ESL Teachers Of South Korea: Andrew Bergquist

ESL Teachers Of South Korea: Andrew Bergquist

Name: Andrew Bergquist

Hometown: Rogers, Arkansas

Age: 36

Currently Living: Just north of Seoul

Job: Ex Everything Teacher, Currently Running a hagwon

What are you doing right now?

Answering interview questions. I’m actually waiting for SpongeBob Squarepants Typing to download so I can see if it will be useful for my kids.

And what’s your typical day?

Arrive at the hagwon around 11am. Kick around for a bit before I actually have to work. Browse reddit, look at 9gag (yeah, I know, it’s gross). I have a meeting with my secretary to discuss work that hasn’t been finished an what we need to do today or for the future. Some light lesson planning, and then class.

Where are you from?

I’m from Arkansas.

Where did you first teach ESL?

I first taught ESL in Jeongok, South Korea. It’s a pretty small town a stone’s throw from North Korea. The Koreans call it the countryside, but the first school I taught at had about 1200 students.

Why do you teach?  

I haven’t necessarily wanted to be a teacher, but I always suspected it would turn out this way. I was the kid in class that, even though I understood the concept, would ask clarifying questions so that other, shyer students, wouldn’t need to ask questions.


If you weren’t teaching, what would you be doing?

Living in a cabin in the woods, chopping wood and doing carpentry.

What separates the good teachers from the bad?

I think that teaching people to think for themselves is crucial. That, and remembering that every student is a person with a personality, needs, and a preferred method of learning.

What were the hardest life lessons you had to learn while teaching?

That racism, even in casual instances, exists and that some people will just not conform or accept education.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about teaching abroad or living  abroad?

Maybe decide how long you want to be gone. I left home without a plan and I’m still here, mostly without a plan about going home. It’s gotten more complicated as life progresses.

Do you have any passions or hobbies that you pursued abroad?

I learned Korean, and that was a trip. Taught me a lot about grammar and thinking about language in general. At the moment I’m being a bum, but in general I ride my bike a lot and go running - both of these hobbies were greatly improved by Korea’s extensive bike paths.

What would you be doing if you weren’t teaching?

I’d probably be chopping wood and doing carpentry. Unless you mean if I hadn’t take the opportunity to teach. In that case, no idea. The only other job offer I got out of school was as a travelling salesman. So, maybe that?

Can you tell us a few tips or tricks to help improve our classes?

I suppose just trying to think about how difficult language acquisition is and whether or not you’d be interested in your own classes are good things to keep in mind. Always try to keep a general pattern to your classes so that if a lesson is failing or you have failed to properly plan, the lesson can be changed on the fly.

When my students are starting to get too noisy I like to have a breath-holding competition in the middle of class. However, they’re not in direct competition, everyone is trying to go 20, then 25, the 30 seconds without breathing. I find, well, if they don’t lose it in a giggle-fit, that the activity focuses their minds and gives the class a good place to restart.

Another thing I like to do is to pose questions to them about their own language. Why do you say ‘x’ and not ‘y’ in this situation. It helps them understand their own language which gives them more insight into English.

What websites or books helped you when you first started?  Which do you still use now?

I’ve never really used it in class, but I do like the Grammar in Use series. Depending on what your doing it might be worth looking into.

What are the go-to tools that you think teachers should buy to improve their class.  I’ve found that a set of mini-whiteboards work wonders for young learners. What about you?

I am constantly using a regular set of cards. They can be used in many ways. ‘Red’ means ‘no’ and ‘black’ means ‘yes’ during speaking activities. They can also be used at face value for a sort of random amount of points during a game. Another effective activity that can be used for drilling, for two people to turn over one card and then subtract the smaller card from the bigger one, the resulting difference is how many times the student has to drill the target language. It’s a simple way to turn drills into games.

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