Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Qualifications and Double-Standards: celebrities as professors?

Anyone else wondering what QUALIFICATIONS these people have?

Celebrities Return to Schools as Professors

1. Handsome
2. Beautiful
3. High sex appeal to both genders
4. Excellent fashion sense
5. Rich and successful
6. Increase enrollment at school thereby increasing profits and elevating status of school

Reading this in the KT I thought immediately of how yesterday in a speaking methodology course I was talking to the students about L1 (first language) and L2 (second language) instructors of English and the underlying idea of who should and shouldn't teach English language skills, and specifically teach SPEAKING English in Korea.

I wanted to frame the discussion within the context of GENERAL TEACHING SKILLS, rather than in the context of race/ethnic identity, native versus non-native speaker (a very controversial category of perception/knowledge/power), and voice and autonomy as a speaker/teacher of English within a global post-colonial context too.

Later on I also introduced to them the idea of 'purity' and how it gets entangled within the discussion of 'native' vs. 'non-native' speakers of English, and teachers of English . . . purity and race (another problematic category) and power all too often create an environment in education and also out in the everyday culture of Korea wherein foreign English teachers rant and rave about how Konglish, Korean students, Korean English teachers, and Korean advertisements and signs and songs and everything are polluting/poisoning/contaminating/'IMPURIFYING' (my sister loves it when I coin a neologism--NOT, lol) the English langauge--as if the English language has a 'pure state' of existence in the world, and back home in their countries of origin . . .

Anyways . . . back to the story.

I put on one side of the whiteboard L1 teacher and below that Pros and Cons. On the other side of the board I put L2 teacher and below that Pros and Cons. In the center I put a big space and titled it GENERAL TEACHING SKILLS.

I was doing a pre-speaking prep session and trying to get the students to think beyond the obvious 'good' teacher definitions that most Korean students, mothers and fathers, and too many Korean teachers usually say a 'good' teacher is: handsome/beautiful, thin and in good shape, good fashion, always smiling, always nice . . . etc.

So when I asked them to help me make a list of words describing "What is a good teacher?" I got (what I expected) the typical opening barrage of "handsome," "beautiful"--and I killed it right here (kindly, of course).

I re-framed the brainstorming by drawing attention to how I had organized the whiteboard. I asked the students to think about why I had organized and written the L1 as one category on the left, and L2 as another category on the right, and then deliberately placed General Skills (I used this term instead of "good teacher" because it removes superficial personality items--though personality TRAITS do play a major role in the overall picture of 'good' teaching) in the middle . . . silence quickly filled the room.

I pointed out that I wanted them to consider what teaching skills cross over, overlap, and blur the boundaries that are so carved in stone in this country about who should and shouldn't teach English--especially when those boundaries marginalize and diminish the overwhelming majority of KOREAN English teachers trying to do their jobs with little to no English language skills training and varying degrees of proficiency and fluency, and teaching methodologies that at times have little to no real world connections to the textbooks they must use in the schools, and the testing system that dictates a limited and very old style teaching method that must be used . . . .

Earlier in the class I talked about how Olympic athletes sometimes have sport psychologists who coach them on how language shapes performance levels and reality perception. I pointed out that almost all Koreans say "My English is poor." I gave examples of how to modify their language performance handicapping from using "poor" all the time to things like: so-so, okay, good, not bad, pretty good . . . etc. I saw a fair number of faces GETTING it and could only hope that a lifetime pattern of saying "My English is poor" might begin to retool itself.

Getting back to the framework of general teaching skills I was happy to see that it got the wheels spinning (it's a wonderful feeling to see students' eyes light up and that thing called critical thought begin to flow), and 10 minutes later I asked them to share what each of the small groups had come up with.

On the Con side for L2 (Korean) teachers they emphatically said "pronunciation." When I asked them for a Pro item a lot of silence ensued. I pointed out something that 99% of native speakers CANNOT DO is explain language items in Korean to students, and IF the Korean teacher has a solid grasp on an English cultural information item they can also explain that in Korean in ways that a native speaker of English cannot do--this comment produced a sense of giddy cheerfulness in the students (future teachers) and I was happy to see them beginning to GET that they COULD be just as good as a native speaker/teacher of English IF they have high enough English language skills (when I said this I STRESSED that their skills don't have to be 'perfect' and that NATIVE TEACHERS often do not have high English language proficiency skills--think GRAMMAR, ugh) and the necessary cultural background information to teach the language and the culture that is embedded within it.

I pointed out that if I (a foreigner) was a teacher of KOREAN LANGUAGE and I taught my class to say "banga banga" (very informal 'hi' between friends of same social rank, and usually used by young children in the schools) and for the cultural rule of who they can and can't say that to I used my own ENGLISH CULTURAL RULES AND KNOWLEDGE for SPEAKING IN KOREAN that this would lead to horrific social errors in Korea for my student.

I used the example of my student saying in Korean "banga banga" to the university president--and got some gasps and eyes widening reactions from the students in the class. They began to GET that you cannot teach English language and at the same time be ignorant of English cultural norms/rules for speaking, and by default (which is unfortunately what seems to happen in Korea too often) teach the students the KOREAN CULTURAL NORMS in tandem with using English--it was an awesome light bulb moment for my students who will be future Korean teachers in elementary schools.

I did add a slight complication to this idea, however. I illuminated the debate about English vs. English as an INTERNATIONAL language. One example I used was how when I'm teaching I have to make a judgment call on error correction when a Korean English student says something using a specific word in a way that 'native' speakers in North America generally do not use it, but that the way the Korean student is using it is grammatically correct, and also the meaning is clear and correct in spite of the cultural and linguistic NOISE that I hear because it is rarely or never used that way back in North America. The students seemed very intrigued by this one aspect of teaching English as an international language vs. American English and the whole set of normative restrictions that are inherent in the language teaching, materials, and testing . . .

Anyways . . . all of this talk about 'general teaching skills' brings us back to asking the question:

'What QUALIFICATIONS do celebrities have to be teaching in universities in Korea???



Kelly Miller said...

I'm a new English teacher in Osan, Korea from the US; just about to finish up my first week of teaching. I stumbled on your site while mining the web for resources, and have to say: while it wasn't what I was looking for, maybe it should have been. What a great find!

You make some really great points about the strengths of teachers in different positions, and also about the responsibility of teachers to empower their students. As far as American English vs. world English goes, I think the primary goal of any English student (and, therefore, of a good teacher!), should be to communicate the ideas. If it sounds a little awkward, or the grammar isn't 100% ok, that's fine, at least at the beginning. After all, the real purpose is to express a concept, not to write literature! And for those purposes, I think world English always wins out. It has the highest potential to communicate with a maximum number of people.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post! I look forward to more =)

Mark Eaton said...

According to most parents, the real purpose of learning English is to assist their sons and daughters in performing well so they may enter the best schools. That, in turn, will provide superior employment opportunities upon graduation.

Anonymous said...

Totally unrelated, but are you going to the Seoul KOTESL conference on the 28th?

Jason said...

I wasn't planning on going to any KOTESOL meetings/conferences to be honest.

I'm so swamped with keeping up with my regular teaching duties, plus designing and making course materials for the 6 month intensive English program that gives me 5 extra hours a week of teaching that I haven't considered anything other than getting my workload done each day and trying to have a little bit of free time . . . etc etc etc.

Why do you ask? Is it going to be a good one? Someone worth traveling to the conference, and listening to?

I might change my plans if it is . . .

Sorry for the whiny comment--it's Friday and I'm OUTA HERE!

Take care,

Jason said...

Hi Kelly,

Thanks for the comments. I agree with what you say about English as an international language.

I hope to post a few things over the weekend . .. we'll see how things go . ..

Have a good weekend,

Jason said...

Hi Mark,

I agree too. Education's purpose generally seems to be for providing a filtering system to provide ranking and deciding who gets access to the universities in order to get more ranking and then get the top jobs and social status . ..

Can you say "REFORM" five times fast?

lol . . .sigh.

Have a good weekend,