Steve Schertzer

Teacher as leader

An article in the Korea Times

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."
---- William Morrow.

The immaturity and lack of leadership among foreign English teachers here in Korea never ceases to amuse and amaze me. Many of us veterans chalk this up to relative youth and inexperience , especially those who are living away from home for the first time. While that may have something to do with it, it goes beyond that.

South Korea, like many other nations that employ native English teachers, are inundated with immature Westerners who have not a clue about how to teach the very language they speak. Many, if not most of these teachers, play it safe in the classroom. They take neither risks nor chances. Instead they choose easy activities and games or simply "go by the book" in hopes that they get by without the slightest effort. They become sycophants, acquiescing to the establishment that clearly does not have their best interests at heart. In other words, many native English teachers are simply too afraid to teach anything substantial.

This is not about native English teachers "rocking the boat." This is about doing our job well. This is about taking pride in what we do. This is about putting in place a pedagogical system which will guarantee the success of both our students and ourselves. This is about taking the leadership role that is expected of us and should be expected from ourselves.

With few exceptions I employ, and plan to continue to employ, the Callan Method, ( This audio-lingual method for second language acquisition promises the learner English in a quarter of the time it would usually take to learn English using any other methodology or approach. It is quite demanding on the teacher since we have to speak almost constantly, but I employ this method with great and almost immediate results. With the Callan method, my students begin to speak in full and coherent sentences within weeks, while students using most other methods needs months (or years) before beginning to speak English with confidence.

Far too many native English teachers come to Korea with neither plans nor goals in dramatically raising the English language ability of their students. Having failed, they then blame the Korean education system for being uninspiring and unprogressive. While admittedly, the Korean education system does need reform, many of the native English teachers here stubbornly refuse to look into themselves to see how they have partly contributed to the lack of progress by their students. I have, and that is why I have chosen to use a method of second language acquisition which promises that students learn English much faster.

Instead of badly needed reflection and introspection, many native English teachers choose to congregate on web sites like and bemoan the fact that they are here instead of taking the initiative to become leaders in their profession. While their immaturity is understandable, it should not be accepted or tolerated. Many of them simply do not have enough wisdom and life experience to know how to become leaders.

They don't realize that success rests not on what we expect and demand from others, but on what we expect and demand from ourselves. They don't know that in order to succeed, certain conditions must first be put into place. Success just doesn't happen. They are unaware that it's less what others do that will determine the quality of their lives here in Korea, it's what they themselves do. They don't know that to live properly, we must ask not what life can do for us, but what we can do for life?

As Nietzsche said, "He who has a why to live can bear with just about any how." That is a big problem with many foreign English teachers. They have no why. They have no idea why they're here. Most mope around with little or no specific purpose in Korea other than to spend a year here, soak in a little culture, pay off a student loan, then go home having accomplished next to nothing in the classroom.

It is unfortunate that far too many native English teachers in this country have left their courage on the tarmac of their home city's airport. I realize that it is not easy to live and work in a foreign country, especially a country as different as South Korea. But that is no excuse to give up. That is no excuse to capitulate to those very people we are supposed to impress. We come from countries where people are unafraid to show initiative, yet many of us cower under our beds when faced with even a little adversity.

It may be that most native English teachers are doing their best given the difficult and, at times, trying circumstances in which many of them find themselves. But are they giving their best? Is this the best we can do? Are we teaching to the best of our ability and potential? I'm afraid that the answers to these questions are obvious. By not giving their best, by not living up to their full potential, native English teachers have made failure an option. They have settled for maintaining the status quo, mistakenly thinking that just getting by is good enough. Maintaining the status quo should never be an option for ESL teachers who, instead, should be leaders.

It is now time to prove your worth, English teachers! Just because others all around you are failing doesn't mean you must throw in the towel as well. It is now time to shine. It is now time to strut your stuff. It is now time to weave your magic and show the world what great English teachers you truly are. Now is the time to look inside and see what lies within us so that we can tackle the challenges that lie before us. Now is the time to show leadership.

I have linked this column on two web sites, and and have received some pretty interesting responses. Needless to say, when an ESL teacher questions the ability of some of his fellow English teachers or the sincerity, professionalism, and dedication that they apply to their teaching, he is bound to receive some rather interesting replies.

So please let me know how you feel about the subject of ESL teacher as leader.


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