Monday, March 2, 2009

Extra English Conversation Classes: Setting them up; Mixed levels; Getting paid; class size limits and levels of students in the class

The information below is from a selection of writings in an orientation program I wrote and put together.

There are probably a few things that need to be added, but I think that most of the big things are here.

And again, if you copy this and use it please cite the source: Jason Ryan.


Extra English Conversation Classes: Setting them up; Mixed levels; Getting paid; class size limits and levels of students in the class.

Some native teachers are approached within the first couple of days/weeks at their school to teach extra classes for extra pay, and other teachers have to ask about it. If you ask and are told that it isn’t possible at your home school, ask your co-teacher to ask the vice-principal if other nearby schools might be interested. Do not be afraid to push a little for your co-teacher to ask as they may say it is impossible, but since they have probably not actually asked the vice principal, they don’t really know if it’s possible or not—be polite, but also be assertive.

Usually extra classes are set up as a 20 class course. You will teach the same group of students for 20 classes. Once the set of 20 is finished, then a new group may be set up if there are enough students interested in the next course, and their schedules don't conflict with the time it is set up. Be prepared for some students to sign up again, and to have new students sign up, so that the class is a mix of old and new/first time students. This will mean that you cannot use the same lesson plans again, and will need to write/make new lessons, or use a different lesson plan book. You will also likely be asked to submit 20 lesson plans, and any handouts you make, for paperwork. Keep a file on your computer with the lessons, or a binder with the lesson plans and handouts. This will save you a lot of time later on, sometimes months after the 20 class course is done, when you are asked to produce the lessons and you didn't keep things organized in a file on your computer or in a binder.

Remind the co-teacher when setting up extra classes that you are not committing to a whole year of extra classes. Send this to them in an email. This way you have the time and date on record for when you told them. If you decide that the extra classes are too big a drain on your energy, and perhaps even your health, you can dig up the email as a reminder when pressure is being applied for you to be available again for more classes. You should complete the 20 class course, though, if you committed to doing one set of twenty classes.

Tell your co-teacher that you need to see how it goes as this is your first time doing extra classes. If you do not sign an extra classes contract, and they do not ask you specifically to do them for the whole year, then you have not made a verbal agreement or commitment to do the extra classes all year. The regular contract says that extra classes are VOLUNTARY; remind your co-teachers of this contractual detail. But be aware that in Korean cultural thinking (I’m generalizing) there is this kind of expectation that if you were willing to do it for a set of 20 classes once, why not all year long . . . sometimes the "spirit" of the contract is not the same as the actual fine print . . . This is a kind of ‘ignorance-trap’ that I fell into when I began teaching. You DO NOT HAVE TO DO THEM if you don't want to do them. Extra classes are voluntary on the native teacher's part, and if you get too tired from working your 22 regular classes and doing lesson preparation, or think it's not worth your time--say no politely, and show your co-teacher the contract and politely remind them that it does not say native teachers MUST do extra classes all year, and that it is not mandatory to do them.

During my first year in Korea, I did my 22 classes per week at 3 different middle schools; I also, before I had any clue about what it involved in terms of time, energy, lesson planning, and teaching, agreed to teach extra classes at an elementary school, three middle schools, and an all girls high school. The grand total of classes skyrocketed to 34 a week (including my contract 22). Add to the mix travel time between schools, and lesson preparation time, and my Monday to Friday averaged about 55-60 hours of working time. I would strongly recommend any and all new native English teachers to not exceed 30 classes per week as a total. You risk burning out fast, and getting sick, when you exceed 30 classes, plus add on top any travel time, and lesson preparation time for those classes--things add up fast.

Some things to consider when creating an extra English Conversation Class (and which new teachers often miss thinking about, and Korean teachers also do not mention or consider) are:

1. Mixing the levels/grades of the students in the class. If it is possible, DO NOT MIX levels. If that is not possible, DO NOT mix all three levels/grades of students in the school (levels 1 and 2, or levels 2 and 3, if you must do it, but never mix 1 and 3).

I was given an extra-conversation class that had all three levels of students in my middle school. And within each of those levels, there were strong, average, and weak students. Essentially, I was given a class with students ranging from the weakest 1st grade students in the middle school, to the strongest 3rd grade student—and nobody (the Korean English teachers putting the list of students together) blinked an eye when they put that list of names together for my class . . . sigh.

2. Consider the number of students in a class that you teach ALONE. I think that 20 students is a good MAXIMUM number for an extra English conversation class. A single teacher can manage that many on their own, but more than that and things begin to get difficult. Also, the 20 students will be students that want to be there (generally), and behaviour management issues will be easier than in your regular classes.

Smaller numbers than 20 are not likely to be set up as the cost is higher for the students and they won’t sign up. Some students will be in the class because their parents want them to do the class, and that translates into a motivation issue for the student and teacher in learning English, but most students will be there because they have an interest in learning English. 10-12 students is the ideal size, but may not be possible for different reasons.

3. Another thing to consider is time of day. Watch out for being asked to stay late at night when your 8 hour work day finishes around 4:40-5pm. I agreed to do an evening extra class before asking about what time it was scheduled for—5:35pm to 6:25pm. This meant that even though I could leave my school for the day at 4:45pm, that I had to wait at the school an extra 45 minutes every day, five days a week, until the extra class start time of 5:35pm. The waiting time adds up, believe me.

And then I also didn’t consider how finishing an extra class at 6:25pm meant that I would not finish tidying up the classroom, dropping off my teaching supplies at my desk, and then travel time to get home . . . I had committed myself to most of my evening being destroyed five days a week. I would not get home until 6:45pm, and by the time I had eaten dinner most of the evening was gone.

Early morning (before school) start times have their own set of issues. Student motivation and learning capabilities are fairly low early in the morning. They are still waking up, and their energy levels and mental alertness will be very low. These things have to be considered in the kind of teaching style you choose to do at that time of day, i.e. 7:50am to 8:40am. And you, as the teacher, will probably need to be in the school at least 20 minutes before the class begins to set up your lesson, and do any prep that needs to be done for that class. This means your work day starts at 7:20am, and you may be giving yourself a very long work day—some people are okay with that, but for others it is too much, and their teaching and motivation levels are impacted by fatigue.

NOTE: Do not agree to do extra classes until you know the following details (also, be wary of how much you trust the answers you are given to these questions--too often I've had things glossed over and given a rosy shine so that I'd agree to what the speaker wanted me to do): class size, levels of students, whether the class will be mixed levels or not, start and finish times for each class, how often each week (i.e. three times a week, or once a week), confirm the pay rate is what your contract says it should be, confirm a pay date for when you finish the set of 20 classes, and politely explain that you will expect pay no later than 2 weeks past the last day of teaching that completes the 20 classes, confirm that whoever will pay your fee has your banking information, find out WHERE (what classroom) you will be teaching in, make sure that the teacher planning the 20 classes' dates and times has factored in all of the test/picnic/festival/national holidays, and also find out a rough idea of how many weeks/months it will take to complete the 20 classes and then decide if the money is worth waiting that long.


Brian said...

I get kind of guilted into doing these, and I sort of do feel responsible to do them. After all, I am the only one who can speak English at the school, even though I'm only the native speaker assistant teacher.

But, they're a pain. There's a lot of prep time because I never know who's going to be there. I remember my first semester at school the roster had 35 students on it, but only 2 showed up. So much for the team activities I had prepared.

I'm thinking I might turn down the offer this time around. The details you mentioned---class size, level, time, roster---I never find out until I walk into the class that first time. i have to keep records of attendance and save all my lesson plans---not a problem---but all that work is often for nought because the teacher in charge of the program fudges the records anyway. For example there were 18 students signed up last semester, but only 6 or 8 showed up each time, with another 6 never even showing up once. But when I came back for graduation week in mid-February the teacher objected to some of the dates I had written on the attendance sheet. For example, one particular day was a day of testing for Grade 3 students, and there were Grade 3 students on my roster, so obviously they couldn't have been there. I showed her that the Grade 3 students never showed up once for class, though, but when I looked at my attendance sheet I see she falsified all the records to make it look like all the students were attending. She said otherwise I'd get in trouble for not teaching all the students. So, two months after the paperwork was due, at the last minute I had to rework everything again to reflect some idiocy she didn't see fit to tell me until mid-February.

I do want to practice teaching and practice dealing with all types of situations, but in my years at PSs here I find these classes especially challenging. I'm just grateful I do them at middle school and not elementary school . . . ever try doing an after school conversation class with mixed levels that range from Grade 6 through Grade 3 students who know no English and don't even know their ABCs? Christ.

Jason said...

When I was new to Korea I would just say yes to everything too--now, if it doesn't fit my 'minimums' in terms of what I think I can handle, and what I think is a minimum standard for some kind of decent learning to take place--I say no.

I used to make all original lesson plans for my extra conversation classes. Now that I've had a lot of time in the bookstores here, I've found several gems (for example, the cheap Oxford Basics series that I posted about, run 6,500won for 20-30minute lessons, you get 20 lessons in each book) that I use. You can photocopy enough for the kids to use, or modify how you teach the content so that you don't have to worry about them not having the workbooks, etc.

I would also tell my co-teachers, once I knew better, that unless I knew class size, times and when the class would be each week, etc, that I wasn't interested--they then raised their level of professionalism and would figure out those things to tell me so that I'd agree to do the classes. I think the reason was that the principal, or someone else with power, was expecting them to report everything was going according to the plan that had been made without checking to see if the foreign teacher was even interested in staying two nights a week to teach, or whatever the case may be . . .

I'd also recommend getting your coteacher to call parents when students don't attend--that's a magic trick that works almost every time. It does presume, however, that the coteacher will actually do it if they agree with your request. I would tend to hold them accountable to a degree many don't. If I caught them lying to me (which happened a few times) and not doing something they promised to do, I would make an appointment with the head teacher, or VP, and then have a chitchat about the lying going on.

And again, this all presupposes that there is a degree of language ability and communication willingness present in the parties involved, etc. (It is hard to get the principal understanding what is going on when they don't speak English, and the person translating is whitewashing the truth, and I've dealt with that before too.) I guess that I tend to be pretty proactive and ruthless to a degree when it comes to this kind of thing--especially when it involves my time being wasted . . .

And YES, I have done an elementary "after school conversation class with mixed levels that range from Grade 6 through Grade 3 students who know no English and don't even know their ABCs"--one grade 3 girl kept screaming at me "ENGLISH NO!" the entire first class, and this was during the first semester of my first year teaching in Korea. Looking back at how I dealt with that class I'm proud of how well I did considering I didn't really have any experience teaching in a public classroom--that being said, I worked in Canada for ten years, during high school and my early 20s, as a part time semi-professional clown--yeah, hard to believe, eh? LOL . . . but the experience working with kids in Canada came in very handy here . . . especially with modifying birthday party games for teaching English . . .

Anyways, I will try to post in the next week or so my suggestions for after/before school extra conversation class books for elementary, middle, and high school . . .


Roarchild said...

I really wish i had read this earlier..... though still I probably wouldn't have realised it's importance until it happened to me personally.

I was told my afterschool class would be one hour of teaching whatever I wanted. The reality was it was 3.5 hours of teaching a topic the students didn't sign up for (and weren't interested in).