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Why Did I Decide To Come To South Korea?

As my 9th year here in South Korea started a few days ago, I tried to recall what made me want to come to this part of the world. It was not fate that brought me here. It was a conscious decision made after many nights of contemplation and prayers.

So, why did I travel to the Land of the Morning Calm?

The reason I decided to venture into ESL teaching here in South Korea was not that there were no teaching jobs available in the Philippines. As a matter of fact, I had to cut short my work in my country back in 2013 to come here. At that time, I was employed as  Principal of a basic education institution. To earn extra, I also worked as a part-time college instructor  and as an academic consultant in another school.

I had no problem finding jobs in the Philippines.

So, what made me decide to teach here?

Firstly, I suffered from severe “job burnout”. I got so tired of being a school administrator and a teacher at the same time. I desired to go back to full-time teaching.

I started doing supervisory works in 1994 at a technical-vocational institution. I resigned in 2002 then moved to another school, a Catholic tertiary institution, where  I was offered a supervisory position – head of the Education program. From there I became a college dean in another school then principal in a basic education institution. From 1994 to early 2013 I was a school administrator and a teacher at the same time.

I really got tired of supervising people and doing administrative works. I felt sick about it. I felt sick with the politics involved in supervising and managing employees. My last two years as a school administrator were terrible and horrible, particularly the penultimate one. How I wish I could go into details.

I wanted to go back to just being a teacher. That’s the reason I applied for a teaching job in South Korea. I was hired. My getting hired also proved that the notion “that only native speakers of English could (and should) teach ESL in South Korea” is but a myth. The truth is some of them could not and should not teach.

It was that “job burnout” that got me seeking for a job opportunity overseas. Not that I wanted a greener pasture.  I would be branded a hypocrite if I say I don’t need higher pay. But I was somewhat satisfied with the salary I was receiving at that time. It was good enough that I and my wife could save then, later on, buy a small parcel of land and had a house built. My family and I could even enjoy some of the luxuries in life, travel if we wanted.

Of course, I was (and more so now) happier and more satisfied with my monthly pay in this country when I came. Who wouldn’t be? It’s roughly 75% higher than what my Pakistani employers paid me in the Philippines and with me having to work 60% less in terms of hours. Do the math. That basic (K to 12) education school where I was Principal is owned by Pakistanis operating a vast network of schools (The City School) in Pakistan and some parts of Asia.

At that time I felt that I was at the crossroads of my career. I have to admit that there was some kind of dissatisfaction within me. Burnout torched my soul and I was really unhappy. There was something missing.

Then came the opportunity to teach here.

When I got settled, I finally figured out what was missing. Because I was so busy with my administrative functions and was teaching at the same time, I was not able to attend to my other passion…WRITING.

In the Philippines, being a school administrator and teacher at the same time  require that you stay in the workplace, officially, for 8 hours a day. But most of the time, I would stay way beyond that, even if I wasn’t required to. It was just something that I felt I ought to do. Sometimes I would even go to my office on Saturdays and Sundays. With that hectic schedule, I could hardly find time to write poems, essays and stories… much less do research.

That’s what makes teaching in South Korea different (and a blessing) for me. It allowed me to have a lot of spare time which I could use to write.  I was even able to write papers for presentations in international conferences and for publication in international journals. Something that, unfortunately, I couldn’t do in the Philippines. Back there I would be lucky if in a month I could write even just a single poem. Here, after 8 years, I have written a lot, as in hundreds of them. I had them published in my  two websites (madligaya.com and chingligaya.wordpress.com). I even found time to pursue my interest in personal growth and development. And that worked more wonders for me.

ESL teaching is part of the career-path I paved for myself. I really trained and prepared for this. As early as 2009, I was already thinking of coming to this country to become an English teacher. I applied also to schools in the Middle East  but it was my dream that I would be given the opportunity to do ESL teaching here.  After my rejections by 2 universities in the Middle East, I didn’t lose hope of eventually landing a job as an English teacher overseas. True enough, in 2013, a university here in South Korea, believed that I have the necessary qualifications to teach English.

I did not become an English teacher overnight or by accident. I did not teach because there are no other jobs available. I chose to be a teacher.

I am a licensed English teacher in the Philippines. I passed the Licensure Examination for Teachers  2003. I was required by the RVM sisters to take it (and I am thankful that they did.) Then in 2010, notwithstanding my busy schedule, I enrolled in a certification class in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).

My second (and last) reason for deciding to try teaching here (South Korea) has nothing to do with my career. At that time I was journeying to midlife. Midlife crisis is a real thing. It isn’t a myth. There were some personal demons that I had to slay. It’s too personal to share. Let me just say that I am not proud of those decisions I made during those times. Suffice it to say that I needed space. I needed that entire space between the Philippines and South Korea to really get my bearings back… to bring back sanity to my existence. Let me just concude this paragraph with this… Romans 8:28.

Then my efforts paid off and my prayers answered. I was hired by a South Korean university in 2013.

God is really good. I got what I wanted… just teach and no more supervisory works. That gave me a lot of time to write. I was also able to squeeze myself out of that personal crisis and take the road to self-improvement more seriously. I wouldn’t have not done so had I opted to just stay in that principal’s office in the Philippines.

My journey as a teacher continues. This is my 33rd year as a teacher – 24 years in the Philippines and on to my  9th year here in South Korea.

As Seth Godin said, “Do what you love and love what you do.”

What I do that I love is writing and what I love that I do is teaching.

To God be the Glory!

During The First Day of Class

(A Personal Essay)

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Each meeting with my students is important but it’s the first day that I consider very special – the most strategically important. It’s the day that I would attempt to accomplish one of the hardest things to do in education – to shatter the students’ image of the classroom as a prison cell, with them as  prisoners and the teachers as nasty prison guards. It’s the day when I begin to lay the foundations of what  every teacher should endeavor to forge between them and their students – a good rapport. The entire semester is a long haul and I know that winning their hearts – making them comfortable in my presence – would make our journey together as enjoyable and productive as it could be. If I succeed in making them trust me, especially since I am not the native speaker of English they were expecting as an ESL teacher, half of the battle is already won.

There’s nothing very special about the way I conduct my first meeting with my new students. It’s just a bit unconventional.

My introduction would always include telling my students the nickname which I adopted with the intention of eliciting laughter whenever I deliver a talk – Tonitonipoponibananananapoponinomimayfofoni. (That’s inspired by the song “Name Game.”) Amazingly, when I tell my students that and jokingly threaten them to memorize it if not they would fail in my subject, they would try very hard to repeat it after me and laugh at themselves if they wouldn’t be able to say it.

Then I would add, “Whoever could say my nickname correctly will get an A+.” I don’t mean it of course. Luckily, up until this time, no one among those who tried succeeded. It was me who would always succeed – in getting their attention.

From there, I would give them the necessary information about me as their teacher. The most significant of those information (as far as I am concerned) is the number of years I have been teaching. It currently stands at 30 years. The point I wish to drive home for highlighting to my students how long I have been teaching is – I wouldn’t stay this long in the academe if I don’t love my job.

The next part of my first-day-of-class script would touch the boundaries of philosophy.

I would be delivering something like an “eve-of-battle” speech. The way they do it in movies.

I would ask my first question: “Why am I teacher?”

Puzzled, the students would grope for an answer.

I would give  follow-up questions after that – Would you call a woman a mother without a son or a daughter? Are your mothers and fathers mothers and fathers without you as their children?

Amid their “aahs” and nods I would then say, “I am a teacher because of the students. My reason for being a teacher is each of you. Without you I am not a teacher.”

That’s my way of telling my students that the most important stakeholder in a school are them. Schools exist because of them. School administrators and teachers have work because of them.

That’s my way of telling them that I exist (as a teacher) to serve their interest.

I would end that part with the following statement: “Thank you for having me as your teacher.”

After that I would show them a videoclip from the movie “Collateral Beauty” – that part where Howard Inlet, a character played by Will Smith, delivered a speech in a gathering of his employees  at the beginning of the movie.

He said “What is your why? Why did you even get out of the bed this morning?   Why did you  eat what you ate? Why  did you wear what you wore? Why did you come here?”

I would pause the video clip after each question and would ask them to give an answer.

Then I would ask them follow-up questions. (These were the only questions I asked when I was not yet using that movie clip.)

Why are you here in school?

Why do you want to finish your studies?

The last question I would ask – Why did you enroll in this class?

I never failed to ask the said questions because I want my students to understand that for them to succeed not only in their studies but in all their present and future endeavors, they need to set goals. They ought to know their whys. They must know the reasons why they do what they do, say what they say, and think what they think.

I would tell them also that the worst “why” to have for studying is to get A+  – that grades are not the be-all and end-all of schooling.

All of the foregoing would be finished in twenty to thirty minutes.

I would then ask the student to introduce themselves.

After all of the foregoing , that’s the only time that I would present the course syllabus – explain the course objectives, give the topics to be discussed weekly, and tell them what activities will be done in the class and how they are going to be graded.

It’s not surprising to see the students frown when they see the course requirements on the last page of the syllabus. That’s the time that I would deliver the last part of my “eve-of-battle” speech.

I would ask – “Is learning fun?”

As expected, majority would say “no.”

My next question would be – “Is work fun?”

Of course the students would say “no” again. And every time I would ask that, one or two would say “My father always complains about his job.”

Then I would go on and tell them the following:

“Nothing is to be given to you in a silver platter. You need to work hard to achieve your dreams. Studying and working would require effort – you have to exert mentally, emotionally and physically. But something could make studying and working fun – your attitude. Your attitude towards studying will be dictated by your whys. Your whys put together is your philosophy.”

I would spend another minute or two to explain something about “personal philosophy.” At the end I would tell them that each teacher has a personal teaching philosophy and mine is as follows:

“The classroom is my playground. The students are my playmates. The subject is our toy.”

How surprised they would be whenever I say that when I come to class I don’t work, I play. Work is hard. Play is fun.

And that’s how I found joy in teaching – to not consider it as just another job. It works for me.

As we end the first meeting I would tell them, “Come back next week and let’s play.”

Just imagine – I play and get paid handsomely for doing so. The remuneration is just the icing on the cake. Which one is the cake? It’s the happiness; the happiness that I derive from doing what I love doing – teaching.

How and Why I Love Teaching

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How do I love teaching?

Let me count the years… thirty!

Yes, I have been a teacher for three decades now. I began my teaching career at a basic education institution in Bauan, Batangas (Philippines) in 1988 and served  my 30th year in the academe at a university in South Korea. I will be returning to that same school for 2019 (and beyond… God willing) to continue my journey as a teacher.

Despite the not-so-good comments I heard  about teaching as a profession when I was young, I embraced it and I don’t regret having done so.

It is both surprising and amusing how lowly teaching is regarded by some people. It is one of the least popular jobs anywhere in the world.

Parents in the culture where I grew up would tell their children graduating from high school to just take up an Education course and be a teacher once they find out that their children are of average intelligence.

To some professionals, teaching plays second fiddle.  They would seek positions in the academe as teachers when in their chosen fields they could not get job offers. Many native speakers of English who had difficulty finding jobs in their own countries are working as ESL teachers in countries like Japan, China, and South Korea. Luckily for some of them, even if they are not graduates of Education courses or are not trained as teachers, there are schools who would hire them only because they are native speakers of English. I consider this a disservice to the teaching profession.

I love teaching and I do take my job as a teacher seriously. I sought employment in the academe upon completion of my bachelor’s degree knowing that I am qualified to be a teacher. I became a teacher not because I have no other choice. I became one by choice.

I know that teaching as a profession requires a lot and I made sure I am apt to the task. I went to graduate school, attended conferences and seminars, took certificate courses (like TESOL), and studied by myself the application of technology to education. I also keep reading books and journals related to both my subject area and pedagogy. All of the aforementioned  I did  (am doing) in order to  ensure that I could cope up with the demands of the profession and to give nothing but the best to my students. This is my way of respecting my profession as a teacher.

Why do I love teaching?

Search for the 25 best-paying jobs (or make that 50… or 100) and it’s very unlikely that teaching is included.  This is what makes the teacher’s job not-so appealing. Teachers get paid low and on top of that –  they are overworked. They work way beyond office hours. Such is the reality that I fully accepted. I never whined about it.

But for me, it’s never been the pay. It’s the happiness and the sense of fulfillment that teaching gave me. That’s what I love about this profession.

I enjoy doing the things that teaching requires me to do. Teachers need to read and write a lot. And those are my hobbies. Teachers have to do a lot of talking and leading and I so happen to love public speaking. I love the feeling of being in front of people… talking to them, making them laugh, and leading them to action.

Teaching allowed me do the things I love doing. It actually honed my skills and improved my knowledge in the areas where I could excel. It developed in me values that guide me both personally and professionally. It challenged me to strive for excellence and pushed me beyond my abilities. It made me believe in myself and it strengthened my faith in God as well.

As Jim Rohn said, “True happiness is not contained in what you get, happiness is contained in what you become.”

What I have become because of teaching is just amazing.

And the rewards for becoming what I have become are equally amazing.

The rewards – both intrinsic and extrinsic – are just awesome.

Don’t tell me that teaching is not financially rewarding. Teachers can be paid handsomely if they play their cards well and push the right buttons. It’s a matter of how they handle their career in the academe, how they build up their reputation, and what stuffs do they have in their professional portfolios.

Here is my advise to teachers like me, most especially to the young ones – don’t teach for the money. Become first what you ought to become. Be the best teacher you could be. Don’t be contended with your Bachelor’s degree. Aspire to have a doctorate. Attend all the seminars and training you could attend. Be certified in your field. Invest on yourself… not on gadgets and other material possessions. Plan well your career in the academe and make the right decisions.

If teachers would love their job and treat it with utmost respect, they will get the rewards they richly deserve.

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