Tag Archives: English

The first job hunt: part 1

Young Westerners going to Asia today have opportunities, but not as many as there were a decade ago. There are still many ways to make good money and have a good career. Getting a good understanding of the lay of the land will help though. Kinds of jobs and numbers of jobs and requirements for jobs varies quite a bit by country and over time. When researching things, try to find recent info. I’ve read some blogs and other websites describing job markets that I knew were totally off. I will tell you what I have experienced in Asia, trying to stay specific. I started in South Korea, teaching in a public school, I was hired through GEPIK. I hated it. Classes were huge, I was given virtually no training or books to use, my co-teacher and principal were bitches, and at least half the class would scream at me while I tried to teach. Korea has a bad reputation amongst English teachers, and the Koreans work hard to earn that reputation. They’re perpetually angry, demanding, and have a reputation for not paying you. I’ll admit the country has advantages. It’s first world (for those of you who’ve never stepped out of North America or Europe, you don’t know how crazy the third world can get) and the pay is good. If you’re in the Seoul area, there are things to see, good public transport, and other foreigners around. I was there in 2007, I don’t think it’s changed enormously since then.

After that, I wanted to work in Japan. Japan’s cool, right? It is a cool place, but not easy to work in. The English job market is old and therefore developed. Those who have jobs there don’t want to give them up. The number of positions aren’t increasing either, for demographic reasons. If you look online, most places require you to already be in Japan or even already have a work visa. Some don’t, but they usually have other requirements. If you have special credentials, give it a try. One big disadvantage is the amount of money you need to start there. It can be a few or even several thousand dollars. No school gives you an apartment, and the deposit is not small either. You’ll have to fly in and survive by yourself until your first paycheck.

I heard things were good in Taiwan. So I went to Kaohsiung after that. I worked there for a year (2008) and absolutely loved the place. Taiwanese people are friendly and polite, everything is cheap but of good quality. The countryside is beautiful and easily accessible from the city, and the city itself is green and pleasant. There’s a surprising amount to explore on the island. When I lived there first, it was easy to find work. With everything being real cheap, life was easy. No experience no qualifications ESL work has dried up though. When I went back to visit a year ago I almost didn’t see any young English teachers like before. Like anywhere, there is work available, but it’s not easy to get. When I lived there, I lived in Kaohsiung, down south. Most of the work seems to be in the north these days, in the area around Taipei. I remember when I lived there talking to all the young English teachers. I met Canadians who would enter on a tourist visa and overstay it by years just working illegally. I met others who would come in and went to some public school in a small town, the principal was just happy to have any foreign teacher there, he wouldn’t get too agitated about papers.

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First lesson: General behavior in your classroom

1. Be active, open, happy, interactive, with quick reflexes.
One of the biggest things, especially at the kind of ESL jobs that teachers almost always begin in, is keeping students engaged and happy to be with you, especially for kids. I know in my case this took a while because I had to change my general character. I am an introvert. But even people like us can engage with others. We oftentimes have a lot of stuff bottled up. As long as we don’t have to teach all day long, an introvert can be just as effective as an extrovert because of this. But it takes a willingness to change and some practice.

When I am in the classroom, I am always moving around. It’s better to move with a purpose but failing that, just pacing to match the energy level you’re at or walking around the desks keeps students interested. It’s good to use body language when teaching, but try to make it have a purpose. Just waving your hands around without reason may just confuse students. Some kinds of body language are obvious: making a face to show an emotion or moving your hands up and down to show higher and lower. But you can also explain things by telling a story, talking as you act it out. Then, when you want to see if students can guess or remember something, do the action without saying it, ask who can say it.

Eye contact matters a surprising amount. If you’re speaking to one student, of course look in their eyes. But even when I’m talking to the class I don’t look at the board or above their heads, I look one student in the eyes a few seconds, then let my gaze move to another. Try to get everyone more or less equally. This will have a powerful unconscious effect on students. They will feel that you care about them, will stay more interested in the lesson, and be more emotionally invested in class. It will also have a positive effect on classroom discipline.

Who is this blog for?

By nature I’m not good at teaching. I studied physics and math in college. I didn’t feel the strong need to talk a lot, interact, or stay physically active. So my teaching career did not start out well. The fact that schools typically give little or no training did not help. But my general comportment was a very big factor. I rarely connected with students and was fired from many jobs. I still have problems that I am working on, but my success has changed enormously in the classroom.

In some ways, this is better for you to read about than a teacher who’s always been very successful in the classroom. They may be just a natural who has trouble articulating how they do well, or even understanding what it is that they’re doing that helps them succeed. They lack perspective. This is a blog for new teachers.  Too many blogs have tips and tricks meant for already established teachers.  This is for those of you who have little to no foundation to work with.