Friday, February 20, 2009

6 month intensive teach English through English program -- I've been hit by Korean lightning now twice in a row!

This past December I signed on for a second contract at my university. At that time nothing seemed to be new in my contract, or the job itself. The basic job description of 16 teaching hours per week as a maximum, with a month off in the summer and winter (and usually more than that in reality), all seemed to be intact.

When life gives you kimchi you make kimchi icecream and learn to love eating it--or get on a plane and leave . . .

Last week I found out that the Gangwon province education office has chosen the national university of education (and two other places: Gangwon university, and a training center out in Yang Yang) that I work at as a trial location for--wait for it, wait for it--you guessed it: the 6 month intensive teach English through English program--the same one I taught in 2007 at the provincial training center I worked at . . . and a group of individuals at my university with decision-making power all agreed to accept this appointment without telling any of the 5 of us foreign profs . . . let alone asking each of us if we'd agree to our working and teaching conditions being dramatically altered.

It looks like the national university of education is getting a language training center hogwan added to its campus (they just haven't built the physical structure yet), and I (along with my coworkers) have been hired to work there, while also working our regular full time job on the main campus, with no interview or even the conscious awareness of the fact that my teaching and working conditions were being radically modified in this manner. I wonder how many other university foreign professors are going through the same thing right now, and in the next few years . . .

I think something every foreign English instructor in Korea has to face is that the country is run primarily by men whose leadership styles are based on the power dynamics and hierarchies of military culture and the modern neo-Confucianism of Korean culture. The confusing thing is that Korea claims to want its universities to become globally competitive, and to draw the top talented professors from all academic disciplines in other countries (especially the US) to the universities here. The thing that completely boggles the mind is that no attempts are made to understand what "professionalism" means outside of Korea . . .

Some people might argue that when foreign English instructors CHOOSE to live and work in Korea that they should 100% abide by the socio-cultural norms--the whole 'when in Rome' bullshit rationalization. I would argue that if Korea truly wants to improve its English education, and the education system in general, that the current cultural norms and practices are the antithesis of the stated goals. It is impossible to achieve these goals within the current Korean socio-cultural definitions, and lived reality, of 'professionalism' and 'quality education'--let me say that again, IMPOSSIBLE. I do think that foreign instructors should adapt as much as is possible, and respect the traditions and customs of the Korean people--EXCEPT WHEN IT DAMAGES THE QUALITY OF LEARNING, TEACHING, AND PROFESSIONALISM IN THE EDUCATION SYSTEM.

After learning a few more tiny details from a Korean professor on the phone this past Wednesday I wasn't able to fall asleep until 5am--and it wasn't due to coughing and my cold. I kept thinking of all of the horrible things that I went through in 2007 during the 6 month intensive teach English through English program. The program is essentially 1-2 years of English as a Second Language teaching methods training and English language skills crammed into six months . . . . simply put, it's trying to get the Korean teachers to learn and master the fundamental English language skills that they should already have mastered back when they originally did their university training, and add to this the agenda of getting the trainees to learn how to use communicative Western cultural style pedagogy--all of this in 6 months.

It gets better . . .

We (the foreign professors) still haven't been told exact numbers in terms of how many extra hours per week we'll be teaching for the program--oh yeah, and apparently now the provincial education office officials say that Korean profs aren't allowed to teach in the program anymore because they don't want any Korean being spoken during lectures (many of the visiting Korean professors that guest lectured at the training center where I worked in 2007 lectured in KOREAN while teaching how to teach English using the English language--yeah, small problem, eh?) . . . so the whole program is being put on by 6 foreign profs . . . (we got a new guy coming this Monday from the US--won't he be thrilled! He doesn't know about the complete redefining of his job description and hours yet).

Some differences from the 2007 program that I did include:

- only one class of 20 trainees, all will be elementary Korean teachers--in the 2007 program I worked in there were four homerooms with 12 trainees in each (2 classes of elementary, 2 of middle/high school teachers)

- each foreign prof will teach their own course--not shared like it was at the training center in 2007, so no dealing with issues of other foreign instructors (some of them lacked training, experience, and general motivation to teach well) messing around with how I teach (it's pretty difficult to teach well when the teacher who previously had the class you're teaching doesn't tell you where they stopped in the textbook, and they didn't effectively cover the previous lesson's material so that you can't move on with the new lesson you thought you could teach . . .)

- we will be paid a reasonable rate per hour -- overtime rate at the training center in 2007 was 25,000 per hour (considering the workload, it was not a reasonable rate)

- there will be no field trips--in 2007 we did several field trips (where tour guides spoke to trainees in KOREAN--argh, so much for an intensive English learning environment, and the foreign teachers had to sit through it with no translation either) at the training center in 2007

- there will be no immersion camp weeks--we did two immersion weeks, and during those we were at the training center 12 hours a day . . .

For the 2009 program it looks like each foreign prof is going to have to teach 5-6 hours each week on top of their regular contract 16 hours. This might seem like a small number but if you consider the prep time required, and other administrative duties, and test marking, etc, it all adds up really really fast! We also usually get one day a week off for prep and other things--but this may and very likely will be canceled in order to fit the teaching hours for the 6month program into the regular weekly schedule.

For those of us who didn't have a full 16 regular classes per week schedule, and we're missing 1-3 hours of our required 16, they are still making us do non-credit conversation classes with the regular university students to make up our 16 thus guaranteeing that we will be working 5-6 hours of OT each week. The thing about these non-credit courses that have no tests and don't show up on Korean student transcripts is that for the first month or so the majority of students (of the 20-25 students per class) show up for the class . . . but as the semester progresses attendance usually drops to 3-8 students showing up, and sometimes only 1 or even no one shows up for the class--but as instructors we have to prepare teaching materials and be available for the scheduled class time and wait at least 15 minutes of a 50 minute period to see if anyone late will show up . . . this tends to demoralize and demotivate you as a teacher a little bit when you waste preparation time, etc.

We also usually have from mid-June until the last week of August off unless you are asked to teach in a 2 week in-service teacher training camp during the summer . . . but not this year. Instead we'll be lucky if they give us the one month off in the summer the contract states we must be given--this is in the process of being 'talked about.' Oh yeah, and the two week regular in-service Korean teacher training camp program (that they do ever year in the summer and winter) is still on while the 6 month program is running . . .

To make the summer vacation period even more interesting the second regular semester at the university begins on August 24th, and not the first Monday of September--this will make fitting a one month vacation in before the semester rather difficult because of the teaching hours for the 6 month program before and after the trainees are overseas for one month, possibly in July (one month vacation would be July 16th-August 16th if we're to be back in time for the one week of prep before semester 2).

One reason scheduling vacations will be problematic is that the six month program involves one month where the Korean teacher trainees go to America (the most preferred choice, surprise surprise) for more training and to be immersed in an English speaking environment outside of the classroom. A second reason is that the foreign professors usually need at least 5 days to prep before the beginning of the semester . . . the problem here is that because the university has just found out about the 6 month program it has not contacted a university in America and gotten approval for the trainees to attend a one month summer language and teacher training program . . . so the actual dates of this one month in America will wreak havoc with each foreign professor's vacation plans for the summer . . . nice.

Other things that haven't been addressed are, for example (one of several), how the 3rd year regular students in the university's education program use the foreign profs for teaching demonstration test English script editing (many students just write out a script of what they say while doing the teaching test, and memorize it--rather than practicing how to speak English while teaching using the English language--in their defense I will say that the workload put on them by their courses is beyond anything I've ever seen in Canada, and they simply do not have the proper amount of time to prepare for a teaching demonstration test where they must only speak in English). This is a part of our regular unpaid contract duties at the university. Typically, we have to put up sign-up sheets for 10 hours a week over four weeks--40 hours of unpaid time for script editing and all of this on top of our regular duties--which have now been dramatically increased because of the new 6 month program. Nobody has said anything about how we will manage to do this regular semester teaching duty over the course of 4 weeks while also having added 4-6 hours of OT teaching each week during the 6 month program . . .

Anyways, I could go on but you get the general idea. We have 8 days before the program begins, and no one has even made a schedule yet (this is not due to incompetence, however, and simply due to the fact that nobody knew this 6 month program was coming until this week). No courses have been planned, and no textbooks selected let alone even ordered to be there on time (forget giving us time to study them--though I'm going to fight to use textbooks I already know well) . . .

After already having gone through the nightmare that is this 6 month program at the training center in 2007, I seriously believed that I'd never have to deal with the program again for the remainder of my time teaching and living in Korea. Wow, was I ever dead wrong about that. On the positive, glass is half full perspective, I think that the foreign and Korean professors I work with can make this program achieve a reasonable degree of success as long as the education office does not throw insane curve balls at random intervals throughout the six month program. Adding on new requirements after the planning has been done, and the course is already in session is something I'm very very worried will happen . . .

The political agenda of the current government's administration has an enormous focus on expanding and improving the quality of English education in Korea. Yet the policy makers seem to lack the professional training in education policy research and design that are needed to make this dream become a SUCCESSFUL reality.

I would liken how the education policy is being implemented to putting soldiers (read as 'teachers') through a foreign country's basic training and specialized trade training in 1/4 of the regular quality time it takes to learn and master the skills and knowledge needed to be a competent professional who can survive and overcome the enormous obstacles and challenges that the battlefield (read this as 'schools and classrooms') hold . . . oh yeah, and the soliders/teachers also have to do all of this in a langauge that they are not fluent in--nice.

I also have to consider that the government provincial office of education usually/always has . . . how shall I put this . . . people in key leadership positions with 'reality issues'--so I not only have to worry about the fact that no one at the university has ever designed and implemented the 6 month program, and must do this in ONE WEEK while also doing all the other regular education department programs, but I also have to watch out for what the education office people (for who it is also the first time) who think that issuing orders makes those orders as good as done because they are operating under the authority of a national education policy . . . or as I put it in another post of mine about education in Korea:

"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 [about how to improve things].

Another major factor [for why foreign instructors are not listened to] 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."

Well, now the choice for me is to see if I can deal with another 6 months of crazy hours and amounts of work--or if I should just pack it in, go home, live on an insanely low budget for a while, and then find another job in Asia somewhere. The major problem that fucks all this up is Julianne is here with me, and we don't want to be apart or for me to have to quit and go home to Canada . . . we'd deal with it if that's what I decide I have to do--but it would suck big time . . .

When life gives you kimchi you make kimchi icecream and learn to love eating it--or get on a plane and leave . . .

Kimchi ice cream is definitely an acquired taste. It is also something that you can love one day, and hate the next . . .

Lately, I've not been feeling the desire to eat anything at all . . .



Joe in Korea said...

Come to Sookdae. We've got that intensive in-service teacher training program, but it's been up and going for a while now and they have their own teachers. The kinks have been worked out.

We've got 15 hours a week. Sometimes other things come up (like teaching TESOL classes) but there is no stigma if you say no. We all got a pay raise this year, so the pay is now comparable to other universities. There is no longer any mandatory vacation classes to teach, but there can be intensive courses for OT (again, teachers are free to say no).

They stick to the contract.
All in all, it's a pretty good place to work. Email me if you are interested, and we can talk about getting an interview early enough to give you enough time to give adequate notice to receive a letter of release.

AM said...

Would you have to go back to Canada or could you stay in the apt with Julianne and look for something else?

Jason said...

Hi Joe,

I never said thanks for the comment and offer . . . I wish the circumstances were different.

Hi AM,

I'm not a quitter nor do I like bailing on the team I work with, so for now I'm trying to figure out positive and proactive ways to make my situation work . . .

Going home is a last resort, and will only happen if the situation reaches the hyper-stress and exhaustion levels I experienced in 2007.

Wish me luck,

Anonymous said...


You wouldn't be quitting or bailing on them. Your employer has broken the contract without much notice at that; therefore, you are free to at least look around.

You might want to try There are a ton of university jobs coming open right now. I think the free-falling won has something to do with it.

Good luck with whatever you decide.

John from Daejeon

Brian said...

Finally getting a chance to look over these posts, maybe can do a little summary of them tonight. When I get faced with last-minute b.s. at school I try to reassume myself by saying "life is last-minute" . . . but man, it's tough.

One of the challenges for foreign teachers here is fitting in to the roles already laid out for us . . . and trying to balance that with our sense of how things should be. Trying to cram two years into six months, especially when there are a lot of reasons why the instruction might not take, is probably not how things should be.

In Jeollanam-do there are month-long intensive camps, and most if not all of the English teachers I teach with now have been in the past year. I've mentioned that in passing a couple times; it's a little different from your situation in that teachers there aren't necessarily certified/qualified teachers back home. They're just contractually obligated to work there. As another blogger pointed out---actually as I think everybody points out---it's ironic having a rookie foreign teacher trying to tell Korean teachers with 20+ years of experience (and who actuallly went to university to learn how to teach) how to be an English teacher.

I had one of my coteachers do the six month thing, ending with a month at Michigan State University. He enjoyed his time abroad, and I give him credit for always always always looking for ways to improve his methods and his English. But his comments about the program were the same as the teachers' who went to the month-long stint in Jeollanam-do: interesting and fun, but not useful because (1) the students don't want to speak English; (2) the students can't understand spoken English; (3) the teachers are afraid to speak English in class; and (4) the curriculum is geared toward grammar exercises for an eventual exam.

As I said in an email to you---and in your reply you had good reasons why maybe my idea wasn't so good---I said all this is going on while native speakers have no opportunities for professional development whatsoever. For all the bitching and moaning about us, why not let US get some training in, rather than giving opportunities to teachers who might not even use them.

Well, one of my New Year's Resolutions was not to get so worked up about English and teaching stuff, so I should move on.

Jason said...

Hi Brian,

In my experience so far working with Korean teachers it seems that anything ESL/EFL teaching method related seems to get tossed out the window after they leave university (indeed, some KTs have actually told me this openly) because the testing system, as you mentioned and I've posted about before, makes foreign native teacher communicative style teaching irrelevant and actually detrimental in some ways to helping Korean students prep for grammar based tests and the godawful national university entrance exam . . . add to the mix teaching in a communicative style in a language they're not fluent in and you get a pretty poor level of teaching performance in general. If I had to put a number on it based on my general experiences I'd say about 25% teach really well (according to general communicative methodology) with pretty decent English skills, 25% do a passable job with hit and miss issues, and the remaining 50% should not be allowed to teach English without extensive retraining and development of their English language skills and teaching methods . . .

Anyways . . . . I gotta go to work today and have tons of stuff to do.

I'm going to post more about what I've found out about this program, and how the university has made some concessions to us foreign profs in light of the way they changed our working conditions--I was shocked that some things were modified for us . . . a nice change to have a positive shock, eh?

Thanks for taking the time to read the post.