When Cho talks about "better knowledge of Korea" and "Korea's culture and practices" what does he mean? He might be surprised to learn that public school teachers often undergo mandatory orientation sessions and seminars already, though unfortunately for them they focus not on teacher training but rather, well, on "Korea's culture and practices." When I attended a week-long orientation in 2006, I sat through many lengthy presentations on topics such as musical instruments, holidays, and funerals, and through several redundant talks on "Korean culture" reminding me that kimchi is spicy and that Korea has four distinct seasons. There was nothing, though, on lesson planning, classroom management, or on the expectations of NSETs. Anecdotal evidence shows my experience is not unique, and that teachers consider sessions poorly-planned, impractical, and condescending.
A lot has been written about these courses already. I did a post on November 26th
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.
and there are threads on Dave's ESL Cafe and ExpatKorea. Both those threads will given an overview of teacher opinion to the plan, which, truth be told, was only reported by KBS. Kang Shin-who, the worst journalist in Korea's English-language media, covered it the next day, writing that "Foreign Teachers Unenthusiastic Over Culture Course," even though the president of ATEK says right there in the goddamn article
"This is a great idea, if it's done right."
Here is a quick overview of comments to Dave's; from isthisreally:
I think they'd be better off providing actual teacher training than teaching me how to pour a drink for my boss.
I think that most newbies would volunteer for the courses if they were offered. However, I don't have confidence they would be practical, and it sounds to me like a money grab for somebody.
Most times I speak to my coworkers or korean adult students about some aspect of korean history I learned about in my travels (e.g., the Japanese forts on the east coast, some with stone walls mostly intact going down to the sea) or some place I visited (e.g., Bogildo where a famous artist spent 10 years and wrote poetry on stone or the village near Hadong where the great Korean novel Toji/Land was written and a yearly festival honors) I CONSTANTLY GET BLANK STARES AND COMMENTS LIKE 'I DON'T KNOW'.
From JohnFlory, referring to Kang's incorrect statistic about E-2 visa holders:
If they're free and convenient why not? But I think Kang sabotaged this article, trying cause outrage among the Korean readership, first with the bogus statistic, and second, with the supposed cultural hostility of English teachers, quoted by exactly one teacher who was opposed to the idea.
Almost everyone here that works in a Korean public school for e.g. picks up on various aspects of Korean culture much faster and more in depth than anything that could be explained by a course. Besides, the so called "traditional Korean culture" that is always talked about by the older set and in such courses bears little relevance to today's younger Korea which is all about bbali, bbali, plastic surgery, K-pop, and other aspects of a modernistic and consumerist/materialistic society with a healthy touch of group think and tribalism mixed in.
This wouldn't be a bad idea if it wasn't run the Korean government.
Browse the rest on your own.
There are many points I couldn't get to in today's Herald piece, and Ulsan Online hit on one of them:
A good number of foreigners I’ve met during my tenure here, some I even call friends, have desperately needed some form of cultural training. Or at the very least some manners classes.
That is a good point. I won't say "a good number" or "most" English teachers do one thing or another, but we've all met people who lack the maturity or professionalism to be a teacher. But would week-long culture courses do anything for these people? I'll just quote my comment to his post:
When the bulk of the NSETs you hire are fresh out of college and don’t have much job experience, let alone teaching experience, the potential for moronic behavior and insensitivity is high. But then again, some of the worst teachers I’ve met here haven’t been 22-year-olds, but have been in their thirties, forties, and above, some even with the advanced “qualifications” so touted.
I think a lot of this needs to start during the hiring process. If you’re interviewing somebody on the phone—if you even bother interviewing them at all—and they don’t display any eagerness to teach in Korea and work in the system, then don’t hire them. More importantly, if they don’t display any eagerness to LEARN, then don’t hire them. Perhaps it’s time for the industry to grow up beyond being a place for a year of “cultural experiences,” or whatever, as most recruiters currently advertise.
That goes back to the quality versus quantity dichotomy, and of course Korea has opted for quantity. It has nothing to do with "qualifications" or an understanding of culture, but with maturity and a fitness for the job. A lot of bad apples could be weeded out, excuse the mixed metaphors, by a more stringent interview process. I'm not talking about a five-minute interview in broken English at the embassy before getting a visa, I'm talking about employers finding candidates ready to teach, learn, and live in Korea.
In that comment and in the Herald article I made reference to how recruiters advertise for jobs, and I make the connection between their considering Korea to be a place to travel, and the treatment of teachers as tourists by administrators. Looko at the recruiter Park English, for example, as I did in May; here's how they advertise:
-Annual salary of US $24-35K at 30 hrs/wk
-Renewable 12-month contract
-Gain international experience while enriching students lives
-Safe, modern country with the highest investment in private education in the world
-Intriguing language, rich culture and central location for continued travel in Asia
-Great ongoing positions available year-round
-FREE furnished housing, FREE round-trip airfare, paid holidays, health insurance coverage, etc.
-Save up to $15K/year
I get that not everybody comes to Korea simply to teach, but when twentysomethings are attracted with ads like this, can you really bitch and moan about "qualifications"?
Another point I left on the cutting room floor was to question who would be organizing these sessions, and who would decide what's taught? Because if it's anything like the meetings I've sat through, it would be thrown together last-minute, with a Korean English teacher forced to read off the powerpoint for forty-minutes. And seeing the "cultural tips" that have come out so far, I'm not encouraged. These sessions must be organized by, and organized for, native speaker English teachers, and must be led almost entirely by experienced teachers who know the NSET experience.
The original KBS article on Cho's plan was only five sentences long, so there's a lot left to the imagination. I suspect what may be motivating Cho is foreigners not understanding Korea's education culture, and how to behave in school. We commonly make fun of "misunderstandings" that arise when contracts are changed or ignored, or get bent out of shape with last-minute changes, or are outspoken about overtime or our apartments, and so forth. We also struggle with making ourselves relevant and useful in school, trying to teach spoken English to a class of 40, trying to cope with co-teachers who don't come to class, and trying to deal with a reality different from our expectations based on the job ads. Forget about kimchi, this is the stuff we need to learn about. Walter Foreman brought up some good points in a comment on Monday:
With all the discussion that's been going on surrounding the proposed mandatory Korean culture classes for English instructors, I've started revisiting some of the cultural awareness information already available for English teachers in Korea. One area that struck me as being of particular importance is the low context/high context difference between the two languages (and thereby cultures).
As an example of this difference, ATEK's "The English Teacher's Guide to Korea" recounts the story of the teacher coming to Korea who didn't know enough to actually get a visa with his visa issuance number. Said teacher was then upset with the employer for not passing on sufficient information when he arrived in Korea without a visa. Said employer was upset with the teacher for not having sufficient information.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons for a perceived failure by NESTs in the Korean public school system. The schools/school boards expect the incoming teachers to know what to do without being told and the incoming teachers expect to be told what to do.
Which is why I wrote, revisiting in today's Herald piece a theme I bring up all the time:
The word he uses in his title is "practical," and the orientation sessions mandated thus far have been anything but. And what's "practical," what's vital for native-speaker English teachers, is an understanding of the Korean classroom and how they fit into it. I've written numerous times that most of the challenges that accompany NSETs are due to the lack of planning and support they receive and to the ambiguous role they fill in the system, and any new training session needs to address these concerns.