Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Foreign English Teacher's Reflections On 3 Years of Teaching in a Korean Public School English Program

This is a post that I've been sitting on for quite a while now . . . I wanted to think about whether or not it would contribute to helping improve the public school education system here . . . and I think that the perspective of one native English teacher's 3 years of teaching in middle schools, a high school, a training center where I was a homeroom teacher for the six month intensive English teacher training program for Korean middle and high school English teachers, after school elementary, middle, and high school level programs, and summer and winter camps for all levels . . . I think that the perspective offered based on these experiences might provide some kind of insights into the fundamental issues that native English teachers face on a daily basis.

Below are questions from a survey sent out by a Korean English teacher as part of a survey that I do not know all of the details about. The primary motivation I had when I wrote out my responses to the survey below was one of trying to IMPROVE the 000 English program where I used to work--not simply to criticize it.

Criticism combined with suggestions for improvement should be seen for what it is: a genuine passion for quality teaching and education, and for the students of Korea to find the success they work so hard to achieve in their classrooms every day.

1. Did you have any experience in teaching area before you came to Korea?

(I left this one blank because I'm not going to put my resume on my blog).

2. When you arrived for the first time, did you get training?

No. The 000 English Program orientation (in 2005) was very poor to nonexistent. The orientation took place over 3 days, but was really only for about 4 hours in total. (Also, consider how effective training and orientations are within the first 48 hours of arriving after a 16-25 hour flightjet lag is a factor not considered in the orientation schedule). It consisted of a 30 minute video in KOREAN LANGUAGE about 00000 city and the 000 English Program (no translation was offered).

The native teacher brought in to speak to us, for about 2 hours, had no interest or motivation to prepare a proper orientation speech and materials. No teacher training, teaching resources, co-teaching methods, or any other kind of training related to teaching was given. His advice and commentary on Korean culture and living in Korea was also brief and lacking in specifics like how to get a cell phone, information about food, and basic banking . . . you would think an information package, or websites, or something would have been presented for new teachers to look at but nothing was given.

The orientation program has evolved quite a bit since then. During the end of 2005 and into 2006 and 2007, 00000, and some other foreign teachers developed power point presentations, gathered tourist pamphlets and other information (subway maps, etc) for when they gave the orientation for new foreign teachersbut this was done on their own time and generally with no instructions or requests made by the 000 English Program leadership.

The native speaker orientation presentation lasts only 3 hours (during a week to 10 days orientation period), and is not specific to level of foreign teacher (i.e. elementary, middle, and high school).

Later on, 00000, rewrote major portions of the orientation manual for 00000 to include bookstore directions, teaching book and resource lists, teaching websites, and information for TESL/TEFL training courses offered on websites, and information on the KOTESOL conference offered every year at Sookmyung Womens University in Seoul. He updated the manual to try and address the needs and wants of new foreign teachers in terms of teaching, teaching training and resources, and life in Korea. The 000 English Program office did no research into what foreign teachers were struggling with. No surveys were given, no meetings with opportunities to communicate issues were scheduled, and no plan was in place to support the new teachers upon arrival, or throughout their contract time in the 000 English Program.

As an orientation speaker I attended one orientation, for example, that was more like a photo-op for 00000 city hall where some city hall reps came and practiced their English speech giving skills, and tried to recruit foreign teachers to participate in their programs. New foreign teachers were taken on a tour of the citynone of which was helpful to any of the foreign teachers. Seeing the sports stadium, Korean war memorial for t00000, and other tourist sites did not help them see the places they wanted to like grocery stores, the English Language Teaching bookstore . . ., how to navigate the subway, where to eat, how to shop in the grocery stores, etc. The native teachers located out on 00000 island were pretty much forgotten in terms of anything being related to them.

In 2006 and 2007, a few professional development and foreign teacher training workshops were organized by 00000 city hall and the 000 English Program office (after 00000, 00000, and some other foreign teachers kept pushing the 000 English Program directors to do more training and development days). But the 00000 city hall foreign teachers workshop day speakers generally lacked the experience, training, and qualifications to present teacher training and development presentations to the some 150-200 foreign teachers who attended these sessions (one teacher had only been in the country for 6 months, and had no clue what he was talking about. He showed a video about co-teaching where he told a story to students who were not speaking English at all, and his co-teacher was nowhere to be seengood example of co-teaching!).

Another of the workshop sessions that was intended to offer co-teaching methodology was so poorly planned and presented that it was unbelievable. The Korean English teacher/presenter told personal stories about her experiences with a native teacher. It was mostly about their time OUTSIDE the classroom, and had no concrete methods or techniques for co-teaching: her primary message was to develop your personal relationship with each otherthats it.

The other presenter was from an English Village and had not been told he was presenting for middle and high school foreign teachershe was not even told the correct information about who his audience would be. So his well-prepared materials for ELEMENTARY foreign teachers was presented to the wrong levels of foreign teachers who sat there and tried to be patient because he was put in a very unprofessional situation by the organizers of the training.

2-1. How long was it for?

- see above

2-2. What was it about mostly?

- see above

2-3. How much do you think it helped you teach?

Not at all.

2-4. Do you think you need to get training more regularly?(e.g once in a month)

IF, and only IF, the instructors given the task of 000 English Program foreign teacher training have the proper credentials and experience. Bringing in outside instructors or professors (Korean or foreign) who have no public school teaching and co-teaching experience is usually foolish, although top level teacher trainers with a Master's degree in TESOL, some teaching experience early in their careers in public school, and who have a talent for teacher training in TEFL could be useful. Also, teacher trainers who have been trained in the ICELT British Council program would probably be able to offer competent and relevant training to foreign teachers as they are currently running programs in Seoul out of their offices for Korean English teachers.

Korean English professors generally have no experience teaching in public schools and therefore should (almost) NEVER be brought in to do teacher training for foreign teachers and their Korean co-teachers. This is often overlooked by the organizers of lectures and workshops for foreign teachers. There are a few Korean English professors who specialize in the ESL/EFL fields, and have something to offer in teacher training workshops, but they generally work in Seoul and do not travel to 00000. They also have fees that are likely outside the budget of the 000 English Program.

2-5. What else would you like to add to the training?

New foreign teachers arriving in 00000 should be offered a SIGNIFICANT discount (at least 50%) to do a TEFL or TESL 100 hour online instructor certification course. It would be even better if they were offered a 100% refund if they complete the instructor course and SIGN a TWO year contractthis would prevent people from taking the free training, and then leaving after only working one year. If they quit or leave after only one year, and theyve signed a two year contract, the office can deduct the cost of the instructor certification from their final months pay/or bonus month salary for completing a one year contract.

A video library should be created (I put this idea to 00000 in 2007, but they were too busy and overworked to get it going) of all foreign teachers and their co-teacher teaching in elementary, middle, and high schools in the 000 English Program. ONE video ONE class per semester. ONLY TWO PER YEAR. If the 000 English Program office did this they would then have a library from which they could draw videos to show new foreign teachers during their orientation, and also to show foreign teachers during workshops and teacher training days to show them different styles of teaching and co-teaching. This would also be helpful to Korean English co-teachers as they could see the Korean co-teachers methods too.

All foreign teachers who are willing to go to the KOTESOL conference at Sookmyung Womens University in October every year should not have to pay for their ticket to get in. It should be paid for by the 000 English Program office, and their primary co-teachers should have to attend too. The foreign teachers have to pay for their own travel expenses and hotel, so the 000 English Program paying for their ticket to enter the conference should not be seen as a luxury. Also, the foreign teachers come back with resources and training that benefit the 000 English Program, some of that should be supported by the 000 English Program office.

If outside instructors/professors are brought in to do teacher training they need to have the proper credentials and relevant experience. This means that their fees will not be cheap, but the investment is worth it if the 000 English Program wants to improve the training and teaching abilities of the instructors it employs.

A website for the 000 English Program where foreign teachers are required to upload ONE lesson per semester, two over the whole year, that they have designed and tested in their classes, and then edited after teaching, should be created. This website, if all foreign teachers uploaded 2 lessons per year, would then become a great resource for all foreign teachers in the 000 English Program.

3. When you arrived at the school for the first time, did you get enough information about what you were supposed to do from the school or a co-teacher?

No. No orientation or training is provided to schools and co-teachers. Co-teachers are not required to attend the orientation that foreign teachers attendand even if they were the quality of the orientation may not be high enough to be useful or relevant to the school/co-teacher.

Co-teaching methods and training are absent, and if present generally dont seem to be level appropriate, meaning they cant be used in elementary schools, or middle/high schools due to the differences in teaching styles, curriculum, and type of school.

Co-teachers often (not all the time) see the foreign teachers English class as a waste of time as the content is not tested, and the students also often dont care and see the class as sleep time, play time, or ignore the teacher time. Conversation needs to be integrated into the grading structure of the English classes, but this pre-supposes the native teacher having the necessary training and experience required to design tests and evaluate studentsoften they do not know how to do this, and have no training or experience in this area. Asking an untrained foreign speaker to suddenly perform like a professional teacher, AND test designer, evaluator, textbook and lesson plan designer/editor is INSANE if no training is offeredwhich is generally the case all too often. Even professional teachers with licenses and experience are not expected to design original quality lesson plansthey use textbooks designed/written/tested/edited by PhDs in educationnot, for example, a 25 year old recent graduate of BIOLOGY (not even the subject of English let alone ESL/EFL training) or some burned out hogwan foreign teacher looking for an easy job, or my personal favorite the tourist-teacher who only wants to party and travel around Asia . . .

4. Do you get enough information about your students, classes or what is going on in your school?

No. Often the native teacher is the last to know any information related to their OWN CLASSES. When tests are scheduled for students in their classes, national test days, school schedule changes, teacher business trips that cause their co-teacher to be absent . .. the list goes on and on. Some, SOME Korean co-teachers are AWESOME and make efforts to communicate this information, but sadly they are in the minority.

5. Do you have to make your own teaching materials and lesson plans or does the co-teacher tell you what to do?

It seems to be black or white, yes or no. Some co-teachers try to dominate the native teacher with the Korean style of teaching (meaning, it is based on the testing system which is radically different than most western cultural styles of education) which is not a communicative language teaching style, and the foreign teacher has many problems. Most of the time, from stories Ive heard from hundreds, (literally over 3 years of phone calls, emails, and conversations, Ive heard that many stories), the Korean co-teacher is so busy/stressed, and/or lacks the English language skills and the talent for teaching/training/experience in teaching methods that support teaching conversation and speaking, and designing lesson plansgenerally most co-teachers leave the native teacher completely without any effective support in the production of teaching materials and lesson plans.

6. Is your co-teacher cooperative and helpful to you?

In my 3 years of experience in the 000 English Program, I would say 40% of co-teachers were helpful, and 60% ranged from ineffective and unhelpful to the extreme of outright damaging the teaching quality in the classroom and overall education.

7. What kind of teaching methods do you use?

I prefer using task-based learning methods and teaching. I follow the principles of TEFL teaching as opposed to TESL (Korea is an EFL environment).

8. What is the hardest part of being a native teacher in your school? (e.g cultural difference, the relationship with co-teacher or students. Feeling isolated)

A general lack of the education system in Korea supporting the presence of native teachers. We are at best eye-candy used for photo opportunities, and used to expose students to foreigners. If the education system was serious about using foreign teachers in its public schools the testing system would be altered to test speaking abilities and conversation. It would not hire unqualified native speakers (who do not have TEFL/TESL/CELTA, or a valid teaching degree and experience). It would not put foreign teachers in classrooms with Korean co-teachers without giving both the foreign and Korean teachers real and REALISTIC (as opposed to idealized and theoretical concepts) teacher training on how to co-teach. And the list goes on . . .

9. Do you think your work is too much?(e.g too long working hours, too many students, too many levels, too much extra work..)

I think the teaching workload of 22 classes per week is acceptable. But the general teaching job environment and situation become very stressful when all of the other variables begin to effect the foreign teacher. For example, lack of communication of information connected to the foreign teachers classes. Lack of support within the classroom while co-teaching. Lack of support from co-teachers in producing teaching materials and lesson plans. Too many summer and winter camps being asked of foreign teachers with very little planning time for lessons (sometimes as little as a a couple of days to a week or two) and little to no warning of the camps details (usually also for no or very little extra pay). Too many different levels of students/classes when the teacher only sees them once a week OR LESS puts unrealistic demands on the native teacher but this is seen as fair by the schedule organizers due to pressure from Korean parents to have their child get time with the foreign teacher, and classes being put together by co-teachers with students who are false-beginners all the way up to near native speaker ability--how can a professional teacher put together a class like that and give it to a foreign teacher and expect any kind of quality learning and teaching to take place . . . and so and so forth . . .

10. Do you think your opinion is well accepted?

No. Foreign teachers are generally seen as outsiders and complainers who dont understand Korean culture and the education system. This is used to nearly 100% to dismiss any and all suggestions/constructive criticism/problems raised by foreign teachers (most of the time). The fundamental structure of the Korean education system is one of competition, not education, and it is maintained in this manner to allow the upper class rich and elite families to send their children to S.K.Y. which guarantees they continue their status as the elite of Korea. As long as students must use hogwans to compete within the public education testing system that relies too heavily on rote memorization of facts there is no real possibility of reforms being made, let alone a foreign teacher who has been in the country for a year or less being listened to when they try to share their opinion.

Another major factor tends to be simple ignorance. If the listener has never traveled to an English speaking country, had some training or exposure to the education systems there, they cannot comprehend the problems that foreign teachers see and are trying to communicate about. If the listener has not had up to date, quality teacher training, and education administration training and experience, they also cannot understand the problems foreign teachers see. When the native teacher is saying that the snow should be white, and it is green, and the person he/she is talking to thinks the natural color of snow is green . . . communication becomes impossible.

In Korea, the general consensus on the education system with the people who have the power to change it seems to be that the snow is green.

11. Do you think you are actually helping your students learn English?

During my public school teaching experience I think I helped the students learn some pronunciation techniques, some English culture, and a little bit of conversation skills and ability. But generally I think that with all of the problems in the education system, testing, scheduling in schools (seeing them once a week or less), and teacher/co-teacher training issuesno, I dont think I helped them as much I could have IF the school/education system were structured on the fundamental assumption that schools are for educationnot simply competition centers set up to support the development of the youngest generations of the rich and elite to take over, and to prepare the rest of the students to work in the middle and lower classes.

12. What would you suggest for bettering the relationship with your co-teacher or English class?

Co-teachers need to attend their own orientation. One in which they learn about western culture, and how to communicate and understand their native teacher in a context which recognizes that power flows in TWO directionsunlike the idea that the senior social rank always has the powerthis fundamental difference in reality views causes many problems.

Often, Korean teachers expect the foreign teacher to follow Korean cultural rules (which rarely seem to be clearly defined, and seem to often simply be defined as whatever the Korean teacher wants or needs in the moment). COMMUNICATION means information is sent and receivedit goes two ways. Often, in Korea, communication means SAY YES, and do what I want you to do.'

Better multicultural sensitivity training for both foreign and Korean teachers. Better Korean language, culture and history orientation for native teachers when they first arrive.

Workshop days where BOTH co-teacher and foreign teacher attend together.

13. Are you satisfied with your work conditions and your school? If not, what arent you satisfied with? (e.g too short day offs. too little salary..)

Salary is no longer competitive in the larger picture of Korea and its different provinces and English programs. See 00000 province and its better vacation and salary structure.

There needs to be a limit on how many camps you are asked to do during summer and winter vacations. Or, better yet, make them voluntary, and have extra pay scales for camps written into the contract.

14. Any comments for the school, coteacher and the office of education.

Nope. Its pretty much all said in the above sections.

"And that's all I have to say about that." Forrest Gump


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