Raw Audio: Teaching Kindergarten on Two hours of sleep

It’s been a rough couple of weeks.

My hagwon put on a speech contest for the kindergarteners, I started having serious issues sleeping (now I can’t sleep in the mornings or when I lay down to sleep), and I continued to cough horribly for the fourth week in a row. Several students also quit this week.

I also suffered that most horrible of a world nomad’s fears when my grandmother passed away. I am preparing a proper post for her, but this recording is from Friday the 27th Korea time. The day of her memorial in the USA.

I slept about two hours before this recording was made. All that above to explain why I sound a bit angry towards the end of this.

Featured in this recording:

  • A four-year-old wandering into my classroom unsupervised
  • Circle time negotiations
  • My heavy coughing
  • The mysteries of trying to add an hour to the time
  • Call and response teaching
  • 37

Click here for the raw audio!

TEFL for Newbs: How to Survive Intensives

Oh yeah. Back on the TEFL game after five months off to the day. I left my job in China on 23 April this year. We arrived in Korea on 23 September. It’s been a ride.

It’s great to be exploring a new city. Pusan is killer. We live less than a block away from the Lotte Giants baseball stadium. There is a brand new, Whole Foods-ripoff Home Plus two blocks away. We can be in the mountains in 30 minutes or two of the most famous beaches in the country in 25. Life is sweet.

On weekends.

Weekdays are absolutely rammed with classes. It’s tough. I teach 46 Academic Contact Hours per week at the moment. That’s nine different classes per day. Ten on Thursdays. There aren’t breaks between the classes in the afternoon.

New teachers will protest; But but but but….I’m supposed to have 30 minutes of planning for each 60 minute class period! That’s what my classes for TEFL said! Welcome to the real world, my friends. Planning? Is that what I do while I shove more dissolved caffeine solution(Huxleyan Brand Plus, of course!) down my gullet? Or what I frantically print from Google when my class has already started?

But hey! It’s better than pulling a 13-hour shift every Friday last summer! I’m not working more, I’m just teaching more.

When working TEFL in Asia specifically, there are two dreaded periods of the year. One is Summer. The other, Winter. If you haven’t yet taken a contract in Asia, heed this wizened crone’s warning: Intensives are out to get you and you will suffer during them. It would be unfair to sugarcoat it.

Intensive courses are the extra extra (and sometimes extra extra extra or extra extra extra extra) classes that English academies sell to parents for those times of year when ‘normal’ schools don’t have classes. Almighty English forbid that they let their students actually have a goddamn break sometimes when the schools take a break!

(Side note: I saw ajummas with their own mobile preschool trucks accosting new mothers carrying babies to Home Plus tonight, aggressively selling them their shiny classes with the word “APPLE” all over. These were neonatal babies. The ajummas were poking them pointedly with branded pens, insisting that their particular brand of toddler cram school is worth the probably-ridiculous price. I leave this here to try to help my readers understand what kind of school culture TEFL teachers may find themselves in.)

But there are ways to help yourself when you’ve got 90 million contact hours to teach and only 24 hours in a day. Behold a list of DO and DON’T, to help you newbs survive.


  • Wash your damn hands.
    • Wash them all the time. Use what I call an ‘Ebola Scrub.’ That means you sing Happy Birthday two times while scrubbing with soap. It’s what Ebola nurses did when removing their gowns. Preschoolers warrant this level of disinfection, believe me. If you don’t, you’ll get sick as a fucking dog and you’ll not be allowed to take time off if you live in Korea.
  •  Make boiled ginger.
    • You’ll be able to get ginger all over the world. My Chinese and Korean coworkers swear by it. Cut up the ginger in a rough chop. Boil the ginger for about 20 minutes to 90 minutes (that shit will burn a lot, be careful!). Drink it on a daily basis to support your immune system and invigorate your teaching muscles.
  • Love yourself.
    • Create a small, inexpensive treat that you can get yourself at the end of a hard week. This needs to be $5 or less, local currency. I used to buy myself Christmas Starbucks in the morning before work in 2013. A cheap lipstick. A nice beer. A new pair of socks. Think about this little gift to yourself all week. Use it as a carrot.
  •  Dress professionally.
    • This one is tough, but nececssary. You will be out of your mind with fatigue. you need clothes that support your dreams. Or at least your poise. Or your getting-by-ed-ness. Wear a polo. Wear a jacket. Wear a 1950s inspired skirt. If you look professional, you will feel professional.
  • Get a few go-to games/lesson plans for when you literally have no time.
    • I don’t have time to pee most days. I set my students up with a cunning, “Ok, I want you all to read this passage for two minutes and circle any words you don’t yet know…” and duck out to the john for two seconds, peeing as hard as I can. Y’all teachers know that hard pee. Get some go-to websites. Have some pre-photocopied worksheets. Practice winding up your kiddos and have go-to activities. I may make a list of these later. Just be ready to go. Anytime. Any level. Anywhere. Any amount of supplies. Be a teaching ninja.


  • Be a jerk to your coworkers.
    • You need them. They cover for your sick arse when you are sick. Be friendly. Bring small gifts.
  • Think too much about teaching and learning and philosophy. And about the future.
    • Recognise that this is a temporary stage for both you and the students. Don’t ask how much their parents have paid for the special course. It will invariably make you sick to the stomach. You are here to provide a safe place for these kids. If they happen to pick up some English in the meantime, YAY!
  • Aggrandise your struggle.
    • Do you know any teachers in your home country who don’t work crazy suffering hours?
  • Freak out.
    • Find a way to cry without students knowing. Take long, aggressive walks up Pusan’s hills after work. Take up a combat sport. Channel the existential crisis about, “I have an MA from one of the top four unis in the world in Linguistics, with a dissertation about second languages” into “What colour is this, child?” No one cares what your personal educational background happens to be, and they certainly won’t pay you for it. Be happy that you have a job and find whatever you can cling to to make you marginally happy enough to not freak the fuck out.

Summer course will suck arse. That’s how it is. Follow those tips above and survive your 46 contact hour schedule.

TEFL For Newbs: Punctuation

Basic, Important, But Tricky Topics in TEFL Grammar and Usage (2016 Edition)

by Coleen Monroe-Knight, M.A. Linguistics (UCL)
<–That is the very first time I’ve used my master’s letters! Wheeeee!

In this series for new TEFL teachers abroad who have no previous experience with prescriptive grammar and usage other than that time in Language Arts class in like, 1997:

Phrasal Verbs
Parts of Speech
Verb Agreement

Today’s topic: Punctuation

This one is technically not a grammar topic, but it is nonetheless very important. In fact, punctuation is so important as to have its (note: no apostrophe) own National Day in the USA on September 24th each year.

Let’s (note: an apostrophe!) get started with the very basics. Here are the most common forms of punctuation in English:

  • . = Full stop/period 

  • , = Comma 
  • ‘ = Apostrophe 
  • ” = Quotation Mark 
  • : = Colon 
  • ; = Semi-Colon 
  • – = Dash /Hyphen 
  • ! = Exclamation Point 
  • ? = Question Mark 
  • () = Parentheses 
  • [] = Brackets

These are used in many ways, and I do not claim to be an authority on the finer nuances of usage. I’m not an Oxford Journal copy editor, after all. However, the basics of punctuation should have been emphasised in your schooling. For TEFL students, there may be confusing differences in punctuation between English and their L1. In addition, national and local curricula tend to be inconsistent in how to use punctuation .

My high-level students write an essay for me every week. I see a few problems over and over here in China, some of which were common in Korea as well. For example, the use of commas as full stops:

Then I went home, I found my mother, I went to work after that, My mother is nice.

Then I went home. I found my mother. I went to work after that. My mother is nice.

This is very common. I often find myself writing, ‘Commas are not full stops!’ on the essays. Another one is the use of a comma as a replacement for ‘and’ or another conjunction:

I like to play basketball, baseball. They are nice, easy. 

I like to play basketball and baseball. They are nice and easy.

The one above was fairly common in Korea as well. It seems like it might be that commas are occasionally used this way in East Asian languages, which would explain a lot. An error that is extremely common and pervasive in my experience is the inability to properly set up a quote or part of a dialogue. Observe:

Then my friend said I don’t want to eat that! It’s disgusting!!!

Then my friend said, “I don’t want to eat that! It’s disgusting!”

The important thing is that they show someone else was speaking, by putting a comma before the reported speech and quotation marks on the outsides. This is very important for academic writing as well, since they will need to quote authors of articles and cite sources (or, as some of my students do a lot, copy word for word from an article and attribute nothing!).

Examples of why punctuation is key to good writing and even simple communication abound on the Internet. When I teach punctuation to a high-level class, I sometimes put up examples of the ways it can change the meaning. These are not original to me, but some are pretty funny. See if you can spot the problems!

A notice in the woods: Please use caution when hunting pedestrians using walking trails

A sign on the fridge: NO, Popsicles! (What did the popsicles ever do to you?!) 

A sign on a toilet at a store: Attention! Toilet only for disabled elderly pregnant children!

A headline: Chef finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog

Sales sale: “BRA” $1.99 “UNDERWEAR” $3 per pack 

My personal favourite: Let’s eat grandpa! 

The perennial: The Panda eats, shoots, and leaves. 

It takes repeated practice from a young age to learn how to punctuate properly. This is important to keep in mind, since most students will not grasp the concepts immediately and they may continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.

The best place to start, in my experience, is to make sure that the students actually know what the marks are called. This sounds simple, but it is very confusing to many of them. I make small signs with the Big Six (full stop, comma, exclamation point, question mark, quotation mark, colon) and put them on all the walls of the room. Then I ask a student to stand up and find one of them. Their classmates can help them by pointing.

Eventually, I ask for teams to stand up and move to the punctuation, going faster and faster so that the students have a fun time running between them. I’ve done this with tiny kindergartners and high school students! It works to make them quickly remember which one to use.

Another way to teach punctuation is to require complete sentences at all times in your lessons. Tell students when they are writing in their books that they are not allowed to use only one or two words, but must have a full sentence. Using the parts of speech from last time, you can say my complete sentence mantra:

“You need a subject, a verb, and an object. You need a big letter and a full stop.”

You will find yourself saying this over and over and over again. It will eventually stick in the students’ brains and they will hopefully always remember that a sentence needs a big letter at the start and some kind of punctuation at the end.

If you have essays that the students are writing, you can also do a peer-marking activity. Give them an essay that is not theirs, and a marker. Tell them that they need to put down three punctuation corrections in two minutes. Then change the papers and repeat.

You can either give the corrections back directly to the students afterward, or if you are concerned they will not have made good ones you can take them to correct yourself. This will give you an idea of whether the students know that they are making mistakes, and how to correct them. This is designed to get the students used to reading essays again and editing their own work, a fundamental skill for academic writing.

Additional Resources:

Eats Shoots and Leave by Lynne Truss

Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White 

Next time: Verb Agreement

On Saving Lots of Money in Korea

I miss my old Korean neighborhood, the Gok.

I miss my old Korean neighborhood, the Gok.

About one year ago, I wrote a post titled “On Not Saving Any Money in Korea.” I encourage you to check it out for a reality check if you are currently considering moving abroad to do TEFL, currently living in South Korea as an English teacher, or interested in my bank account. Sorry, phishers. There’s only a screenshot without any info.

The post is almost wholly negative. I griped about the cost of living in South Korea. I griped about the possible inflation of saving possibilities by TEFL recruiters. I griped about how expensive the visa process was. I griped about my projection that I would only save about $2400 total during my year in Korea.

And guess what? I was wrong. Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

I miss my old apartment, too!

I miss my old apartment, too!

I blame my apparent lack of maths skills for the miscalculations, but there are other factors at work. As it happens, that post is one of the most-read ones on this blog. It consistently shows up in the top ten posts on the left there, and it seems that quite a few people are interested in the topic. In the interest of not being one of the many (MANY) out of date TEFL in Korea blogs out there silently sabotaging potential teachers’ dreams with incorrect and scary-sounding information, I want to correct that post with this one.

Some of what I wrote last July is true. Exchange rates are generally shitty, no matter which end I find myself on (I’m finding this to be especially true as I prepare to move to the UK for graduate school, and my tuition keeps fluctuating literally thousands of dollars based on the ups and downs of the market.). The global economy is still getting dragged through the mud somewhat, don’t let the talking heads deceive you. I still have semi-expensive tastes in food and clothing. And above all, saving money is hard work, no matter where one happens to find themselves. But the crux of the article, that it is difficult/impossible to save money in Korea while teaching is flat false.

At the end of my time in Korea, I had a little over $11,500 in the bank.

Yeah, that’s a shitload of money. My calculations were off by almost 500%, if I did my maths correctly this time. I was able to put away almost $7,000 in the months after I told the internet I wasn’t saving any money in Korea. Almost exactly the $1000 a month promised by my recruiter before I came over. Whoops. Perceptions can be wrong!

I miss those kiddos most of all!

I miss those kiddos most of all!

After I completed my contract, I received even more cash injections into my bank account. I got $4,000 in severance and my final paycheck (I left just after we’d all been working our asses off in the Winter Intensive schedule and got a little overtime). Last, but certainly not least, I got my pension money back at the end on March. Already in India for over a month, I suddenly saw $1,800 show up in my bank account.

Furthermore, I paid almost no taxes this year. Because I earned almost all my income in Korea for 2012 and the US has awesome tax treaties with the ROK, I was exempt from paying federal and state taxes. I paid taxes in Korea (around 3% of my income…that is ridiculously low), but I got to write off everything else as non-taxable income. US citizens who teach in Korea for two years or less are able to take advantage of this kickback. It’s a pretty huge one.

And now, it looks like at the end of the summer I will have almost exactly that $8,000 I wanted in the bank from the original post. Even with traveling in India for 2 months. Even with a month in England. Even though I’m only working part-time this summer.

Shit! My financial situation turned out way better than predicted!

I may need to keep this in mind as I as I lay awake at night regularly worrying about graduate school finances and apply for an exorbitant amount of loan money. Hmm.

Despite the awesomeness of my finances post-Korea, a few words of caution. The over-arching theme of that July 2012 post remains important; don’t make the experience of living in Korea suffer for the hypothetical payoff of traveling or graduate school after the contract ends.The Incredibull India experience certainly brought that home.

Far too many teachers I met in Korea spent a lot of time indoors playing MMORPGs and eating instant noodles as their only sustenance. Surprisingly many of these folks eventually ended up staying on for multiple years after the initial drive to travel turned into a desire to plant roots, meaning that the fabled travel for which they were sacrificing just never happened. Then again, everyone has their own financial preferences and circumstances. I know of several teachers in Korea who had moved abroad in large part to afford health insurance, or to pay off student loans. It would be harder to save as much as I did if those were concerns.

Circumstances also change. Last July, I thought I’d be living in the States again for graduate school. After the application process went slightly differently than planned, I’m moving abroad again (and getting a visa AGAIN). I’m also in a long-term committed relationship, which was in its infancy last summer. We can share resources and effort, and I’m not in this alone. My finances have to adjust to the new realities that come up. DSCN1994

Bottom line: It is definitely possible to save a lot of money teaching in Korea. Don’t let my old, mathematically-inaccurate, and pessimistic article discourage you.

As a final note: I am always thrilled to talk to those who want to get a TEFL career started, who want to travel more, or who want to study abroad. It’s part of my job, but it’s also my passion. Contact me today with your questions. I promise to get back to you quickly.