My late and short K0TESOL post

I had a great time at the K0TESOL International Conference this year. I really did. I had some nice chats with lots of nice people. I didn’t see as many presentations as I would have liked because at times I was slightly amped up, nervous and focused on my own presentations. At other times I was a bit hungover tired and distracted so I wasn’t as active in seeing presentations as I could have been. I also, regretfully, didn’t spend as much time with the conference book as I could have so I missed a few talks that sounded great to me months before when I was much more prepared than I was a week or day in advance. Such is life I suppose.

Having been to quite a few conferences in the past few years I think I sort of go in waves in terms of attending a lot of sessions at some conferences and treating other conferences as something more of a social or networking social networking event. I have been thinking a lot about conferences and how valuable they are for professional development and how stepping away from conventional (get it, convention?) ways could be better for all. This could be a topic for another blog post.

I originally didn’t plan on doing much of a review or any post on the conference, to be honest. The following tweet from Geoff Jordan was just the nudge I needed. Of course, the oddness of being mentioned in the same tweet as the others was not lost on me.

Well, let’s see, I don’t have anything to say about Nunan’s presentation at this point or on this channel. And, to be fair. I only saw the roughly 7 minutes he went over time.

Luckily, David Harbinson‘s KoTESOL International Conference 2014 Review covers what Long and Thornbury said very well (with a brief but telling mention of Nunan as well). Also, Tim Hampson blogged on sessions from Thornbury and Long (and more, check out the whole series!). Speaking of Long, Jordan himself shared two helpful posts related to Task Based Language Teaching here and here.

I think I have answered Dr. Jordan’s question about as well as possible regarding what humans who are not me said at the conference. I suppose I will quickly mention what I said and did, then. I had three workshops this conference. It was a lot. I might not do such a thing again but it was enjoyable. I also had the great fortune for two of these three sessions to work with great co-presenters. Anna Loseva and Michael Free were pleasures to work with. I appreciate their insight, knowledge, passion, patience, and PPT skillz. What follows is what I said and did at the conference.

Friday’s workshop was on Korean culture and the choices we can make in class related to this. I made a last minute decision to read this post aloud (rather than print it off) and a lively discussion occurred. The title of this workshop was “Cultural Explorations for Teachers: Beyond Confucianism and Excuses” and I believe we did get beyond these 2 common aspects of conversations about English teaching in South Korea. Lots of juicy questions and points were raised. Here is a version of the PowerPoint: Cultural Explorations for Teachers, which might not make so much sense if you were not there. Please let me know if you have any questions. I think my main point (assuming I had one) was something like “don’t believe everything you hear and don’t be a defeatist as things can change.”

On Saturday Anna and I talked about the glorious #FlashmobELT movement and how it can be used to spur on teachers’ creativity. It was lots of fun. One very cool thing that came out of it was a lino wall of activities that participants in the workshop shared. Here is that wall. In the session we mentioned certain criteria we were hoping for on #FlashmobELT activities. That criteria can be found in the PowerPoint slides here: Steal your way to creativity 2.1 (the criteria can be found on slide 11 if you happen to be both very interested and in a rush). I am not sure if I answered the “What did I say” question here but one thing I said was that it is easy to pretend you are creative if you have a few ideas and adapt them.

On Sunday I had the pleasure of talking about using the Experiential Learning Cycle to talk with co-teachers along with Michael Free. The title was “Professional Development for Couples: Reflective Practice for Co-Teachers” and the slides are here CT+RP-KOTESOL 10.5.2014 (1)   It was interesting to see the problems the participants associated with co-teaching and to see if  walking through the ELC could be of help for teachers faced with potentially challenging discussions. My key takeaway here is that lots of the hurtful things we tend to imagine co-teachers saying come from starting at the end or middle of the ELC. I don’t blame co-teachers (or managers or anyone) for doing this because this is way it is usually done in the world. I think the ELC is one nice way to frame conversations about teaching and co-teaching. As Michael Free likes to say it can push the conversations back to students and their learning which is presumably why we are there.

Thanks so much for reading. I hope there was at least something of interest here.

Random additions (with some potentially “in-jokey” ones) :

  • A K0TESOL bigwig said, “I liked your blog post” as he zoomed past me. Considering there are more than 150 posts on the blog I asked, “Which one?” He said he was talking about this one. That was very interesting to me, and become more interesting when he said he’d like to talk about it.
  • I felt this conference was very well run and I thought there were lots of great options for talks to see.
  • Unrelated to the previous bullet points here, I am now a member of KOTESOL.
  • I liked how all the doors had room numbers at this conference.
  • Actually, the venue was great all around.
  • During the wine and cheese party some classy folks like myself (read #KELTchatters) went out and got beers and string cheese. I personally couldn’t handle the waiting in the hot and oxygen deprived line before the gates were eventually lifted for common folks to also enjoy the wine and cheese.
  • At K0TESOL I was able to make some additions to the “Interviews” page on this blog. You will just have to click the link and find out what I am talking about.
  • This was the first year I can remember the conference starting out with workshops on the Friday before the conference began in earnest. I enjoyed the workshops I attended (done by Anna Loseva and Tana Ebaugh). It was fun(ny) to know that at the same time I was doing my workshop Barb Sakamoto and Ahmar Mahboob were running ones in the other room.
  • There were lots of cool people I missed seeing this time around who I’d seen at previous conferences.
  • I really should remember to update the page on this blog where I listed presentations I have done. It would be so easy. The titles are here. I just need to cut and paste them. Ah well, I will wait till the end of the term.
  • I obviously made the title for this post before finishing the post. It is not exactly short. Though it might be short in the “day late and a dollar short” sense of things.

Interview with Anne Hendler

I have known Anne for about 2.5 years and it has been a great pleasure getting to know her. I enjoy talking about and learning all sorts of different things with her. I also thoroughly enjoy her blog. I always find her to be kind, clever, caring, curious and considerate.  I am honored that she accepted my request for an interview. I enjoyed the process and I hope you enjoy reading it. 

Thanks so much for doing this interview, Anne. It is my pleasure and honor to have you here. I must thank Matthew Noble (aka @NewbieCELTA aka Newbie CELTA Trainer) for the suggestion or at least for assuming you were next. It was such a great idea I just couldn’t pass it up.
Haha, that conversation got away from me really fast! Newbie tweeted that he was interested in the book ‘The Tale that Wags’ and I wanted to make sure I was still next in line for it (I had been waiting a year, after all). Suddenly I was being booked for an interview!

It is fun and funny how that sort of thing works out sometimes. I am very happy you accepted the request to be interviewed.
I have done a few interviews on this blog and you were the first to demand compensation. What were your demands?
I think it was almost two years ago that I learned that Tim Murphey wrote a fascinating novel called ‘The Tale that Wags.’ I’ve been wanting to read it and review it for my book blog, so I signed up to borrow it. It’s been a long wait… but I figured if I was being booked for an interview, I might as well be interviewed in return for the offending book!

Before we continue, I’d like some proof that you really have the book in your possession.




That is a very cool blog by the way. I always enjoy your perspective on the books you read. Oh wait, before we continue, where are my manners? Can I get you a drink? What are you having?
Mango juice, please. It’s a work day after all. Shall we go down to the beach?

Beach? That sounds great. Do you live near the beach or something?
Yeah man, living by the beach is the best. There is a coffee shop street that offers a variety of scenic places from which to plan my lessons each day.

I recall you had a very cool and different bio for a conference this year. What did it say? What does it mean? Why did you write it?
It said, “Anne is just a teacher.”

I wrote it because I don’t think number of years of experience or level of education attained (or the name of your university or the type of degree) or country of birth or type of workplace are meaningful ways to judge people. I think every voice is valuable and deserves to be heard.

I sometimes think people get lost in credentials and forget to find out about the humans behind them.

You seem to be very serious about professional development. Has this always been the case?
No, not really. I became more serious about professional development about six years ago. It had long been a niggle in the back of my head to take a course and see what it is I’m supposed to know about teaching. So when a course was offered in my city on weekends, I decided to go for it. From there, I met my friend Nina. She is the one who nudged me into most of my personal and professional development ventures since. It was because of her that I joined the reflective practice group  and met you.

Now I think that professional development is essential for any teacher. I’m not too fussed with what forms it comes in, but for me I really enjoy having a community. Teaching can be a lonely job. Being part of communities of teachers (including #KELTchat, iTDi, #RPPLN, and the reflective practice SIG in Korea, for instance) has helped me see that my challenges are not so unique as I thought and that my questions have a greater variety of answers than I ever guessed.

I remember you have been called  a “reflective junkie.” What does that come from? Are you a reflective junkie?
I’m going to plead the 5th and direct you over to Mr. Manpal Sahota for more information on that one. According to every definition of junkie I could find, there has to be something bad about it.

Fair enough. We can move on.  I think you have taken plenty of courses over at iTDi. What draws you there?
I really love what iTDi stands for. Their mission is to provide affordable professional development opportunities to teachers around the world and they are really reaching out to teachers in many places. More importantly, though, iTDi gives these teachers a voice in the international community through their blog and their mentoring program. I would never have met some really amazing teachers if it weren’t for the work iTDi does. And their vision is very much in line with my beliefs about teachers as humans.

I get a lot out of the courses iTDi offers as well. I’m there to learn as much as I can. My favorite courses have been with John Fanselow, but there have been other excellent courses as well and a great line-up coming up. The current course (current as of answering these questions, anyway) is with Marcos Benevides. I’m learning about designing and adapting reading materials, which is something I really need for my current job.

Confession: I’ve never actually earned any kind of certificate from any of the courses I’ve taken (and I’ve taken quite a lot). I am just too busy to do all the tasks. But since I’m not there for the certificate, I don’t really mind. As long as I’m learning!

If it is not too challenging or strange of a question, what are some key learnings you have had in the past year or so?
Prelude to an answer:

Now I know how my students must feel when I ask them what they have learned in class.  Seriously, though, in the last year or so I have learned quite a lot. I learned the value of self-observation and have been experimenting with ways to observe myself in my classes – so far I’ve done audio recording and video recording followed by reflection alone and with a group.

I have learned the value of student feedback (and also how better to request it, present it, and use it). I even learned that sometimes student feedback isn’t all that valuable. It’s important to ask the right questions, and important to have a purpose for collecting the feedback and making decisions about what to ask for and how to respond.

I have learned a lot about storytelling and the power of narrative. I have given my students more creative leeway over class projects and asked them to write stories instead of summaries of their non-fiction intensive reading materials. I have dabbled a little in studying story performance for myself because I love listening to stories so much and I wanted to learn how to tell them better. (One of my classes actually applauded at the end of a story that I’d used as an experimental piece. #bragging) And through this I have begun to reconsider the value of memorization and of reading aloud.

And most importantly, I have learned that I have a lot to learn. I am always learning from everyone around me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thanks for the thoughtful answer, even if the link was a bit blush inducing. I have the sense you are pretty busy. What keeps you busy?
Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Youtube.

Just kidding.

The biggest and most rewarding thing that keeps me pretty busy is my job – I have 32 contact hours a week with around 200 students who are divided into classes by age rather than level. Preparing for those classes takes a lot of my time every day, and reflecting on them takes more. Another activity I love doing is the iTDi advanced skills courses. I have really enjoyed interacting with people I meet there and I have recently become an iTDi mentor as well. I also facilitate the Reflective Practice SIG in Korea and manage @officialkotesol in my free time, with occasional help from important KOTESOL personages. I’m the vice president of I forget what in #KELTchat, along with @breathyvowel, @bryanteacher and yourself, which is a lot of fun. I am a proofreader and copy-editor for The English Connection (KOTESOL’s magazine), and I do other proofreading projects as time permits.

Gosh. Wow. I will not complain about being busy when you are around. What do you do for fun?
Everything I do is fun. That’s why I do it.

I guess I pedal all over the country for fun. Biking relieves a lot of stress for me and forces me to leave the things that make me busy behind for a while. I really love exploring the Korean countryside and finding little gems that few people ever see. I meet a lot of interesting people this way, too. It seems like the first question Koreans ask me is “Where are you from?” But among bikers, they want to know “Where did you start?” and “How far are you going?” On my bike, I’m not quite so different.

Cool. I see. And back to teaching and professional development. What advice do you have for teachers starting out in Korea or elsewhere?
Maybe I’ll copy and paste real authentic advice I have actually given to teachers just starting out.^^ Stay tuned.

Nope. As it turns out, I’m not good at giving advice. I went through old interactions with newbies and what I mostly do is share experiences.

Nice answer, as expected. And now we enter “The Lightning Round.” Quick answers to somewhat random questions is what we are looking for.  
So, you’ve lived in Chicago and New York, right? How would you compare these cities in general and in terms of pizza? In 10 words or less!
I couldn’t do it in 10 words, but I poetried it for you.


Towering buildings

Busy people rush

Down narrow winding streets



Frigid sauna

Lakeside life, museums,

Metra electric → millennium station


Deep dish or thin crustIf you have to fold it up

It isn’t pizza

The End.


Thanks! If you could magically popularize one Korean item in the US and vice versa what would they be?
Oh man. The only thing I still miss from the US is proper clothes dryers. I sure wish those came with every furnished home like washers do.
In two weeks in the US, the thing I wish I could import here is the bike paths. Korea does bike paths really really well.

Who would win in a game of golf, Mike Ditka,  Tony Gurr, Kevin Stein or God?
I don’t know, but there is practically no chance that I’d be awake by the end of the game. 

OK, who would win in a game of (American) football, 11 mini Ditkas or the New England Patriots?
How is this even a question? #beardown

Finally, do you have any suggestions or requests for my next interview on here?
There are quite a few interviews I’d love to read: starting with Newbie and @datEnglish, who is my storytelling hero.

Noted, thanks! What brought you to Korea?
I came to Korea fresh out of university with a desire to experience something different and absolutely zero dollars to my name. Korea was a great place for people in that position because at the time the only requirement was having a degree and being from one of the great eight. The recruiter sent me a round trip ticket pre-paid.

How long did you figure you’d stay?
And I held onto that ticket for dear life, planning on leaving as soon as something went wrong. I’d done my research on Dave’s beforehand and knew I might be getting into a baaaaad situation – slavery or worse! But as it turned out, I fell in love with the students and watching their learning made me want to be a teacher.

What were your expectations coming here? Is there anything interesting you brought with you? *sigh* I brought a suitcase full of ramen, complete with the pot to cook it in and a pack of matches. I brought one fork, one  knife, one spoon, one plate and one bowl. And that probably answers the question about my expectations coming here. (It’s okay. you can laugh.)

How long have you been in Korea? And, what changes have you seen in the ELT-world in that time?
I guess I’ve been here about 12 years now.

The biggest change is that ELT exploded onto the Twitterverse and there is a whole lot more connection between teachers in different countries and sharing of resources and experiences. I used to make all my own materials from scratch. Now I borrow ideas and adapt materials more often.

I also see ELT becoming more of a profession. Qualifications are sterner in many countries and there are fewer of the backpacker teachers, particularly in Korea. Now, if only the pay rates and job security would reflect the teachers’ experiences and qualifications…

Another thing I’d like to mention is the increase in popularity (and usefulness and quality) of ELT blogs. Blog challenges and branch-offs like your interviews, Eugenia Loras‘s multilingual parenting strand, and Laura Phelps‘s materials writing experiences provide a lot more depth and increase participation in the blogosphere, while a lot of academic blogs (like @anthonyteacher’s Research Bites, ELFA project, and History and Philosophy of Language Sciences) increase my awareness of research and focus my interests.

If my memory is correct, you are a fan of “Korean Students Speak” where students share a message on a blank piece of paper, right?
Korean Students Speak is a great place because it both gives students a voice and an outlet for their frustrations in the most trying years of their academic lives, when they study from dawn to past midnight and sleep 4 hours a night. I love this blog and I want to support those students and also support my own students. I hope they will be strong enough to turn away from this status quo when they are adults with children of their own.

What would your message be?
If I could leave a message to support these students and also remind them and the world that things do not have to be this way forever, it would be a simple message:

“Let them play.”

let them play

“Let them play.”


That sounds like a perfect note to end on. Thanks so much for your time! It has been a pleasure.

Live-ish Lesson Planning

All this talk of planning over on the #KELTchat  has gotten me thinking. It is nice to think about such things, I believe. These days, my schedule is such that I pretty much have only one class a week I’d consider to be an English class. My other courses are known as “seminars in simultaneous interpretation” (clicking here will give you some idea how these classes go). I also have some other courses that politely defy simple explanations but I will not mention them here, unless I just did. OK, back to the sole English class I have this term, then. It is called International Discussion and the general idea is a fluency focused course on local and global issues of importance.

The course is organized around topics. In practice this means each week features a new topic to discuss. I try to make sure students work with related vocabulary. Often (well 55% of the time) there are assigned readings (but rarely reading tasks) for students to read before class to help students frame the issues of a topic and to get them thinking about the topic. Around half the topics are chosen by me in advance of the course and the remaining topics are chosen by the group in one of the first lessons of the term.

I also try to focus on discussion strategies. This means that planning is often about marrying the topics to the the discussion skills. I have a number of discussion strategies laid out before the course and also get students’ input on what they need. Of course, I also notice what they need during the class and make plans accordingly.

My students are students in an English medium graduate school. They tend to be around upper intermediate, if you are into such labels. Sharing their opinions and having conversations on headier topics is not always easy for them. They tend to do very well with long turns. Interrupting (and other turn-taking strategies) and speaking without thinking time are challenges.

One important thing that often comes to my mind when thinking of these students is how they have no shortage of opportunities to use English but they do have a shortage of opportunities for getting feedback, or at least feedback in the sense of a teacher correcting and giving suggestions and such. The read and write and talk and have lectures in English but don’t have chances to get feedback on their production. The (only?) feedback they might outside of class get more is something like a classmate saying, “I don’t understand” in their daily English interactions. With this in mind I feel even more than I would in other classes that my duty is to give feedback on both fluency and accuracy. I feel less ok than I might otherwise be in other contexts in Korea to simply provide time and place for practice in English, as this is something my students tend to get quite a bit of, regardless of how loudly people say Korea is an EFL country or how perfectly they place it in the Expanding Circle.

Onto planning then. What follows is a mostly live account of my thoughts as I try to plan my class.

5:00 pm 
(Class time – 28 hours)
What shall we do in class tomorrow? I know the topic is North Korea. There has been a lot of DPRK in the news lately. How to slice things into manageable pieces.
I like the idea of explaining the situation to a well-meaning but clueless North American.
Imagine you meet a North American who asks you if you are North Korean and then asks you to talk about the differences.
A speaking task like this could help frame some of the issues and see where students are and where they need help.


There he is. Photo via @W7VOA

Am I really talking about lesson planning without mentioning objectives for the class.
Zero SWBATs so far? What will the neighbors think?

Should I revisit my beliefs about lesson planning?
Should I make a shameless plug to a previous post about beliefs about lesson planning?

I think one of the keys on my regular planning for this class is the balance between things like useful chunks for managing discussions, time spent on the topic of the week, feedback on English (including grammar, usage, pron and other stuff), and lexis (both old and newer) related to the topic. Last week I think we focused a bit much on lexis and not as much on the others. This week, I think there are some “go-to” terms related to North Korea and the whole situation they will need and want to know.

That KELTchat is interesting. Nice to see lots of people involved. I must admit it is somewhat distracting, however.

I remember one student getting a bit stuck when admitting he didn’t quite follow a classmate and attempting to ask for clarifications two weeks ago. I think he didn’t have much experience with this. I think this is something that we will have to focus on and play with in the next few weeks. That and interruptions.

When I think about interruptions I often get my brain a bit twisted around because I don’t want to say that the American way is the way to do it and nor do I want to insist that students interrupt each other all the time. On other hand I want to make sure students can interrupt as they wish.

I suppose I could just choose all the topics myself or match discussion skills to topics earlier in the term. This would prevent this sort of day-before-the-lesson-concern. That said, I don’t mind it so much and I like the idea of some flexibility. I think it would be too much flexibility to have to worry about choosing a topic and the more languagey stuff each week.

These days I am very much into the idea of using material created by one class of students for another class. I toyed with the idea of trying to use some stuff created by previous students (this stuff) but I don’t see much value in it for tomorrow.

It has been 14 minutes since I thought about tomorrow’s class.

Planning, eh?

Dinner time. Yep, that is the ticket. I need to eat and then I can focus.

Ok, now I am ready. Surely my brain will work properly now. Time to focus. Let’s get down to business.

It is too quiet. What is on TV?
Oh, awesome. CSI. I love that show.
(Note: I actually don’t like it)

That Grissom is a clever fellow.
How would he handle this lesson plan?




This is silly. I need to get to work. The sooner I get to work the sooner I can relax.

Words and phrases and paraphrasing? Yeah I think so.
Strategies? Yes.
North Korea? Yes, for sure.
General questions? Ok.
Summarizing? Explaining to an outsider? Probably.
Mini 6 party talks? Nah.

When talking about teaching in Korea I have seen lots of advice like “Don’t talk about North Korea.” I think this might be fine advice in many context, but in mine with these student I think it is something they will need to be comfortable talking about.

Damned insert key messing everything up here. What am I to do?
I googled and nothing helped. I might have to restart the computer.

This used to be easier without blogging about it. Like last week.

I found some materials I used previously on this topic. Interesting stuff there including questions around the topic and some language.

Cool. I just remembered there is a new FlashmobELT lino wall from the recent KOTESOL conference.
For more information on FMELT you can click here.

I think I will put this planning on hold for 90 minutes or so.
Gosh, when I get back to it will be less than 12 hours to class time.
In the meantime I will be on ELTlive talking about…wait for it…lesson planning.

If I get into some deep psychological shit thoughts I can examine my procrastination. Maybe it is based on my thought class will likely be fine as there are limited disasters these days. Of course not every lesson is wonderful but things tend to work out reasonably well in the end. I think if I were faced with the potential of disaster I’d be more motivated at the moment.

That said, I do not believe that teachers instinctively know when their lessons or plans have gone well. I think it takes collecting feedback and measuring students progress to have much of an idea on this. And reflection beyond “that went well enough.”

Class is in less than 11 hours. This is the motivation I need.

*Checks notes from last week.

Ahh to hell with it. I will finish planning in the morning. Yeah, if I wake up early and plan it will be better. It will be fresh in my mind and that way I will actually be more ready.

I am nervous about not being ready for tomorrow.

I am glad my plans these days are neguices free but I wish I were a bit more focused. I will publish and close this.
I’ll let you know if tomorrow’s class is a disaster.

The mystery of the continually late training course participants

I was so pissed off. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t understand it. How could they be so rude? There I was, busting my ass to make the sessions as good as I possibly could and there they were continually sauntering in late and turning 10 minute breaks into 20 minute bonding sessions. I sat there at the front of the room in despair, wondering what I was doing with my life.

I had recently returned to Korea to work on this teacher training course. I came from the US after spending a nice time with my family. In fact, I cut the family visit short to come train these teachers. These ungrateful teachers who didn’t respect me or the hard work I’d put and was putting into the sessions for them. It was all very defeating and frustrating.

It was defeating, frustrating, and confusing. Koreans are supposed to be diligent.Koreans are supposed to be value education. They are supposed to respect authority. How could they so easily and happily flout the rules like this?

It was all the more strange to me to see the participants be friendly, productive, active, eager (and all one would want from a group of teachers) during the sessions themselves. I’ll never forget a discussion I had with with one participant who remarked this was the best course she’d ever experienced and said it was much better than the one she’d taken last year. When I pushed for details I discovered her training course the previous year was more like simply English practice with an inexperienced teacher who happened to be white and a native speaker. I was pleased with her observation and disclosure but it didn’t help me solve the mystery of the continually late participants.

Their lateness ate away at me day by day. Standing at the front of the room ready to go but forced to watch people slowly file in was killing me. The waiting was the worst. It was slowly destroying my soul each minute. What about the children? Every minute we wasted was another missed opportunity for these teachers to capture my wisdom and then use it back at school with their students and peers. I was ready to change the world, only if they’d let me and only if they could be punctual.

I’d been planning this course for 6 months. I’d been teacher training for a whole 6 months. I had a CELTA! How could they disrespect me so blatantly? I couldn’t imagine it was anything but rudeness and arrogance. I questioned my choice to be there and wondered if maybe teacher training in Korea with in-service teachers was not for me.

I wasn’t sure what I could do to get out of this terrible situation that repeated itself thrice daily. I decide to suppress my rage and hurt and just talk to the participants. After all, they were teachers who have classes of their own. I thought maybe they could relate to what I was feeling. I tried not to blame. I calmly explained that I was ready to go on the hour and I’d really appreciate it if we could all start at the same time. I mentioned how I’d ensure there plenty of breaks but starting on time was important to me. I told them for me it was a matter of efficiency and I prefer not to keep people waiting or to wait myself when I am ready to go and I’d much prefer to follow the official starting times. The participants listened with interest. One person mentioned she had no idea I was ready to go at the scheduled times and another said she thought I preferred to start a bit later. Nobody seemed to have had any sense it was so important to me.

After this 2 minute talk everyone was on time every time.

Through this experience, I felt like I’d learned a few valuable lessons. As I am wont to do, I’ll let you,  dear reader, take and make your own lessons from this story if you wish. Thanks for reading. Recent experiences blogging tell me I should state I don’t actually believe much of what I wrote above and I don’t think I was very reasonable till end of the tale. Exaggerations might have occurred. A tongue might have been firmly  in cheek while writing certain parts of this.


As luck would have it, I have a presentation/workshop coming up this Friday. The title is Cultural Explorations for Teachers: Beyond Confucianism and Excuses and this story might even get mentioned. Details on the workshop and event are here.


Handshake Utopia

I don’t even know why I cared so much. Yet, I did care. It bugged me then and it still bugs me. It is an already established fact I don’t care what you do in your classes but perhaps I am a fraud and a liar.  If I had to describe my feelings in that moment I might say it was a mix of frustration, embarrassment, confusion, anger, pity, and superiority. It was quite the cocktail of feelings to have when talking to a stranger I’d just met in a breakout session in a conference workshop. He was a nice guy as well! What could he have possibly said to draw out my ire, judgment and the above feelings? He told me and my friend about how his teaching of greetings and his related policies in his college English class. That’s all he did.

He told us that he doesn’t allow his students to bow. No bowing. “This is English class. We don’t’ bow here,” he continued.  He stated his case about preparing his students for life and they need to know how it is done in Merica. “They need to learn how to shake hands, firm, you know? They need to make eye contact when doing it. They need to learn to shake hands properly.” I got the sense it was a major focus of his course and there was plenty of time spent on mastering the fine art of the American handshake.


What is proper anyway?


I didn’t have the nerve to ask why his students needed such things. I didn’t ask if maybe students joined class to improve their English language skills. I certainly didn’t ask if they needed to use English in Korea or needed English for their major courses.  Or if they needed a certain TOEIC or TOEFL score to get a job. I didn’t ask if this extended greeting practice was the best possible use of students’ time in light of all the other things pulling on their time. I had so many thoughts and questions but this was one of the very rare cases where I was speechless. An army of cats had captured n my tongue.

Somehow, without asking,since I was mostly frozen, I did find out how he viewed his class. He said he likes to tell students his class is America. A little mini-America. Outside the room is Korea and they can do whatever they like there. But, inside his classroom he’s in charge and he wants to create his version of an American cultural zone. “This is something students are missing in their daily lives” he reasoned.  He might have invoked the magic of immersion. He might have talked about the deep and inseparable links between language and culture.

In the oasis of freedom fries he created, students are not allowed to use the greeting that comes most naturally to them. You know, the one they are trained for from an early age.  I don’t think I have such a problem with experiencing, discussing, and even practicing various aspects of culture. What I find problematic and find myself having a problem with is the insistence on NOT doing something. The banning of Korean cultural practices from an American in Korea is something I just can’t be comfortable with or get my head around. At best, it strikes me too much as either/or.

I return to my original question of why I cared so much about this. Maybe part of what bothered me so was the fear of similar things in the past and had my own blinders about them. Even worse, maybe I still do. As I analyzed my discomfort, I was stuck thinking this was some sort of a reflection of me and this is why it made me feel so damned uneasy. I didn’t enjoy this feeling. I remembered the intensive handshake training I’d found myself engaged in so long ago. Was I an imperialist then? Am I  now? Who the hell was I to judge this near stranger anyway? Was I prepared and pure enough to cast the first stones? It was all very unsettling. I tried to see things from his perspective and tried not too be overly judgmental and failed. I successfully pushed it to the back of my mind. Then I watched some more presentations, ate a burrito, had a few beers and went to sleep.


Notes: This is mostly a true story.  I took a few creative freedoms. Also, I might have had tacos that night.

Photo: From here. Is a news article from ABC and is quite interesting in light of the above.

Update: I might have considered previous classrooms a little America and fancied myself as Governor of them.



Why my son won’t be going to that language school

The following is an original work of fiction. It is loosely based on a true story.
Further notes and thoughts can be found below.

I was ready to enroll my son in the new hogwon down the street. I’d heard good things about it through the local “ajumma network.” For example, I heard all three owners have PHDs! One of them even went to Yonsei. Since I always try to put my children’s’ education first I was excited about this chance and this new place for them to improve their English. People told me this academy has an innovative and different curriculum and I was eager to send my little angel, Byoungho, there.

From the grapevine I got the impression this school is not just another cowboy outfit set up to simply make profits and then disappear. Other moms told me this place cares about the children, which is of course different from a lot of places. Reputation is very important here in this town and nation.  Word of mouth is the best way to hear about potential educational opportunities for our children. I’d be lying if I didn’t say there is also an element of competition too, we mothers want to do our best for our kids but we also want to make sure we are not being overshadowed and outdone by other moms. Some people might say this is Korean nature but I think it is more like human nature. “Keeping up with the Kims” is always a consideration, so we need to stay constantly alert to trends and keep up with changes in the education field.

Prior to enrollment we had a conference with the directors who also happen to be the owners. I assumed it was just about marketing and was a chance for the owner to meet the parents and give a brief orientation of the school. They seemed nice, knowledgeable and reasonable.  It also seemed like the stories about them truly caring about children were true.

The meeting started off well enough but I was completely surprised by its result. In the end, the directors suggested maybe Byoungho shouldn’t attend classes there. At first they were telling me this and that about storybooks and communication and a positive learning environment and everything was fine. I was half listening because I was already set to enroll my son there. It sounded great. While listening to their talk on something about student-centeredness and individualized attention I suddenly remembered a rumor I’d heard about this particular cram school. Someone told me they hired non-native speakers. Not just non-native teachers but teachers that are not even white. I heard the main teacher there was a Filipina! Can you believe it? Everyone knows America is the center of business and English. Why would we want a teacher from somewhere else?  I asked the directors about this and without apology they confirmed this rumor to be true.

The nasty rumor was true, and what was worse they were not even apologetic about it. They told me that if I had a problem with their teachers maybe I didn’t need to spend my hard-earned money there. They said they were happy to live without my business if I was not happy with how they run it. I was speechless and I didn’t have much to say. Aren’t my 10,000 won notes green? Don’t they want my cash? They were very polite about this situation and they were firm in not taking my money if I was unhappy about the first language or skin color of the teacher. Now I need to find a new school. What if every school were like this?


Notes and thoughts:

As you might guess, I was not trying to make this mom a sympathetic figure or appear to be on her side. I also didn’t want to go too far over the top and make her too ridiculous or too much of a fanatic or caricature. I was just trying to tell what I think is an interesting story from a different perspective. As I said above it is based on a true story I heard recently. I have written a few times about  “native speakers” (yep, sticking with the scare quotes) in Korea (here is one example) and wrote something related to race and hiring here. I have been thinking for a long time that students don’t give a care about the skin color or first language of their teachers. In this case maybe the mom cared and the kid probably missed out on opportunities as a result.

I thought this could be an interesting text to use with English language students in Korea. I think there is something interesting (authentic-ish?) language there. I also think it is clearly focused on the Korean context, which might attract some interest. Aside from the potential (and potentially uncomfortable) conversations that could stem from this) I also thought it might be cool to have students write up the same story from a few different perspectives (one of the directors, the teacher, or Byoungho). I thank you for reading and I welcome any comments on anything. If you happen to use this with students I will gladly buy you a beer or coffee or lemonade or any drink that is not whiskey.



While Editing: Semi-edited Rambles

I wrote the following in spurts over something like ten days. 

This is not a blog post.

I am really swamped with a project at the moment. This project requires me to be at the computer for long hours and it is not anything like a creative endeavor. Why the secrecy? No need, actually. I am editing 100s of pages of translated documents. Literally in original sense of the word. My former students are the translators and the documents from the government and are super dry. Sometimes I feel like writing something here or elsewhere but this cloud of editing hangs over me. I can’t bear to spend time on the computer without catching up on the endless pages that need to be edited. Also, when I am not editing I feel like I need to be as far away from the computer or at least working on the online course I am teaching. Poor me. Anyway, such is life, I suppose. In order to quell my creative impulses I have decided to share some scattered thoughts that occurred to me whilst editing. These thoughts came over a period of a few days and were written quickly in my “breaks” from editing. I hope they are least slightly of interest. Enjoy the ride and thanks for reading. I hope readers will understand if this post is not as tightly edited as it could be.

Sometimes I miss my previous job (well actually I guess it was 2 jobs ago) when I worked in a language school and I met and worked with a wide cross-section of society. I had retirees, cops, students, stay-at-home-moms, government officials, business-people, nuclear engineers, cooks and lots more. It was a nice chance to meet a variety of people and to also connect to Korea and Korean culture in a different way. I love my current job. I also feel nostalgic about working with and knowing people from various industries and walks of life.

One of the cops I taught in the job mentioned above  was part of one of the funniest things I have experienced in class. I brought my brother and his then girlfriend (now wife) to my class. The police officer was a kind, caring and sensitive man. He was quite good at English. He was inexperienced talking to non-Koreans and was largely self-taught. Coming to my class was one of the view times in his life he communicated with foreigners (or even did much communication in English at all) so he was excited to talk to my brother and his future wife. The comedy (and to be fair, uncomfortable feeling for me) came when he asked her, “How do you please your boyfriend?” She couldn’t respond without laughing as she couldn’t figure it was anything but a sexual question. His follow-up question of “How do you make your boyfriend happy?” didn’t sound much different or slow down the laughter. Some further clarification showed he meant something more like “How do you ensure a healthy relationship with your boyfriend?” There were lots of lessons for me as a teacher to learn from that experience and interaction. I can’t remember exactly what they are now, though.

I think I learned a lot in that job. Teaching nearly 30 hours a week with different groups and frequently teaching new courses and new groups was a good opportunity for professional development. The competitive nature of the place where evaluations were so important was silly, of course, but it also provide a baptism (or maybe trial?) by fire that was in some ways good motivation to work hard, even if it didn’t necessarily provide fantastic grounds for innovation and experimentation. Working with a wide variety of people in terms of experience (both life and teaching), knowledge, commitment and perspectives was also a great chance for professional development.

I am reminded of a line in “The Developing Teacher” that sometimes development is something that happens to us and a change in circumstances, context or responsibilities can provide many opportunities for development. Sorry for not digging out the exact quote, I can’t bear to do it with this editing in front of me. Well, if anyone asks politely for the quote in the comments I will gladly find and share it because I will have more time by then.

Even if the management was not always good or less than terrible in that job I was describing there were some great colleagues there and I learned a lot from them. My current thought, which might be controversial, is something like, “There is not much of a correlation between good management and opportunities for professional development.” My two most recent previous jobs (nice phrase!) could only be charitably described as not-very-well-run but I think I gained a lot from these experiences. In fact, I might go so far as to say the shittiness and shoddiness added to the professional development opportunities because I was granted plenty of chances to try stuff out that I might not otherwise have had in other, better run places. I wonder if this jives with the experience of others? I think most of the time as people seeking to develop professionally we seek out the well-run places but I am thinking there might be a lot of chances in poorly run places.Of course all this brings up questions about what I mean by well run. I am not really sure so I won’t even dive into it here.

light and tunnel

Insert your metaphor here. Photo by Blue Collar Photographer John Steele Used under a UCC license from:

In what is a completely new train of thought a few days after the previous I am wondering, what if we never taught students the present perfect tense? To my (American?) ears and eyes it seems to be quite overused. Would students, especially at beginner levels, be missing out too much If they just over used the simple past? Or even present simple. “I go to Canada three times in my life” is pretty comprehensible, isn’t it? As is “I went to Canada three times in my life.” Ohh well, these are the sorts of thoughts I have while editing. It is not hard to blame the English Grammar Industrial complex for such things.

I had an interesting chat on social media one day about why we yanks “use present perfect wrong.” While this idea of wrong is the sort of prescriptivist bullshit up with which I will not put I thought it was quite interesting to think about how the history of immigration in the US might have influenced such things as the (non) use of the present perfect while our former colonial overlords would still tend to use it more.

In terms of present perfect usage, two classic examples for me are “The train has arrived at the station!”  and “Goshdarn it I’ve lost my keys.” Now, I can fully see why one might use the present perfect here I think I would be more likely to talk about simple past. “I lost my keys and I will leave it up to you to consider how much this event impacts the current moment, thanks.”

Time for a joke then? OK. The past, the present, and the future walked into a bar. It was tense.

This talk of language somehow reminds me of a long, long, time ago in a country not so far away when I was doing editing on some English education materials. I didn’t always have a high opinion of the materials (read: sometimes I thought they were ridiculous). There were many laughable and saddening things in the material and I was always ready to pick holes in it (though, on balance it probably wasn’t quite as bad as I thought at the time. I remember laughing to myself (and hopefully not aloud) about some bullshit called the “Zero Conditional.” Only later did I realize it was actually a thing. If Mike sees mountains and mountains of nonsense he starts to think everything is nonsense too.

This language talk and the admission of my lack of knowledge of terminology reminds me of something else. What a windy road we are on here in this post. I don’t remember where I heard or read him say it (might have been his talk at IATEFL this year) but I think Hugh Dellar said something about how you never see presentations about language at conferences. That matches my experience very well. I wonder why this is the case. Would ELT folks feel weird learning about language or developing their English skills at a conference? Would presenters be intimidated?  I am not sure if I am talking about just those people known as native speakers or not. I don’t wish to suggest that grammar knowledge is the whole of language knowledge but a while back Alex Walsh wrote a very interesting (not to mention brave) post, “The Confessions of a Grammarphobic ELT” that I think is related.

Another idea from Hugh Dellar about conferences and this field that often finds its way to my mind is how you always find people at conferences at the front of the room telling the audience how telling and lecturing are bad without any apparent sense of irony or internal conflict. There seems to be a very strong belief that telling is bad. I think in many cases it might not be ideal but I think as always we need to make our decisions and not be swayed by thought leaders or group think. I think we should see more interpretive dance, art projects, and music related to the idea that teacher-fronted instruction is bad, for those are the only ways which could thoroughly convince me.

Yet another random thought that occurred to me as I race through this arduous editing task is about feedback. Outside of the editing game, I felt moments of myself wanting to give unsolicited feedback to friends, family and strangers this week. Perhaps I’m being habituated to such actions in a short time, assuming that everyone could benefit from my wisdom as much as those paying for my editing acumen. I need to re-read my post on suggestions. I mostly managed to resist the urges but this desire to give feedback in cases I don’t believe I usually would pushed me to think about what it means, if anything. Assuming it was related to the constant fixing and editing I was doing (which is a moderately sized assumption I think) made me wonder how much of our lives outside the classroom are shaped by our lives in it. I am thinking of a particular guy I know in Korea who strikes me as a nice guy but very much a blowhard. As I tried to be not overly dismissive of this fellow I theorized that he is just used to talking to people and is used to being the expert, or at least English expert in the room. What I found extremely grating might just be an extension of his classroom personality or persona. I dunno. This theory makes it slightly less bothersome but only slightly.

I just edited something that had the word omission and commission in it. The sentence was something about the commission double checking if something was omitted in the reports. Nonetheless it reminded me of this poem (read aloud here by the author).
This round of unwritten things is on me.

Till next time then.

I’ve just sent in the last of the editing. 

Update: I was just asked if I’d be interested in doing some more. Maybe I can find some guidance in this post from Fiona Mauchline