7.28.2010

The neverending quest for logic.

Bitching my face off to The Kid about the situation here with foreign teachers, because I had to get my medcheck done today, which is always a nice, tidy reminder of my place within the bureaucracy in this country. Whatever. I have to reassure everyone once a year that I don't have AIDS, a drug addiction or serious mental illness, even when I've already been allowed to come in and handle their children alone on a daily basis. That's fine.

I've already been over how I just don't really give a crap about the visa law changes. They can test me for every drug and disease under the sun if they want to, and I'll probably roll my eyes about it, but that's fine. The upping of the criminal background checks is something I fully, one hundred percent support, because kids don't deserve to be placed in life-altering situations just because someone can't be bothered to do the one simple thing they can to protect them. The degree thing is stupid.... I don't understand how having some desk person at an embassy pass a 'discerning' eye over my degree is going to make one speck of difference, but fine. I'll do it.

It's all a big ass smokescreen anyway -- we all know that. The media hypes up everything, as the media is wont to do, and the public starts bitching and moaning about the government not doing its job. So the government 'does its job', aka instigates a few 'changes' that require more pointless paperwork that basically amounts to nil, but can be pointed out to the public as 'tightening restrictions'. Then the whole thing starts over again. Nothing new or interesting to see here. It's done the world over, and, believe it or not, it's got the Korean public school teachers under a hell of a lot more strain and scrutiny than it does us at the moment.

But it's got me thinking about how, actually, the ROK really could use a much improved system for working out which foreigners are appropriate to have in their schools as teachers, and which, simply, are not. Now. This has nothing to do with foreigners. People go where the money is, and the foreigners here who are here legally deserve to be here, no matter how 'qualified' anyone perceives them as being, because if they've met the qualifications set for them, then they are motherfucking qualified.

The problem isn't the qualifications, either. It's part of the problem, but not the entire problem. What does that mean? Well. You get a boatload of foreigners over here who had no intentions of every being teachers. They haven't dedicated any amount of work or effort to the task, and therefore can't be expected to have any kind of attachment to it. Now. Not all teachers who have not trained to be teachers are bad teachers. I'm not trained. Not in the least -- not in any shape, form or fashion, in fact. But I'm still ridiculously passionate about my job, and go out of my way to do what I can to improve and work hard on a daily basis. But when you don't make people work for something, you're inevitably going to end up with tagalongs and apathetics in the mix. That's fine, though. I don't think that upping the qualifications would fix the problem here. And we all know that South Korea isn't really high enough up on the list of desirable locations to do anything about that anyway.

But I'm still bothered by the things that I see and hear among groups of random foreign teachers out and about on the weekends. Far be it for me to expect every crowd of foreign teachers to be constantly gushing on and on about improving their teaching methods and how fantastic their students are over a Saturday night beer. But the way some of these guys talk sometimes....

The kids deserve better than that. The schools and co-teachers deserve better than that. And I keep thinking to myself, how do Koreans not realize that these people are not suited to being teachers? The answer is that they were never given the chance to, before they were already committed.

And before I get tackled for being a one-sided race traitor yet again, let me just point out that there are a boatload of foreigners who are promised all kinds of things about their jobs that are just simply not even close to the truth before they ship over. They arrive and find themselves placed in the middle of nowhere, with all kinds of expectations and job requirements that no one told them anything about.

And thinking about all of this tonight.... the solutions seems extremely simple. As does the root of the problem.

Recruitment agencies.

They say whatever they have to to fill positions and get foreign teachers placed as quickly as possible without giving a fair picture of the situation to anyone on either side. Nobody from the school is required to speak to the foreign teacher before they come over. The foreign teacher is given no personal contact with anyone at the school before they come over.

So. Here's a novel idea: Why don't the schools interview the teachers before they come?

Answer: Because nobody knows where we're actually going before we get here. And maybe that's why we're told all kinds of bullshit or, in the best case scenario, absolutely nothing before we arrive. The foreign teachers end up bitterly disappointed when faced with a situation that is not at all what was described to them by some recruiter in Canada who has not a fucking clue in the world what they're talking about, and couldn't care less anyhow, and the school has no idea what kind of personality type or worker is going to be walking through the doors of their schools to work in tandem with the Korean teachers and in close contact with the students all year long.

End result: both sides end up disappointed and frustrated, bitching to anyone who will listen, and screwing up the reputations for parties on both sides, as well as creating a hostile environment toward the entire profession.

I realize organizing overseas interviews between individual schools and individual foreign teachers, when they tend to come over en masse, is hectic and complicated. But so is a year spent struggling through a bad work situation, caused by a party on either side, or both. Different schools have different personalities, and are better suited to different foreign teachers. And foreign teachers' number one complaint in the first year is not having been informed. Of basically anything. Not having had a chance to speak with anyone at the school, they're unable to ask specific questions, or get specific information. They're not able to get an idea of the school's location, population or expectations. Having simply been made aware of these things before they left their home countries to end up facing them down, when they're already tied to a year contract in a foreign country with seemingly no recourse for negotiation or escape, short of skipping town, would likely make a world of difference in the attitudes they have toward facing the already difficult adjustments they'll have to make.

The hagwon world is a whole other animal, of which I am largely uninformed. But I continue to struggle with the way the Korean public education system fails to set its own situation up for success in regards to the foreign teachers, and then turns around and blames it all on the foreigner. This isn't about Koreans/foreigners -- it's about employers/employees. And in this situation, the employer has to take responsibility. So instead of adding pointless extra steps to the visa process, which do nothing to allow for the human problems of these arrangements, why not go to the extra effort to provide the one basic step that most jobs the world over require, which is human to human contact before a contract is signed?

5 comments:

Kel said...

I actually got interviewed directly by my head co-teacher. My recruiter set up the interview, and I don't know if she was just an excellent recruiter (which she was) or if it's a GEPIK thing, or both. I also got to choose from several schools/cities. I think I lucked out in about every possible way WRT work situation! ^_^

Anonymous said...

My favorite is when some people are whining about desk-warming when they'd rather be teaching, and then some other people are whining about how they'd kill to get paid to watch videos and surf the internet. Why don't they just ask us if we are lazy before coming over, then sort us accordingly??

Manic Pixie Dream Girl said...

I'm at a hakwon, which as you say is a different beast in many ways, but I have to say: Our head teacher interviews every single one of our prospective new-hires before hiring them, and it's still hit-or-miss. We go through a recruiter about half the time, and it doesn't seem to make a whole lot of difference: some of the teachers we get are helpful and friendly and professional and wonderful with children, and some are... well, not to say "antisocial mutants," but...

Supply and demand is a big problem for us, and it probably is for the public schools, too. With as much spam as I got from different recruiters while job-hunting this spring-- most of whom never bothered to read my ads or my resume before mailing me, I might ad-- it's pretty clear that they'll take more or less whomever they can get, and are quite all right with shoving square pegs into round holes and vice versa. Schools hiring individually would have to deal with the same scarcity of qualified applicants. In the time I've been here, we've hired several people mostly because they were they only applicants we'd had, or the best two out of only three or something like that. Beggars can't be choosers, etc.

Anonymous said...

If the average educational bureaucrat would interview applicants, I'd guess that the number of white 22 year olds would shoot up at the expense of all other demographics.

Do you think the average slacker couldn't fake it for the length of an interview? Conversely, do you think your school would have recognized your talent and passion from an interview?

I'm no Picasso said...

Anon -- Who said anything about educational bureaucrats? I'm talking about interviews by the head of the English department at each individual school. I'm not sure what the rest of your comment is supposed to mean, other than making it appear that you don't work in the public school system here, because it sounds as though you're referring to internet rumors and the habits of hagwon directors rather than firsthand experience.

As for your second question, I'll counter with another: Do you think it's reasonable for the Korean public education system and all of its critics to continue complaining about the quality of foreign English teachers when they don't even do something as simple as actually speak to the prospective teachers on the telephone one time before hiring them? What would you say to the average American business owner who hired an employee without having ever even spoken to them, and then complained about their performance?