7.21.2011

One more thing today....

I'm just absolutely sick about this (hat tip to Burndog for the link).

Look, I'm not even going to get into the issues that this brings up for those foreign teachers who thought they had secured a contract and salary here in Korea, especially the ones who have really earned their place here and are renewing based on a invitation, which in turn is obviously based on the fact that they've proved useful to their respective schools, coworkers and students. That's bad enough on its own. But fine. Vested interests, and all of that.

But really? Do you know what I spend almost all of my time in the office doing? Answering questions. To students? No. To my coworkers. Explaining grammar points and expressions, giving better alternatives to poorly worded or awkward phrases or explaining colloquialisms. Outlining the differences between British and American English. Explaining why, even though you technically can say something in English, it isn't at all natural or something a native speaker ever would say.

I also spend a lot of time forwarding my files. PPTs and worksheets and materials and lesson plans I've created all on my own, completely in English, to my coworkers, who pass them on to their friends and previous coworkers at other schools. I spend a few days out of every winter vacation giving a teachers' training course to English teachers in my district, which are well attended and very active. I spend an hour every week teaching a current-event based conversation class to the other English teachers at my school, at least fifteen minutes of which at the end of each lesson is capped off by lists of questions the teachers have scribbled down in their notebooks that the students have had, or which they have encountered in their own private English study, throughout the week.

And what language do you think my students speak when they encounter their Korean English teachers in the hallway, or have a question during class time? And what language do you think they speak to me? What language do you think they speak to me when they come into my office to visit and chat in between classes, during lunchtime and after school? When else during their daily lives do you think they spontaneously communicate with someone in English?

The Korean teachers are putting so much time and effort and energy into their own education. The fluency of my co-teachers now, and their ability to communicate with me, is incredible compared to what it was when I first arrived. They sometimes spend their entire vacations attending training courses and lectures and conversation classes -- with native speaking teachers. They're doing their part. They're giving up a lot. They are asking the questions.

So why is the government yanking away one of their most valuable resources? Why are they taking away their ability to lean over a cubicle wall and ask for clarification, and have it explained to their full satisfaction, and making them instead turn to the internet or other dead resources to try to fend for themselves? Why is the government placing them in the position of either having to tell the students they don't know, they're not sure or a possibly wrong answer? Why is the ministry of education expecting them to now grade write-in answers on exams, which have resulted in literally dozens of messages and phone calls to my desk after the exam period, all by themselves without anyone to check in with? Now, when they want to include real soundbites or videos with real native English in their lesson plans, which exposes the students to the kind of English they will realistically encounter out in the world, they can send me a file and receive an errorless transcript back from me, with a full explanation of all terms and expressions, within the hour. If I'm not there? Literally hours of work for them. More questions from the students they have no way of answering.

I know I'm expensive. And I know I'm not perfect. And I know my Korean coworkers have been working hard, improving, and are more capable now on their own than they've ever been. But I don't think the purpose I serve is trivial enough to be called a luxury. Not with all of the expectations with which my coworkers and students have now been saddled.

I work at a public school because I believe in the students' rights to equal opportunities in education. I believe in real English being a part of their daily curriculum. I take significantly less money every month than my hagwon teaching counterparts, and continue to year after year, because I believe in what I do.

Don't take that away from me. Cut my salary. Take away my free housing. Don't pay for my flight home at the end of every contract. I'll find a way to make it work, if I really feel like it's worth it to me. But don't take away my job. Don't force me into hagwon. That's not where I want to be. That's not where I feel the most useful.

I'm not GEPIK, and I'm not SMOE. For right now, there are no tremblings shaking my home turf. But I can't help but feel like I'm probably next. And it hasn't escaped my notice that, by this time last year, I already had a new contract in front of me for signing. And I haven't heard a word yet so far this summer.

It's a shame. And it's not just a shame for me. It's a shame for my coworkers and my students, as well. And I wish the people who hold the purse strings would take a minute and listen to the people who know -- not the foreigners who know, but the Koreans who know. It's the same old story in education every where in the world, and at the end of the day, a good educator only wants what is best for the students' education. I work with some good educators, and a lot of other native speaking teachers do as well. I hope someone higher up will make the right decision and listen to what they have to say about us.

5 comments:

3gyupsal said...

If you are running teachers training courses, I'm guessing that you are safe.

It does totally suck though. Unlike you, when they told me that they would cut my pay, I got the hell out of dodge and got a different job. I thought that if they were so quick to cut my pay when I renewed my contract, the next step would be to get rid of my job.

Actually I saw the writing on the wall when the regional director for Gyeongsang province gave a speech in our town about how we shouldn't bitch when we were required to go out for dinner on short notice, and about how the Korean co-teachers were 1000 times more qualified than us. (This was an introductory seminar for new teachers...nobody told that bitch anything about catching more flies with honey.)

sillyleaf said...

I'm applying through EPIK for Gangwon so this does not yet affect me directly (I hope) but it is concerning nonetheless. I honestly do want to teach in a school where the priority is learning and not profit.

In Canada I've volunteered for years now with the Immigrant Settlement Services, helping immigrant's to Canada improve their English. Be it 2,5,or 10 years in an English speaking country there are always questions that only a native speaker can help with. I imagine that Korean English teachers are similar. They may have a firmer grasp on English but there will always be particulars like the natural enunciation, or the unwritten rules of English that a native teacher is invaluable for.

The right native teachers are an asset and shouldn't be thought of as a budgeting nuisance.

I hope that should I get my NOA, and begin teaching in Korea that I would be a good teach, and be worth every single won they pay me. I'll do my job and probably much more.

karisuma gyaru said...

i just wanted to say: i think you are awesome. probably doesn't mean much, but you are a fucking champ. chin up.

Charles said...

The article indicates exactly what you have said.
"One of the reasons schools have native teachers is to give Korean teachers opportunities to learn from them so that they can provide better English lessons to students,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “However, as Korean teachers’ language skills are getting better, there will be less need for native speakers at schools. That’s the reality.”
While it is the reality I don't think that the ENTIRE school system has already reached that level of proficiency.
But, when money gets tight schools look for what appears to be expensive. I say 'appears' because they haven't figured out how to quantify the ripple effect of teaching teachers. (Sports, music, and art programs are often the first to go in the US.) If you add in personal bias administrators may have against a particular program area you can see how this 'oversight' in the budget was allowed to pass without argument.

noe said...

I don't think the student's mothers will put up with decision on the governments part too long, lets hope its overturned.