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

Lazy or typical?

Revamping my Professional Communication course was near the top of my to-do list for the entire summer of 2013. I never quite managed to get to it, figuring I could work things out on the fly as needed and deciding whatever I was doing at the time was much more important and time sensitive. In all honesty, I have no idea what I did instead but I do know I never got around to the revamping. I wasn’t all that bothered by my indolence but I think at this exact time last year I would have been a little less nervous starting up the course in early September 2013. More on this later.

Last Friday I wrote a blog post. It stemmed from a private conversation I’d had with a friend about teachers asking for help on Facebook groups. I wasn’t thrilled with my post, and I was even less thrilled when chatting about it with my friend and realizing there was a lot to the topic and he was making some reasonable and interesting points I’d not mentioned. By this time I had written nearly 1500 words and I wasn’t keen on scrapping them and re-writing the whole piece. I felt attached to what I wrote, even if I didn’t love it and finally posted it. Although I was not so happy with the post, I was very happy with the responses in terms of comments here on the blog and on the Facebook group in question. I was very impressed with the thoughtful replies and the bigger picture and wider issues that emerged in the conversation. I even had a great face-to-face conversation with a friend about it yesterday. In the end, I was very happy I took the time to write the post and I was also happy I hit publish on something I wasn’t super proud of.

Back to last summer’s laziness and last fall’s course, then. Due to a lack of students the Professional Communications course was cancelled. I felt a sense of relief because I was not 100% prepared for the course (though again I think it would have worked out fine and I could have managed well enough). In addition to that sense of relief was a feeling of being pleased to not have “wasted” the labor preparing for the class. I was glad I hadn’t spent hours in the boiling summer toiling over a course that never actually happened. I felt lucky and a bit smug, even thinking I was wise to delay my work until the very last minute.


A smug sloth.

A few years back, when working on a training course, I had an experience where I delayed making a final decision or putting a lot of effort into some component of the course I was not completely sure would happen. I think my co-trainers were uneasy about this but I tried my darndest to convince them to adopt a wait and see attitude. They did, and in the end the thing that was supposed to happen didn’t happen on anything like the scale we’d been told it would. I felt justified in my Predictive Laziness and felt maybe my experience working in Korea was helpful here as things in the Land of the Morning Calm are never sure until they are happening. I even remember thinking being a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of guy is not part of my original nature and is just a result of working in Korea.

The more I thought about being so freakin’ happy about not performing a moment of work where the results were not used the more disconcerting I found it. Surely there would be some lessons to be gained from revamping a curriculum even if I didn’t’ use it in the three months immediately following this revamping. Of course I could have devoted more time to a decision that would have put my co-trainers at ease even if I wasn’t perfectly convinced things would happen as we were told. Again, there would be some lessons to gain from thinking those decisions through and talking them out. What is so wrong about writing 1500 words and then scrapping them? Nobody would be hurt and, again, maybe some valuable lessons would spring out from it. But, I couldn’t bear to waste the labor.

My pride at skillful avoidance of work that would not be needed immediately turned into something like embarrassment or worry. Instead of being a product of working in Korea was this some sort of personality defect? Did it make me unsuitable for the type of work I like to do and what I’d like to do? With some more thought, I decided these questions were more than a little dramatic.

I wonder if this strong desire to not do work that wouldn’t be used was a common feeling for other teachers (or any workers) or it was stronger in me than others. Maybe this is human nature and not some strange foible of my own. Do these feelings sound familiar to you? I keep thinking it is related to not wanting to admit a sunk cost or something related to loss aversion, except in this case it is about lost time and effort. Maybe I am more fearful of these than I need to be. I know I can waste an hour happily doing other things without any worries. I wrote this post instead of doing some things I need to do, potentially putting them off till the last possible minute. Who knows, perhaps my tasks will be miraculously erased or done by someone else.

As always, potential employers, I am just joking around and if you hire me I will devote myself to any and all tasks I am given and will do them in the first available opportunity.

They dare ask for help

“This is why we can’t have nice things” wrote a friend as he linked to yet another of those Facebook posts. Maybe you know the ones. The type where the author offers a friendly greeting to the English education focused group and states  how she is teaching a new class this term. She mentions having no experience teaching this sort of class and asks the group for help. This type of post is commonplace here in Korea especially in late February and late August just before the start of a new term.

I didn’t take the time to ask my friend what bothers him so about these requests for help but I have a few ideas and guesses. First is the idea of foreign English teaching folks at Korean universities not being qualified to teach the classes they are teaching. (Side note: I am always leery when using this word “qualified” because I never seem to know what it means to different people or even myself. ) It could be about these instructors not being experienced enough in the areas they are teaching. From there I wonder if he is concerned about the negative impact on the students or the the oft-maligned reputation of foreign (particularly English) instructors in Korea. Or maybe both. Or perhaps he thinks uni instructors should be clever, resourceful, talented and with it enough to find their own materials and ideas without relying on such help from such groups. Another thought is about the timing of such requests. Maybe my friend believes instructors should be more prepared and on the ball and tackle these issues as soon as possible instead of waiting till immediately before classes start.

I suppose should just ask my friend what he meant by this.

I sent my friend the above. Let’s see what he says whilst I write the rest of the post and then I can address his points.


welcome aboar


I don’t want to speak for my friend or put words in his mouth but I get the sense he is focusing his disdain thoughts on the teachers but not so much on the admin and those in charge of making such scheduling decisions. I’d also question how it comes to be that these teachers are placed in such situations. I think the administrations need to fall under this scrutiny. On a larger scale I think there is something to consider as related to idea teachers *should know how to teach. I am a bit torn here because I have recently been in situations where I was teaching outside of my comfort zone and area of expertise  stuff I know a bit about. I think this is inevitable if you teach long enough and I even think it is desirable and useful in terms of development.  You got to start somewhere, homes. Also, if admin asks you to teach a course I feel it is usually a good idea to agree to do it, right?

As related to the update above, my friend got back to me immediately and we had an interesting chat on Facebook about this as well as some related issues like the global perception of English teachers in Korea. “Hi, nice to meet you all. I have never kissed anyone before. Any tips on threesomes?” was his quip in reference to his perceptions of the teachers making the kinds of posts we are talking about. My takeaway from this, aside from my loud laughter in a public space, was the idea teachers need to walk before they can run. Yet, I am still thinking teachers need to continually gain new experiences if they want to keep improving.

Adding to my list of issues he has with these type of Facebook posts my friend added, “It’s also about the screening process for job candidates.” I think this is a good point and I think there is a lot to it as well.  Before reading this I was thinking more in terms of what to do with instructors who have already been hired but I think this is a key. If you know potential hirees will be teaching academic writing it might behoove you to hire teachers who can do this.

Sorry, but I can’t help but keep coming back to issues related to race and native speakers. If people are hired mostly based on factors other than teaching skills it probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if their teaching is not up to snuff. 

My friend added to the list of his problems with these types of posts by saying “And what about the lack of training and professional development for new hires? The should pay me to come in and talk to them for a few hours.” [Those interested in hiring my friend for a workshop, presentation, or seminar series can send me an email and I will get you in touch! I will even waive my customary 10% finder's fee if you mention this blog post.] He went on to talk about the perceptions of teachers and professionals in this field and country and what goes into hiring them.

I like this idea about training and development and I believe there is more to consider here. I wonder what sort of training and development would be most beneficial to help these teachers in need. My intention in writing this post was to somewhat defend or at least try to understand these instructors but one part of me can’t help but wonder if they are asking the wrong questions and just looking for quick fixes. Asking for materials this time will give materials this time but I am not sure it how helpful it will be next time when another new class is suddenly and inevitably thrown in their direction. I think what I am suggesting is more skills and training in curriculum development could be beneficial across the board in such situations. Or there could be something about knowing exactly what you don’t know and relating this to what you need to know in order to teach as well as possible. 

Thinking more deeply about this I get the sense my friend sees such posts on Facebook groups as symbolizing a lack of professionalism. Maybe as a foreign university instructor in Korea he doesn’t want to lumped in together with people teaching classes they are seemingly not capable of teaching? For whatever reason this connection doesn’t really bug me at all. I don’t feel my professional reputation is at stake when people in the country I happen to live in are asking for help and advice teaching classes they have not taught before. Longtime readers of this blog will know I think about accountants and plumbers a lot. Would an accountant care if a firm across town hired someone not quite ready for the job? Would a plumber be overly concerned with rivals doing jobs they’d not yet performed?  Maybe so, and maybe these comparisons are far from apt as I am really just wondering aloud here.

Regarding this Facebook posting phenomena, there might be more than meets the eye. Perhaps rather than a lack of professionalism these posts show a lack of suitable and helpful networks and communities of practice rather than a lack of professionalism. I mean, I think more experienced teachers might have their go-to people for certain issues and wouldn’t feel the need to publicly seek out help from virtual strangers. Pun intended. Perhaps these posts are examples of teachers just looking for a pat on the back and an empathetic note saying, “I have been there too, you will be fine, I am sure.” Maybe they are looking to make connections with educators in similar (and new to them) contexts. Maybe they feel relatively confident but write the posts in a humble manner so as to garner as many responses as possible. I realize these maybes are not super likely but I also think they, along with other maybes, could be worth considering.

I know as well as anyone that certain things are going to bother each of us and this is something which doesn’t annoy me or even appear on my annoyance radar. For what it is worth, I have enjoyed writing this post and thinking about this topic. Special thanks to my friend for getting this conversation started and for keeping it going throughout the process of writing this post. I will give the last word to my potentially grumpy friend, “I am all for teachers posting and trying to get better, it’s when they post in the hope of becoming adequate that I become grumpy.” Thoughts, rebuttals, agreements, disagreements and requests for help very welcome.

My attendance policy as explained to students

This is the speech I deliver to students in the first week regarding my attendance policies.

Look, I know things happen. Sometimes you have to miss class. Sometimes these reasons are worthwhile and sometimes they are not. I am not the decider of which is which. That’s up to you. Just know if you miss more than three classes you can get a reduction in grades and more than five can mean you’d fail the course.

I don’t really get into the differences of excused absences and unexcused ones. Please don’t email me asking for permission to miss class. I don’t and can’t give it. If you are an adult missing class you are making a choice and I respect that. I hope you will respect my choice not to be the arbiter of acceptable and unacceptable excuses. That’s not my job. I’m your teacher. I am not your father. I am not your mother. I am not your priest. I am here to help you learn, I am not here to help you craft more acceptable excuses for missing class.  You don’t even need to worry about excuses!

As a starting point I think you are here to learn and my belief is if you have to miss class then you must have a good reason. It is as simple as that. I don’t even need to know the reason. Please note if you tell me the reason you are doing this for you and not for me. You really don’t need to. I don’t care.

If makes no difference if your uncle’s neighbor is opening a bakery is Yeosu;  if your hair dresser is in a musical;  if you are feeling tired and need to take a break, if your ice cream machine  is broken and Tuesday is the only day you can you can get it fixed; if your dog is getting married.

Please don’t take all this to mean I don’t care about you or your life (or your dog or piano!), I just mean I don’t need to know your reasons missing class. If you have some bad things going on in life I’d like to think I’d empathize but this is a separate issue from giving permission to miss class.

I don’t give permission to miss class. Even if you ask me for permission I won’t give it. My most common response is something like, “Thanks so much for letting me know. I hope blank goes well for you.” So, please, by all means, tell me you will be missing class and even tell me why if you want to. Just don’t ask me for permission. I think it is good manners to let me know if you are going to miss class. It helps me plan better and also helps stop me from worrying if you are not there. It also helps me look very smart when I know in advance you will not be there. It might even help me save paper.

I hope this makes some sense. I know it might sound a bit strange and unusual or even harsh but I also know it helps me focus on teaching.



attendance sheet

Notes and Truths: 

  • I’m probably 20% less sarcastic when I say it to students. I also hope I’m less long-winded!
  • This was written with extremely high level students in mind so the high level language here is not an issue.
  • Even with lower level students I generally try to have a no permission policy in my classes. It saves me so many headaches.
  • Some of my classes are pass/fail so the letter grade threat is moot, to be honest.
  • Most of my classes are highly motivated so students tend to come to class as often as they can anyway.
  • I have had what felt like success with this policy with less motivated students. I don’t enjoy the position of needing to decide what excuses are acceptable. I find it very tiring and an inefficient use of my time.
  • Severe health problems (for the students or family members)  is an obvious exception.

Comments of any sort very welcome.