The president 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.
There are a number of huge problems with his statement, all worked into two sentences. There is the assumption that native speaker English teachers don't care about students, thrown out there with no explanation or support to back it up. Rather than being interested in teaching, we have simply come here to earn money. On the one hand I do resent the opinion that we're simply after money, a belief based in part on incorrect guesses about our salary and that we're given what's considered a free ride in exchange for simply being native speakers. But on the other, to echo something I've seen in subsequent comments here and on the forums, why should we apologize for working for money? Is it wrong to look for jobs that pay comparatively well? Is what we do any different than the thousands upon thousands of Koreans who have gone abroad to study or look for work? Sure, we all should be driven by a passion for teaching and a love for this great country, but when we look around at how domestic teachers behave, we're right to question why we as a group have our "affection" questioned.
There is the ambiguous "they often cause problems," which could be anything from womanizing and alcoholism to being uppity and demanding things like overtime pay or that employers honor their contracts. There is the mistaken idea that ethnic Koreans are better behaved than other native speakers, which ignores a number of things, like the prejudice against Asian faces in front of the English classroom, or the fact that a lot of the drug-runners and club-hoppers so demonized in the local press are, in fact, ethnic Koreans. Finally, there's the urgent need expressed to replace native English speakers, and though there certainly is a need for Korean English teachers competent and confidence in the language they teach, there is definitely a place for native Englsh speakers in the classroom provided they are used properly and wtih some sort of goal in mind. That is not to say there are not problems with native speaker English teachers, but it says a lot about the state of things here that the xenophobia of influential businessmen, academics, celebrities, and politicians find a place in the big papers without support, evaluation, or challenge.
People at the school tell me that this little paragraph caused a lot of problems, not only in the teachers' office---they do employ native speakers as teacher trainers, after all---but with clients. And it certainly gave negative attention to the school, which I'll admit I had never heard of until this piece, in what was supposed to be a glowing review.
But, people there tell me that, actually, Park didn't say those things. I first heard about this through Gusts of Popular Feeling, when he said he couldn't find Park's comments in the Korean-language press, and this was confirmed when I paid a visit to the school last month. Indeed I've learned that Park had prepared a rebuttal for the Times addressing these distortions. Chief among them is their contention that the reporter, Kang Shin-woo, fabricated quotations by combining separate parts of the interview into single lines and attributing them to Park. The "problems" Park speaks of do not refer to social ills, but were talking more about the bureaucratic headaches created by bringing in native speaker English teachers: dealing with paperwork, landlords, more paperwork, schedules, more paperwork, although a lot of that stress is probably aleviated when considering how much money schools get for hiring one.
The line about not showing affection is, according to people over there, a mistranslation of the Korean in which the interview was conducted, and the line about money is simply speaking to the number of college graduates who come to Korea not only to gain teaching experience but to pay back loans.
As I said, I learned Park had prepared a rebuttal to the piece but decided not to submit it. However, until it appears in print it cannot be taken as truth that Park's words were distorted or his quotations fabricated, and it must be assumed that he did in fact say these things and that the school is now simply trying to save face by saying otherwise. In light of some evidence, though, we can say there is one of two things going on, neither of which is good: either big-wigs and politicians in the English business in Korea have a deep-seated ingorance about who native speaker English teachers are and what we do, or the media has no qualms about inventing stories that sensationalize the foreign menace in schools. Either the decision-makers in the business are morons, or the media can't be trusted to report accurately on native speaker English teachers. Regardless, the result is that the people whom the public ought to look up to and respect are lying to them, and they should be made to account for their distortions. The reporter, Kang Shin-woo, chose not to reply to my email about the Park Nam-sheik piece.