Text and photographs by Dr. David Shaffer
It wasn’t so long ago that I was downtown at a restaurant-cum-tavern when a nice young lady walked up to me. She said hi and told me that she recognized me as part of Korea TESOL. She said that she was an English teacher in Gwangju and, somewhat apologetically, expressed her regret for not coming to our monthly meetings (of the Gwangju-Jeonnam Chapter of KOTESOL). She then went on to defend her admitted absence from meetings: “There’s just so many things going on in Gwangju on weekends,” “I sometimes have to work on Saturdays,” etc. Then, she added an excuse that struck me and has stuck with me: “Besides, I’ve been here three, four years now, so I know how to teach.”
“I know how to teach.” She was dead serious; no humor intended. I have lived in this city and taught English for more years than I like to reveal, but I would find it very difficult to declare, “I know how to teach!” Call it “modesty” – maybe. But I attribute my reluctance to proclaim “I know how to teach” more to accumulated awareness – an awareness that tells me that the more I know about teaching English in Korea, the more I know there is to know. I don’t like to let myself feel too content because I know there’s always more to learn.
I hope this young lady knows how to teach better than I did when I had three years of experience under my belt. (That was a time when “TESOL” and “EFL” were newly born acronyms, and classrooms didn’t have course book tapes or even tape recorders to put them in!) With three years of teaching behind me, I was sorely aware that I needed to learn how to be a better teacher, but there was a paucity of books available on teaching English as a foreign language, no Internet, no Amazon, no KOTESOL, no help. If I were to have only three years of teaching to put on my résumé today, I wouldn’t have the excuses I had back in the dark ages. There are just so many options available today to help one become a better teacher – one just needs to know where to find them and have the oomph to go after them.
One of these options is KOTESOL. Korea TESOL has been around for two-and-a-half decades now, and the Gwangju-Jeonnam Chapter has existed for just about as long. Because she has never attended a meeting, the young lady at the restaurant probably isn’t aware of what a KOTESOL chapter meeting is or how helpful they can be to an English teacher.
KOTESOL chapter meetings usually consist of two 50-minute sessions, either talks or workshops on a wide variety of informative teaching topics, such as differentiated instruction, flipped classrooms, elicitation techniques, cognitive load, project work, and the ever-evolving tech landscape, to name a few. The presenters are chapter members, other KOTESOL members, or other teachers in the community.
Other times, we will have a collaborative session of sorts where attendees will work in small groups and pool their expertise to discuss or solve some teaching problem that they are given. After the main sessions, we always have what we call a “swap-shop session,” where anyone in attendance can take a few minutes to share with the group a teaching idea that they have, a language learning activity or teaching technique that worked well for them, or an app that can be adapted to the classroom.
To top things off, most months we have a Reflective Practice SIG (special interest group) that meets in the mornings of meeting day for attending teachers to discuss and reflect on their own teaching practices and how they can be improved on. These are inward-looking, inward-searching, insightful sessions that can even be therapeutic. Additionally, the chapter has an annual conference every spring that features a full day of speakers and concurrent workshop presentations on all things TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language). The KOTESOL slogan is “Teachers Helping Teachers,” and our chapter events attempt to emanate this.
There is much more to KOTESOL than the Gwangju-Jeonnam Chapter. KOTESOL is a national organization with nine chapters around the country, and each chapter has its own meetings and events on different weekends of the month. There are national SIGs for KOTESOL members: the Multimedia and CALL SIG, the Reflective Practice SIG, the Christian Teachers SIG, the Social Justice SIG, and more – all of which have their own events. Of these, by the way, the Christian Teachers SIG is having its annual symposium in Pohang on September 23 and the Reflective Practice SIG is having a “Day of Reflection” series of workshops featuring Dr. Thomas Farrell in Seoul on September 30.
As a national organization, KOTESOL hosts multiple national events. Each spring it holds a national conference that attracts hundreds of English teachers from around the country. This year’s conference featured “neuroELT” presentations, topics on an emerging field that KOTESOL introduced to Korea. Lastly, the main event of the year for KOTESOL is its autumn international conference (October 21–22 this year). It is annually the biggest ELT event in Korea, attracting a thousand attendees, over 200 presentations, and a dozen expert speakers invited from around the world. This conference offers takeaways for everyone, no matter what aspect of ELT an attendee is interested in. It will be held in Seoul at Sookmyung Women’s University this year.
Why am I saying all this about KOTESOL? Well, it’s all in the hope that the young lady in the restaurant who said “I know how to teach” might realize that there are things out there that she could do to make her an even better teacher – that KOTESOL has much to offer beyond the basics, that it has something for everyone.
David E. Shaffer is Vice-President of the Gwangju-Jeonnam Chapter of Korea TESOL (KOTESOL). On behalf of the Chapter, he invites you to participate in the teacher development workshops at their monthly meetings (always on a Saturday). For many years, Dr. Shaffer has been a professor of English Language at Chosun University, where he has taught graduate and undergraduate courses. He is a long-time member of KOTESOL and a holder of various KOTESOL positions, including First Vice-President and Publications Committee Chair. Dr. Shaffer credits KOTESOL for much of his professional development in English language teaching. He is also editor-in-chief of Gwangju News.