Unless you have really complicated addresses or medical history, the most difficult and time consuming part of the EPIK application is the essay and the lesson plan. Here are some really quick tips/ideas. You don’t have to follow them, but if you’re really struggling hopefully they can give you some ideas.
There is some doubt about the layout and purpose of the essay. Does EPIK care more about content or are they just double checking for grammar and punctuation?
EPIK loses a lot of people because they can’t commit to a year abroad, so they are pretty concerned about the actual answers to their questions. As for proper grammar and punctuation – this is obviously important as well. I think some mistakes will be fine, they won’t be grading it any more than say, a science teacher might grade a report. It’s content first but if there are absolutely glaring errors or if it’s obvious you don’t speak English very well (it’s not your first language) then it could cost you.
There seems to be a small debate on ESL Cafe about layout as well. Some people think the essay should be in true essay format.
Body paragraph #1 (why you want to teach English)
Body paragraph #2 (your teaching philosophy)
Body paragraph #3 (your thoughts on cultural…)
However, an essay this short doesn’t necessarily require this kind of layout. Most English classes I had said an “essay” this short is truly just to answer the questions. I tried to keep like-topics together and put it in paragraph format, but for the most part, no ones essays seem to be right or wrong if they layout is different.
- Answer all the questions, try to give them all equal amount of space – in theory 200 words each per question. Even if you have a lot of international experience or even if you’re a teacher don’t focus too much on that one answer.
- Don’t just write the minimum amount of words. If you’re struggling to get to 500 you need to take a step back and think it all through.
- Proofread, proofread proofread. Have someone else read it. Read it out loud. Read it backwards (one sentence at a time. You will see it as a less coherent piece and can analyze each sentence on its own).
- If you’re in college, you should have access to a writing center if you need help.
- Use any examples you have – if you’ve taken a trip and adapted well, if you’ve ever been around children for a few days and thought you handled it well, if you have any ideas – bring them up.
- Don’t be afraid to work in a positive-tense (that’s a tense now, apparently). Don’t use “if I become an EPIK teacher I would be…” be assertive “As an EPIK teacher I will be”
- Never be afraid to write a bad draft. If you’re stuck, just put anything on the page, even if it’s horrible. Get it on the page and out of your brain. Then you can pick and choose what you like, then move on.
The Lesson Plan
The lesson plan is probably the trickiest part as it doesn’t say what age group or anything specific you have to teach.
Then there is the million dollar question: do you want to have a fun activity to prove you can be a fun teacher? Or do you want to showcase your skills as a TEFL instructor by teaching intense grammar/difficult topics?
Ultimately it probably shouldn’t be too extreme on either end. Remember, too, why EPIK wants native teachers. The co-teacher is there (in theory) to teach more difficult topics. Half the reason why EPIK isn’t hiring middle/high school NETs is because the Korean teachers do a better job explaining confusing English grammar in their native language. You’re there more to decrease fears of foreigners, to increase speaking practice, to introduce culture, and ultimately to make students sound more natural.
Your first question with the lesson plan should be: what can I “teach” in my lesson plan that would make students sound more natural?
For my lesson plan I picked idioms – only about 5 – as they would increase understanding and make students sound more natural. Other ideas could be working on commonly misspelled/pronounced words, focusing on pronunciation, or slang. Of course you can do anything you want, but focusing on what EPIK wants the most should get you some bonus points (go read EPIK’s mission statement on their website for more ideas).
When you’ve picked your topic, make sure to throw one slightly difficult element in to show you’re not a cushy teacher (and you know what you’re talking about) and throw in one fun activity to show you can be fun and can teach without lecturing all the time. Doing all this should cover all your bases.
[Edit: October 24th] Now that I’ve been here for 8 months, I still stand by this. Realistically I always have to do boring stuff and fun stuff. The goal is definately getting them to use the phrases, so there has to be time to practice. A game that forces/encourages speaking is ideal (Battleship, Human Bingo, etc).
The organization is up to you. If you’ve taken a TEFL class just use the same lesson plans you learned how to do (ESA anybody!?) You won’t get a job if you haven’t done a TEFL cert.
Including a powerpoint (or a Prezi link) or a worksheet also shows more effort. EPIK says if you’re including a power point you should put it so there are five-seven slides to a page and then include that at the end of your lesson plan. Just don’t go over 5 pages.
“We are interested in your ability to succeed as an ESL teacher in a public school in Korea. In 500-800 words, please share with us your reasons for wanting to teach ESL in Korea, your teaching philosophy and your thoughts on encountering cultural differences.”
Oy. Where to start, right? The personal essay is a critical component of your EPIK application. In less than a thousand words, you have to: personalize yourself in a way that distinguishes you from other applicants; convince the reviewer(s) that you’re in it for the right reasons; reassure them that you not only can do the job, you can also do it well/better than other applicants; and make them believe you can handle whatever Korean culture is going to throw at you…all with as few grammar mistakes as possible (you are applying to teach English, after all).
When I was in the process of writing my personal essay, I did some research to find out how other applicants went about it. I also asked my recruiting agency (which turned out to be the most helpful source of info) and my TEFL certification instructor. Here’s what I learned that I’d like to pass on:
- In discussing your reasons for wanting to teach in Korea, mention the word “travel” as little as possible. With the exception of using the T-word to illustrate how you deal with/enjoy cultural differences, try to avoid it, as it makes you come off to application reviewers as someone whose head is more in the clouds than the classroom.
- Instead, focus on what you like about teaching. Perhaps talk about a past teacher who inspired you, or how your own passion for education drew you into the field. What aspects of being a teacher excite or motivate you?
- Make it clear why you want to teach specifically in Korea. Yes, Korea offers arguably the best salary and benefits to first-time English teachers anywhere in the world, but that’s not what they want to hear. What elements of Korean culture interest you (K-Pop, hiking, holiday traditions, social norms)? Do you find the reputation of the country’s educational system impressive? How about its rapid economic and technological advances? Maybe you’ve already begun learning Hangeul and are looking forward to mastering the Korean language. Whatever your reasons, express them in a way that demonstrates your curiosity about and commitment to living in Korea. If it truly is your #1 choice, make sure they know it.
- There is no wrong way to describe your teaching philosophy, as long as you pull from the philosophies and strategies preached to you by your TEFL certification course. A few key points to hit might be: limiting teacher talking time/maximizing students’ interaction with the material, employing a variety of teaching strategies in order to engage all learning styles, and fostering a supportive classroom environment.
- Use examples to describe how you deal with and view cultural differences. This is where your travel resume can come into play. “Studying abroad for six-weeks in Spain showed me that the best way to learn about another culture is to immerse in it.” “While volunteering in a rural Guatemalan village, I became fascinated with just how similar and, at the same time, different small-town life can be around the world.” Your essay shouldn’t make living in Korea sound like #37 on your Travel Bucket List. It should prove that you believe working for EPIK is an opportunity to dive into another culture and learn from the experience, personally and professionally.
- Finally, a successful applicant can structure the essay in a few different ways, all of which are perfectly fine. Some people break each topic (reasons for wanting to teach ESL in Korea, teaching philosophy and thoughts on cultural differences) into three very distinct, numbered segments. Others find a way to transition from one topic to the next in a more fluid approach, but still follow the order in which the topics were revealed in the question. You also might find, like I did, that your answers speak to more than one topic at a time. Your paragraphs, then, will be less this-is-my-answer-to-topic-1, this-is-my-answer-to-topic-2, this-is-my-answer-to-topic-3, and more, this-is-my-thought-and-how-it-relates-to-topics-1-and-3, this-is-my-thought-and-how-it-relates-to-topics-2-and-1, this-is-my-thought-and-how-it-relates-to-everything-you’re-asking. And that’s okay.
In the end, it all comes down to your personal writing style and what you believe will land you the job. The above tips were what made my essay a success, but that hardly means they are guarantees. They’re also not the be-all end-all of EPIK tips. If you have any suggestions, questions or would like help with your essay, feel free to leave me a message. Good luck!