Sunday, December 28, 2008

American soldiers and KATUSA (South Korean soldiers in US units) = Native foreign English teacher and Korean English co-teachers?

It would be nice to see some profile stories done by the Korean English media that showcase foreign English teachers in a positive light. The foreign teacher who IS qualified, and who does a good job. The foreign teacher who volunteers and contributes POSITIVE things to the local community and schools. These are things that we don't really see any kind of representation of in the Korean English media. The bizarre thing about this is that I know a couple of foreign teachers who are showcased frequently on Korean TV in a positive light . . . so I'm confused as to why there is such a difference between the TV media representation of foreign native English teachers and the online WRITTEN media representation of foreign teachers.

I have read on blogs written by expats that know Korean, however, that sometimes the TV showcasing of a foreign native English teacher is preceded or followed by a negative news story--for example, the mad cow fiasco. So any positive representations of foreign English teachers is contaminated by being juxtaposed with xenophobic sensationalized 'news' stories . . .

Anyways, here's a positive story that is unfortunately NOT put online by a Korean English news website . . . I'm going to look a bit online for some positive stories and see if I can find them--especially news stories that are not really about pushing the education policy and goals with the eye-candy representation of the foreign teacher as window dressing. I mean a REAL story that FOCUSES on a positive profiling of a foreign English teacher . . .

Camp Carroll soldiers help save school

By Hwang Hae-rym and Teri Weaver, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Monday, December 15, 2008

SEOUL — Early last year, Gwanho Elementary School in Waegwon was on the verge of closing.

Enrollment at the 35-year-old school in the tiny village about 160 miles southeast of Seoul had dropped to 47 students, three shy of South Korea’s minimum requirement to keep it open.

"Everybody felt so embarrassed, depressed and shocked," principal Choi Jae-yeol said.

"Think about you having no school in your hometown."

The school’s community — teachers, parents, alumni and neighbors — began a campaign to save their school. And they came up with an idea: Ask the soldiers at nearby Camp Carroll to help.

The soldiers agreed and began visiting the school regularly to provide English lessons. News spread, and more and more parents in the region looked to Gwanho as their preferred choice for their children.

Now, more than a year after the soldiers began volunteering, the school’s enrollment is up 64 percent and it is no longer on the government’s chopping block.

"The U.S. servicemembers saved our school," Choi said through an interpreter. "My heart is too full for words. What can I say but thank you, thank you."

The unit that started the volunteering left South Korea a few months ago, but the effort continues with soldiers from Service Company, 4th Battalion, 5th Area Defense Artillery, now stationed at Carroll.

"They begged us and pleaded with us, because the kids are really interested in having the soldiers read," 1st Sgt. Bernard Evans said of deciding to continue the volunteering, which is part of U.S. Forces Korea’s Good Neighbor Program.

I imagine that this kind of representation of Koreans would be part of the reason this story never hit the mainstream news outlets.

Now, every soldier in the unit is assigned to make a school visit, Evans said.

Each Monday and Tuesday, two soldiers and a KATUSA — South Korean soldiers assigned to U.S. military units throughout the peninsula — go to the school from 9 to 11 a.m. The South Korean soldiers go to help with interpretation for the adults.

WOW! The image of American soldiers as foreign native English teachers CO-TEACHING with KATUSA/Korean soldiers in the classroom is . . . wow. The thing is . . . I bet the co-teaching that goes on is SPECTACULAR. They might not be "co-teaching"--but what does that mean anyway? A lot of native teachers and Korean teachers do NOT have a shared definition of the term to begin with, so maybe this setup could be a model of what works well in Korea . . . I don't really think that, but it definitely broadens the range of what is possible and workable in terms of co-teaching, and what a native English teacher does together with a Korean English teacher in the classroom . . .

"The kids all speak English," Evans said.

The soldiers read with the kids and sometimes accompany them on field trips, he said.

Unfortunately this sounds like the soldiers become human CDs rather than doing any kind of teaching . ..

"We do whatever they have planned for that day," he said.

Evans said he tries not to send a soldier more than once, because the students can get so attached to individual personalities.

The idea of Korean children getting attached to American soldiers is something that I've never read about in the news here. Hmmmmmmmmm . ..

Lee Jeung-hee, an English-language teacher at the school, agreed that happens.

"The kids see them as their friends, a big brother or sister," she said.

That wasn’t always the case. The school serves a rice farming community, where, outside of the soldiers, few people of other races or nationalities visit. Seeing people of different skin colors and sizes, with scary-looking tattoos, intimidated some of the children at first.

"But the more I spent the time with them, the more I like them," said 12-year-old Kang Eun-jin, a sixth-grader. "I see them as my teachers as well as friends. They are very nice and friendly to us. It is really funny and interesting to be around with them."

Evans said trips to the school will continue as long as their mission allows.

Choi said now he’s facing a different problem.

Already, parents living in the next village have said they want to send an additional 15 students to the school. The increase may push some of the class sizes above 20 students and above the maximum requested by the military volunteers.

I'd like to see the kinds of reactions that would happen if the Korean government proposed using US soldiers stationed here on a much larger scale for learning and teaching English in the public schools . . . I imagine that it'd be tantamount to political suicide if a politician proposed the idea--but proposing using foreign native speakers of English who haven't graduated from university is a much better idea--nuh-uh.

"Now I am concerned and afraid whether more students would come and register to our school," he said.

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