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Random Thought #0 – Posting Random Thoughts

Last night, as I was trying to get to sleep, I had a thought (yes it is safe to read on!) that, at the time, I thought was pretty genius. I often have these random thoughts (as I think a lot of teachers who love their job do), but they usually get lost at some point within the following ten minutes, often when my morning bus goes past the giant pizza sign on the way to school. Anyway, I’ve decided it would be fun to start sharing these random thoughts. Some might be complete bullshit, some might be absolute genius (less likely), some might just be funny and others just stupid/funny, but they will all just be spur of the moment thoughts, nothing more, nothing less. Of course, the thoughts will almost certainly be education related, probably ELT, that have somehow been stimulated and I want to share. The thoughts will almost certainly never be longer than this post, hopefully a bit shorter.


10 Myths on Teaching in Korean Public Schools

In my almost four years of teaching in Korea I’ve heard some truly amazing claims regarding the job. Here is my take on a few of them. Please bear in mind, these are just my beliefs, I’m certainly not saying anything as a matter of fact (other than number 5!)Edit: I just want to make it clear than I am NOT saying all (or even a large number) of native speaking public school teachers in Korea hold these beliefs, just that they are opinions that I have heard and these are just my thoughts on them.

1) One hour a week is not long enough to effectively teach.

O.k. the easiest thing to do here is some maths, 45 minutes per week, for 30 weeks a year, for 7 years. 45 x 30 x 7 = 202.5 hours of purely conversation based classes (I’m basing this on having no conversation classes in 1st and 2nd grade). This is building on top of the other 2 or 3 hours per week that students spend in other English classes.

When I was at school I only had one hour per week of subjects such as business, economics and R.E., I’m almost certain my teachers were not resigned to failure because of this. Lack of time does not automatically equate to lack of effectiveness. If you are only teaching in Korea for a year, they will not suddenly stop conversation classes when you leave. Learning to speak a language is a long drawn out process; we have at least one year to do as much as we can to contribute towards that process.

Also, if you feel you need more time, why not set up an after school class?


2) You need to be a ‘candy teacher’ to motivate your students.English conversation isn’t on the University Entrance Exam, that doesn’t mean Korean students are not interested in speaking English. I’m not saying all our students are going to run inPictureto the classroom hardly able to contain their excitement at the prospect of having an hour to practice conversation, just like when I was in school, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with learning French, however I had wonderful teachers who were knowledgeable and did everything they could to make us interested. Exciting, interesting and engaging lessons with a fun reward system should do the job just as well, if not better, than bribing with candy.

3) Korean people can’t speak English and low level students don’t need conversation classes anyway.Think back to when you were a student, how would you rate the average level of the students in your language class? Now compare that with the average level of your students in Korea. I would be extremely surprised if your Korean students are a lower level. If they are, then perhaps you can take motivation from this; if the students are truly a very low level, they have probably been left behind by the state education system. You now have the opportunity to do something about that.


4) Co-teaching is an ineffective and unpleasant experience.If you don’t have much teaching experience or qualifications you’ve Picturejust been given the opportunity to work with a highly qualified and probably more experienced teacher. That is anything but a waste of time. The important thing is to figure out what you can bring to the lessons and what they can bring to the lessons.

A couple of suggestions, your co-teacher is most likely knowledgeable about (to name just a few) Korean students’ interests, possibly large class classroom management techniques, structuring a lesson and specific issues Korean students might face in your lessons.. You can bring to the table new teaching and activity ideas, authentic materials to expose the students to, a sense of fun, excitement and intrigue. Play off each other’s strengths. It’s not always easy, but it is doable.

If you are experienced then discuss each other’s roles in the classroom. How can it possibly not be useful to have another teacher in the room with you? They key is to be clear about what each of you are there for.

Either way, make sure you both have a clearly defined role in the classroom. If your co-teacher sits at the back playing on his/her phone, it’s most likely because she/he doesn’t know what role you would like them to have.

5) Korean students are not creative.It is not often I say this in teaching, but if you think this, you are WRONG. The truth is that Korean students are not as used to being given thPicturee opportunity to show off their creative abilities, due to this they will often need more scaffolding and structure than we might initially anticipate. With a little bit of practice, your Korean students will knock your socks off with the creativity they are capable of, we just have to give them the chance and support.


6) Desk warming is a waste of everyone’s time.If you are asked to desk warm, get involved with professional development. A teacher never stops learning and improving. Take an online course, read blogs, write blogs, review your lessons, develop a syllabus, do a needs analysis from your observations over the year…… there is always something you can be doing to improve your teaching.

Not buying it? Well, please find me another job where you are paid to sit at a desk and do whatever you want for a period of time. Use the time effectively; you are being paid to be a professional teacher.

7) A PPT is a lesson plan.If your PPT is your lesson, it is quite likely you have a very teacher centered lesson. Just one example; telling your students what you did on your holiday for 20 minutes with pictures on a PPT, then giving them a quiz to check they were listening, not an English conversation lesson. Also, you know all those lesson plans on ? Yep, I’m going to say it, a lot of them aren’t that great either. I’m probably now the most hated public school teacher in Korea.

If I was to offer one tip for planning your lessons, it would be to ask three questions in every stage of the lesson:

‘What are the students learning?’

‘At what point is the learning happening?’

‘How are they learning it? ‘

If you haven’t had much teacher training or experience planning lessons is really tough I know. Personally, I would recommend doing some research online, maybe start off with the very safe PPP format and, when you get a bit more confident, I would highly recommend getting to know and playing with task-based learning. Perhaps you could use some of the desk warming time for this?


8) That we are entertainers, not teachers.I remember in my first EPIK orientation, one lecturer said to us that, to keep his students’ attention for the whole ‘lecture’, he would jump on desks, sing songs and dance around.

Personally, I believe that that an effective teacher has the students’ attention focused on him/her for as little time as possible. Honestly, if you feel like you have to jump on a table to keep the students listening to you, you’ve probably been talking for too long.

9) The Korean way of doing things is wrong.If something is done differently in Korea, it does not necessarily mean it is done worse. The education systems in our home countries are nowhere near perfect. Sure, there is a lot Korea could learn from other countries education systems, but there is also a lot we could learn from theirs and a lot we could learn from many education systems around the world

We cannot just presume that because X is how we do it in our home countries, X is how they should do it in Korea. Step back, think about why they might do X like that in Korea. Korean culture is vastly different to that of our native countries, so why would they do everything the same? Learn to adapt and adopt, to understand and contribute.


10) Teaching in Korean Public Schools is a waste of time and you are not appreciated.The Korean media and government are certainly not too great at showing their appreciation for the native English speaking teachers, but they both have their own agendas. We have been privileged with the opportunity to help develop the minds of millions of young Koreans.

If you do a good job, if you are passionate about what you do, if you give your students opportunities that others can’t or won’t, your co-teachers and parents will appreciate you, but your students will never forget you.

Did I miss any myths? Don’t agree with any of my myths? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below! My new year resolution is to reply to every single comment for the rest of they year, why not test me?!You can keep updated with my ramblings via twitter here or facebook here.


04/04/2013 23:13

Yes! I so agree with you on these points, yet I’m ashamed to say I used to believe a couple of these myths!
Firstly, number 2 – when I first arrived I soon clicked onto the fact that this was the quickest way to get students attention and it does boost participation! But at a cost – literally! I still use candy but I let teams gain/lose points over a 6 week period then the winning team get a treat at the end. This works really well for me so I’m happy to give out a few chocolate bars every 6 weeks!
You should present these at EPIK orientations….? A lot of teachers believe these myths because so many before them believed it them; if they were aware of them from the start it might break the cycle….

Alex (AlienTeachers)
04/04/2013 23:20

Gemma, at some point in my teaching career I think I have fallen victim to, and probably even said at least half of these! I also still use candy, but as a final reward, which, for me, is different to bribing! I’m sure people might disagree with me though!

I agree it would make a nice presentation at the EPIK orientation, no idea how I would go about doing that though.

04/04/2013 23:32

I agree with Alex that this would make a nice EPIK workshop.

And I feel guilty in that I once (maybe more) blamed many native teachers for believing some of the above mentioned myths. Why not have the courage to openly discuss about them rather than complaining about their complaints? I was a young teacher back then though. The history of teachers from multi-cultural background working together in Korea is not that long. But I think we are becoming better than yesterday. FIGHTING! 🙂

Thank you for sharing this. I really enjoyed reading it.

Ming Ding Xiong
04/04/2013 23:41

As I posted on Facebook, I can’t accept deskwarming as an effective concept. I actually found it useful because I’m completing a master’s program, and I could find it useful in the future if trying to get out a publication. However, that few jobs, teaching or otherwise, require anyone to sit at a desk for 40 hours a week, for two or three weeks, without any official duties, indicates that deskwarming is simply a waste of time. Korean teachers do get a bit of deskwarming time, it’s something that should be done because it is a contract obligation, and it can be used well, but that doesn’t mean requiring someone to come in and sit in an office for 8 hours per day is an effective use of their abilities.

Most arguments in favour of deskwarming point out that the time could be used for something or that it’s a contractual obligation, but neither means it’s not a waste of time. Highly qualified teachers, be they Korean or not, don’t spend semester breaks forcibly confined to an office. Self-development can happen at home. Deskwarming is, as someone else mentioned, not an actual word, of course. It’s just considered work.

If I took an engineer with a 9-5 job and made him work from 9 am to 9 pm, he would rightly consider it ridiculous for me to expand his working hours while keeping his responsibilities the same. That’s what deskwarming is. Native speakers in public schools have something like a 30-hour-a-week, 44-weeks-a-year job that’s performed over 40 hours per week over 48 weeks of the year.

Alex (AlienTeachers)
04/04/2013 23:47

Personally, my response to that would be, we are grown adults, we shouldn’t need SMOE or whoever else telling us what we should be doing to improve ourselves as teachers. We are being paid to be at work between the hours stipulated in our contracts, those hours should be used professionally.

I can not understand how being paid to do whatever you want for an entire day could be a bad thing. You could even teach extra classes in that time if you wanted to and felt that would be a more effective use of the time.

If you paid an engineer to work 9-5, but some days only had enough work for him to do from 9-1, there is no way he would expect to be allowed to go home, with pay.

For me, what you are saying is, that those hours shouldn’t be in the contract, which is a different argument, and one I would probably tend to agree with.

Alex (AlienTeachers)
04/04/2013 23:48

Also, I absolutely should have added that I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment, a good discussion like this is exactly why I wrote the article 🙂

05/04/2013 00:18

Hi Alex, thanks for this – someone on facebook called it an ‘anti-rant’, that’s a good expression I think. Myths like these (in any context) are a convenient way not to engage and work with the realities of the situation in a positive way – I really like your post for showing how to do this. And I also want to know what desk-warming is, and how I can get paid to do it 🙂

Alex (AlienTeachers)
05/04/2013 22:09

Hi Sophie!

I couldn’t agree more that ‘are a convenient way not to engage and work with the realities of the situation in a positive way’ and I think there are a number of teachers, probably not just in Korea, that convince themselves of similar myths for personal reasons.

Desk-warming, where to start? Basically all contract teachers in Korea (and what many native speaking teachers forget is that the same goes for Korean contracted teachers) do not get in their contract the full school holidays off. They are given around 20 days vacation in their contract, and if there are spare days above that most school require the teachers to go into school, even if there are no other teachers or students there. The reason they do this is that most teachers a required to fill the rest of the days by teaching camps, but some teachers don’t.

The history behind it is that about 5 years ago a lot teachers who had to work in the holidays complained, as they said it was not fair that some don’t and they do. So the powers that be turned round and said fine, even if you are not teaching a camp you still have to come in.

So now of course teachers complain that they are forced (with pay) to sit at their desks and ‘do nothing’.

05/04/2013 01:26

Re: #6 I think there are things schools and EPIK/GEPIK could do to make deskwarming a more positive and mutually beneficial experience. I think people react badly to the perceived mistrust (‘We think you are a lazy native teacher who deserves to be made to sit and do nothing!!!!’). But, I really agree with you that there are a lot of PD opportunities. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I used my winter deskwarming time to watch a bunch of talks and workshops on YouTube, and read books about teaching, and even to snazz up the English Center office a bit, and I feel I gave myself a nice boost for this semester’s teaching.

Re: #4 I guess I agree, but… I sometimes feel co-teaching works less often than it doesn’t work. And that some co-teachers make dialogue very difficult to have. And that it’s a structurally unfair relationship, because co-teachers keep tabs on native teachers and report on them, and get to control the discourse about the native teacher within the school much more…

My additional myth:

“Native teachers and their students have very little shared cultural experience, and it is the constant job of co-teachers to bridge this culture gap.”

I have been pleased to realize how much I have in common with my students, culturally. Many of them watch(download) the same TV shows I do, have a similar taste in music, do the same things on the internet – and often these are things students have in common with me but maybe not Korean teachers.

Also there are aspects of Korean culture where I may have knowledge students don’t – like about travelling to different parts of Korea, or knowing about the culture of Korean students studying English abroad, or knowing about the culture of Korean university students. Likewise there are parts of “western” culture students know much more about than me.

I think our image within our schools and the rituals of the school year and the rituals of co-teaching risk enshrining a ‘vast culture gap/exotic native teacher’ artificial image, but it can be helpful to draw out a more nuanced cultural relationship with our students. And this can help us to be real teachers, not myth #8.

Alex (AlienTeachers
05/04/2013 22:16

Hi Bryan,

Thanks for taking the time to read and join the discussion. I honestly and absolutely agree that SMOE could do a HUGE amount more to help make it a more positive experience and, in doing so, dispel this view of that time as desk warming.

Regarding #4 again, I completely agree, I think as you mentioned earlier it is the power relationship that causes problems, often knowing that the co-teachers can, and most likely are, keeping tabs on your and discussing you can cause problems in communication. I’ve also had bad co-teaching situations (just last year) where I didn’t follow my advice above either. Looking back and reflecting upon it now though I think there was a lot I could have done to improve that co-teaching situation.

I really love your additional myth. There is so much we have in common with our students and we shouldn’t be reliant on our co-teachers to bridge the gap.

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment.


Lindsay Franchezca
05/04/2013 04:25

Iv’e been working and teaching in Korean school’s and Language centers here in Bangkok and abroad for almost 10 years. In those 10 years of working with ’em, I find them so friendly and loving– if you are friendly and loving too. Everything that you will do as long as you are not killing the time and you are not that strict, 100% you will win their hearts. What I believe in them is that- you cannot simply discipline them if you are so strict, and if you are setting standards that even you yourself can’t follow, or not following. Some won’t like old people or those with small eyes. Once they proved you are an expert in your own field, then you will certainly get their trust, love,care, and attention. They are creative but most of the time they can’t prove their creativity because of lack of opportunity.

Alex (AlienTeachers)
05/04/2013 22:18

What a beautiful comment Lindsay, I think you summarise the situation perfectly when you state “Once they proved you are an expert in your own field, then you will certainly get their trust, love,care, and attention. ”

Thanks for taking the time to comment, I really appreciate it.

05/04/2013 19:43

#11. Other teachers’ problems stem from their lack of professionalism, and that issues with students, co-teachers, admin, etc. can always be solved by being more “professional.” I think, for many NSETs, if they have it good, they find it hard to empathise with people in genuinely more difficult situations, and (and I don’t know why this is the case) the corollary is that their good situation is because they are inherently a “good” teacher/ person and the person having problems is “bad” or unprofessional. I don’t know whether it comes from malice, egotism or ignorance, but, to me, it is reminiscent of: “Well, poor people just need to get a job.” “Professionalism” is a pernicious and nebulous concept oft used against teachers in many NSETs’ home countries (There are people doing PhDs in this phenomenon right now). However, it is usually used against them by the other stakeholders in education (students, parents, government) and not their colleagues. Here, it is used by teachers against other teachers far more commonly. I do see support and practical and advice on teacher blogs and message boards, but I also see this vague and oppressive notion being deployed against people who are asking for advice very frequently, too.

Regarding deskwarming as an opportunity for professional development is being optimistic (I will not criticise you for that). I view deskwarming as a means of control. I had no classes for 2 months this winter; I came in to an empty staffroom for an hour a day and watched Netflix. I was fulfilling my contractual obligations by proving to the secretaries and the security guards I wasn’t having fun or doing another job. I suppose I could have been more “professional” by doing another degree (I already have 4 – including 2 postgraduate degrees in education), or studying Korean (which I already speak). Another friend worked in rural Gyeongnam. She was forced to come in to both her schools in the middle of winter, even though it was a long bus ride and one school turned off both the heat AND the water during the break.

Don’t compare NSETs in Korea to engineers (BTW, which engineers and where?). When you’re building cars/ships/substations/bridges there is always work to do, and not any old English-speaker can do it. That’s why the foreigners that work in Korean heavy industry are paid >10,000USD per month and are FIFO, with a one month on, one month off rotation (working every single day of that month).

Apples and apples, please. School teachers in England and Australia are not forced to come in during the holidays. They will have planning and preparation to do (with concrete guidelines and goals), but they’re not forced to come in and sit at their desks the whole time the kids aren’t there. If I had had any real work to do, I could have done it at home, and saved myself the 80-minute commute each way.

Desk warming isn’t an immediate deal breaker for me; I disagree with the philosophy behind it, but I can do it for a few years. However, it annoys me when I think that Korea could attract more highly qualified (professional!) candidates if they let NSETs take all the school vacation days. A lot of career teachers in English-speaking countries would like to teach abroad, and would accept the pitiful salaries, I think, if they had more time to explore Korea and Asia, do taekwondo, etc. Korea might not have the money to attract the teachers that are being recruited through the UAE NSET scheme, but I think cancelling desk warming could make them more competitive. (If they wanted to be, which I’m not sure they do, and that’s a blog comment for another time).

As for waygook, I think it is an excellent resource. (I’m not bragging here, but just for perspective…) I have two education degrees, more than 10 years diverse teaching experience and 100s of hours of formal PD, and I still find new ideas on that site. (100s of me sitting at a computer for 100 years would never have thought to make a Gangnam Style Bomb Game!) I think one of the strengths of the NSET teaching community in Korea is its members’ diverse backgrounds (Some people are good at/ like PC games; drama; writing). I would hope it goes without saying that no one expects to download a lesson and have it be ready to go for all or any of their classes. One of the luxuries of MY job is that I teach the same two lessons 10x a week. This means I can (and do) spend between 6-10 hours a week working on a single 45-minute lesson plan (and its cohort-dependent variations). I spend that long even if I got some or all of it from waygook (preparing my questions and instructions; predicting problems/ student questions/ redesigning, rewriting or customising a resource).

This response is not an ad hominem, Alex. I’ve seen you present and I like your approach to teaching.

Alex (AlienTeachers)
05/04/2013 20:45

Hi Sophie,
Thank you so much for taking the time to respond so eloquently, the points you make and the views you bring to the table are exactly what I hoped for when I wrote the article.

Regarding your ‘11th myth’, I suppose I partly agree and partly disagree, mainly due to the generalisations inherent in the very concept of the subject we are discussing. Unfortunately, I don’t believe it would work, at least not with the same impact, if the ‘myths’ were not based on sweeping generalisations. You said ‘other teachers problems… can always be solved by being more “professional”’, this is a point I absolutely agree with you on. However, I do also believe there are a certain proportion of problems that could be solved by being more professional.

You also mentioned comparing NSETs in Korea to engineers. I think you must have read that in the comments, and again I am in agreement with you that it is not a suitable comparison, however it was one I was presented with by the commenter and I didn’t really want to come across as, I suppose, ‘hostile’, by saying I didn’t think it was a suitable comparison as the point of the article is to promote discussion.

Regarding desk warming I think we have the issue as one of the previous commenters touched on. The point I make in the article is not supposed to deal with whether or not those hours should be in the contract in the first place. Removing desk warming would certainly help to attract more, dare I say it, ‘professional’ candidates, but then we move onto the discussion of whether or not the powers that be actually want to attract more ‘professional’ candidates, one of the reasons being the level of control you describe (another subject that would need a whole new blog!). However, the fact of the matter is that when we signed the contract we were aware of that stipulation. We made an agreement to be a professional (hmmmmm, we seem to keep coming back to that word!) teacher and to work during the hours specified. Again, I don’t believe it is as simple as this though, I firmly believe SMOE etc. made the decision that they do not want highly qualified teachers, they want cheap teachers. Given this, if they expect teachers to use that time effectively they need to present the teachers with support and guidance on how ‘desk warming’ time can be used effectively. If teachers do not have any training they are very unlikely to know the options available to them.

Waygook, actually again I think we are partially in agreement. In the article I specified that a lot of the lesson plans are not great, a point I absolutely stand by. However, I also agree with you that are a huge number of fantastic ideas being shared on the forum, many of which I use in my own classes. Unfortunately, I do not share you positive belief that ‘no one expects to download a lesson and have it be ready to go for all or any of their classes’. I actually believe this practice is very common, I actually know quite a number of teachers who readily admit to doing this. In fact, on several occasions I’ve been stood with them in a bar as they discuss this. Of course, there are also a large number (maybe even the majority) of teachers who don’t, and who use the resource as we do. However, for me, the myth does exist that simply downloading a lesson plan of waygook is acceptable practice. Actually, I have even spoken with people who have conducted classroom observations and have seen the exact same lesson twice in a week, with even the same spelling mistakes in the PPT.

Finally, I do disagree the any of these myths are only myths for me as, actually they are all based on things I have heard NETs state on more than one occasion. I actually heard a number of them from presenters in my very first SMOE orientation.

Alex (AlienTeachers)
05/04/2013 20:47

Oh, one more finally, I do not believe you can compare the role of a teacher in the U.K to the role of a NET in Korea much more than you can that of an engineer.

Alex (AlienTeachers)
05/04/2013 20:49

Actually, one more finally, sorry! I didn’t interpret your comment as as hominem at all 🙂 Just a good discussion with some not so different opinions!

05/04/2013 19:44

And, I know you offered some practical solutions to these problems. But some of these myths may only be myths for you.

Thank you for facilitating a discussion.

Andrew Griffiths
05/04/2013 22:22

5) I find my students to be some of the most creative people around – so inventive! I have no idea where the idea they’re not comes from. It honestly stumps me.

6) I love deskwarming precisely for the reasons outlined. I did my initial TEFL course off the back of it, as well as numerous hours reading and improving professionally. One of the best bits of the job, I say!

08/06/2013 19:56

9) I don’t think NSET’s are given nearly enough training on how to deal with the ins and outs of public school politics and etiquette. It can be a minefield of cultural misunderstandings if you go in with a Western-thinking cap on and you don’t adapt or even worse if you try to fight it.
10) I hear this all too often from other NSET’s here. In listening to a lot of peoples’ stories, I think a lot of it stems from #9 and peoples’ inability to adapt and be flexible. To be fair I’ve heard of some genuinely unfortunate situations that people have been placed in. But the more people I talk to, the more I believe that you get back from your students and your school what you put into it.

Co-Teaching in South Korea

Next week we have the bi-annual open class day at my school. This is when parent are invited to view and evaluate our classes. This is a practice I don’t really agree with, but I go along with it as it’s a part of the Korean system (although I am a huge believer in peer evaluation).

It also just so happened that one of my co-teachers, whom I will be teaching with during the open class read the lesson plan I sent to all my co-teacher for next week, this was the first time this academic year. I knew because she said to me “Alex, this lesson plan, it needs changing as it makes it look like I don’t do anything in the class”, to which I replied “{edited for political correctness as my site is getting quite a large audience nowadays}”. Anyway, I did eventually agree to build a larger role into the lesson plan for her, just as I used to at the beginning of the academic year, before I realised she neither read the lesson plans nor {edit}. This is not a complaint by the way, I love teaching by myself and find the students actually more engaged and concentrate more when I do.

I thought it would be nice to write about what co-teaching is really like for those who are thinking of coming and teaching in Korea. At the moment the internet is filled with information from people who seem to have a serious chip on their shoulder for one reason or another, and have only terrible things to say about teaching in Korea. The other side of the coin are the job agencies trying to get you on the plane as quick as possible so they get their commission!

So here’s my attempt on a guide as to what you expect if you’re thinking about coming to teach in South Korea:

(1) The “I really don’t want to be here” co-teacher.

This co-teacher can be found at the back of the room laughing every time a new kakao talk message comes through!! Oh and the phone won’t be on silent!! But this co-teacher isn’t necessarily a bad thing!! She/he will let you plan the lessons how you want, prepare the materials how you want, and conduct the lesson how you want. I usually find that experienced teachers enjoy the freedom this allows, inexperienced teachers can end up with 30 8 years terrorizing them and making them wonder how someone who looks so cute can possibly be so evil, while the co-teacher receives so many kakao talk messages you wonder if she’s messaging herself!!

(2) The “lack of confidence but wants to get involved” co-teacher.

Some co-teachers will have a huge amount of teaching experience, but a serious lack of confidence speaking English. This can go one of two ways, they can be a fantastic co-teacher, such as one of mine is, and help you control the class and monitor the class, but not really have the confidence to speak in English in front of the students. I think these teachers are usually a bit older. I have heard of other teachers like this that feel the need to get involved in other, sometimes more negative ways. They walk around the class giving a student a good bollocking for some minimal infringement when you’re trying to explain an activity or makes a students do 30 press ups half way through an activity for not working properly, resulting in all the students around the area not working properly either!!

(3) The “I’m in control, you look like a tape recorder” co-teacher.

I’ve never experienced this myself, but I know enough people who have. This co-teacher will have you do lesson plans, tell you they’re a load of crap, make you completely redo them, then take over the lesson and use you as a human tape recorder as and when needed. If you end up with this co-teacher I figure there is two things you can do: a) not give shit, collect your pay at the end of each month and accept you’re getting paid for nothing. b) speak to your co-teacher respectfully and patiently, try to discuss ways in which you can have more involvement with the class, suggest activities you could do with the students for 10 minutes at the end of the lesson and build from there.

(4) The “help you when you need it” co-teacher.

This is probably seen as the ideal co-teacher. They help with your lesson plans if they have a concern, will co-teach with you to help you monitor the students, and if you need it give examples. Or they might set up a system where they teach for half the class and you assist them, and then you teach for half the class and they assist you. Either way they to come to an agreement with you on what the best way to teach the classes is.

At the end of the day co-teaching comes down to personalities, outlooks on education, your relationship and also how much support they think you need. I’m sure people have experienced many other types of co-teachers I haven’t mentioned here, but I think these have been the common from my experience and from talking to other people. If you do get to Korea and you have problems with a co-teacher I recommend setting up meetings and sternly, but calmly, explaining what the problem is and offering solutions. As of yet I know very few people, if anyone, who has had their entire experience in Korea ruined by their co-teacher, unless they didn’t even try to do anything about it.

Don’t forget you can follow me on twitter @AlexSWalsh or pop your email address in the field to the right for automatic updates when I post new blogs.

Why and How to Create an Online ELT Portfolio

In yet another twist, I was very recently offered, and accepted, a teaching position at the British Council in Seoul. If you’ve read my previous post you know that at the end of my interview with the BC I didn’t feel like I had sold myself to the best of my ability. However, as I’m going to talk about now, I still managed to get myself a job offer out of it.Shortly after receiving the job offer I bumped into my interviewer (it turns out we live on the same street). We got talking, and he mentioned to me that what tipped the job in my favour was that I took to the interview a portfolio of my work, and that they could access my online teaching portfolio to see a video of me teaching and sample materials. In his words, it demonstrated to them my commitment to the profession and my drive to improve as a teacher, as well as giving them something physical to look at when considering my application, compared to the other thirty which were based only on what was said during the interview.This was extremely satisfying to hear as I had invested about 20 hours over the previous weeks creating my online teaching portfolio, with no idea whether anyone would ever actually look at it, but as it turns out it has allowed me to stay in Korea with my fiancée and work for one of the most exciting employers in the industry.So now I’m going to explain a little about how I created my portfolio. I’m going to concentrate on how to create the online portfolio, as the physical portfolio consisted of printed out copies from the materials contained on my online portfolio.What is a Teaching Portfolio?

To put it very simply:

A teaching portfolio “describes and documents multiple aspects of your teaching ability”, in other words, it is a collection of resources that show you at your best.

As well as a means of9383198 securing promotions and jobs, teaching portfolios are also an important reflective tool. If you are interested in using a portfolio as a means of reflective practice I highly recommend reading ‘Professional Development for Language Teachers: Strategies for Teacher Learning’ by Thomas Farrell & Jack Richards (Ch.7).


The first thing you’re going to need is a platform for your online portfolio. I tried at least five different platforms, many of which were specifically designed for creating teaching portfolios. However, in my experience, a website creation service called Weebly was able to produce by far the most professional looking portfolio. The basic Weebly service is free, and although the paid for service offers a couple more options, you can do everything you need with the free service.

Weebly will allow you to pick a theme, and from there you simply drag and drop elements such as documents, videos, text and pictures to where you want them to be. When it comes to publishing the site, Weebly will even give you a free domain name, or you can buy a personalised one. I chose to buy one as I believe it looks more professional.


It’s really up to you what you put in your portfolio, and a lot of the things might take several months to collect. The main thing is you are trying to sell yourself as a teacher and show off your accomplishments and your dedication to future development. I’m going to briefly go over a few things I decided to put in my portfolio and how I went about creating them.

1. Statement of Teaching Philosophy (+ Resume)

This was one of the most time consuming components to put together, and to be honest I still don’t think I have got mine quite right. However, I know for a fact that having this was one of the reasons I was offered the job in Saudi Arabia. I used a number of free resources to put together my teaching philosophy:

Alison Boye – Writing Your Teaching Philosophy

Helen Grundman – Writing a Teaching Philosophy Statement

Chris O’Neal et al. – Writing a Teaching Philosophy for the Academic Job Search

2. Evidence of Your Competencies and Commitment to Development

The next thing you want to do is show how good you are as a teacher. Hopefully, you collect regular feedback and evaluations from your students. If not, then I recommend starting now. However, the important thing is not the numbers but what you do with the numbers. Try to also have your reflections regarding what you have learnt from the evaluations and feedback.

I also recommend including the feedback from any assessed open classes you have taught. Again, the most important thing is to also document your reflections on these to show how you are developing as a teacher.

3. What You Teach

I would also include evidence of what you teach and why you teach it. I included sample lesson plans, the high school curriculum I have developed, materials for teacher training workshops and presentations I have conducted and samples of the work I have conducted with my students, especially extra-curricular projects that demonstrate my commitment to their development. Although I haven’t yet, I would also include evidence of how you develop your students, such as examples of feedback you have provided students or how you deal with error correction.

4. Evidence of Your Commitment to the Industry

Finally, I would include anything that can document your commitment the EFL/ESL industry. This could be research you have done, papers you have written, articles for blogs or teaching magazines and/or awards you have received.

If you would like to see my (still under construction) teaching portfolio you can do so at

I recommend starting to collate your portfolio as soon as possible. I was very lucky in that I started putting mine together roughly a month before I found out I would have to find a new job. If I had left it until the job hunting process began it wouldn’t have been possible to collect all the information in time, and I would have probably not received the two job offers I did.

Regarding the materials I took to the interview with me, I basically took printouts of my resume, teaching philosophy, sample lesson plan, student feedback (with reflections) and my assessed class feedback.

Other Useful Links:

UCAT – Guide on Creating a Teaching Portfolio

ICALTEFL – What is a Teaching Portfolio?

WHOHUB – Practice Interviews

What isn’t reflective practice? What is reflective practice?

Recently, reflective practice has come up in a number of conversations within the teaching communities I am involved in. The way it has been talked about has left me with the feeling that a lot of people don’t really understand what reflective practice involves. A number of examples of what people claim to have been reflective practice include:• Finishing a lesson and just knowing that the lesson went well…• Post lesson, filling in a form identifying what you thought went well, what you thought went badly and what you will do differently next time…

• Sharing an activity with a colleague because your students really enjoyed it…

• Thinking about how you give instructions and concluding they were ‘successful’ because all the students were looking, some of them nodded their heads and even answered your CCQ’s correctly…

• Knowing that the students feel like your class is beneficial and understand it because they do all the activities, often laugh and smile and even tell you how much they love you…

Why are these not forms of reflective practice? Well, to borrow from Farrell (2013), they simply “consist of fleeting thoughts that are based on hunches, intuition, or even some actions that happened in the class.” For me, and Farrell (2013) it seems, this is simply not enough. In some ways, claims such as those above which, in my opinion, are becoming increasingly synonymous with reflective practice, neatly exhibit the ‘buzz word’ status that reflective practice is starting to gather. In doing so, they are somewhat simplifying the complexity and commitment required to truly engage in reflective practice.If we are going to explore what reflective practice really is then it seems right to go back to its roots. According to Dewey (1933:17), reflective practice is an opportunity to “convert action that is merely repetitive, blind, and impulsive into intelligent action” (1933:17). It is a process by which teachers can consider, evaluate, problem solve and potentially alter their teaching behaviours by looking back upon events in light of research and knowledge. This is commonly referred to as ‘reflection-on-action’. By participating in reflection-on-action we can, hopefully, improve our ability for reflection-in-action, that is, according to Schön (1983,1987), thinking consciously about and adapting to an event as it is taking place. We know how to adapt to these events through experimentation in our own teaching.To try and apply this to modern day teaching, to engage in reflective practice I believe we must we must be actively doing one of two things; a systematic gathering of evidence, or, a critical thought process that allows us to question, seek, and form alternatives. It is through the collection of evidence or critically thought out alternatives that we can begin to form testable conclusions, and it is from these testable conclusions that we can systematically question our assumptions and beliefs, allowing us to change and improve as teachers. I’m now going to briefly review how we might go about doing this.

Critical Thought ProcessI’m going to start with the critical thought process. For me, the easiest way to start reflecting down this root is through the experiential learning cycle (ELC). To try and offer a very brief summary of how to use the ELC in teaching, you can begin by asking yourself three questions:

Image from the fantastic by Josette le Blanc
Pick an event from class, now ask:1) What? This stage should be used as a time for a description of what happened. There should be no emotions and no presumptions.Example: I introduced the activity to my students. To do this I first gave the instructions to my students. I saw them all nodding their heads. I did an example with my co-teacher. I then asked 3 CCQs, the students got them all correct. When I went round to monitor the students there were around 10 students who had not shared their answers with their partners. I felt really frustrated.

2) So What? Now, it is time to develop various possibilities for the event occurring. This stage is imperative, yet those not engaged in critical reflection will often simply skip it. The problem with that is that we are then forming conclusions based on our immediate interpretation (example 1 below). It is at this stage you may want to consider educational theory, research, methodologies and past learning experiences. By critically considering alternatives, we can begin to formulate further explanations we would have missed otherwise.

Example 1 (knee jerk reaction to event): the students who didn’t do the activity properly must have been day dreaming, so I should ask them to stay behind after class and give them minus points for not concentrating.

Example 2: The task may have been too difficult for the students, according to research there should only be 8 words in a text that students don’t know, were there more than that?

Example 3: Were my CCQs confusing? My CELTA taught me that they should only be one or two word answers.

Example 4: What class did my students have before this one? Did they have a test? Did they have gym class?

Example 5: Did I give them too many steps at once? This study suggests activities should be broken down into a maximum of one or two steps at a time.

3) Now What? From these alternatives you can now form a testable action plan grounded in critical thought.

Example: Next time I give instructions, I will give an example with a student and break the activity down into smaller components so that they are easier for the students to digest.

Evidence Collection

According to Farrell (2013), to begin engaging in evidence based reflective practice we can ask ourselves five questions:

1) What do I do?

2) How do I do it?

3) Why do I do it?

4) What is the result?

5) Will I change anything based on the answers to the above questions?

Example: Using a tape recorder, record yourself giving instructions for one period. Count the number of filler words you use, transcribe the sentences, decide if they could be more concise. At the end of the lesson, ask students to fill in a feedback card with some simple questions:

Did you understand how to do the activities?

Do you find examples easy to follow?

Do I use words you don’t understand?

There are a huge number of ways to collect evidence that can all revolve around these five questions. I’ve included a document I made for a workshop I was conducting on professional development with some other options that you may want to consider.

Later in the week I hope to put together a blog post on how you might want to go about starting a reflective practice group in your local community. But, in the meantime, I hope I have dispelled a couple of emerging myths regarding reflective practice and offered a starting point from which people can consider getting more involved with actual reflective practice.


Dewey, J (1933). How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. Boston: MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York: NY: Basic Books.

Schön, D. A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner: Towards a new design for teaching and learning in the profession. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Farrell, T (2013). Reflective Teaching. TESOL International Association: Virginia