Representative Cho Jeon-hyuk of the ruling Grand National Party, who is also a member of the parliamentary committee on education, proposed on Thursday revisions to laws on schools and private institutes.
The revised bills seek to make it mandatory for private institutes to have foreign teachers complete educational programs on South Korea’s culture and people.
Cho said most foreign teachers in the nation do not have enough of an understanding about Korea’s culture and practices. He said the revisions are aimed at raising the quality of the nation’s English education programs by mandating that foreign teachers have better knowledge of Korea.
An article in Korean here.
Orientation programs are a good idea, and Jeollanam-do puts on a relatively good one for new teachers arriving in public schools via the Jeollanam-do Language Program. I just wish there were more opportunities for education and professional development. In three years teaching in Jeollanam-do we only had one meeting where we could watch presentations from other teachers on lesson planning on classroom issues.
There are also few opportunities to learn Korean, and I think these ought to be provided. Suncheon did offer Korean courses through the Office of Education, but they were bad enough to show me the amount of damage an "unqualified" teacher can do. Gwangju's EPIK branch is doing the right thing by letting their teachers take Korean classes at Chonnam National University twice a week for free.
However, that "most foreign teachers in the nation do not have enough of an understanding about Korea's culture and practices"---if you want to even say that's the case---is due, I think, to the ambiguous role native speaker English teachers play in Korea. No planning has gone into how we are used, there is no curriculum in place for us to follow, little to no cooperation with and from Korean English teachers, no ultimate goals or vision of success. It's easy for things to be chalked up to misunderstandings, but that neglects to account for schools having no idea what to do with us, and with coteachers often not understanding how to use a native speaker English teacher. Differences in culture and teaching styles need to be approached from both sides. A classroom where students are talkative---if a little boisterous---might be considered poor classroom management by a Korean teacher or administrator, while a teacher-centered classroom that is quiet through the use of corporal punishment might be considered a success.
I was reminded of an article from April, 2008, from the Korea Times that appeared on The Marmot's Hole and talked about providing training programs to native speaker English teachers in Seoul. But, from what we've seen in the public schools, do you think this would be the best way?
University professors and supervisors in charge of English education, as well as other excellent Korean English teachers, will lead the teacher training programs. ``Although some of the selected foreign teachers have English teaching certificates, they need to learn about the Korean education environment for better cooperation with teachers,'' he added.
During the training programs, 15 foreign teachers at the center will learn the curriculum of English education at Korean schools and teaching methodology for Korean students.
Or perhaps it's worth exploring what "the best way" is, this being Korea after all, and native speaker English teachers need to find a way to fit in, and be fit in, here. For instance, dealing with large class sizes---and learning to like them---realizing that choral repetition can be effective, and understanding how the test culture will shape your English class.
There also needs to be a lot of thought put into these programs, and what, exactly, needs to be taught. During my orientation in 2006, we didn't spend any time talking about lesson planning or classroom issues. We did, though, sit through dull lectures delivered in painful English on things like musical instruments and Hangeul. It reminds me of a passage near the beginning of Tom Coyner's book Mastering Business in Korea: A Practical Guide, which was quoted on The Grand Narrative a couple years ago; I think we can apply it to our experiences a little:
Most introductory books on Korea provide some kind of five- to fifteen-page history on Korea covering a period of some five thousand years. This book is different. First of all, we assume the reader knows how to use the Internet and can read up to his or her heart’s content about Korean history.
. . .
As a business professional, however, one need not be conversant on historical trivia but one does need to know the important basics that Koreans will eventually expect even a foreigner to know at a minimum – and perhaps more importantly, one should have some insight on the impact of the legacies of Korean history in the workplace.
And these excerpts, which doesn't really apply here but I like it anyway:
First there is the mythology of “5000 Years of Korean History.” This is more of a legacy of the Korean government’s self-promotion campaign of the 1970s than what happened in 3000BC. Many Koreans, however, have swallowed it unquestioningly. In all fairness, there is scant evidence of people inhabiting the peninsula as far back as 30,000 years ago . . . What is not found is compelling evidence of a civilization with a written legacy going back to 3000BC. There are not even large-scale, 5000-year-old remains such as Stonehenge of Britain . . . The point is, that the British [and others] do not claim a historical legacy rivaling the Egyptians while many Koreans do.
. . .
It’s probably not a good idea for one to debate this matter with Korean colleagues, but consider this a point of reference.
I, Foreigner hit on a lot of orientation deficiencies in a post last December:
I’m not sure if it was the Gyeonggi Education Department or our city’s program, but yesterday we were treated to “Korean Culture”. 5000 years of history and all you have to show is kimchi and pottery?
No doubt the program was sincerely intended to show us more about Korean culture, and the whole day was quite fun, but sometimes I wonder if Koreans actually know what their own culture is all about. Do they not realize that watching TV on tiny screens on the bus/subway, playing games at the PC bang all day and boiling it up at the Jimjil Bang or Baths are as much part of Korean culture as kimchi is? Would it not be more useful for us to learn more about the history and use of these? Show me ONE teacher who has been here more than a month who has not heard about the whole history of kimchi. Now that I think about it, they never tell us that chili is a comparatively recent addition.
Would it not be more useful for the Province to work on setting up language schools to teach us the Korean Language? Would we not learn more about Korean culture if we were able to experience it directly with the use of said language?
The KBS article was short, and probably left out a lot of the story, which is why I didn't jump on it and resent more talk about what "most" and "many" foreign teachers think and do without actually talking to "many" of them. But I also think it's a good idea to educate and train the teachers you're spending thousands of dollars a month on. Moreover, the business needs to grow up, and foreign teachers should not only embrace any chance they have to learn about their host country, but should take the initiative as well to become the best teachers they can be.
I'll reiterate, though, that any training program involving native speaker English teachers regarding classroom culture needs to include Korean coteachers---the cynic in me says "good luck getting them to show up"---and administrators, and needs to work both ways, because the ambiguity regarding NSETs and the misunderstandings start from the top. Without clearn plans and goals for NSETs in school, and without support and cooperation from coworkers and administrators, the same "misunderstandings" will continue.