives or information to the post.

Bibliography

Choi, I. C. (2008). The impact of EFL testing on EFL education in Korea. Language Testing, 25(1), 39-62.

Jeon, M. (2009). Globalization and native English speakers in English Programme in Korea (EPIK). Language, Culture and Curriculum, 22(3), 231-243.

Li, D. (1998). “It’s always more difficult than you plan and imagine”: Teachers’ perceived difficulties in introducing the communicative approach in South Korea. Tesol Quarterly, 32(4), 677-703.

Park, J. K. (2009). ‘English fever’ in South Korea: its history and symptoms. English Today, 25(01), 50-57.

Song, J. J. (2012). South Korea: language policy and planning in the making. Current Issues in Language Planning, 13(1), 1-68

Thomas, R. M. & Postlethwaite, N.T. (Eds.). (1983). Schooling in East Asia. Oxford: Pergamon Press.


Comments

Rob Dickey
14/06/2013 16:40

Well argued! While I don’t necessarily agree with all the conclusions, and even a coiple of the attributed ‘facts’ could be challenged, it is eefreshing to see a blog post ehere someone has taken the time to cite their facts and argue their points clearly. You also recognize that you don’t speak for all, but that neither does the other writer. (I was caught up in one of these a few years back — can native-speakers lose their nativeness in speech?)

M.A TESOL/Applied Linguistics Interview (4) with Michael Griffin

My fourth interview in this series is with Michael Griffin, a teacher trainer in South Korea. Mike is the first person I’ve interviewed who took his MA TESOL course in the United States. I’ll let Mike do the rest of the talking…

Q1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you cho
Picturese to complete an MA TESOL?

I am a teacher and teacher trainer/educator. I have a blog too. I am living in Seoul at the moment and working at a university here, among a few other jobs. To be clear, without my MA this job would have been impossible without the MA in hand simply based on the visa requirements.

.So, aside from actual job stuff, I just thought it was time to shit or get off the pot. I mean, I had been teaching for 8 years and it seemed to be the right time to decide if I was going to seriously consider this TESOL stuff a career or not. There was that and also the fact that I was generally and genuinely curious. I wanted to know more about this field I’d been working in for so long.

Q2. So I guess you decided to make a career out of English language teaching?! What opportunities do you feel have opened up for you since completing your MA?

Two opportunities come to mind immediately. As above, the first thing is simple; without my MA in hand I would not have been able to get my current job due to visa regulations and hiring policies. 

The second is how the MA program I took introduced me to a teacher training center here in Korea. The connection to the program was pretty much enough to give me a chance to work there on a short-term basis, which eventually turned into a more long term thing. Just being in the process of doing the MA was a foot in the door to teacher training.

You asked about other opportunities. I would have to include working with and meeting great instructors and classmates while on the MA as a great opportunity. Also, through the teacher training work that I did during and after my MA I was able to meet lots of people that guided, challenged, influenced and helped me. These people include other trainers as well as my course participants.

In terms of making a career out of English teaching and training, it sure seems that way. I remember working in different contexts (mostly in Korea and Japan) and feeling like some very silly things were being done but I didn’t really have the words to explain why they were silly. So, in a sense doing my MA helped me articulate some fundamental problems I had with how English language education was being packaged and performed. 

Q3. Do you feel that these opportunities were influenced at all, especially with regards to the contacts you made and people you met, due to the method of study you chose for your M.A course?

Maybe. I did the majority of my MA online. I think there is still some trepidation about doing so but I think in the future employers will look askance at MA holders that did their whole degrees offline, face-to-face. I imagine someday MAs done completely offline will raise some eyebrows. “So you just wrote papers and listened to face-to-face lectures with people all in the same immediate area?” potential employers of the future will ask.

Doing most of my MA online,  I will never forget how hard it was for me to jump from the online world to the face-to-face world. Yes that is right, I struggled to deal with face-to-face interactions. Let me give an example. When I was studying online I was able to quickly skim the contributions of my classmates and decide which discussion board posts deserved more of my attention. I certainly had (and have) a lot to learn but I had been working in the field for a while and had done a fair amount of outside reading previously. Online it was very easy for me to determine which posts I wanted to give more thought to. Offline, however this was impossible because decorum prevented me from simply jumping up and walking away when a partner was talking about something I felt very comfortable with. It was a nice chance to improve my listening skills and manners but I didn’t think it was as helpful for expanding my knowledge of methods and materials as it could have been.

Q4. It seems like overall you were very happy with this mode of interaction, do you feel like there were any other drawbacks at the time, such as not having the opportunity for face to face discussions with tutors etc.?

Oh no! On the contrary. I felt very well connected to to the instructors and was able to catch a lot of insights from them. For me, frequent contact with and feedback from instructors online more than made up for any desire to meet face-to-face.

Also, for peers, I was able to make some extremely meaningful connections. My theory is that because (and not in spite of) the written communication and distance we were able to forge better connections and open up more to others.

I will never forget the moment I met a long-time classmate at a party in New York City. A stranger came running up to me and gave me a big hug. I had no idea who she was till she identified herself. It was a magical moment which has stuck in my mind as an example of the type of relationships I was able to develop online. 

Q5. Even though your course was online it seems like it involved a large social element, perhaps even more so than a face to face course?

I can’t say for sure either way but I think that is it not fair to assume that all online courses are faceless and impersonal. I think it is important to distinguish between courses/programs that are online and those that are distance courses (or distance courses made into online courses with seemingly little effort or care). A simple way to distinguish is if most or all of the work on course could be done through the mail then it is what I am calling a distance course. Not that there is anything wrong with it, just that it is different.

If you will permit me to not speak from experience for a moment. One thing I have often heard from friends doing MAs distance or online or some combination of these is that they are not pleased with the amount or quality of the interactions they have with their peers and instructors. It seems to me that a key aspect here is if online interactions are considered to be a central part of the course and if they are assessed. It might sound overly simple but potential MA students looking for MA courses with lots of online interaction might want to consider if online participation is assessed (and how it is assessed) or if it is just a seemingly disconnected add-on. I don’t mean to suggest that online participation being assessed is the only key but I do think it is something to consider along with online tasks being closely related to what is going on in the course.

I was very happy I decided to do my MA online (and very happy that I had lots of interactions with classmates and instructors) and also very happy I decided to work while completing it. I felt the direct connection between what I was learning and what I was doing in my job. In fact one time, I was a bit freaked out in the middle of class as I compared the beliefs I had stated in an MA course recently to what I was actually doing as teacher in class that day and noticed a sizable gap. Although I was dizzied I thought it was an incredible learning experience. 

Q6. Drawing from your experiences again, is there any advice you feel like you could offer people to help them get as much out of their MA as you did?

If I had to offer some advice I guess it would be about doing your best to make what you are learning your own. In one particular term I took much more than the recommended amount of courses for people with jobs. So, partially out of necessity I tried to relate all my assignments to my (then new) job as closely as possible. For example, for one MA assignment I was asked to create an assessment rubric for students. I did it for the group I was working with and used it in class. I feel like I got much more out of it by focusing as much as possible on my then current context. So, in few words my advice is something like, “Try to make everything as relevant to you and your context as possible.”

Some people will say that MAs are just about writing papers and gaining esoteric knowledge. Surely this is the case sometimes but it need not always be. There is a wide variety of programs out there so I would encourage people to do their research. Find out about the courses and the instructors and what the alumni are doing. Don’t just focus on the cost (which is of course an important factor) and find out how prospective programs fit into with your needs, interests and goals.  If you are not sure about your needs and interests you might consider why it is you are considering doing an MA. If you are still thinking you might want to read this post by Dr. Geoff Jordan. 

Q7. I’d like to refer back to the MA course you took now if I may? We have heard mostly from people who took their course either in the U.K or the country they were teaching, but I believe you took your MA with a university in the US? Where exactly did you take your MA TESOL and could you tell us a little bit about its structure and focus?

Yes, my MA was through the New School in New York City.
There is a lot of info here.Some things that might jump out (besides the names of some of the instructors) is the “major focus on the political, cultural, and ethical implications of English language teaching in an era of intense globalization.” I should also add that from my view and experience the focus was very much on teaching and learning and learning teaching and not as much on writing academic papers. Of course, there were plenty of papers and a great deal of reading and writing but the focus was on how to become better teachers.

A recent commenter on the KELTchat Facebook page here (in reference to this series of interviews) mentioned something about the degree in which the importance of research varies from program to program. My sense is that the New School program would be at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of the importance of research. Again, not to say that there is no research, but just to say that I never had that sense of being given a reading list and being sent off on my own in order to write a paper. On a related note, a guided professional project and a teaching practicum are options that New School MA TESOL students can take.

I should also mention there are two concentrations; teaching and curriculum development. I took the latter and was very pleased as I was able to take courses like “Writing ESOL Materials” and Curriculum Development and Course Design” which I found to be invaluable learning experiences. I enjoyed and got a lot out of designing an English and teacher training course for Korean public school teachers in my curriculum development course. It was a great experience to work towards creating a  final product like that, completing a different component each week. Another highlight for me was the professional project in which I created a book proposal for a discussion book for Korean students.  

Q8. You are obviously happy with your choice, I wonder if there are any other programs you have come across that you feel might offer similar experiences?

That is an interesting question. You want me to suggest programs other than the New School in the States? Since you are twisting my arm I will suggest SIT and Marlboro College. I think these programs have a lot in common with the New School and might be a good match for like minded people

Q9. Mike thank you so much for your time in answering all these questions, before we wrap up, is there anything else you would like to add?

Deciding to do an MA is obviously a big decision. Do the research while continually thinking about the kind of program you are looking for and make your decision from there. Don’t take the decision likely and be sure that doing an MA is what you really want to do. 



If you would like to hear more from Mike you can visit his extremely lively blog here.

AlienTeachers now has (after 1 1/2 years!) an email update system. You can just enter your email address here to get the most recent ‘thoughts & reflections’ straight into your inbox! Alternatively you can follow me on Twitter here or like the Facebook page here.

Alex

M.A TESOL/Applied Linguistics Interview (3) with Martin Sketchley

Welcome to the third part in my series of MA TESOL/Applied Linguistics based interviews with ELT professionals. Today I’m discussing what differentiates the MA courses from other ELT qualifications, such as the CELTA or DELTA, with Martin Sketchley, a teacher currently based in the U.K.Picture

Q1. Hi Martin, perhaps we could start off with you telling us a little bit about yourself and what part of the ELT industry you are currently involved with?

Hello Alex.  I have been involved with ELT since December 2005.  I was what you would call a “backpacker teacher”. I had very little experience in language education and hadn’t really learnt a foreign language before. I decided, due to limited employment opportunities in the UK, to relocate to South Korea with my family. I was snapped up very quickly with a private language institute and spent about a year there before deciding to undertake a CELTA Course at the British Council in Seoul.  I decided to take the CELTA Course to reconfirm my desire to be involved in ELT.

Around the beginning of 2009, I returned to the UK and worked with a local school, LTC Eastbourne, and have been with them for a good four years now (with a short period in Bucharest with the British Council and teaching EAL at the University of Sussex).  Since returning to the UK, I have been a Cambridge ESOL Examiner, a British Council Aptis Examiner and developed a blog related to my experiences of ELT.  I am currently involved in curriculum and academic development and teacher training (with my current employer) as well as maintaining my links with a charity, English in the Community, which delivers ESOL for immigrants and asylum seekers in Sussex.

Q2. I think it would be fair to say you have been involved with many different parts of the industry in a relatively short period of time, at what point did you decide to commit to an M.A program in English Language Teaching (ELT) and what was the stimulation behind the decision?

Thank you. I suppose what motivated me to do an MA in ELT was that I noticed a lot of teachers in the UK had the CELTA with some having the DELTA as well.  Not many of my peers had an MA and I thought “Why not jump ahead of them (in terms of qualifications) and complete an MA?”.  What motivated me most was when I arrived at a hotel for Cambridge ESOL Examiner training (with marking done onsite), and I met some wonderful language teachers at the same time.  At lunch, I sat down with some people and they were chatting about ELT and qualifications but I couldn’t really provide much in the way of input and I thought “I must really do something about this!”.  In the summer of 2010, I applied for an MA at the University of Sussex, met the Convener and decided there and then that this was the right choice for my career.

Q3. It seems as though you have a lot of experience with both Cambridge ELT certifications such as the CELTA and DELTA as well as the MA in ELT.  In your experience, for those trying to decide which type of course would better fit their career path or goals, would you say each course is directed towards different aims?

For those that have successfully completed the CELTA (or equivalent), it can be an intensive yet rewarding course for those new to the ELT profession.  However, within those four weeks (if undertaken full-time), it teaches the basics such as planning lessons, classroom management, instruction giving, etc but there is very little time to look at other areas of teaching.  I suppose the DELTA and MA are different in a few respects:

  • The DELTA (or equivalent) is more suited for teachers, with a number of years teaching experience and only the CELTA, wishing to continue their professional development in the classroom as well as to extend their knowledge of language teaching and learning.  Language schools and institutions hold the DELTA in high esteem and it can now be quite competitive to secure employment without this qualification.  The DELTA does set you apart from those teachers who only have a CELTA and limited experience.  If you complete the DELTA, some universities do take your DELTA course into account and credits could be awarded towards an MA.
  • The MA in ELT/TESOL/TEFL can be quite academic and, if you are not used to academia or it has been a while since you were last at University, it could be a bit of a shock.  Furthermore, the MA attempts to enhance and improve a candidate’s ability to undertake action research in areas that they are interested.  In my experience, the MA could set you apart from other teachers and it does open up opportunities for PhD research, publishing or developing coursebook material but you do need to keep on top of current reading post-MA.

I guess it would be best to find an MA which offers the DELTA (or equivalent) as part of the course.

Q4. I’d like to draw on your experience of the ELT industry in both Asia and Europe now. Would you say there is a difference between the types of qualification (be it CELTA, DELTA or MA) that ELT educational institutions are seeking in Asia and Europe?

I guess that in Asia, particularly in China, Thailand, Japan and Korea, there is very little recognition with the CELTA and DELTA forms of qualifications.  Most ELT teachers in these countries only require a degree in basket weaving from an English speaking country for you to be eligible to teach.  Unfortunately, this does not do any wonders for the professionalism of the industry, but I am now aware that in South Korea, public schools that recruit native teachers require applicants to hold a certificate, such as the CELTA, including a number of hours of teaching experience, so there is hope that in Asia the ELT profession will develop to something more reputable.  In Europe, there is greater regard for those teachers that hold a CELTA, even greater regard to those that have a DELTA and wonderful opportunities for those that have completed an MA.  Furthermore, in Asia and Europe, if ELT professionals wish to teach at a University, an MA is a prerequisite – so there are some similarities between the two regions.  However, if I was unable to secure employment in South Korea (due to possible strict requirements), I would never have been able to become a professional English language teacher.  So I guess there are opportunities available for those hot off a degree course who are keen to become teachers with limited teaching experience and/or ELT-related qualifications.

Q5. Something a couple of other people have commented on is (as you have also highlighted) the theoretical nature of an MA. Some people feel perhaps this makes it hard to apply what you are learning to your classroom, is this something you would agree with?

The theoretical nature of an MA course is part-and-parcel of any academic course.  If you went to see a doctor, I would feel rather uncomfortable if their course only included just theory or just training.  I think a balance has to be struck between the two, which is why many doctors now complement theory with practice.  If teachers are able to combine the theory of ELT with their practice, it benefits the student (who can sometimes play their part of a patient with our experimental teaching practice or action research).  However, I can see how there is little regard with an MA and its suitability or applicability within the classroom.  Yet the same could be said for just a practical course such as the CELTA: what benefit could this course provide if you only learnt the practical aspects of language teaching?

Q6. So would you say it is necessary for a teacher to take both courses and combine elements of both?

Fortunately, for most English language teachers, they are not going to find themselves performing thoracic surgery.  The life-cycle of the teacher is dependent upon the qualifications and experience gained.  For those starting out on their career, a CELTA is usually enough.  Teachers may find that they are stuck in a rut or doing the same thing “year-in and year-out” so they may decide to supplement their experience or move away from their monotonous routine by undertaking a DELTA.  I suppose this would enhance practical and theoretical knowledge of the classroom.  Yet, there might be a few teachers that are asking “How does a student learn English? What is the best way to learn a language?” and may find an MA course would benefit them – this would be the best opportunity for teachers to learn more about the theory of language learning and teaching.

At the end of the day, it is much related to the case of the individual.  We can always debate about the practical advantages of the CELTA/DELTA opposed to the theoretical and academic theories of an MA in ELT until the cows go home.  In a very TEFL answer, it depends on the teacher and what their aims are in relation to their career and life-cycle.

Q7. Lets bring it back to focusing on the MA, what advice would you give those starting a language teaching related MA to help them take full advantage of the experience?

For those starting their MA course, it is necessary to develop rapport very quickly with your peers and tutors.  The tutors will be the people marking your work and although it is meant to be anonymous, they can quickly find out who is writing based upon their interests, research, etc.  I have always found that if you keep your thoughts to yourself, work and study hard and support your tutors, you are more likely to receive favourable marks.  Furthermore, have a coffee and a chat with those other students on the course.  They may be able to open doors and provide opportunities for you which would have been closed.  I met many people that I quickly realised were able to assist me in my career.  However, it is more than just taking from others, you need to be able to support your peers: listen to their thoughts, suggest ideas for their career and work together.

With regards to academic study, get a reading list early on and start reading.  You are bound to learn more about linguistics and language acquisition theory, so why wait? Buy that book before you even consider applying for the course.  If you are put off by the reading, how could you consider studying the subject?  You need to really enjoy the subject, start a blog, write your ideas down and share with others.  This was one of the reasons I started blogging in the first place.  If you are studying full-time (face-to-face), consider taking time off work to complete your MA. Although you may turn up to lectures two or three times a week, the rest of the time should be focused on reading and studying.  You really won’t be able to commit to any work during your studies.  If you are unable to give up your work commitments, you could look at part-time courses (some are long distance courses while others are face to face in a physical university).  Part-time courses expect a commitment of around once a week and you should be able to juggle between work and study.

Q8. Finally, is there any advice you would give those who are just finishing their MA?

Nearer the end of your MA, you will be focusing on your research.  Don’t worry if you find yourself a month away from the start of your dissertation/thesis with no idea what to do.  I was in the last term of my course before I realised what I was going to research about.  During the research period, you should try to take a month off to write up your dissertation and analyse your primary and secondary research.  You will have to say goodbye to your social-life for a bit but it is worth it.  When I was nearer the end of my MA course, I sent my wife and son to Korea for five weeks otherwise I would have been distracted and been unable to achieve 80% for my research.

Once you have completed your course and graduated.  You could then start to look at career opportunities.  There are numerous opportunities including: authoring coursebooks, publishing research in journals, attending and giving talks at international conferences, promotion (DoS or Academic Manager), etc.  I suppose the first thing that I did was attend the Glasgow 2012 IATEFL Conference a few months after graduating to share my research on the application of Dogme ELT with teachers.  I really enjoyed having the chance to voice my research with others and meeting like minded professionals.  If you attend conferences and put yourself out there, you are more likely to meet people who are able to help you with your career.  You do need to be patient with your career and realise that the opportunities don’t just happen straight away but you do need to pick yourself up if things don’t work out and carry on.  It is the loss of those that don’t believe in you but I always follow the mantra: “Short term gain, long term loss”.  I would finally recommend anyone to commit and complete an MA.  It will improve your employability and it demonstrate to current or potential employers that you are willing and keen in this profession.

If you would like to hear me from Martin he runs an extremely informative blog over at ELTExperiences which I highly recommend keeping up to date with.

If you enjoyed this interview and would like to be notified when the next interview is complete you can sign up for email updates here (I think, I’m still testing the new system), follow me on twitter of like the facebook page.

Alex



Comments

Lucy
12/06/2013 00:10

Thanks for this interview series – it is really interesting to find out about other experiences in the TEFL field. Sometimes reading about courses, commitments and requirements can be daunting but understanding how other students have handled the pressures and managed to fit their lives around the studying process is really encouraging.

M.A TESOL/Applied Linguistics Interview (2) with Manpal Sahota

This is the second part in my series of interviews that look to shed some light on the range of options available to those interested in obtaining language teaching related MA degrees. You can find my first (and very different) interview with Tyson Seburn here.

Today I am talking with Manpal Sahota, a Canadian teacher who Picturecompleted his M.A TESOL at a local university in Korea while teaching EFL full time. Manpal is currently working at an in-service teacher training center for elementary and secondary school Korean English teachers in Daegu, South Korea.

Q1. Hi Manpal, could you tell us a little about your teaching context when you decided to take the M.A TESOL and how that influenced your decision to commit to it?

I was teaching at a language institute at university in Daejeon. I had a mixture of hagwon (Korean language institute) classes, college classes and university classes (the language institute, college, and university are all under the same name and run by an umbrella education foundation). I was teaching elementary/middle/high school/adult students at the language institute and mostly first year students on the college and university campuses.

There were over 60 foreign English teachers working for the language institute. The university has a graduate school and they have a TESOL program that is taught in English. Several of my co-workers were taking the program. I thought about taking the program for a couple of months but was hesitant since I wasn’t sure if it would be valued outside of Korea. After many bar conversations with workmates who were in the program and with the director of the program (an American professor) I decided to enroll.

Q2. When you enrolled, what were you hoping to get out of the investment?

I think my main motivation was career advancement. I thought I could get a better job if I had an MA, especially when I return to Canada. Another motivation was as a foreigner I received 50% off the tuition. With the regular cost already being much lower than an MA from Canada, I could save a lot of money doing an MA in Daejeon. Also, I thought I could learn about practical teaching methods and techniques that I could use in my classes. And I guess a lesser motivation was thinking that there was an element of prestige to having an MA.

Q3. I think it is interesting you have picked out the desire for a strong practical element in the course, would you say your course delivered on that and if so how was it structured to do so?

Not at all, the program was very theory-heavy. The only practical ideas I got were those that I learned/stole from one of my professors. These ideas were not part of any course content, but rather little things he did in class that I felt were cool/interesting/unique. I continue to use those ideas in various new forms in my classes today. Ultimately, I chose this professor as my thesis advisor.

Q4. With it being so theory heavy how did you go about applying what you were learning to your classroom? Was it a struggle?

To be honest, there was not much that I could directly apply in my classroom. But I still very much enjoyed my program because it made me question my beliefs about what I teach and why I teach. Through reflecting on those areas I made new decisions about my class content and teaching practices.

Q5. I see, could you talk a little bit more about how it made you questions your beliefs, I mean, what was different about you as a professional educator once you had finished the course compared to before you started?

After I took my first course on critical pedagogy it really made me look differently at what and why I was teaching in Korea. In fact, there was a short period where I considered leaving the teaching profession because everything I was reading in the course really made me look at what I was doing as an English educator in Korea in a negative light.

But through taking more courses on critical pedagogy, and one particular course on teacher identity, I came to a place where I was comfortable and confident about the kind of teacher I wanted to be and what I wanted to teach.

Q6. Wow, it sounds like you got a huge amount from your M.A, would you say that without the M.A course you might not have discovered this or did it just speed up the process? (the kind of teacher you want to be and what you want to teach?)

I think without the MA I probably wouldn’t have reached this discovery. And possibly I might have left the teaching profession altogether. While at the start of the program I consider quitting and returning to Canada, by the end of the program I had a new found vigor and passion for teaching, and teaching in Korea in particular.

Q7. I’d like to come back to the fact you chose to do your M.A in a non-native English speaking country if I may? This is unique because it allowed you to teach at the same time as taking the M.A in person. Was this a big benefit at the time? How would you say it affected your experience? 

It was helpful financially, as I was able to still have an income while I studied, and as I mentioned earlier I received a 50% discount on tuition as a non-Korean student.

More importantly, teaching and studying in the same context allowed me to focus my assignments on real-life experiences that I was having and discuss/share ideas with classmates who were also teaching in the same context. I think it allowed for a richer learning environment for me. I could make connections from the theories in the program to the teaching context at my work.

On a bit of a side note, after receiving my MA I was turned down for a university job in Busan because my degree was from a Korean university and not a university from a native English speaking country. I remember laughing at their rationale as I considered myself a stronger applicant compared to others who studied outside of Korea and perhaps didn’t have the same awareness of how various ideas/theories apply (or don’t apply) to the Korean teaching context.

Q8. That must have been frustrating, have you had similar experiences since or do you think that was a one off?

That is the only one that I am definite about since I heard about the rationale directly. It could have also been a factor in the hundreds of other jobs that I applied for but never received a response, but this is just speculation. Of course, there are other possible reasons for not hearing back from the places that I’ve applied to, reasons that are beyond the scope of this interview. 

Q9. Coming back to the course itself, did you find it difficult to work full time, study part time and maintain a personal life or were you able to strike a good balance between the three?

For the most part I was able to have a pretty good balance. I think what helped me in my situation was having a core group of friends that worked at the same place and were also taking the MA at the same time. So, even when we when we were socialising in bars we would also be having discussions about work and what we were studying. The MA program director was also a fan of fermented beverages so on many weekends we essentially had extended classes in soju tents until the wee hours of the morning. Looking back on it now, I imagine our other friends who weren’t taking the MA must have thought we were proper geeks.

Of course, when I started writing my thesis I had to remove myself from social situations and revert to a hermit lifestyle for 3-4 months. But again, with having friends who were at various stages of the MA and who knew the time needed to write a thesis, I had a lot of support and understanding from my social circles.

Q10. I think you’ve done a really nice job of outlining the positives and benefits of choosing to do an M.A at a local university while also teaching at the same time. If someone was interested in going down this route, is there any advice you would give them? 

I would talk to current/former students and see if they are willing to share their experiences with the program. I would definitely talk with the professors to find out which courses they will be offering and what their areas of expertise are. Also, I think it’s helpful to be part of a community with other classmates so that you can have a space where you can share ideas (or concerns). I feel this is the best way to accelerate your personal growth and help you get the most out of a program.



To be updated with the next interview you can follow me on twitter here or like the AlienTeachers facebook page here.

Alex