My fourth interview in this series is with Michael Griffin, a teacher trainer in South Korea. Mike is the first person I've interviewed who took his MA TESOL course in the United States. I'll let Mike do the rest of the talking...
Q1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you chose to complete an MA TESOL?
My fourth interview in this series is with Michael Griffin, a teacher trainer in South Korea. Mike is the first person I've interviewed who took his MA TESOL course in the United States. I'll let Mike do the rest of the talking...
In my most recent post I tried to answer some questions I have been asked lately or thought I would blog about some day. In this post I am switching it around and asking some questions I have been wondering about. I am slightly worried that some of these questions are verging on “let me google that for you” territory but I also think someone might have an answer readily available. Any responses greatly appreciated.
- It seems like there is a difference in how North Americans and Europeans use the word “blog.” When I talk about a blog I mean the whole big thing itself and not specific posts. I have heard Britishers say “I put up a new blog today” and while I was able to figure out the meaning (I’d call that a post) relatively easily I wondered how we could account for language differences on what is obviously such a new word.
- Speaking of differences in English usage…If in a textbook (like an English textbook) what I (as a
SepticYank, I mean USAmerican) would call “directions” (or “direction line” in the parlance of the field, apparently) but this would be called a “rubric” in British English, then what would Brits call what I would call a rubric? Taking a look at the Merriam Webster Dictionary entry for rubric, I am talking about meaning 4, “a guide listing specific criteria for grading or scoring academic papers, projects, or tests.” How would this be said in British English? By the way, the etymology of this word rubric is pretty interesting.
- If you were planning a “guided discovery” lesson (especially for someone else to see and even evaluate) would you use the PPP framework? If not, what would you use? Is PPP a good match for this type of lesson? Why/Why not? What other options might you use? (I have my own ideas on this but I’d love to hear more) [Here is a nice post on guided discovery on Scott Thornbury's sadly departed A-Z of ELT Blog.]
- While on the subject of frameworks, is it standard practice on most ELT (say pre-service) teacher training course to talk explicitly about frameworks and to plan lessons according to them?
- As mentioned in my previous post, part of my job is working with future interpreters. We work with lots of formal speeches, especially from government officials. Every time I find or am sent a speech that looks reasonable (in terms of English and content) I just cut and paste it to a googledoc (
wordly)(googledrive doc or whatever it is called now*). I have something like 45 speeches there, amounting to over around 100 pages. At some point I’d like to make a (small?) corpus from this collection. My questions are: Is this too small? Do I need more speeches? What would my next steps be? Do I need to do some “scrubbing” of the doc? I am not sure if my questions are as clear as they should be, because I am not really sure what I want to do with this. Links and tips very welcome. (Note: I suppose I could have just googled this but I also thought someone (Mura Nava?) might have some hints and tricks for a novice corpus creator such as myself)
- What tools are people using for Twitter chats these days? I used to use Tweetchat but then it got a bit weird. It seems ok now (I have in fact used it lately) but I wonder if there are better options out there.
- Sticking with Twitter for a moment, why do people use programs to tweet automatically? I mean, what are the perceived benefits? What exactly is the purpose of this? These are real questions because I am genuinely curious. I am trying not to be all Mr. Judgy Pants with it. (Though, in the interests of full disclosure, I do find it extremely annoying and I am not entirely sure why)
- Am I really going to insist on stretching this to 10 questions?
- I am hoping to do another post introducing newer blogs (as I did for 2013 and the latter half of 2013). If you have any suggestions, please let me know! In the form of a question: Are there any new ELTblogs you’d like to recommend? (Including yours. There is no shame here.)
- Have you heard about the glorious #flashmobELT movement?
*This (repeated) renaming of googledocs prompted me to call my parents and apologize to them for getting the name of shops in town wrong 20 years ago. Now I fully understand where they were coming from. Sorry guys! (That said, I am still not sure if “Shop N Shave” was a reasonable confusion for “Shop N Save” but I will let this slide as well.)
NOTE: This is the “clown-free” version of this post. If you wish to see the “clown-full” version please click here.
Over the past few months I have received questions from various channels and thought, “that would be a good blog post, perhaps I will try to answer it on my blog.” The answering part never happened and I thought I might try a little bit of a “mailbag” approach here in this post. You can find my answers to some questions I have been asked below. If you have any other questions, please fire away!
- What the heck is your job, anyway?
I am currently working in the Graduate School of International Studies at a university in Seoul. There are two main parts to this job. The first is to teach English (discussion, professional communication, academic English etc.) to students in the graduate school. The graduate school is English medium and just about 50% of the students are Korean and the rest are from different countries around the world. The second major aspect of my job is working with future interpreters/translators. My main task is to prepare them for Korean to English simultaneous interpretation.Additionally, I have been teaching whatever else the university asks me to and in the last couple of years this has led me to teach “Business Communication,” “Korean Politics” and “Introduction to Korean Studies.” The latter two were for mostly international students. I blogged about teaching politics here.I am very interested in teacher training and development and I have done a lot of work with this in the past few years. In-service Training, Curriculum Development and Mentoring are the main areas I have been most focused on.
- Your blog title is “Rants, Reviews and Reflections” but you don’t really review much do you?
True enough. I guess it has been mostly rants and reflections. I did review some conferences (but lost momentum in that regard this summer and fall). There are a few reviews on the blog, though:
Here is a review of the book “52″ in the English Australia Journal.
Maybe my next review will be of a “novella in verse about an American living in Mexico and Guatemala in the late 1990s” just to be different. I think I was drawn to the allure of alliteration too much but I also figured there would be more reviewing going on.
- Do you ever sleep? You seem to be online all the time.
That is a good question. I guess I have strange hours. I think I average about 7 hours a sleep per day/night though. Naps are my friend. I think I am more strongly impacted by caffeine than most people of my age and size and sometimes this keeps me up late at night. Also sometimes I wake up in the night and fire off some tweets, which might give the impression I am always awake. I am more of a night owl but my classes this term have caused me to be up early which I don’t mind as much as I thought I would. I assure you that I usually get enough sleep and I thank you for your concern.
- Why don’t you use KakaoTalk? Are you some sort of Luddite?
It’s just…I have enough things. I have enough distractions. I am trying to pick and choose. I am betting against the long term popularity of KakaoTalk. I am not saying I will never get it, just not getting into it now. Sorry to those of you that have to send me text messages. A special apology goes to the person who ran out of credit while visiting Seoul. I owe you!
- What is the deal with the clown pictures? Why do you always take and post pictures of clowns? Is Seoul filled with clowns?
Some people are terrified of clowns! I can’t comment on the clowns per capita of Seoul vs. Serbia vs. Sudan vs. Seattle but I guess there are a lot. I dunno. I think they are used for ads for new stores (especially cell phone stores). Why do I take the pictures? It just seemed like a fun thing to do.
- Is it easy to get a job as a “non-native” teacher in Korea?
In a word, no. To work legally, for most jobs English teachers need to be from one of the “big 7″ English speaking countries. There are opportunities for illegal work (a risky proposition) and there are some uni or training jobs for those from non-English speaking nations but it is not very common to my mind. I think this is a real missed opportunity for Korea and I hope to write more about this in the near future.
- Have you heard that thing about Korean kids getting surgery on their tongues in order to speak English better? What do you think about it?
Yeah, I have heard of it. I might be in a bubble of reasonable people but I have never met someone who actually thought this was a good idea. Most people are convinced that for example, Korean Americans, can speak English very well even with the wrong tongue so they are not swayed by this. I honestly believe this whole thing is a bit more hype than common practice. A moms with a lot more won than sense did something silly and it got blown up all the world. I think it is just a silly thing and not a true movement of any sort.
- Do you know Mary from Cleveland? She lives and teaches in Seoul.
I do not know Mary, although I am sure she is a nice person. Seoul is a city of 12,000,000 people or so, depending on how you count it. There are certainly aspects of it being a small town, especially in the English teaching and expat community but I don’t know Mary and it is a statistical unlikelihood that I would. It is not 1890 or even 1990 in Korea when all the waygookin would probably know each other.
- Why do you use so much foul language in your posts?
Sorry? I don’t know. Maybe just for fun? For emphasis? If it bothers you I can try to limit it the cursing. I am currently averaging .62 bad words per post. Maybe in 2014 I will aim for .50 or so. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
- What do you think about the plan for robots to replace “native teachers” in South Korea?
I don’t really think too much about it. I’d like to emphasize that this “plan” was put forward by the robotics industry and not really by anyone related to teaching. I think it was another example of great hype about something that was really much ado about nothing. That said, I think there are some really interesting thoughts to be thunk about what the role of the teacher is and how this is perceived by society.I’d also prefer not to gloss over the fact that (as far as I understand) in some renditions of this plan it was a teacher in the Philippines teaching (talking? controlling the robot?) remotely under the face of a White -faced robot. I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. Just a little.You can see the robot in action here. As a friend eloquently puts it, “Of course the kids like it, it’s a freakin’ robot! What kids don’t like robots?” I should also mention that the robots still need a (Korean) teacher in the room for discipline and everything. Wow, I guess I do have a lot to say on this. I should stop here before it turns into its own full post. In any case, I don’t think this plan was ever really taken very seriously with anyone with any amount of clout.I am partial to the quote, “”Any teacher that can be replaced with a computer, deserves to be” which is apparently from David Thornburg.
Below you can find some stories about abstracts for conferences and some associated thoughts. It’s pretty much 4 stories and a little bit more than that. I’d welcome other stories and experiences as well as any insights on what I might be missing. It feels like I am missing a lot.
1) I have this friend. He has some negative feelings about the way conference abstracts are vetted in a certain English teaching focused organization in Northeast Asia. My friend, who chooses to remain nameless and also wishes to not sound too whiny, first applied to present at an international conference around 5 years ago. I saw the abstract and it looked pretty good to me. It was denied. At the time, I told him something like, “You know what man, it is really hard to map out where it might have gone wrong. There are themes and it is a bit of a crapshoot and you never know what they are looking for. You mustn’t beat yourself up.” I probably didn’t actually use the word musn’t, to be honest. I am not sure I have ever said it, but I digress. I think my friend took my advice for the most part. He was, however, quite suprised the following year when he saw nearly the same title he’d submitted in a presentation at the same conference. Yeah, surprised and not happy. “Coincidence, themes, different people reading, different ideas” and so on I explained. He seemed to believe me and mostly get over it. Yet he still harbors a deep distrust of the organization to this day. For the next few years my friend was actively involved in that organization and all (or nearly all, I am not quite sure) his abstracts were accepted. He strongly felt that his involvement in the organization helped his case in this regard. We joked that knowing “the secret handshake” was more important than knowing how to write a good abstract. He maintains that his first abstract was just as good, if not better, than his others that were accepted at following conferences. I still say it is largely a crapshoot and there are a variety of factors in play. What are these other factors, anyway?
2) In the aftermath of the recent (2013) K0TESOL International Conference there was an interesting exchange on the K0TESOL Facebook Group (which some might know I am not a member of and others might know I can’t resist checking at times) someone raised the point of how a big name dude in field had both (all?) his abstracts rejected. Someone else (who I believe was involved in the selection process) said something to the effect that that is what happens with blind vetting sometimes. There were some Tiger Woods based metaphors as well. (There were over 100 comments in that thread and I am not about to go look them all up.) I think the parallel was drawn between Tiger Woods being denied a round at the local course. The reply was that maybe Tiger didn’t have it that day or wasn’t at his best and it could happen to anyone. Confusion over metaphors aside, I was very interested in what read to me like blind belief in the blind review system. Surely the system is only as good as the people doing it? I surely don’t wish to suggest that big name dudes need to be accepted every time but I also think the system can (and *should) be questioned. I don’t believe an organization can simply say “blind review” to evade any questions about the type of sessions accepted/not accepted at conferences. I do believe it might behoove organizations to consider what is happening when well-regarded presenters are denied. I think it is all too easy to attribute it to prospective presenters just having a bad day
on the links. What are the “best practices” for setting up such committees? How can the vetters be vetted?
3) I don’t want to get too specific here but I have seen some accepted abstracts (at various conferences) that seemed loaded with jargon. Well, not only loaded with jargon. Not only loaded with jargon used in ways I’d deem unacceptable but also jargon used in ways I think most people I respect in the field would say is not the usual way it is used. How does this happen? Are vetters blinded by the jargon? Am I too easily turned off by jargon? Am I missing something?
4) I recently submitted an abstract for a conference in a country, indeed region, I have never been to. I was delighted when I saw they provided a set of criteria they’d be using to vet the proposals. I was even more delighted when I saw samples of what a successful abstract for certain types of sessions might look like. I thought this was a brilliant idea and found myself wondering how commonplace this is in the rest of the world. If not, why not? When writing abstracts what information provide by the conference committee have you found helpful?
5) This might be just me but…as a potential presenter I sometimes find it extremely hard to know what I might be interested in talking about as much as 8 months in the future.I fully understand that conference committees want to get everything sorted but I also think there is something missing when people are not talking about what is most interesting to them at the moment. I don’t really have any great suggestions or anything here. Am I expecting too much? Is this a common issue for others? Is there anything that can be done about it?
If you’d like to skip the angsty self-analysis please jump to the second section where I talk about something interesting and new.
The present author as an activity snob
I don’t usually think of myself as a snob. It is quite hard to do so with this wardrobe. There are, however, a few instances where a bit of snobbishness can creep up on me. In terms of whole ELT world one thing I have snobbish tendencies about is activities. I am simply not interested in going to presentations about activities. I generally don’t read blog posts focused entirely on activities. I am not really interested in presenting about activities either. I once toyed with the idea of a blog post (or even a presentation?) entitled “I don’t want your stinkin’ activities.” The gentler version was something like “Insights not activities, please.” I think at this point a sympathetic reader could say, “That is fine, it’s a matter of personal choice, Mike. You are not such a bad guy or snob.” I would appreciate the support of this reader but I think they’d be wrong. My distaste for activity spreading occasionally goes further than simply articulating a personal choice. I have been known to judge activity dealers and collectors, saying in my mind and even to trusted listeners that such teachers who collect activities are misguided and think they want activities but what they likely need is a sense of perspective or a deeper understanding of their teaching. Or somesuch shyte. Sorry everyone. Really.
Now that I have revealed myself as a snob, and a self-loathing one at that, I would like to say I think there are actually some compelling reasons behind my stance. In my experience, many teachers tend to hunt for mythical Perfect Monday Morning Activity but when Monday rolls around there is a the pull to carry on with the same old same old. I might be wrong on this, and I sort of hope I am (and I am sure there are plenty of exceptions to this) but it is a story I have heard numerous times. I think in such cases the teachers are missing the necessary nudge or push to try something different and then the push for activity collection ends up not changing their practice.
Another potential problem I see with activity collection alone is that many activities are not generalizable to other contexts and thus don’t get easily adopted. Maybe this is where “it wouldn’t really work for me syndrome” rears its ugly head. What works from someone is not likely to simply be imported to another context. I think it this is often another part of the lack of implementation touched on above.
My potentially extreme view regarding activities is that teachers often overrate the importance of them. I sometimes sense the idea that one good activity will save the day, make teaching easier and more efficient and wipe away any and all problems. Fine, that is a generalization but I do often get the sense teachers overestimate the impact of an activity or two on their teaching. This is when I truly feel the powerful pangs of snobbery, as I feel reasonably satisfied with my toolkit but I realize there are teachers who don’t share the same confidence.
I guess the other thing that puts me off activity collections and collecting is how there are so many activities around already from books, blogs, and buddies in the staffroom. Again speaking just for myself (and trying to limit the snob factor) while not begrudging activity suppliers in the slightest way, I think there are more than enough places to acquire activities and not enough to acquire insights.
Something interesting and new
Considering the above, it might sound odd for me to participate in or be enthusiastic about anything overtly focused on activity collection and sharing. Yet, I think #FlashmobELT is something different. It is not “just” (there we go with the scare quotes and associated snobbishness, Mike) another collection of activities. It is a place to share. It is a place to pick up and idea with the added nudge of actually trying it out and reporting it to the group.
What is #FlashmobELT? You can read about the inception of the group here. It has been very exciting to be a part of this movement.
I loved Anna’s whole post, which is linked above, not to mention the ego boost associated with her mentioning my activity idea. I also liked the comments from Tyson who said, “I love the idea of crowdsourcing activities that are general enough to use across contexts in a pinch.” It was like he was reading my mind. This was like the articulate version of what had been swimming around in my head for a few days. Maybe now I could support, like and even love a collection of activities? Tyson also added the idea #flashmobELT having some built-in accountability for actually following through and trying the activities suggested. He also mentioned the difference between “simply sharing our activities” and implementing them and I think this is a key point and one that attracts my interest.
In one of my discussions with Anna about “The Movement” I wondered if we needed some rules for the type of activities suggested for the #flashmobELT Lino Wall. Yes, regular reader, I was as surprised as anyone to find myself in the role of suggesting rules. It happens, I guess.
One of the points has already been addressed.
Activities are ideally generalized enough to various contexts and teaching situations.
Some other (interrelated) points that came to mind:
Activities ideally don’t involve much in the way of prep.
Activities ideally don’t involve much in the way of tech.
Activities are ideally easily modeled/explained/used with students.
Activities ideally can be completed in a short amount of time.
Activities are ideally not focused around a certain text
Activities ideally can be easily changed/adapted.
(This means, for example, they are not tied to specific lexical/grammatical points)
These are just my own personal ideas and this is just the beginning of the movement. What other ideal qualities of activities would you suggest? Any other thoughts, suggestions, confusions ideas? Random ideas and movements you’d like feedback, publicity for and incubation are also accepted.
Thanks for reading and for maybe even participating!
Links and More:
a. Kevin Stein, hat wearer, post-it note lover, team player, and all around good guy blogged about using a #flashmobELT activity here.
c. Coming Soon: My reflections on using a #flashmobELT activity on the
morning of Wednesday November 27th, 2013
evening of Wednesday December 4th 2013 (or muchhhhh later).
d. This genre busting work of genius came to me via email and I was allowed to repost it here.
This is an actual conversation. As far as you know. Just a bunch of guys at the pub talking about the usual stuff.
M: You know what, guys? One thing that always interest and surprises me every time there is a mention of quote native teachers in Korea and job security and the like, one of the first things usually mentioned is qualifications and this word qualified.
A: Yea. Cool story bro.
M: I think it is sort of important. Really. First of all, I don’t think qualified means the same thing to everyone. Here in Korea it just means that you are allowed to work. Doesn’t it?
B: There is no more to it?
M: I don’t know. To me it just means “able to legally get the job, and maybe do it.” I dunno. I really don’t. But my point is that when people rail on about unqualified teachers that is something to take up with their government or with economics in general. Supply and demand and all that.
A: Great stuff, Mike.
M: I am just getting started. The other thing…
A: [rolls eyes and shrugs]
M: The other thing is this idea that training is the obvious answer. Everyone always seems to mention the CELTA, like it is some sort of panacea. Like suddenly all the issues would disappear of the foreign
barbarians teachers got them their CELTAs. Color me unsure. Hashtag confused.
D: What are you talking about. CELTA is awesome! It was the best professional development choice I have made.
M: I am happy for you. Really I am. Yet, I am not convinced it is the solution people seem to make it out to be. Seem to.
B: What are your issues, with it Mr. Mike?
M: Well, my issues are that I am not sure I can see the connection to the jobs that we are reading about in the media. How exactly does CELTA help you if you are a first year teacher teaching 35 students as a quote Assistant Language Teacher in a public school in rural Korea?
D: CELTA is awesome. I learned a lot.
M: Yep. Happy for you. I am still wondering about the connection between the CELTA and the realities of teaching in Korea, especially in public schools, the ones that are all over the news. I am especially curious about the fact that the CELTA seems to be more geared to those teaching adults.
C: That is a fair point. There are other courses from Cambridge geared more for young learners.
M: Ok then. That is another course then. But anyway, everyone just falls back to the CELTA as the default and I am merely questioning if this is appropriate.
D: CELTA is amazing. I learned so much.
C: It is obviously not perfect but it is standardized and this is both a blessing and a curse in some ways.
E: Are you guys still talking about CELTA? Most employers in Korea don’t even know what it is.
M: Yeah, that “or equivalent” tag is really stretched to the extreme.
D: There is no equivalent. CELTA is a amazing.
M: So it is the perfect course for teaching in public schools in Korea? Even if it trends to be more focused on smaller classes in private language schools.
F: Teachers have to make the learning their own. So, while what is focused on during the CELTA is important it is up to the teachers to make it their own and apply it to their own contexts.
M: Ahh, mmm, well I see your point. I do. My point is just that there seem to be some gaps and some differences in the beliefs that underpin the course and the realities of teaching in Korea. I wish I could be more clear because I feel like I am not being clear enough. Maybe it is not you guys, or all of you anyway but what I am saying is I see a gap between the reality of teaching in public schools in Korea and the course
M: And I see a belief that the CELTA is perfect and is the potential solution to all the problems teachers face in Korea. Again, maybe I am not being clear so allow me an exagerated example. As is my wont. So let’s say you learn how to do a perfect PPP lesson on the CELTA.
Chorus: It’s not PPP!
M: Yeah. OK. Anyway you learn how to do a CELTA style lesson.
Chorus: There is no CELTA style!
M: [lets out exasperated sigh, breaks the 4th wall Zach Morris style] Why is there a chorus in this bar? Ok, you learn how to plan lessons on the course in a certain way. Then you come to Korea and you are told that you are in charge of just making sure the students have fun and that your lesson plans and lesson plan style is not needed in this situation. Or that maybe your job is to provide native pronunciation as requested by the Korean teacher.**
D: The CELTA was really helpful for me as a teacher.
M: I get it. I do. That’s great. My concern is how helpful it is for everyone else. In this context.
B: It is a short course and only a certain amount of things can be fit into it, right?
M: That is totally right. Great point. But, at the same time, I don’t think that means that those things can’t be questioned or that one can’t wonder aloud if the course is suited to this particular context. I don’t think the hour limit is some sort of shield against all questions or criticisms.
B: Oh me neither. Sorry, old chap.
F: I think the learning during and after the course is largely up to the trainee. It doesn’t much matter what the course is or how it is delivered. It is the trainee’s responsibility to learn what needs to be learned, reflect upon what needs to be reflected up and make it work for them in whatever context they end up working in. I think it is far too easy to critique a course. I think it is about the trainees making the most of the opportunity.
D: The CELTA worked great for me and I got a lot out of it.
M: Yes, we know. But, F, then by the same logic, why would someone pay all this money and take the time and everything if what happens in the the course doesn’t really matter? I mean what is the point if it is just up to them to make the learning work? Is it then just for the name or the paper or something else? Surely there is an expectation for things to be somewhat relevant and useful for the trainees in their future work environments.
D: CELTA was so helpful for me.
M: Again? Really? Can we admit that there are some things that are not covered in the CELTA, that it is not perfect and it is not the end all and be all? Can we admit that it is not sacrosanct and it is ok to question its applicability to the context we are in? Anyway sorry for the boring conversation. Cheers! Where is A anyway?
**I am not suggesting this is the usually the case or that foreign teachers are valued (or devalued) in any certain way in Korea. I know there are a lot of variety of teaching situations. No offense intended to anyone at all. I simply chose a mostly outlandish example (though I have heard numerous reports of this).