How did TESL@TFLI prepare you for teaching in South Korea?
Hands-on and very practical, TFLI’s TESL course prepared me for teaching ESL/EFL perhaps even more than my ESL Master’s degree. I have used everything I learned from the TESL course in my teaching, both when I taught in America and now that I am teaching in South Korea. The TESL course is very effective because it is led by instructors who have taught abroad and have daily interactions with second language learners and are therefore very skilled in communicating to future teachers what classroom needs and demands are. For example, TFLI’s ESL/TESL Director Angie Harris had experience teaching in South Korea and was able to give me very useful advice as I was searching for jobs and eventually landed a job in Korea. All of the TESL instructors have varied cultural experiences and are well equipped to help TESL students cope with new teaching and cultural situations.
The TESL instructors also encouraged us students to learn from each other. When I was a TESL student, I often had to collaborate with other students to complete class activities, and that spirit of collaboration has helped me build better relationships with both my coworkers and students. In a society where group work and activities are important, I am often able to draw from my TESL classroom experience to help my Korean students achieve more by working together. I cannot give enough praise to TFLI’s TESL course. I could go on and give so many examples of strategies and games and activities I learned through the TESL course which I use in my everyday teaching, but the main reason I respect the TESL course is because the instructors showed by example how to genuinely care about people in need. I was not just shown how to teach grammar and pronunciation, I was taught how to care about my students and their lives, not just their language ability. I was taught that a teacher is someone who builds a relationship with students and that as a language teacher, my mission is to use language to help my students meet their needs and goals in life. This is the greatest lesson I learned through the TESL course and whether home or abroad, it informs my teaching.
What advice would you give to students who want to teach in South Korea?
Be open-minded and willing to learn. South Korea is a very westernized country and an easy abroad experience in many ways. But the more entrenched you become in a work environment, the more noticeable Korean traditions and values will become. These values may be quite different from your own (such as working overtime out of “duty” to the school or your boss, etc.) and can sometimes be frustrating to cope with.
In South Korea, there are many opportunities to be with people like you. Try to make Korean friends and learn from them about the culture. Koreans are very friendly and are very eager to show you Korean culture.
One last thing: Try to like kimchee! Kimchee is an amazing health food, a staple in the Korean diet and eating it will please your new Korean friends!
What is your best experience so far teaching in South Korea?
My best experience so far teaching in South Korea has been making incredibly loyal friends who have helped me in so many ways adjust to my life here. My Korean friends are some of the most caring people I have met, and they have taught me a lot about friendship and about compassion for foreigners.
Tell us an interesting classroom story.
I was co-teaching a class on the weekends for gifted Korean students. On the first day of class, my coworker and I elicited information from the students about what their “dream class” would be like. We were shocked by some of the answers such as “no hitting students,” “no bullying,” “no cursing at the students,” etc. We quickly assured the students that they were in a safe place and that we would not even consider doing such things, but after mulling things over, we wanted to do something even more to celebrate the new freedom the students had in the classroom.
Taking from what the students said about their dream class, we created a “Students’ Bill of Rights” for our class and asked the students how they wanted it distributed. One of the students said “We want it written in chocolate!” and the rest of the class agreed. My coworker and I brainstormed over ideas and the next week, we presented a huge chocolate cake with our “Students’ Bill of Rights” written in chocolate icing on it. The students were so surprised and pleased, and the positive relationship and trust we had with our students after this set the tone for the entire semester we taught that class.