"Attitude determines altitude."
I confess. I like to peruse a few of the ex-pat/EFL teacher websites. There are so many that it's tough to keep up. On the forums of these websites you'll find a lot of garbage from people, losers and morons I like to call them, who, for obvious reasons, should not be in the classroom. Yes, the words "Morons" and "Losers" are in the title of this column. There will be some who probably think that I misspelled "Mormons." Morons! I can see the angry letters coming in now.
I've been lucky enough to have some dear friends here in Pusan, some veterans of this profession and some newbies. I love newbies. I really do. They come with that baby-fresh smell that's so appealing. In all my years on the road, I have found that there are two kinds of newbies: The smart ones and the dumb ones. I like the smart ones better. Here's why.
"I've been in Korea for two weeks now. Where can I buy toilet paper?" This request was found on one of the websites that caters to newbie English teachers. Two weeks without toilet paper? One must wonder what he's been using thus far.
Other questions and statements from dumb newbies are just as silly.
"Where can I buy good soap and Colgate toothpaste?"
"Where is the best place to wash my clothes?"
Please help, I'm hooked on protein bars!"
"I need a cheap airplane ticket to the Philippines. Where can I go?"
And my personal favorite,
"I have a big stain on my bed sheet--- long story. Need a good dry cleaners. PM me with info."
These are real questions and statements from people who, supposedly, graduated from university. And what's frightening is that these bozos are in classrooms all over Asia. How do you help a 27 year old who doesn't know where to buy soap and toothpaste? At the grocery store, you frickin' moron! Even a 10 year old knows that. How do these people put their underwear on in the morning? Obviously, writing lesson plans and teaching English effectively seems to be the least of their problems. And did it ever occur to the moron with the stained bed sheet to throw it out and buy another one? Oh wait. He'll probably have to post another message asking where he can buy a new bed sheet.
If anyone doubts how easy it is to get a job "teaching" in Korea, or in most other places, just read the story in the June 20th edition of the Korea Herald under the headline, "Thriving in the Hermit Kingdom." Herald reporter Frank Smith writes,
"When asked why he came to Korea, Andy Rocks, from New Zealand responded, 'It was easy. I was lying on the beach drinking D.B. Brown--- the cheapest beer there is--- read a classified ad, gave them a call, and two weeks later I was here.'"
Well, gawawwleee, Jethro! Slap my bare ass and call me schlomo! Did you bring your banjo with you, Andy? I hope you know where to buy toothpaste, Andy. And toilet paper. After all that D.B. Brown you're going to need some good old fashioned two-ply. What a great advertisement for the profession. The article continues,
"Initially he 'didn't like it a bit,' after getting dropped off at his apartment from the airport at 9:00 p.m. and heading to the local McDonald's only to get bumped around in line by a middle-aged woman. After a while, Rocks got used to life here and 'worked out what to do, how to order beer and food, how to get by.' He came here to save and live, and stayed to fund travel, although he also admits 'there were some girls involved.'"
Nothing wrong with saving money, drinking beer, and travelling. Especially when "some girls" are involved. But did you notice that our friend Andy said nothing about teaching? None of that Thoreau philosophical stuff about going into the woods "to live deliberately." Not one of Covey's seven habits of success was mentioned. Just beer, food, travel, girls. Now it could be that Andy has become a very good teacher during his time here. There are plenty of opportunities to improve yourself. It could very well be that Andy, well--- Rocks. But judging by the amount of losers and morons that parade themselves in and out of Korea every year, I highly doubt it.
To be fair, it's not only newbies that post silly stuff. At least it's funny, if not just a bit tragic. Many of the veterans in this business have become so vicious, so vile and vindictive that it's scary. It's a frightening fact that the longer one stays in TEFL, the more one blames others for their problems. And the list of others to blame grows exponentially the longer one stays in the business.
When teaching English in Korea, free housing is part of the benefit package along with paid airfare and a yearly bonus. Free housing is a rarity in this business and one should be thankful for it. With the exception of a few cases, the housing in Korea for EFL teachers is modern and comfortable. Some of the apartments may be a bit small, but with Seoul being the third most expensive city in the world right now, EFL teachers should be even more thankful that they have free housing at all.
But are they? A quick glance at any of the open forums here in Korea would prove otherwise. I teach in a government program called EPIK, or, English Program in Korea. It has a multitude of problems, but that's the subject for another column. EPIK places English teachers, (and you must use that term very loosely here in Korea), in the public school system where we teach alongside Korean co-teachers. Each school, (at least in the city of Pusan where I teach), is alloted 50 million won, (about $54,000 U.S. at the current rate of 930 won to the U.S. dollar), for one foreign English teacher for one year. This 50 million won pays the teacher's salary, (1.9 to 2.5 million won per month depending on the teacher's experience and qualifications), any key money involved in securing the apartment, plus monthly rent, furniture and appliances, the airfare to and from the teacher's home country, and the teacher's one month bonus at the end of his contract. This is more than enough to live comfortably.
It's not uncommon for EFL teachers to openly criticize, on ex-pat forums, their apartments for being too small, too ugly, to uncomfortable, etc. And remember, except for utilities and a small monthly maintenance fee, the apartments are free! This is the epitome of ingratitude. It's worse than being invited to someone's house for a free meal, then complaining about the food. There is a solution to this nonsense. Unless your bathroom is outside and you have to walk three kilometers to take a leak; unless your apartment is full of cockroaches so large that one is waiting for you in the morning to ride you to school, any teacher who complains about a free apartment should be fired on the spot.
Many of the complaints by these EFL losers are as endless as they are frivolous. Some have been known to complain because their pillows are too hard, or their shower isn't strong enough. Others don't like the shade of their wallpaper, or how their toilet seat isn't soft enough and doesn't quite accommodate their fat ass. Then there are those who constantly post on EFL forums that they have to stay at school until 4:30, even though they have finished teaching one or two hours before. What in the world in wrong with these people? It's not as if most of them are innundated with things to do and people to see. The bars here don't open until six. Obviously they have never been taught a work ethic.
One solution would be take this privilege away. Since far too many foreign teachers feel content to see this benefit as a right and an entitlement, take this benefit away and have these teachers look for their own apartments. Japan does this. So does Thailand. It takes balls to complain about something given to you for free. Would these EFL morons feel entitled to a free apartment, paid for by the taxpayers, were they still residing in their home countries? But they certainly feel entitled to one here. Where is all this "courage", I wonder, when these same foreign losers are being treated unfairly by their employers?
Most of these teachers have never seen $54,000 U.S. in one year, let alone lived on it. Many of them owe that, or more, in student loans. Wal Mart, McDonald's, and Pizza Hut do not pay their employees close to that for stacking canned goods on store shelves or for flipping burgers. It is the very ambitious goal of EPIK to hire 3,000 native English teachers to teach in South Korean public schools within the next few years. (Whether or not EPIK can reach this goal is another matter.) At today's rate, to place and maintain three thousand native English teachers in Korean public schools will cost the Korean taxpayers 150 billion won, or about 162 million U.S. dollars a year.
That's not chicken feed. Important questions must be asked here. Namely, are Koreans getting their money's worth? If the answer is no, then adjustments on both sides need to be made. Given that enormous sums of money are being spent on hiring and keeping foreign English teachers, it is imperative that only the right ones be hired. It is extremely important, to Koreans and foreigners alike, that the wheat be separated from the chaff. Good, qualified, dedicated, and caring teachers must always have a place in good schools. Whiners and complainers, losers and morons, who have nothing positive to contribute, should not only be fired, they should never be hired to begin with. There is far too much at stake--- namely, the education of children--- to allow the nonsense found on ex-pat forums to continue.
I have a wonderful friend, new to the EPIK program this year. His name is Bill from Tampa, Florida. Bill and I meet on Fridays for some food and drink. He has stories. Man does he have stories. Here's my favourite. Before coming to Korea, he was a student teacher at an inner-city public elementary school in Tampa when, one day, he walks into his grade four class. He sees a nine year old boy standing on his desk holding a knife. When Bill enters the room, this boy shouts, "Yo, 305 in the house motherfucker! What ya gonna do about it?" (For those unfamiliar with gang lingo, 305 refers to the area code in which this boy was a gang member.) What a boy! His parents--- may they rest in peace--must be proud.
Now Bill is no slouch. He comes from a military background. His response was quick and brilliant. "305, my ass. Sit your motherf**king ass down! You're in my class now." The boy was shocked and did what he was told. Talk about classroom management! In the same year in that same inner-city school, there were four student on student shootings, over 60 stabbings, and over 130 students arrested for carrying knives and firearms. And this was an elementary school!
Now let's contrast this situation with the reality of teaching in a Korean public school. Bill will be the first one to tell you that he has never seen a student standing on a desk brandishing a knife and yelling, "Yo, Mr. Kim Bong-nam in the house motherf**ker!" He has never seen a student stabbed at his school. As for guns, none of that either. Sure, some bad-ass dudes steal money from others. And in the three middle-schools in my area, there is a roaming girl-gang who likes to beat up other girls and steal their cell phones. Bad boys and girls here? Yes there are, but it's a far cry from being stabbed or shot in Inner-city, U.S.A.
Lest we get too complacent when taking for granted that most EFL'ers already know this. The problem with most EFL'ers is that they have no basis for comparison. No perspective. Most EFL'ers in Korea, or in most other countries around the globe, have not taught for one minute in the North American public school system. Unless you're a Sunday school teacher in Butt-crack, Saskatchewan (pop. 412), where the most the locals do is exchange apple pie recipes and take turns milking Elsie the cow, then your view of reality of the Western public school system will tend to be a bit skewed, to say the least. And yes, there are some morons out there who actually believe that teaching in a Korean public school is the worst experience there is. I have recently butted heads with a few of them on one of the websites here.
One more thing about my friend Bill. For a while, he was homeless. Living on the mean streets of Florida taught him a thing or two; namely, to be thankful for what you have. He happens to live in a comfortable three room apartment provided for him by the taxpayers of this nation. And he's thankful for that. But you don't have to have been homeless to appreciate a free apartment. Just smart.
Now here's an idea for EPIK, or any other teaching program that has plans to employ EFL teachers. Hire the homeless. That's right. Send your recruiters to large North American urban centers and search for those living on the street or in the park. Offer them a job teaching in your school. Hey, it worked for Andy Rocks of New Zealand and thousands of others before him. Clean them up. Give them a haircut, shave them, clip their four inch toe nails, and buy them a nice pair of shoes. Now they're ready to teach.
Are they qualified? Well, no, but--- how many in this business truly are? Will they be dedicated? That remains to be seen. Will they be thankful for a free apartment? Hell Ya! Will they know where to buy soap and toilet paper? I certainly hope so. I should stop joking now. The EFL losers and morons on the ex-pat forums will think I'm serious. And maybe, just maybe, there is some truth to all this insanity.
And wouldn't you know it? The very same teachers that are leaving EPIK because the apartments are too small, (among other things), are the first ones to blame EPIK for hiring fresh-off-the-boat newbies. EPIK already knows that 25 year old backpackers with a $50,000 student loan debt will not complain about their free apartment being too small. After all, they have 50,000 reasons not to. Don't these moronic EFL'ers realize that by complaining about everything under the sun they make it so much harder for everyone else, especially those who like it here and are having a positive experience? Perhaps it is time for them to learn from the others who are having a positive experience.
People leave the program and the teaching profession for a variety of reasons. They may try it for a year or two and realize that teaching children their ABC's in not for them. Or they have grown tired of all the red tape and bureaucracy. Or they have become angry and frustrated at an educational system or a workplace that values mediocrity more than excellence. Fair enough. They now face a clear choice: Change your attitude or leave.
Here's a universal truth: Those who are happy in their work; those who are making a positive difference in the classroom; those who are successful in the job, tend not to leave them. Successful teachers find a way to succeed--against the odds. Successful teachers succeed not because of the system, they find a way to succeed in spite of the system. Successful teachers neither blame the system for their failures, nor do they rely upon it for their success and for the success of their students. Successful teachers don't need the system. They wake up every morning knowing exactly what to do and how to do it. They have a vision. They have a mission. And they're not afraid to teach in accordance with their mission. Do successful teachers often fail? Of course. But they pick themselves up, learn from their mistakes, and move on. That's what makes a successful teacher.
I'm now in the middle of the most successful year in my 10 years of EFL teaching. Why? Because of the universal truth about success. I may have some great people around me, that's true. But I do not rely on them for my success. I rely on myself and my own experience. I have been given the freedom to put an educational program in place that will help my students learn English better and faster. And I have chosen to rise above the fray. Unlike the multitude of EFL losers and morons found on ex-pat forums around the globe, I do not blame others for my failures. I blame myself.
There are many successful teachers here in Korea and elsewhere. I have been lucky enough to work with many great teachers. But they are a rare breed, indeed. Successful teachers don't allow the system to beat them down. They rise up to answer the call again and again. Unfortunately, far too many EFL'ers are unsuccessful because they allow themselves to be beaten by the system. What these morons in EPIK don't realize is that being an EFL teacher in a public school is the easiest gig they'll ever have. Most of the work has already been done for them before they even get there. The books have been chosen, the lessons and materials, in many cases, pre-ordained. All they have to do is teach.
If you are not convinced by now that I'm very quickly becoming TEFL's number one enemy among EFL teachers, just go on one the the many ex-pat/teacher forums where I post my columns. On these threads you'll find other teachers who "want to use your head as a tether ball", and one who wishes that a group of teachers meet me in a dark alley to "give you a dental realignment." I've had others write me personal emails and telling me to do something that, anatomically speaking, would give me a staring role on Ripley's Believe it or Not. Quite frankly, I wear all these threats as a badge of honor. I know I'm on the right track in my attempt to infuse some sanity into this profession.
To all EFL teachers: Be thankful for what you have, do the best you can for your students, rise above the human fray, and, most of all, develop a positive attitude, however difficult that may be. If not, then watch yourself become angry, bitter, and frustrated, and fail time and time again.
To EPIK and other educational programs that hire native English speaking teachers: Support the teachers. Help them. Be there for them. Most of all, value them as teachers and people. Many of us are simply doing the best we can with what we've got. And if that fails, HIRE THE HOMELESS!!!