Some valuable lessons I learned one time and am hoping to remember

Here I am on a Friday afternoon during winter break with a long to-do list staring me in face. Instead of tackling the list, I feel compelled to write something so here goes… 

I don’t want to use names or specifics here but I hope I can convey the lessons I learned and my thoughts without such details. 

Scene 1 

It was late 2011 and I was about to do a presentation (on reflection as luck would have it.) The RPSIG (KOTESOL Reflective Practice SIG) had three presentations in the same room and I was the 2nd of 3. A few of us were heading to the room to check it out and set it up. After all, we had an actual banner that we wanted to put up. I was pretty mission-oriented and focused on finding the room and setting up.  I was in a group of about 5 people. With us in the elevator was a young (read: younger than me) looking guy. Let’s call him Larry. One member of my group started talking to Larry and discovered that Larry was presenting at the same time as me. Again, I was pretty focused on checking on the room and basically just exchanged pleasantries. One member of my party was extremely kind and welcoming to Larry. I must also mention that the member who was most friendly was also the most experienced and decorated among us and is someone I consider to be a mentor. It was noticeable to me that such an experienced and well-known person was showing such kindness to and taking such an interest in a stranger. Larry actually came to at least 1 (and maybe 2) of the presentations in the RP room that day.

LB young

It was actually a different Larry.

Fast forward to about 3 months later>>>

Larry started coming to RPSIG meetings and Larry came to be someone I consider a friend. He was also an active and insightful participant.  I found him to be a deep and critical thinker and a welcome addition to our monthly meetings.  I also felt that he was sharp, empathetic, humorous, and committed to professional development and helping others. I am happy I had a chance to meet him.

Fast forward to about 3 months after that>>>> 

The RPSIG was having a special 1 day workshop with an internationally recognized speaker on RP. The workshop started with all of introducing ourselves one by one by saying our names an were we worked. After about 30 of the about 35 people had introduced themselves it was time for Larry to introduce himself.  He introduced himself by saying, “My name is Larry and I work in hagwon” (private language school). His dry delivery to hinted that he was saying much more than his name and his employment situation. My interpretation of this self-deprecating self-introduction was that his job was not as “good” or prestigious as the other jobs listed. A further bit of speculation on my part hinted that perhaps Larry had been judged (or at least felt judged) previously by others based on where he worked.

Current time (which is about 7 months later)>>> 

Larry is an MA student in Applied Linguistics at one of the best graduate schools in the world for this. I guess he just finished up his 1st term in grad school. I suspect he will finish in a year and will have many job opportunities and will do great things for the field and for his his students. I also happen to have revisited his blog lately and it is filled with great ideas and deep thoughts. I saw some pictures of him on Facebook and it seemed like life was treating him well.

Current thoughts:

I am thankful I am lucky to have such a great mentor and role model. I am also thankful I met Larry.

I hope I am not shirking my responsibilities as a blogger if I leave it to you, the reader, to think about the “moral” of this story and what lessons you might want to take from it.

Now back to that to-do list.


  1. EnglishCentral


    Enjoyed the story with my morning coffee. Love the “parable” nature of the story and leaving it for us to find the meaning (and that might be the meaning in a meaning for us teachers – guide students / don’t tell them). I’ll have to return to my own stories I used to make / write to help in PD.

    I remember once being effected by an old lady who opened the door for me. After we both went through she turned to me and said, “Doesn’t cost a nickel to be kind to someone.”

    • mikecorea

      Hello and thanks for reading and commenting!
      I am so glad that you enjoyed it! I think you make a great point about the “meaning in a meaning.”
      I figured that my lessons might be different from those of others so I thought I would just let it be and allow people to come to their own (equally valid) conclusions. I would love to read some of the stories that you wrote to help in PD! I have a few more ideas kicking around as well. Though I was probably a bit heavy handed with the “moral” you might enjoy this one: Please do let me know when you share the stories you mentioned!

      Thanks again for reading…it really makes me happy to imagine you reading it over coffee.


      ps- Just as this comment arrived I was reading about student created content!

  2. Tyson Seburn (@seburnt)

    Lovely. I was a Larry once upon a time, for a long time. Funny though, I didn’t realise there was a perceived hierarchy in terms of teaching contexts until started expanding out into the professional development sphere.

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for the comments, Larry. I am glad you enjoyed it. I sort of forgot about the perceived hierarchy until the other Larry brought it back for me. If I were to really think about it, though I would probably admit that I have my own biases and hierarchies based on who cares about the field and who doesn’t (which obviously does not always map onto those with the perceived better jobs..but you already know that). I think it is really interesting to examine our biases about such things (including “general” English vs. EAP and all sorts of other things). Thanks again for the comments and keep up the great work on your blog!

      • Tyson Seburn (@seburnt)

        Yes, don’t we all have our own biases! As president of a TESL organisation, I try not to be biased about the sectors I administer as the group I collaborate with need to provide professional development and offer support for all, but having moved from one to another to another, it can be hard not to judge by experience, can’t it? In many ways, I envy parts of general English contexts, a reflection afforded to me through blog dialogue, as you might surmise. 😉

        Mike, yours is currently one of my favourite blogs to keep up with, as will be noted in a future post. Keep up. I’m very proud of the Korean group these days. I wish I’d known you all when I taught there.

  3. livinglearning

    You have reminded me in this post of a couple conversations I’ve had recently. In one, I learned that the hierarchy of teaching contexts is not limited to Korea and in fact we have it pretty good – some countries dictate salary by the age of the learners (so that a teacher teaching adults will make more than one teaching kindergarten).
    The other conversation was about the social status of various teaching contexts in Korea and the assumptions we make about teachers in those contexts. Maybe we forget that there are people who teach at hagwons because they want to make a difference or because they feel they are more effective teaching children. I personally never felt the stigma attached to *not being a university teacher until I started my journey of professional development.
    And that journey would have been very different without the kindness of (then) strangers who did not make judgements about my teaching situation, but whose suggestions have led me to explore my teaching much further.

    • mikecorea

      Hello LL,
      Thanks for the comments!
      It is nice that my story matches/recalls some recent conversations.

      Good point about the hierarchies existing elsewhere as well. It can be very easy to think everything is unique to Korea.

      (Dictating pay by age of learners? Wow.)

      You wrote, “Maybe we forget that there are people who teach at hagwons because they want to make a difference or because they feel they are more effective teaching children.” Right! Or any hundreds of other reasons! I will not say that I am 100% judgment free but I think this is an important reminder.

      I think you wrote lots of interesting things here, but I was most interested in this:
      I personally never felt the stigma attached to *not being a university teacher until I started my journey of professional development.
      I’d love to hear more about how this was manifested…
      I mean…I wonder how you were “helped’ to see this.
      (no response required!)

      Thanks again for reading and commenting!

      PS- I don’t want to get too crazy with it (and it is probably best left for a face to face convo anyway) but I often wonder just how much those that judge others on ðɛr teaching situations have considered the historical and contextual backgrounds for their own employment. Like, what is it about these college “professors” that makes them so darned special. Rant mostly avoided….

  4. Ratnavathy (@Ratnavathy)

    Dearest Mike,
    You know, when I was reading the part about Larry introducing himself during the RPSIG group, I thought of how I’d have introduced myself. I think I completely relate to how he’d have felt at that time. I’d have been so uncomfortable saying “Hi, my name’s Ratna and I’m teaching on a freelance basis”, which you and I know means, illegally, here in Korea. I’d probably cringe, shrinking into myself as I mumble “freelance basis”. It’s a terrible feeling, Mike, and at times I feel judged as well! This happened when I attended the KOTESOL conference last year (can’t believe I’m saying LAST YEAR!). It took sometime for me to embrace the reality about ELT in Korea.

    But I think the experience in entirety here thought me a deep lesson; that I need to constantly learn and develop as a teacher. And it really helped to have such a huge, strong support group of teacher-friends that truly, truly made me a whole lot more worthy and appreciated as an educator here in Korea!

    I’ve not thought about the moral of your post above, but yet again, it wuz a worthy, worthy read. Below all that “mischievous twinkle”, you’ve got a keen eye for observation which is definitely a great learning ground (of us who read your posts)…


    • mikecorea

      Hey Ratna!
      Thanks so much for the comments, much appreciated.
      By sharing your experience at the conference you got me thinking..

      I already knew from online that I liked you and respected you and wanted to meet you.. So I was super keen to meet you. The tricky part is how I would have responded to a complete stranger saying “I teach freelance.” I hope I wouldn’t be judgmental but I can bet that a lot of people might be. Sad, really. Teachers face enough challenges without being judged by each other!

      You also mentioned the importance of community. How true! Thanks again for the comments and for helping me crystallize my thoughts on this. Thanks also for being another excellent role model for me!

      Take care!

      PS-Is it already 2013?
      PPS-Thanks so much for the compliment(s). I think I will save “. Below all that “mischievous twinkle”, you’ve got a keen eye for observation which is definitely a great learning ground” for another time.

  5. kevchanwow

    Hi Mike,

    I just presented at a conference and one of the presenters, a pretty famous vocab researcher and extensive reading guy, was giving a 20 minute presentation right before I went on. I was feeling a little nervous, trying a little too hard, and I went up and told him how much I enjoyed his last article on reading circles, which of course was written by an entirely different pretty famous guy. But he laughed it off and said it was a compliment. Then we chatted about extensive reading and it was all cool. This might seem like a pretty tangentile story, but I often feel, working at a high school and teaching/grinding 25 class hours a week, that I’m not quite in, or ever will reach, the levels of Mr. “Pretty Famous Vocab Researcher.” But that’s really just my own stuff going on. Not to say that there isn’t one-upmanship and people who will judge you based on where you teach. But (and maybe I’ve just been pretty lucky), all of the people I’ve met and connected with at conferences or on Twitter or anywhere else have a deep curiosity about how and where English is being taught and want to hear about and discuss all of those situations. As a Larry myself, I appreciate the time more experienced teachers take to talk with me. And I hope I’m, in some pretty small way able to pass on that generosity when I grow up.


    (the overuse of the word pretty in this reply has nothing to do with anything and I’m sorry if it caused any annoyance)

    • mikecorea

      Larchan, wow. Thanks for the comments.
      I very much appreciate you sharing your thoughts here.
      You got me thinking as well. I was thinking about some sort of theory along the lines of “the people that tend to make it** are generally nice folks.” Just a theory and there are obviously a lot of examples to counter this either way.

      You wrote “ll of the people I’ve met and connected with at conferences or on Twitter or anywhere else have a deep curiosity about how and where English is being taught and want to hear about and discuss all of those situations” and that sounds great. It actually warms my heart a bit. Perhaps you have been lucky but perhaps you have been good about bumping into the “right people.” i am wondering if like-minded people have a way of find each other.

      I think your comments here are a nice reminder about “paying it forward.”

      Thanks again,

      **I have no idea what it means to “make it” in this field or in the world

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