I also found myself in the Korea Herald last night on the topic of the "unqualified" misnomer. It was a piece I had been trying to work out for several weeks, and when I submitted it I didn't think it had much to it. As I thought through the issues I not only became sick of thinking about the same old crap, but I stumbled onto some other ideas that I didn't have the time or the energy to develop. There are some glaring weaknesses in the piece, but whatever. There are two excerpts in particular I stand behind:
The ambiguity of the word "unqualified" is in part a product of the ambiguous role native speakers play in the classroom.
"Unqualified" really doesn't fit because native speaker English teachers do, in fact, meet the qualifications laid out by the government. There has yet been an effort to make proper use of native speakers in the classroom.
But the sentiment isn't groundless, and when people criticize "unqualified" teachers they're really talking about bad ones, an equally vague category of people who don't belong in the classroom, whose behavior is unbecoming of a teacher, and whose attitude toward Korea is unbefitting someone living overseas. Sometimes it's an issue of character, but more often than not it's an issue of training and preparation, of schools not really wanting a native speaker or not knowing what to do once they've got one.
Look, this topic has been done to death on the messageboards, blogs, and this site. People do need to ask themselves what the qualifications are to teach English in Korea, and whether their domestic or imported teachers meet them, But I'm not stupid, I'm not naïve, and I don't believe we're all upstanding citizens. I've been to Monkey Beach, I've been to Itaewon, and hell, I've been to teachers' orientation. I've met enough shitheads to make me wonder why I even bother sticking up for us as a whole. I'm also not foolish enough to think I was hired for anything beyond my passport, so even though my resume isn't bad, I know nobody has read it. It's no secret that a lot of us are brought in fresh out of college, inexperienced, and immature, and that it sticks in the craw of colleagues that so much money is going towards people who didn't even come here to teach.
Now, as I said I think a lot of the problems in the classroom stem from the disorganization, indifference, and even resentment we face that prevents us from being used effectively. I'm trying to bite my tongue a little bit after spending the day with a teacher who came in 10 to 15 minutes late each time, needed to be reminded several times to help the students with their work (it was test prep material, so two heads were better than one), and spent most of the period looking out the window. You really can't bitch about native speakers not being effective or professional when they're often stuck with people like this guy. This guy gets to write an evaluation on me, whereas he isn't held accountable for being a jackass.
But just as there are Koreans who don't deserve the title "English teacher," there are foreigners who haven't earned the title of "teacher." Most people realize that "unqualified" is a stupid word to use, most likely just a lazy translation that's stuck, like "Korean is scientific" or "bibimbap is spicy." And the people who don't realize that, well, to be honest I'm sick of getting angry emails from them so I'll let them stew in their own ignorance. When Koreans use "unqualified" they have no idea what the hell they're talking about. They have no idea how to evaluate a resume, how to work with a native English speaker, or what to make of communication-based classes. They're gonna hire the guy with the best tie and the girl with the brightest smile. When we look around and see Korean teachers beating students, controlling their classes through intimidation, shouting at kids, putting their students to sleep with lifeless lectures, and generally not giving a damn, we ask why all the attention is focused on us as a whole as opposed to the group that does the most damage.
"Unqualified" is tired, and the discussion needs to move beyond "unqualified." What we're really talking about, what it boils down to, is a conversation about what makes a good teacher. When Koreans talk about "unqualified" they're really talking about teachers who don't do a good job. They're talking about teachers who don't want to be there, teachers who lack patience, teachers who make no effort to adapt to challenges, teachers who belittle students, and teachers who show up to work dressed like they're ready for a flag football game. I'm not going to speculate on how many NSETs fit one or more of these descriptions, but suffice it to say it's enough to attract attention, even if we do realize that the media is out to get us.
A lot of this responsibility falls on us to step up. I regret not making myself a better teacher when I was starting out, and while I can make excuses that I was just a hagwon teacher, this attitude brings us right to the point. A good teacher doesn't need to be told he's useful, doesn't need to be told to take pride in his job, doesn't need to be told he's important. A good teacher takes his job seriously and does it for the love of the game. I'll be taking this topic out for a ride soon enough, as soon as I think it through a little more fully.
And the reason I write about this in the local papers, and keep coming back to it, is because schools and Korean teachers need to work us into the system, and I'd like to bring up these issues to more Korean readers. You can't hire thousands of people each year who've never been overseas before, stick them in a classroom, then bitch about it when they don't meet your expectations. You also have to create realistic expectations in the first place, create some sort of attainable goals, and work through them together with the native speaker. To show how this might be done---and I'm not suggesting redo the whole thing to accomodate some foreigners---I'll close here with the last paragraph of my Herald article, which is interesting enough, I think, to spawn an article of its own:
There are a couple ways to reduce the number of "bad" teachers, both domestic and foreign, that are beyond the scope of this column. But we might take inspiration from a bit of recent news.
The government has been recruiting thousands of Korean English "lecturers" to teach practical English, a change that will coincide with the introduction of a home-grown English assessment exam that will domestically replace the TOEFL in a few years. These lecturers have a better chance of success not because they are Korean, but rather because the system is not setting them up to fail.
Comments off, I'm not in the mood.