SUNCHEON, Jeollanam-do -- In late-March the government announced it will hire 5,000 additional Korean English teachers this year to teach "practical English" classes in lieu of native speakers. This news first broke in November, when the government said it wanted to hire 4,000 Korean "lecturers" who would teach conversational English in elementary schools, with additional lecturers on the way to secondary schools.
These Korean lecturers would be on one-year contracts and would not hold permanent positions. And unlike "regular" teachers they would not be required to hold teaching certificates but would be hired based on English proficiency, grades, and other factors.
Both plans have been criticized by the Korean Federation of Teachers' Association, many of whose members say the government shouldn't hire "unqualified" teachers who simply speak English well. The introduction of these lecturers has gone hand-in-hand with "Teaching English in English" plans that have been pretty solidly opposed by teachers' unions for a variety of reasons.
However, the plan as presented has created an unfair us-versus-them dynamic between Korean teachers and foreign ones. It has been presented as an antidote to hiring native speakers, who are considered expensive, unqualified, ineffective and potentially dangerous. Ministry of Education official Euh Hyo-jin said, "Foreign native English speakers cannot teach students without Korean teachers, but the newly recruited teachers can teach on their own." This comes a few weeks after an Incheon official said some foreign teachers "were not ethically qualified to teach children," and a few months after the official in charge of native speakers said " ... (native speaker teachers) are neither regular teachers nor lecturers who can conduct classes independently. They are 'assistant teachers,' hence their teaching experience doesn't matter much. Rather, it's better for students to have more new teachers so that they can meet various kinds of foreigners."
When officials make comments like Euh's, it reveals a profound ignorance about who we are and what we actually do in the classroom. Perhaps it was simply a mistranslation of the modal "cannot," but in reality we can and often do teach on our own. Public school teachers are teamed-up with Korean co-teachers, but they frequently do not show up for class or show any interest in contributing to the native speaker's class. Native speaker teachers are often left to design and implement lessons with no input from co-teachers beyond "do what you want" and no support beyond a co-teacher dozing off in the back of the classroom.
Maybe Euh meant that we lack the ability to teach on our own. Is it because of limited Korean-language skills to maintain control and convey important ideas? It would be just as easy to argue, then, that Korean English teachers are equally unable to teach English on their own, not being strong enough in the language to speak it or reliably teach it. Or is it because of a lack of training? Korean English teachers are often unversed in the teaching styles that go hand-in-hand with teaching toward communicative competence.
In reality, these lecturers are not replacing permanent Korean English teachers, but should supplement public elementary schools that often not only lack native English speakers, but proper Korean English teachers as well. In Jeollanam-do I've co-taught with substitute teachers, guidance counselors, music teachers, and physical education instructors. In elementary schools English instruction is often left to homeroom teachers unable or unwilling to teach English. Teachers in the system as a whole have shown resistance to teaching "practical English" and "Teaching English in English," leaving one to wonder where exactly students would pick up these skills if native speakers and Korean "lecturers" are to be excluded.
News of these English lecturers is food for thought about the ultimate direction of English education here, and whether Koreans are interested less in English as a language than as a subject. However, trends have changed so often these past few months, with news about hiring more native speakers, building more English Towns, hiring more Koreans, or even importing cheaper non-native-speakers as teachers. Perhaps when people view this scatter-shot approach as a whole, and not simply as a Korean-versus-foreigner relationship, it will get us closer to a discussion about what "qualified" really means.
God I hate word limits.
The other piece, titled (not by me) "What makes English teachers qualified?" went up on the Joongang Ilbo site this morning. It's the second piece I've written for a new column there, although the piece I did about the sideshows in the World Baseball Classic didn't make it in. I'll admit I winced a little as I read through the latest one. The premise of the new column is a little strange, as I'm supposed to present an overview of opinions expressed on my blog on the latest hot-button issue . . . not opinions expressed by me, though, but rather by my commentors.
The thing is, each blog has its own set of regulars, with little cross-over. People who write here usually don't turn up on The Marmot's Hole, or Roboseyo, or The Grand Narrative, and the same holds true for their regulars. I've accumulated readers who more or less agree with what I write and where I'm coming from, if for no other reason than my loudest critics don't read the blog or comment on it. I do think I get a relatively diverse set of views, well-thought out on all sides. But, I'm not running a model UN, nor do I let my comments go unmoderated or uncensored, thus there's bias inherent in what turns up below each of my posts. While I value my commentors, and am grateful to be exempt from the garbage that pollutes other sites, I'm really not sure if a few paragraphs beneath hours of work really ought to be the centerpiece of a column. Working within a 600-word-limit, then, I would kind of like more room to work my own magic, and introduce my own words to a larger audience, rather than copying and pasting so much of content that might not even have been intended for such wide consumption.
I had hoped the piece would have been prefaced with an introduction about its purpose, and thought it would have been placed with other similar columns by bloggers, but as it appeared this morning it just looked like I was trying to write a column but was too lazy to use my own opinions. I hope to smoothe it out for next time.