Saturday, March 14, 2009

"some [native teachers] are not ethically qualified to treat children"???

I just read this article in the Korea Times,
Claiming that native English teachers are not 'ethically qualified' has such epic levels of irony for me that I cannot even begin to express them . . .
I will cede the point that there are a very small number of foreign teachers who come to Korea that should never have been hired and placed into the system. This is a broken record that keeps playing the same song over and over and over . . . if you hire without good qualification standards, you hire the people you deserve to get. If you don't have a SPECIFIC and CONSISTENT hiring practice that is applied to any and all applicants you get the people you deserve.
Why is the Incheon English Program having problems hiring and filling the native teacher positions? Good question--it's too bad the KT article never does its investigative journalism job.
1. Salaries are not competitive when compared with other regions in Korea.
2. Vacation time is not competitive when compared with other regions in Korea.
3. The overtime pay was just reduced last year from 25,000won per class to 20,000 won per class.
4. Korean co-teachers often do not come to classes scheduled with their native teachers in spite of the mandate and official policy and contract for native teachers saying that a co-teacher will be provided.
5. Communciation with native teachers in regards to problems and contract issues is inconsistent and can at times be very poor in terms of providing needed support and help dealing with problems.
I could go on but I won't . . . suffice it to say that Incheon is now experiencing the consequences of mismanaging its foreign native English teachers, and is trying to place the blame on the 'ethical qualifications' as if they have no culpability.
I had dinner tonight with a teacher working in Incheon. This person told me of another native teacher who had only been in Incheon for THREE WEEKS and decided to do a 'midnight run.'
Apparently this poor native teacher had no running water in their apartment for days. The co-teacher for this person told them to call their building manager--uhm, HELLO! new teacher with no Korean language skills! DUH!!! The school then said they would call the building manager but nothing was done quickly, so the native teacher decided that they'd had enough of the lack of help and poor treatment and left the country without a word.
I've heard many stories similar in nature (though without the midnight run) from foreign teachers in Incheon. It comes as no great surprise to me that that province is now experiencing a big enough problem in hiring and placing native teachers that they are now using Korean teachers instead.
One teacher I know very well--ME--was placed in a "3 seasons'" apartment (generally used for when Korean teachers didn't want to drive home from the island I was living on to Incheon city)that was not suitable for habitation all year round. The underground water pipes froze on 3 separate occassions during my first winter for 2-3 days at a time. When I tried to get help from the director of the education office I was told to try to 'understand' and be patient each time. Later when I found out that someone (I won't say who) was filching my living allowance each month that could have paid for a better apartment--and god knows what happened to the key deposit money (one year lease deposit)--I tried to ask someone at the education office to investigate the issue and was stonewalled . . . I am owed a total of 3, 600, 000won in money that I should have received each month over the course of a year and never saw a dime. No one wanted to face the scandal that would have erupted had an investigation actually taken place.
Again, I could go on and on and on about what I saw in Incheon, and what other native teachers have told me . . . but I won't.
Suffice it to say that while "some [native teachers] are not ethically qualified to treat children" I would suggest that the quantity adjective used for the other parties involved in this equation should be dramatically higher--especially for those individuals that have the most power and responsibility.
The article has this quote about how``Native-speaker of English teachers bring motivation and excitement to learners because of their exoticness. They bring foreign cultures and international stories to Korean learners,'' said Robert Dickey, a professor at Gyeongju University in North Gyeongsang Province. ``Expatriate teachers can share new ideas with the Korean faculty, and be helpful colleagues in the staff room. They are an asset for learning, but only if the schools want them,''
I would add the following things and/or articulate them in a different way,
1. An expectation of western cultural professionalism that is sorely needed in the school systems here.
2. Knowledge and a lifetime of experience in English culture that no Korean teacher can achieve regardless of their time spent studying and living overseas.
3. A lifetime of exposure to communicative and task-based teaching styles and learning experiences.
4. Open-mindedness to try new teaching and learning methods, activities, and games that do not necessarily and specifically support the rote-memorization, translation based-English teaching and tests that still dominate the Korean English language classrooms.
5. A sense of fun in learning that is pretty much killed in far too many people who teach, and especially in the children who are learning.
6. An innate knowledge of all 4 English language skills that is all too often missing in the classrooms.
7. The ability to speak freely about issues and problems in the textbooks used in the classrooms.
8. Introducing a radically different teacher-student power dynamic, relationship style, and mode of interaction that is not based on fear, fear of physical punishment, and other negative factors.
9. Introducing and exposing Korean teachers to the use of creativity and imagination when designing lesson plans. All too often the only materials used are testable only, and this leads to a myopic apathy in teachers in terms of improving and adapting teaching materials to suit the needs of students.
10. Lastly, native teachers bring a real life interactive English presence into the classrooms that most Korean teachers simply are unable to do whether it be due to a lack of English language proficiency skills, a lack of communicative teaching methodology, and/or the paralysis that takes place all too often in the classroom due to Korean cultural norms taking precedence over English cultural norms that must be given dominance if English language skills are to be learned, practiced, and mastered.
I think there are a decent number of Korean English teachers in Incheon that I know and have worked with who can do a very good job teaching English to Korean students--but I would complicate that by saying that there are unavoidable blind spots in their cultural background knowledge and teaching methods that simply cannot surpass let alone match what a native teacher of English brings to the Korean language classroom.

1 comment:

Kelsey said...

I would say that a more accurate phrase than "some [native teachers] are not ethically qualified to treat children" would be ""some schools are not ethically qualified to employ foreigners".