Teaching no longer lonely experience

  • Published : Dec 7, 2010 - 17:38
  • Updated : Dec 7, 2010 - 17:38
The 7th Annual KOTESOL Symposium and Thanksgiving dinner, held last Saturday in Cheonan, was a chance to join in the cherished American celebration and a great opportunity to learn about the finer points of teaching. The food was delicious and the company warm.

KOTESOL or the Korea Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages is an organization dedicated to assisting teachers of English develop their skills, and in improving ELT in Korea. It has ten chapters across Korea that run monthly workshops on teaching skills and theory. They hold six conferences a year with international guest speakers and leading academics.

The act of teaching can be a lonely experience. One is “out there” alone in front of class after class. But at these conferences one can learn from others’ experiences and take home some treasures. 
Teachers discuss teaching techniques and computer-assisted learning in the classroom.

Simply meeting and sharing with others is a big part of KOTESOL conferences. But the highly informative workshops about the practical aspects of teaching are also extremely useful. Presenters are experienced teachers and provide a wonderful opportunity to discuss and trade opinions and suggestions in a relaxed unpretentious setting.

At Saturday’s conference entitled “Language Teaching in the Next Decade,” fifteen presenters offered insights and shared experiences in their 45 minute workshops.

Andrew Finch of Kyungpook National University, Daegu drew attention to the need to know “what’s going on in the classroom.” Finch is a strong advocate of “Action Research,” a process of gathering data to better understand and then modify what one is doing. Finch has a wealth of information on Action Research and a list of teaching resources at

The need for cultural self-awareness and cultural sensitivity was dealt with by Heebon Park of Kyungpook University. She showed how crucial it is to be aware that one’s perspectives in the classroom are just that ― one’s own, and the more one knows about this the better. She described how we need to acknowledge the subjective reality of students’ perspectives and to work with, rather than against these perspectives. Foreign teachers all too often “crash-land” in Korea with no understanding of their students’ culture.

Tim Thompson of KAIST introduced us to a computer based program which will make it possible for students to experience simulated situations in which they are prompted to respond and then have their responses recorded and evaluated. For example, one could be asked to respond to a doctor’s questions about one’s health. The applications of this are almost limitless in potential and we look forward to Tim’s efforts in developing this program further.

In the closing plenary speech Finch drew attention to how our approach to teaching is still largely rooted in perspectives that are limited and largely inappropriate for the postmodern world in which we live. Concepts such as “native speaker,” “standard pronunciation” and “target culture” are becoming less relevant as English becomes a global language. We have so much at our disposal if we open our eyes to possibilities and learn about them. New technologies in the classroom such as laptops and smartphones make all kinds of old interfaces redundant. We can invent our own approaches and now the challenge is not to teach what we know, but to teach our students (and ourselves) how to learn.

So for those of you out there who feel you’re isolated and stagnating in the classroom, please look up KOTESOL and join. They have monthly workshops in 10 cities across Korea, and there are always plenty of people ready to share their teaching experiences and insights. To find out more about KOTESOL visit their website at

By David Watermeyer

David Watermeyer teaches English at Uiduk University, Gyeongju. He can be reached at ― Ed.