PS NSETs evaluation hubbub.

Since my first period class seems to be lost this morning (the students informed me that it's science now, and English is on Tuesday -- who knows?), I thought I'd respond to this post Brian in Jeollanam-do just put up very quickly.

While I usually agree with Brian's perspective on a lot of these issues, and can certainly see where his concerns with this are coming from, I'm going to have to side with the others on this one. I'm thrilled to see plans being made for NSETs to be evaluated on the same level that Korean teachers are, giving the education offices a chance to remove those who are not invested in their job or their students, and even reward (tangibly -- 100,000 KRW a month raise) those who are working hard.

Korean teachers can have up to five or six open classes or evaluations falling throughout the course of a single year, depending on what training programs they've taken part in recently, or whether or not the district has sent them abroad to study, or whatever numbered year in their career it may be, or which promotions or positions they may be applying for. Three evaluations a year (while definitely a pain in the ass) are not excessive compared, fairly, to how often the Korean teachers are evaluated. If anything, the maybe-once-a-year standard that's been held for NSETs so far has been a little lax, in my opinion. Am I happy about three evaluations a year? No. They're annoying. They're definitely horse-and-pony shows which interrupt the natural flow of your ability to keep your students on track. But. If fair is fair, then we can't complain too much. So long as we aren't being evaluated and held to the same standards as Korean teachers, we don't really get the right to complain that we aren't considered teachers, do we?

Yes. There is the possibility that you might get a crap evaluation based on the fact that the people evaluating you are idiots. It's possible for the Korean teachers as well, or any other situation where higher-ups use their power to meddle around in things they don't really understand. And it is possible that your Korean co-teachers might just have it in for you, for personal reasons, and will use it as an opportunity to throw you under the bus. This is, however, a possibility in any job with any boss and any coworkers in any country in the world. We still have to deal with it, and take those risks. Because the other option is to leave employees unevaluated, their skills and invested interest in their work completely unchecked. Which to me is too high of a price to pay for something as important as education. If we were grocery store check-out clerks, sure -- maybe they could let it slide. But when you're dealing with something like a child's future, it's really not reasonable to expect there not to be some valid system of performance evaluation in place.

Furthermore, not all Korean co-teachers are complete whackjobs. And they're not all idiots, either. In fact, close to none of the 30 or so I've been through since I arrived here have been. To say that Korean co-teachers are not equipped to properly evaluate a native English teacher's ability in the classroom is a bit of a stretch. I work with talented, invested teachers. They know when I have a shit lesson, and when I've hit one out of the park. They make excellent suggestions about how I can improve things, and willingly dole out compliments when I've done something well. They're a lot more experienced than me, and formally trained, after all. Them being Korean doesn't mean that I automatically know more about what I'm doing in the classroom than they might. Human nature is not quite so varied from culture to culture, especially when it comes to how students learn.

Maybe I'm the shining example, floating on a raft of supreme exceptions for co-teachers in a sea consisting otherwise of nothing but complete morons with axes to grind. But I don't think that's quite the case.

As for it not being an equal situation....

First of all, the suggestion that the equivalent would be three foreign teachers evaluating Korean English teachers three times a year is a bit of a joke, in my opinion. I don't mean to take a cliched route, and that's honestly not what I'm doing, but this is the Korean education system we're dealing with here. If Korean teachers were teaching in American schools, it would be a bit ludicrous for them to cry "racism!" because they were being evaluated by the American teachers who they worked with, just because the teachers were American, and not Korean. I won't really justify that argument any further.

And I'll repeat what I said last time this issue came up: I can't vouch for whatever is going on in other cities, districts and schools, but when I got evaluated last year, a board member from a completely different school sat down to speak with me in private about my school, my VP and principal, my co-teachers and my district. I was given a full 45 minutes of one-on-one time to express any concerns or difficulties I've had, with anyone or anything. I was asked very specific, very thoughtful questions about where everyone involved in my situation might be failing me, and how my situation could be improved or made more comfortable. The woman even pushed me quite hard to go on and say more negative things than what I was saying, fearing that I was holding back out of fear or discomfort. She reassured me that whatever I said would be confidential, and that the board genuinely wanted to know how things could be improved for foreign teachers in the district.

I'm not sure how much more of a fair chance they could've given me, really.

As far as the schools not knowing how to use the native teachers, that is a very, very valid point. And one that the districts need to take into very serious consideration. However. When you get into your school and take up your position, you are responsible for figuring out how to do your job. The Korean teachers are in the exact same situation, and I've seen the flounder more than a few times while they work it all out. This is the real world -- it's not summer camp. It's a job. If you can't do your job, it's a little ridiculous and childish to blame everyone else for that. There are some genuinely good people who just can't work out what they should be doing in the classroom, no matter how hard they try. And that doesn't make them bad people. But it doesn't mean that they should be allowed to stay in a situation where they aren't really useful, or performing satsifactorily. It's a job. It's work. If you can't figure out what you need to be doing, then you need to find a training course, ask for help, do some reading, and get advice from other people who are making it work. No one is responsible for holding your hand throughout the entire ordeal.

What it comes down to is this: my endless source of ire and complaints against my situation with my MOE always comes down to how condescending they are. They make comments and put out memos about things that should be completely unacceptable. They have absolutely no idea at times how to conduct themselves with any kind of tact in relation to foreigners, and they often turn around and blame a lot of things on "foreign teachers", when really what the situation comes down to is, they completely fail to invest any significant effort into hiring practices with regards to foreign teachers, and end up with some truly horrific specimens of humanity hanging around as a result. Then, they want to blame me, the foreign teacher, categorically, for the fact that they've got riff-raff hanging around blowing everything off all the time. That has nothing to do with me -- I didn't hire that person. You did.

In a way, this is an opportunity for the MOEs to start taking responsibility for a situation of their own creation. They are responsible for the quality of the NSETs in their schools, and it's good to see them finally start admitting that. And to be honest, I'm not worried at all at the prospect of having to pass three evaluations. I know I can do it. And when I do, I'll be happy to throw the fact in the face of anyone who condescends to me about being an English teacher at every opportunity. Frankly.


Anonymous said...

This is sort of where I'm at with this. I've had two open classes in the year that I've been here (and participated in the open classes of other teachers) and both times got tons of praise. More of them would unduly stress my coteachers, who honestly don't need more of that in their lives, but I don't think my job would be in danger.

I think that many people who call for an equal chance for evaluating their coteachers are those who are stuck in a less supportive school than mine or yours, one where their coteachers don't show up for class or make their jobs harder unnecessarily. Everyone's heard horror stories of the coteacher who never shows up except on open class day, or beats the students, or whatnot, and I don't think anyone supports those asshats judging anyone's ability to teach. If there were a way to raise a red flag on those coteachers, NSETs would probably react a little better to evaluations that could get us fired and deported.

I would be shocked if this kind of evaluation system lasted more than a year. The added paperwork, administrative workload, and coteacher complaints (not to mention the financial drain of rewarding the top 10%) makes this sound like a pet project that will be the first to be sacrificed when a new superintendant comes in.

Anonymous said...

As it is, they can toss you out after a year for any reason they want. This just gives them a really easy way to screw you out of your airfare/bonus too, and if you think it won't be used for that purpose, you are forgetting that even if your coworkers are great it's not up to them - the principal can make them say anything he wants on those evaluations. I understand your principal is a douche? Good luck.

I'm no Picasso said...

April -- very valid point. And obviously, if NSETs are to be evaluated, they also need to have the chance to respond. And to evaluate their co-teachers performance in cooperation with them. That *needs* to happen. It's needed to happen for a very long time. And, in my case, it does.

You're right about it probably not lasting. That's the other thing. How often have we heard that something like this is going to happen, and then after the news articles fade away, we never hear another word about it again?

Anon -- It sounds like you live in a pretty paranoid world. As I understood it, the three evaluations will be added together at the end of the year to see the average, and if it comes out too low, the NSET won't be rehired. What is so threatening about that? What do you suggest happens? All foreign English teachers are garunteed permanent high paying positions in South Korea for the rest of forever, no matter how they perform? Thanks for the wishes for luck, but I don't really need them. I can handle having an unpleasant boss, as this is not the first serious job I've ever had in my life and I understand that this is just kind of the way that the world works.

Brian said...

You bring up good points. I'm not opposed to evaluations for NSETs, and I actually think it's a good idea to try and apply some sort of objective standards to them, objective standards to which Korean English teachers are more or less subjected. Because right now there really aren't any standards for evaluation . . . well, I should take that back and say when I left, in my school district there weren't; for other PS teachers, they already are being evaluated.

I think a lot will depend on where you are and how your school is. Perhaps in Seoul the classroom is different, but from my personal experience out of the several dozen coteachers I've had, there were only two with English we'd consider above an intermediate level, and those two were the only ones who came to class regularly, were involved in planning, and actively attempted some sort of communicative approach for English class. Granted, I know that teaching English to students doesn't require anything above the basics: It's not that students do anything but read and translate anyway. But for a lot of teachers, this is the context in which administrators and coteachers are evaluating them, making it seem rather odd and antagonistic, especially since there's no real accountability for their Korean counterparts.

You're right it'd be absurd for Korean teachers in the US to complain that their American supervisors are evaluating them. But it would be proper for them to advocate for some sort of objective, uniform standards, and to be upset if these standards weren't set up at the beginning of the contract and worked toward throughout the year.

You sound like you've had an excellent experience with evaluations. I was never evaluated, and in the three years I worked in Jeollanam-do public schools I only observed one open class: one given for the 100+ attendees at a regional conference. So things have probably changed, and things may vary by region. What you've experienced sounds constructive, and I hope it's a standard they'd try to uphold everywhere. But, perhaps being cynical, I consider the little attention and interest some administrators and coworkers have shown in English classes and in NSET issues, and I'm doubtful.

I'll add more in a little bit, I just wanted to say you have good points, and you're right that there needs to be some sort of evaluation system in place. But that evaluation needs to accompany---and probably follow---a lot of thought about how NSETs are used in the classroom, what their roles are, and what the goals of their classes are.

I'm no Picasso said...

Brian -- I agree with everything you said here. And I do obviously think that there is a hell of a lot of work to be done in a hell of a lot of areas regarding NSETs if the system is to ever be truly effective. I know that evaluations just for the sake of them are not going to get us there. But I think they are an important starting point. You know how things work in Korea -- they aren't a "bigger picture" culture. Things happen a bit at a time, haphazardly and in a bit of an unnecessary fluster. Anyone who expects them to come at this whole thing with a whole game plan has not had enough time to come to terms with how things work here -- it's simply not going to happen. We're going to have to go through a lot of unnecessary, random crap before they hit on the right combination of solutions.

It's also fair to point out that there are HUGE discrepancies between how the media reports these things, and what actually ends up happening. They make it sound like they're hardlining to the Korean public, because that's what they need the Korean public to believe, but from what I've seen at my school, and honestly at the schools of literally every other PS teacher I know, is that the co-teachers, VPs and Ps tend to take a much more reasonable approach, and roll their eyes at these announcements from the higher-ups right along with us. God knows they're the target of this kind of shit far more often than we are. To expect anything like what is being reported to actually happen is a bit optimistic (?) at best.

I also want to make it clear (to everyone) that I'm not posting about my experience with the assumption that it's the same as everyone's. I know that there are shitty co-teachers, shitty schools, and shitty administration out there, who really do go out of their way to make life difficult for foreign teachers. I just feel like we (as a community) are pretty quick to make it known when we've been wronged, and to give plenty of backing evidence. So when I'm sitting on a positive experience, I feel I also have a responsibility to put that out there, as well. There are some people who are getting it right, and I've been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of it.