The president [Park Nam-sheik] stressed that a teaching license doesn't mean competence as an English teacher. ``Schools should open their doors more to those who can speak English well. Still many teachers are opposing to give opportunities to English teachers without teaching certificates to teach students at public schools,'' Park said. At the same time, he was very pessimistic about the increasing number of foreign English teachers from the U.S., Canada and the U.K.
``Most of the native English speakers don't have much affection toward our children because they came here to earn money and they often cause problems,'' Park said. ``If we need native English speakers, it would be better inviting young ethnic Koreans who have hometowns here. Also, we have to invite qualified English teachers from India, Malaysia and the Philippines as English is not a language only for Americans and British people.''
``Above all, we should produce qualified teachers who can replace native English speakers. I can assure you our school will produce such teachers,'' he added.
When I submitted a follow-up a few days later, which touched upon Park's comments and the rash of inflammatory pieces in the Korea Times these days, I was told by the editor, "It is not advisable to make a comment on a specific person." Why it's inappropriate for me to do so, yet others are given an open forum to make unsubstantiated claims of a high-profile minority group is probably due to Park being a friend of the paper.
I got a message on Dave's ESL Cafe from Yu_bum_suk, a public school teacher, who was also bothered by Park's comments and who also submitted a letter that went unpublished. He posted his letter on Dave's today, and it's reprinted below.
I read with both interest and disappointment Kang Shin-who’s article ‘IGSE to Nurture Top Quality English Teachers’. While I think it’s great that this institute wishes to produce potential English teachers who are actually fluent in English, I was rather struck by President Park Nahm-sheik’s statement ‘Most of the native English speakers [teaching in Korea] don't have much affection toward our children because they came here to earn money and they often cause problems’.
To be sure, native English teachers (NETs), like the Korean teachers IGSE employs, no doubt, are probably interested in making money. And yes, I can certainly think of some native English teachers who cause problems. However, I wonder just what he means by ‘most’ and ‘often’.
As an expert on the English language Mr Park should know that ‘most’ implies at least 51%, but more commonly implies 70% or more. He should also know that ‘often’ falls somewhere between ‘usually’ and ‘sometimes’, and that most grammarians would place it at around a 60% rate of probability. I wonder on just what research or observations, if any, he is basing these allegations.
If Mr Park is correct, and a considerable majority of the NETs employed in Korea are affectionless towards their students and / or problem-causers, this is quite unsettling indeed. But it’s also a bit puzzling. According to research presented by Professor Kim Jeong-Ryeol of Korea National University of Education at Soongsil University on 28 March of this year, public schools that have had a NET for one year or more are averaging significantly higher scores on government listening tests than schools that don’t. I wonder how this is possible when, according to Mr Park, NETs lack so much affection and cause so many problems. Just imagine the improvements that could be made if it were possible to attract NETs who do have more affection and are less prone to causing problems than the NETs Mr Park characterises.
I also wonder if Mr Park has done much thinking about why some NETs who start jobs in Korea with a lot of enthusiasm sometimes lose it. I certainly don’t blame some NETs for lacking affection when they have to deal with rude or racist employers, co-workers, or students. My first Korean boss called me ‘shebal gaesekki’ in front of a Korean teacher because I was quitting on account of his lack of professionalism. Would Mr Park be keen on displaying much affection at a workplace such as that? I was recently called ‘shebal shipsekki’ (along with various attempts to employ the F-word) by a group of high school students - thankfully not my own - passing by me on their motorbikes. I definitely wouldn’t have much affection for them if I were their teacher. Would Mr Park have much affection for foreign students who treated him like that? Will the Indians, Malaysians, and Filipinos Mr Park wishes to bring to Korea?
Of course, the generalising works in many directions. I’ve heard a number of NETs make statements such as ‘Most Korean teachers physically abuse their students’ or ‘Korean teachers often spend more time at school sleeping and Internet shopping than making lesson plans’. I wonder what Mr Park would think if I were to make such statements in an interview with a Canadian newspaper. Even if I could provide plenty of anecdotal evidence of Korean teachers doing such things, he’d probably think that I’d had some very bitter experiences with Koreans and had a particular ax to grind. I hope he realises that that’s exactly how he comes across to English readers.
Without exception, every Korean I’ve met who’s gained a high level of fluency in English has done so with the help of native speakers. Given his attitude, it will be interesting to see how Mr Park manages to prove an exception to this. I’m sure that all of the foreign universities with which he wishes to connect, many of whom have instructors who’ve taught overseas in countries like Korea, will be delighted to hear about his attitude towards native speakers and very eager to work with someone who thinks that NETs are mostly affectionless towards their students.
Fortunately, I’m blessed and grateful to work with Koreans who have a much more positive attitude about what an NET can do. Our students may not be the brightest in the nation, or be getting the very best education that money can buy (which would likely entail moving outside the nation, in any event); but I do know that for the most part I’m free to focus on what my students and I can do, not bureaucratically restricted by people who’d rather focus on what we can’t. Even if IGCE offered jobs - working with Korea’s ‘elite’ – to NETs, I’d much rather stick with a small-town school in which I know that management has a much more positive attitude.
If IGCE can produce a whopping fifty English teachers a year who are fully competent in the language they teach it could be an important drop in the bucket. However, the attitude of its president leaves me feeling very sceptical. I personally would recommend that any Korean wishing to develop more fluent and accurate English skills seek out an institution that tries to attract and retain NETs who do have passion and concern about their students and what they’re learning, and not one that rejects NETs wholesale on account of the prejudices of its director.
I like his better than mine; here's what I submitted:
I was pleased to learn about the International Graduate School of English profiled on April 22nd. And being a Jeollanam-do guy myself I was interested to read a little about Park Nam-sheik, a Chonnam National University graduate and a Seoul National University professor. The president of IGSE, Park is interested in training Korean English teachers to be more communicatively competent in the classroom, and had interesting things to say about competence being more than simply a teaching license. Korean English teachers are often unable or unwilling to use English in meaningful ways in the classroom, and any progress on that front with the younger generation is encouraging.
However, I was disappointed to read what Park had to say about native speaker teachers. “Most of the native English speakers don't have much affection toward our children because they came here to earn money and they often cause problems,” he said.
This statement is ignorant and damaging to the validity of the other points Park tried to make about training Korean English teachers, or hiring certified teachers from other countries. It shows a profound ignorance about who we are and what we do, and regrettably suggests that Park is not as trustworthy an authority on English education as believed.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only case of cranio-rectal inversion by big names in the field of English education. The most grievous example is from Lee Young-chan, a Ministry of Education official who told the Korea Times in December, in a story about the turnover rate of teachers in Seoul, “[native speakers] 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.” The most painful thing about that statement is that Lee is actually in charge of native speaker teachers at the Ministry.
In March, Koo Young-sun, the supervisor of the Incheon Office of Education, told the Times that “some [native speaker teachers] are not ethically qualified to treat children,” and a ministry spokesperson told another paper that “[f]oreign native English speakers cannot teach students without Korean teachers.”
If we as a community of native speaker teachers are to correct these stereotypes, it’s true that we need to lead by example. But it’s also true that educators and policymakers need to get with the times and quit making such groundless, sweeping generalizations. There is no evidence whatsoever that native speaker teachers lack affection for students. Ironically, this “affection” is often taken to mean beating students in order to encourage them to study harder. But on the contrary, teachers like myself and many others spend hours each week preparing for our regularly-scheduled classes, for conversation clubs, and for teachers’ workshops. Without the benefit of proper textbooks or teachers’ guides, we develop material that is both educational and entertaining. We teach our classes entirely in the target, foreign language, and we do not fall back on speaking Korean or letting a CD do the talking for us. And let’s not forget we do this while adjusting to life in a foreign country.
Furthermore there is also no reason to say we often cause problems. Actually, when we read stories about teachers behaving badly, it is not native speaker teachers but rather Korean teachers who accept bribes, beat students, sexually abuse minors, or participate in anti-government rallies. Just as it would be irresponsible to suggest that “many” Korean teachers cause problems, it is inappropriate to do the same for foreign ones.
There is, as I often say, a profound ignorance about what we do in the classroom. Perhaps the biggest challenge we face is creating a classroom environment that encourages learning in a way so contrary to the traditional Korean style. People think we “just talk” or simply play games with the students, but in reality we try to create lessons that give students a chance to use the language they’ve studied for years. We have the difficult task of bucking not only the system of passive rote learning and obedience, but also the stereotype that foreign teachers are clowns or zoo animals.
And there are further challenges we face that people don’t seem to think about. There is no curriculum in place for us, no plan for our purpose in the classroom. Sometimes we are simply there to repeat a few lines of text, sometimes we team teach with experienced Korean teachers, or sometimes we teach entirely on our own. And sometimes all three in the same day! We are contractually paired with co-teachers who, it must be said, rarely come to class or show interest in participating. We are given little direction beyond “do whatever you want” or “teach them speaking,” and we are often unable to understand the school’s textbooks because the teachers’ guides are in Korean.
It’s true that putting so many native speakers in public schools can create some headaches. Korean administrators often don’t understand what’s written in our contracts, and foreigners are often ignorant about the workplace culture of Korea. These are some of the “problems” Park is perhaps referring to, but if schools are hiring foreigners, and if foreigners are working in Korean schools, it would behoove each party to be understanding of each other’s perspective.
Rather than taking the easy way out and blaming native speaker teachers---who were, after all, recruited and hired at the behest of both the government and consumers---Park and others would be better off finding ways to meaningfully involve them in the curriculum. There may come a time when native speaker teachers may be mostly phased out of public schools, but clearly that time is well into the future, and it is in the best interest of everyone to cooperate with the goal of meaningful English education in mind.
So while the Korea Times prints prank letters, letters from maladjusted Koreans studying abroad who rant on "white-looking" English teachers, and opinions from self-hating foreigners looking to impress Koreans by blasting fellow teachers, commentary on actual articles goes unpublished. I'm not saying they should automatically print anything I write---even though they usually do---I'm just saying that if you're going to give a forum to ignorant horsefuckers who have something nasty to say about us, at least give us equal space to respond. In all fairness I do have some bigger projects with the KT that should see the light of day next month, and they've shown some willingness behind the scenes to change the current course and be more responsible to our demographic, but let me also say that should this crap continue I've got several great ideas for fake articles that will prove just as popular.