Eun Oh

eun

Eun Oh is an English teacher at Sukji High School in Suwon, Korea, a city near Seoul. She is a graduate of Sangmyung University in Seoul where she received her BA in English Education. She also received an MA in TESOL from San Francisco State University in December, 2012. Her focus in her Capstone project, one requirement for her MA degree, was training students to use corpus tools for self-study in their learning of English phrasal verbs. She is continuing to use internet resources and corpus tools to make her lessons for her current students more authentic and engaging. E-mail address: amy.spudnik@gmail.com

Terry: Could you tell us about your educational and professional
background? What was it like studying English as a middle and high
school student in Korea? Why did you choose English as your major in
university? What led you to become a high school English teacher?
Also, tell us about your decision to come to study for an MA in TESOL
at San Francisco State University.

Eun: Studying English as a middle and high school student in Korea was all
about memorization and translation. We were supposed to memorize the
meanings of all the words which were on the list of frequently used
words in the Korean SAT exam and sometimes even the parts of speech of each
word. Moreover, analyzing each sentence was what we usually did in
English classes, such as finding the subjects and verbs and separating
them from the modifiers like relative clauses or to-infinitives. I
know that this may not sound very appealing, but I actually was so
much into these things. I loved to find grammar rules in the given
texts, and I had fun spending time with thick old grammar books. It
was like a whole new world for me to go deeper and deeper into a new
language. It was amazing to see a set of words become a new sentence
with the meaning I wanted to convey when they were put together using those
grammar rules. I could also see those grammar rules used in the new
readings. That is why I chose English education as my major in
university. English was the subject in which I found real pleasure. I
wanted to share with others the pleasure of learning grammar rules,
applying them to make new sentences, and finding them in new reading
contexts. Things had  changed, however, by the time I became a
sophomore in my English education major. This is when I realized that
digging deeper and deeper into English grammar wouldn’t help me become
an English teacher. In Korea, there are some procedures to go through
in order to become a teacher. First, you need to receive a teaching
certificate which is given to a person who has completed the four
years of a teaching course in university. And then, you need to pass
the national-level teacher appointing examination which is quite
competitive. The exam consists of many subjects, such as pedagogy,
major-related ones, composition, a Chinese-character exam, and interviews.
For the English major, we had two interviews, one in Korean, and one
in English. This is where I had the most difficult times in terms of
preparation. As I mentioned above, English was all about learning
grammar when I grew up. All of a sudden, however, I was supposed to
answer the interview questions in English without knowing what I was
going to be asked. Several years of passion for English grammar and
further education in university didn’t really bring me to a good level
of spoken English. It was really frustrating. I found myself in fear
of making grammar mistakes, which made me very reluctant to speak
English. I felt it so unfair that people expected prospective English teachers to
use English when they grown up and been educated as English teachers using only
Korean. I was so lucky that I passed the exam and became an English
teacher as I had wanted. But spoken English was still my weakest
point. I was not confident in using English in front of the class. In
some way, it was also fortunate that high school students were still
doing the same things as I had done in my high school days. I taught
them to look at English as I had looked at English. On the other hand,
I felt guilty about it because I knew that they were going to realize
what I realized as a college student: the fact that the world doesn’t
want a person who has grammar knowledge but doesn’t know how to use
it. The world wants a person who communicates in English. I felt the
need to learn more. I needed a new motivation. So, I decided to go to
the U.S. to have a new inspiration. I wanted to learn English not
through reading books, but through real communication. I wanted to
help my students find fun in studying English as they are going to
encounter English everywhere in their lives. I wanted to know how people
learn English in the U.S.
Terry: As an NNEST working as an English teacher in Korea, what are some of
the challenges you have experienced and what have been some of your
successes? What aspects of your job do you like the most?

Eun: The biggest challenge I have experienced as an NNEST is that I am
still an English learner. As English is a foreign language not usually
used in my daily life, there are still a lot of words and expressions
I haven’t even heard of. Meanwhile, it is a cultural expectation in
Korea that teachers should know everything about what they teach. I
love to learn new vocabulary words or idioms, but I don’t want to let
my students know that I am ignorant of them. In addition, more and
more students are becoming interested in authentic English that native
English speakers would use in their everyday lives. They find it cool
for people in Hollywood movies to speak “real” English which they
don’t usually have a chance to hear in English classrooms. I learned
English as a foreign language in class myself, so I feel not as
effective as NESTs when it comes to colloquial English.
However, I am sure that I have had some successes. As I have also been
a learner of English like my students, I understand how hard it is for
them to learn a foreign language. The experience as an international
student in the M.A. TESOL program helped me as well to see what it is like to
sit in class not understanding what is going on. I am more patient
than before about those who don’t  follow the class. I have tried to
think about them from their point of view and find ways to help them
get involved. I’ve tried many things and I feel that I am finding
more know-hows that work for my students. I’ve had a few students who
said that they came to like English because of me. There are not many,
but still it feels rewarding to help students who had hated English to
become interested in it. This is another success that I’ve had in my
career.

Terry: There has been a lot of research recently about the development of
teacher identity and agency. What particular experiences and factors
have been influential in your own teacher identity development as
an English language learner in Korea, as an MA TESOL student in San
Francisco, and a high school English teacher in Korea?

Eun: I think various factors have worked together to develop my identity as
a teacher. My identity actually has changed a lot from the time  I
first became a teacher until the teacher that I am now. When I first
became a teacher, I thought that I had to be a master of knowledge. I
knew that I could never be like that, but anyway I pretended that I
knew almost everything that the students would like to know, and tried
not to let them notice that their teacher was not as knowledgeable as
they expected. As time went by, however, I felt that I could no longer
keep up with those expectations. I felt that I was wearing an outfit
that didn’t fit. Pretending to be someone who I wasn’t bothered me. I
wanted to become the person and teacher who I was pretending to be.
That was when I decided to go to the U.S. to have more education. I
wanted to equip myself with more knowledge – in terms of both theory
and practice. I wanted to experience communicating with native English
speakers to get familiar with using English in everyday conversation.
Two and a half years in the U.S. as an MA TESOL student at SF State, however, was
not exactly like what I had expected. In the first semester, I was way
behind with the readings in all classes, and I was so intimidated by
native English speakers speaking so fast in class discussions that I
could hardly talk to them even individually. Many bilinguals or even
multi-linguals in the TESOL course also made me frightened. I felt so
unqualified as an English teacher compared to them. I had to accept
that I was not even close to being a  “master of knowledge”. Instead,
fortunately, I started to find a new teacher identity as a tutor and
learning mate. I was helped by a competent tutor, who was a teaching
assistant for my graduate composition class. Not only did she
proofread all my writing assignments and give me nice comments and
useful advice, but she also taught me how to use online resources for
better writing. I was so inspired by her that when I became a T.A. for
that same class in the third semester, I did the same thing with the
international students in that class. As I had struggled with my own
writings and with my English, I could understand what kinds of
difficulties they were going through. To give them more helpful
comments and advice, I had to study harder. That was a good learning
experience. I could feel that I was making progress with the students
I was tutoring. Two semesters of observing and co-teaching in a Movie
ESL class at City College of San Francisco with Terry Doyle also helped me change my point of
view about teaching. The students in this class were not U.S. born
like me. We had no difference other than the fact that I had learned
English a little in advance of them. Although I couldn’t speak as
fluently as native English speakers, I could share what I had acquired
through years of learning English and could learn more through
preparing the class lessons. For me, now, teachers are not the perfect
givers of knowledge, but the ones who listen to what their students
are suffering, and who grow up together with the students.

Terry: As Hae Sung Yang discusses in the February 2015 NNEST of the Month
interview, MA TESOL graduates, both NNESTs and NESTs , sometimes
encounter some difficulty applying the western approaches and
pedagogies they study in their MA TESOL classes in the United States
to non-ESL settings. Hae Sung mentioned that about half of MA TESOL
students in universities in the United States end up landing jobs
outside the United States. This includes US-born as well as
international students. In this interview Hae Sung wrote, “One
challenge for the programs would be that international students would
enter a TESOL program with the expectation that they would be able to
bring Center-oriented theory and pedagogy they learn in their MA TESOL
programs back to their home countries.” What is your opinion about
this point? How useful have the theory and the pedagogy you studied in
your MA TESOL program in your current teaching in your high school in
Korea? Perhaps the classes and professors you had in your MA TESOL
program were different from those that Hae Sung Yang experienced since
he graduated from the MA TESOL program at the same university as you
did several years before you.

Eun: I find it hard to apply the things I learned in the MA TESOL directly
to the Korean high school setting where I work. It is no wonder,
actually, that it has been difficult because Korean students hardly
have any opportunities to use English in their daily lives. They are
therefore generally not as motivated to learn English as students in the
U.S. The most effective motivation is that they are tested by their
performance on English exams, which has a powerful influence on their
college entrance. As their motivation for learning English is not
communication but test results, communication-oriented approaches that
I learned during my MA TESOL program seem too far away to apply.
However, I would say that I have been able to apply myself into a new setting. As
I changed a lot throughout the 2.5 years in my MA TESOL program, I now
find myself trying new things in every class. Although I can’t have
students get involved in real communication in English, I try to take
most class material out of authentic communication. For example,
instead of giving the students new words and the meanings out of
context, I take out the sentences for handouts from google searches or
COCA corpus that I had a close look at for my capstone project in my
MA TESOL program. This way, I can help them look at the new words in more
meaningful and communicative ways. I am still in the first step of
applying my knowledge to my current teaching, but I’m sure that I am stepping
forward in my professional development as a teacher.

Terry: When and how did you first become aware of NNEST-related issues?
Were these issues discussed sufficiently in your MA TESL program
classes? Do you think MA TESOL programs should offer particular
courses about NNEST-related issues for international MA TESOL students
… and also for US-born MA TESOL students?

Eun: I first became aware of NNEST-related issues when I took English 670,
Graduate Writing for TESOL and Linguistics, during the first semester
of MA TESOL program. For the first assignment, we were asked to read
an article about NNEST issues and write a position paper. This was the
first time that I had thought about these issues. In Korea, it was normally
accepted that NESTs were the ideal models that English learners should
follow. Nothing would be better than learning from the ideal models as
far as English learning is concerned. However, after doing some
research about the NNEST-related issues, I could look at these issues
from a different point of view. Just because NESTs definitely provide
the learners with a good source of English doesn’t mean that NNESTs do
not deserve the same credit as NESTs. In my position paper, I
discussed the issue of English-only policy and argued that NNESTs’ use
of the L1 can be an effective tool for English teaching and learning. Like
this, I had several more opportunities to think about this issue
throughout the program. Although these issues were not dealt with as explicitly
in other classes, we tended to relate the class agendas to these issues
maybe because my fellow students in my MA TESOL program were from a variety of
national backgrounds. I think these issues are worth looking at as we MA TESOL
students, both international and US-born, are likely to go to anywhere
in the world to teach English. We need to have new eyes to look at things
from different angles.

Terry: Does any memory in your childhood stands out as most influential to
you in forming your decision to become an English teacher? Were there
any particularly memorable teachers who influenced your teaching
career?

Eun: As a child, I started to learn English at the age of 11 at a private
institute. The symbols and the names of each letter in the alphabet were the
only things I knew about English. I was the only new student to the
class, and the others had learned English from the very beginning
before I had arrived. I was so scared to go to the class every day. During
the first week, we learned a phonetic alphabet and how to pronounce new
words using this alphabet and we were told that we were going to have the first
word test the following week. Since this phonetic alphabet was the first
thing I learned in the class, I thought I was supposed to use phonetic
alphabet symbols on the test. On the test day, therefore, I wrote all the
words in phonetic alphabet symbols. It took me much longer than the other
students in the class. When I finished and handed in my test, my teacher
found out why it had taken me so long. She didn’t let other students
notice what happened. She smiled at me, told me quietly to stay after
the class, and asked me to write the words using the traditional alphabet not the phonetic
alphabet. She was so warm and kind in doing all these things. I felt even
some accomplishments after doing what she asked me to do. I can’t
forget the happy feeling I had going back home. She was very warm and
kind all the time. I started to like English because of her. I wanted
to dedicate my love for English to her.
I have one more teacher to talk about. She was my English teacher in
the second year in high school, and also my homeroom teacher. At that
time, English class was all about reading textbooks. I never thought
that I could talk about myself in English. But the teacher gave us
many opportunities to talk about ourselves in front of the class after
her modeling. Her modeling gave me courage. I was shy but happy at the
same time. It was amazing that I could use those words in the
textbooks in order to talk about my own story. Another amazing thing
about her was that she tried new things all the time. She went
trekking in the Himalaya Mountains during the winter vacation. She was even
learning Russian to read the novels of her favorite author,
Dostoyevski. I was so inspired by her incessant passion about
learning.
Like these teachers, I want to be a kind and warm-hearted English
teacher that helps students who are afraid of a new language to become
interested in it, and also want to become a person who keeps learning
throughout my life time.

Terry: I know that high school English teachers in Korea are always very
busy, even during your summer and winter vacations. and as my former
co-teacher in our class, I know that you work very hard every day
because you worked so hard in our Movie ESL class and on your MA capstone
project. What are your favorite hobbies and other things you like to
do to unwind when you are not teaching and working on other
school-related activities?

Eun: I’ve been a Christian all my life, so going to church and praying are the
activities that make me calm and relieved about troubles in my busy life.
Taking care of Sunday school children, and singing in the church choir
together with good people are also the things I love to do. Other than
that, I love to paint. Once a week, I go to an art class after school.
I paint what I want to paint and my teacher helps me with some details
that need some changes.  Concentrating on painting, three and a half hours just
disappear so quickly. This is what I love about painting. I can forget
about worries and troubles of my life because finishing the painting
is the only goal to achieve during the painting class time.  I’m also
doing a lot of exercise activities to take my stress away. I work
out at the gym twice a week before going to work. I started exercising
to lose some weight, but now I am enjoying working out itself. It
feels so refreshing to go to work after sweating and taking a shower.
Moreover, my colleagues and I play badminton at the school gym after
work. One of the P.E teachers in my school kindly offered to give us
badminton lessons for free. We’ve been having such a nice time playing
badminton together. I also go swimming every Saturday with my friend.
My friend used to be an amateur swimmer who won a championship a few
years ago. I had hated swimming all my life, but she has helped me to
like swimming. Now I can’t wait to go swimming with her.

Terry: Thank you very much for your interesting and engaging answers to my questions.

I’m sure that our readers will be as interested as I have been to read your answers and inspired

by your experiences and your example as a hard-working teacher who continually searches

for new ways to help your students.

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