Kimchi and Coffee

Justin Eckl

(Brent Schwert)

Chances are that upon receiving your diploma you won’t be able to walk into the NYSE and announce, “I am a stockbroker.” But if you can write a resume, you can land a teaching job in Asia where you can walk into a classroom and confidently announce, “I am an English teacher.”
It’s easy to get a job teaching English in Asia. Unfortunately, just because a job is easy to get does not also mean it’s easy to do. I’m not sure about other Asian countries, but in Korea your typical elementary school-aged students will not respect you simply because you are their teacher.
Everything you’ve heard about Asian kids being ultra-respectful to authority is not true. Sure, at their primary school where the teachers carry wooden sticks, the students are regular models of discipline. But at their afternoon school, where I and most other foreign ESL teachers work, when the kids see you they think it’s playtime.
I taught 11-13-year olds for a year and my experiences with them ran the gamut from deeply rewarding to deeply stressful. Despite the fact that you are a foreigner to them, most of them feel free to be themselves around you.
Some of them are such great people that you wish you could raise them as your own, while others make you dread going into work the next day. One thing I decided about going back was that I didn’t want to expend 80 percent of my energy disciplining instead of teaching.
So I took some time and found a job teaching college kids in Korea. Though when I write “college kids,” you should not automatically assume that their English is terribly better than the elementary school students I was just slighting. The fact is most of them are just taking your class to help them pass their English language requirement before they graduate.
What I’ve been stressing about lately is that you can’t pull the wool over college students’ eyes the way you can with younger kids. You can’t fake being a teacher if everyone is listening attentively to your every word.
I’m not saying I was a terrible teacher, but seven classes a day makes you want to improvise a lot to break up the monotony. So, for the first time since becoming an ESL teacher over a year ago, I am doing some research and spending some time thinking about how I can put together a sort of personal pedagogy.
Here’s today’s lesson, kids: Don’t disparage Lawrence’s speaking-intensive requirement. There’s a high probability that sooner or later life will demand that you convey a large amount of verbal information to a room of adults. I’m preparing for a year of it.

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