Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Hallowe'en, Jobs

Hi all,

Happy All Hallow's Eve! For those who celebrate it, I hope you're going to have a great night, and that lot's of trick-or-treaters come to your door! It's my favorite time of the year, and I have my costume all picked out. I'll reveal it after tonight's party, as it's meant to be a surprise, so in case any of my guests are reading... I'll keep 'em wondering.

Found a stable job! I was originally working part-time in two positions. The former, an afternoon one-to-one tutoring position, was an excellent position, but unstable. Students didn't always show up, which meant I didn't get paid, and of course, it wasn't a lot of hours of work.

The latter, a morning job, is ESL Teaching, as in with a full class. It's definitely what I've trained and gotten my Certification for, and I'm quite happy with it. We just had our Hallowe'en party, and my students loved the Hanbok I wore: I was, of course, wearing a man's version.

On Friday, I got a call from another school, for whom I had interviewed about positions starting in Mid-November. They were in a bit of a panic because a teacher had had some family difficulties, and had to leave earlier than they'd thought. While that's not the way I'd want to have been offered a position, I'm pleased that they offered it to me. It's an afternoon position, from 1-5:30 PM, teaching Pre-CTP (College Training Program), which is designed to help students get into Canadian Universities if they're not Native English speakers. I'll also be teaching some grammar. I start on Monday, so, while I'm taking today to clean the house, and have the Hallowe'en party, I'll be working away at the lesson plan for Monday tomorrow, on Sunday! Busy weekend, eh?

Still, I'm looking forward to it, if a bit nervous. I like that I get to teach the same material in a rotating schedule (basically, finish Unit X and go back to the first one, Y, repeat). It might seem a bit boring, but then, it means I don't have to keep reinventing the wheel. I design my units the first time, and then tweak them as time goes on, fixing mistakes, adding in new elements, and keeping it timely and interesting.

If I choose to change class levels, then I start again lesson-prep-wise, but still, it's a good system. It's one that I wish we'd had in Korea. Our school tended to change the books constantly, and I found that teachers who had the same books, even if bored, knew how to teach those books well and to get the most out of them for the students.

Well, I'm about to head off for the party. In keeping with my last theme, I'll give you some tips/thoughts on job-hunting in the field. Next time, I think I'll talk about some of the best places to work abroad. My experience isn't as diverse as others, but I've kept my ears open, and if I can share some resources for those who want to do the same thing, I'm happy to do so.

Happy Hallowe'en/Samhain,



Some further comments on getting a job in our field:

One thing I can comment on for sure when hunting for a job in ESL: Highlight a few key points on your resume. For example, I put my teaching experience on the front page, as well as my Certifications and Educational Experience. However, don't *just* say where you studied--demonstrate a few things that you did while studying. For example, for my MA, I have listed for some time the accomplishment I'm most proud of from my tenure at U Waterloo: my thesis. I designed, researched, and completed it in 9 months, which is far faster than most. Most interviewers don't have time to read through two pages to find the information you wrote for them. You have to make the first page highlight key items, because the person reading it is likely swamped, stressed out about finding a good candidate, fast, and no doubt has 25 more to read before he/she can go home for the day!

Make sure you emphasize what you've done while teaching, of course. Designed your own curriculum daily? That's a major skill! Designed a presentation and debate course? Again, a useful ability to present to an ESL college in Canada. Practiced Communicative Language method? Good! It ought to be right there with your qualifications and skills listed on the first page!

Most of this should, of course, be basic stuff to anybody on the job trail, but I'm guilty of forgetting it, and I'm lucky in that my partner is a professional career counsellor! She often keeps me from making too many mistakes.

During the interview, try to relax. Most people get hung up on the idea that you're there to be evaluated, that you need to be spectacular and amazing and on the ball and experienced and confident and calm and... stressed yet?

You're there to evaluate the *job,* too. I find that the jobs for which I've been hired were the ones where I went in, asked a lot of questions about the company, and about why the interviewer thinks they're the best. After all, if you're going to work for them, they'd better be a decent company, no? If I don't like the place, I thank the interviewer for their time, and politely decline later on. I don't like throwing away an offer, of course, but if the job didn't jive, I'm only going to hate it later on and be back out on the streets again hunting for work!

Furthermore, the jobs I got offers for all came out of interviews where the interviewer and I ended up chatting about our field, why we got into it, how we like to teach, etc. Your resume and cover letter are the first step--they establish your credentials. If you've been called in for an interview, they already know about those credentials. Sure, you should provide examples of your strengths, of what you do well, and so forth, but at the same time, the interviewer is trying to go past the facts and figures on your resume, and to get to know you.

Ask yourself this question: If you're going to hire somebody, who would you want to hire? Somebody who you like, and has the skills you want, or someone who is only there to go through the interview motions, despite their skills?

There's a lot of competition in the field. As long as you make a good personal connection with the other person you interview with, you should be fine. Teachers, the best ones, are often the most personable people in the world--after all, they really care about their students.

All the best, folks!


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Job, Thanksgiving

Hi all,

Just got back from Timmins for Thanksgiving, which was amazing. We got to see all of my wife's family (well, almost all, some of them were in Toronto this weekend), and it was nice to keep reconnecting. This has become somewhat of a theme for me this month, as it's what we've been doing, getting back in touch with old friends, and colleagues.

I've been trying, for example, to set up a coffee date with two old friends from Waterloo, but we're all so damned busy it's like herding cats. I'm confident we'll bump into 'em sooner than later. It's just funny how socially active people have such trouble making time for anything.

Jen's been busy, with two jobs, and so am I--I just got another part-time gig working in the morning at another ESL college. This is great--it supplements my income, doesn't interfere with my afternoon tutoring, and has room to expand. And it's actual teaching experience in front of a class in Canada.

It's something that I've noticed some former expats like me go through--we hit our stride in Korea or Japan or wherever, and then come back... only to find out we're not fitting in. So we either go back abroad, or we try to find similar work here, which can be a challenge.

Finding a job based on ESL in Canada requires certifications which a lot of us don't have when we leave for our Korean or overseas adventures--I got mine while abroad, thank heaven. Furthermore, as much experience as we might or might not have after our time abroad, finding work in the field back home runs into one of two roadblocks: we have *foreign* experience, but no experience teaching ESL in a *Canadian* classroom. Fortunately, this is not a common problem, but it still comes up. More importantly, if you taught kids, you're going to have to get some adult/late teenage teaching experience first, since that's what most ESL colleges here in Canada do, and want. If you can find a way to teach Business or similar English classes, that'll help, too--there's lots of similar work here! In the end, most colleges in Canada teach adults, and want similar experience. If you are doing adult ESL abroad, you've got a great head-start.

It's a bit of a Catch-22. We go abroad to get experience, only to find out that we cannot use that experience back home. It's not impossible, of course--some schools don't mind if you teach children more than adults in Korea, as long as you have some experience in the ESL field in general, and/or TESL Canada Certification, since that requires a Practicum and provides actual adult teaching experience. That can be a big 'as long as,' however. It can be expensive to get the training, and the certification itself costs.

Perhaps TESL Canada should offer a discount to students with experience, or perhaps it could be provisional--come work for us, so long as you take some extra classes at home/on the side, and get your Certification by a set end-point. However, these are both options that we, as teachers, cannot control. What you can do is this:

If you want to do this as a career when you return from overseas, make sure you take some classes while abroad, get your TESL Canada Certification mostly done, and that way you can just do the Practicum (sample classes, to prove you can do it) immediately. If you want to do things like LINC (Language Instruction for New Canadians), which pays well, you need TESL Ontario Certification (in Ontario), and I'm sure similar programs elsewhere in Canada and the States requires similar training. All of which takes more time.

So: Use your time abroad to get started on it--many of the courses can be done online, or by distance, and there may even be some that will offer in class training in your country--you never know. If you save up lots of money abroad, you could even schedule your classes for when you get home, so that you get the training, get your Certification, and can move right into job hunt mode in the field.

It's not impossible, but it is a challenge. If you love this work, and I do, and I'm sure others do as well, it's worth it. The outcome, seeing students become amazing English speakers, and get successful jobs because of their fluency in another language, is amazing. Seeing kids become bi-, tri-, or multi-lingual is equally awesome, and it's one of the reasons I loved my job in Korea.

Make sure you know what you're getting into, and plan ahead. Get your training, and get the qualifications you need to do this work back home. It even helps abroad--some countries require a TESL Certificate before you even apply to ESL jobs in those countries to begin with!

All the best,


Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Hi all,

My apologies for the drought of posts lately. I've been job hunting, and managed to get some work this week with an ESL tutoring job. It's decent pay, and I like both of my students. I teach them both for one hour, and help them with either A) stuff they're working on in their classes; or B) stuff they feel they want to improve.

So for my first student, that's a combination of the grammar and vocab from class, and some idioms, which is what he likes to work on.

For the later one, it's pure pronunciation practice, since she's highly advanced, and wants to break through that 'wall' that students seem to reach when they understand the mechanics of English, but still freeze up when they're looking for words, or when they hear native English spoken at a fast clip.

This is something I've noticed with ESL students--the committed ones learn the language fast, and well, but 'street speak' throws them right off. I don't mean slang, of course, or idioms, although that's part of it. What I'm talking about is something that's called assimilation in phonetics: when we squish sounds together as we speak. For example, her least favorite one is "Didn't you do..." which becomes "didnchadu," and worse. And unfortunately, I'm not sure how much I can do to help her--it's largely a matter of speaking with native speakers and getting used to the way we speak at a full clip. This is something with which I help her, but the best way remains to talk to people outside the class, who are native English speakers. A daunting prospect, for sure, but the best way forward, nonetheless.

It's rewarding, although it's not yet full time. I've been getting used to Toronto, seeing old friends, and missing those from Korea. That said, it's been good, and I am coming to like this strange, sprawled out and English speaking city. Seriously, however, the sprawl is terrible. I suspect they'd have to put another dozen apartment buildings up above each subway before I feel comfortable, after Korea, where everybody's packed tightly close together. It's one thing I do miss--Torontonians have an over-developed sense of personal space, due to the size of the city and the relatively low population density. A word that I have come to loathe after returning from Korea is "sorry," which, of course, I am now saying constantly. I'm not sorry, I'm just trying to move around you.

It's the little things that trip you up, I suspect.