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A Practical Approach to Teaching English(2008 Essay Contest)
A Practical Approach to Teaching English(2008 Essay Contest)
  Date: 2009-07-18 01:07     View: 2230  

A Practical Approach to Teaching English

in the Republic of Korea


Colin Walker

Seowon Middle School, Youngin City, Gyeonggi-Do


Introduction: An Innovative and Collaborative Approach to ESL Education

This essay contest and the intention behind it is an excellent way to improve the English Program In Korea (EPIK). As a young teacher, I am eager to learn new ideas from others as well as receive some constructive criticism on my own teaching style and ideas as to what I could do better. I enjoy teaching in Korea; however, there are some areas in which the EPIK could be improved. The EPIK is acceptable, yet far from reaching the potential it holds. The purpose of this essay is not to list what is wrong with the program, rather to offer possible suggestions in an effort to improve the program and maximize opportunity for teachers and students.


Organize an Orientation for the Korean English Teachers

             A major problem in the EPIK is that the role of the co-teacher is not clearly defined. In order to alleviate this confusion, an annual orientation should be held for all of the Korean English co-teachers. I attended an orientation organized by the Gyeonggi Provincial Board of Education in July, 2008 and it was a complete success. The orientation included lectures by a wide variety of experienced teachers offering valuable teaching advice and ideas for lesson plans. The lectures also addressed culture shock and how to successfully deal with living in a new environment. If the EPIK offers a similar kind of training orientation to Korean co-teachers, individuals have the opportunity to be trained in a variety of ways. Learning how to effectively work with foreign teachers. co-designing lesson plans, administering duties, managing student behavior in the classroom, and improving verbal and non verbal communication are areas that need to be improved with respect to Korean co-teachers. Speaking on behalf of experience, the orientation I went to was a huge success for both the EPIK and native English teachers and there is no reason why a similar orientation for Korean co-teachers would not warrant the same degree of success.


Provide Incentives for Innovation

             In order to improve the EPIK, the EPIC and school administrators must recognize that they need to provide incentives to make native English teachers want to suggest ideas to improve the EPIK. This essay contest is an excellent example of an innovative way to improve the EPIK. The EPIK administrators will receive a wide variety of ideas and suggestions from the numerous essays submitted and the native English speakers get an opportunity to win prize money. Money is not the only incentive that can be provided to the native English speakers. Paid time-off from school and gift certificates are also strong incentives to encourage English teachers to submit ideas for innovation.


Adopt a More Collaborative Approach

             It is apparent, after having talked with fellow Korean public school teachers, that democracy is lacking in the framework upon which the schools are based. The native English speaking community of teachers agrees that the schools in the Gyeonggi Province are administered much like dictatorships. Schools are administered on the basis of the hierarchical decision making model where information flows only from the top chains of command to the bottom. This presents many problems. For example, when the principal goes away on vacation, decisions are not made since every matter must be approved by him or her. The principal often makes administrative decisions without any collaboration from the teachers. Native English speakers offer a different view of the world and we are willing to share our ideas and suggestions so long as the principal is willing to hear them. Moreover, countries like Japan and China are becoming more attractive to native English speakers simply because schools are more open-minded and welcome collaboration with their teachers.

In order to maximize the potential of the EPIK, the principals must learn to adapt to a more democratic management style. One way this can be achieved is by putting a clause in the contract so that the principal and the Korean co-teachers meet once every two weeks to discuss administrative and teaching matters. This will also be a great opportunity to for the principal to clearly discuss the role and expectations within the classroom. Every principal is different; therefore there will be different expectations at different schools. Clarifying these expectations will certainly improve the communication and make for a solid working relationship between the principal and the native English speaker. There needs to be better communication amongst the Korean co-teachers, the principal and the native English speaker.


Improve the Teaching Environment

              Korea can be an extremely difficult environment in which to teach simply because Korean teachers are over-worked and under-appreciated. Teachers at my school do not have time to co-lesson plan with me because they are often assigned duties to complete in addition to their regular tasks.  Also, the activities planned by the English teachers are repeatedly altered and cancelled to accommodate lesson plan changes. The lack of stability in the program causes inefficiency and limits the true potential of the EPIK.

This situation can be improved if the co-teacher, principal and native English speaker collaboratively identify priorities of the EPIK. The principal and school administrators must recognize that when they assign additional duties to the Korean co-teachers, they take away valuable time that could otherwise be spent co-planning lessons with the native English speakers and improving the program for students. Native English speakers are the foundation to the EPIK, but maximum success of the program can only be achieved with the help of Korean co-teachers.


An Increased Work Load Does Not Equal Better Results

             Parents are often convinced that their children must attend private academies in addition to their school education in order to maximize their potential. Children often do not participate in my class because they lack the energy and motivation to care about what is being taught. Children come to class exhausted or distracted because they are focused on completing assignments for different classes. The administrators of the EPIK must come to the realization that the program cannot be successful if students are not engaged in the material being offered. This problem is quite large because it is based not in the EPIK but in the school system as a whole; however, Korean students will not fully benefit from the efforts of native English speaking teachers if children’s responsibilities are not decreased and the EPIK given more importance.



Conclusion: Reaching Possibility

             This paper outlines some realistic suggestions to improve teaching in Korea. It is imperative that the issues discussed be recognized in order to maximize the true potential of the EPIK program. Adding additional teaching resources to the EPIK website and allowing teachers to post their lesson plans and ideas are excellent ways to help provide support to native English speakers. Providing incentives to encourage innovation, such as this essay contest, will motivate native English speakers to submit ideas to improve the program. The success of the orientation for the native English speakers suggests that a similar orientation for the Korean English teachers be organized. The EPIK would be greatly improved if the classroom environment was altered to reflect a more modern, less formal, relaxed atmosphere. Collaboration and cooperation between principals, teachers, and co-teachers is vital to educational success. Inefficiencies and ineffective teaching methods should be eliminated so that native English teachers may provide the best English education to Korean students. If the EPIK administrators follow these suggestions, there is no limit to the degree of success that the EPIK program can have.

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