Steve Schertzer

The perfect storm

Dopey foreigners and mentally deficient Koreans part one

Oh man! I love it when these things fall right onto my lap. Makes my job as a boat-rocker and a shit disturber much easier. I was on one of the teacher/ex-pat websites when I came across this beaut of a letter from an EPIK secretary. Let's call her Miss In The-dark because, well, that's basically where she and most of her colleagues are. Miss In The-dark was given the unenviable task of informing the foreign teachers in a certain province of South Korea about an unfortunate situation that took place in one of the public schools there. I'll let her say it. (I shortened the letter slightly and corrected any mistakes for the purpose of convenience.)

"Dear teachers in Gyeonggi Prov:

There has been a huge controversy regarding a native teacher in our province. Here is a short summary of what happened. (I will call the native teacher "A", so as not to mention the gender of the teacher.)

"A" went to class without the co-teacher. "A" thought it would be okay since the co-teacher is sometimes busy. But when "A" couldn't handle the noise from the students, "A" sometimes swore at the class which some of the students understood. Other times "A" asked some noisy students to do push-ups to discipline them.

Students complained that "A" showed them too many English movies and did too many pop-songs during class. One day while "A" talked about 'cultural differences', (again, without the Korean co-teacher), "A" mentioned 'cannabis', 'marijuana', and 'heroin', and even explained how to use them.

These stories have been leaked and now there will be TV documentary about 'Native teachers in Korea' focusing on teacher "A"."

I'll stop here for now because I have something I want to say. I'm bummed-out about the students complaining about watching too many movies and listening to too many pop-songs. What's next? Students in public schools complaining because they're receiving too much candy? I can see it now. A candy and pop-song revolt. Angry fifteen year olds holding placards chanting, "We want more grammar or we'll throw you in the slammer!" Serious students who want to study instead of play games? Say it 'aint so, Miss In The-dark.

So let me see if I understand this. Teacher "A" swore at the students and some of them understood. You mean the students can understand "F*ck you", but they don't understand, "Sit up straight and open your notebook?" Do you see a problem here in your society and educational system? I sure do. Back to the letter.

"Yes I know this is probably one in a million, but it happened. Many schools, teachers, and students appreciate you coming to Korea to teach. Our office is aware of how good you are at teaching through open classes.

Yes there can be confusion, frustration, and miscommunication with your co-teachers or school. Our office was very sad to hear about this native teacher's behaviour and how good native teachers will be seen by the public because of this incident.

There have been many good reports about the advantages of having native ESL teachers in public schools. In fact, our office is helping a broadcasting team to videotape good native teacher's classes."

Many schools, teachers, and students appreciate you coming to Korea to teach? MANY? You mean there are some schools, teachers, and students who don't? One in a million? ONE in a MILLION? Ah, Miss In The-dark, you are so kind. Much too kind. I know you may not have had much experience with foreigners in your country, especially the native English teachers. I appreciate that. And I know that you're just following orders like the obedient little Eichmann's that Koreans have been trained to be. But one in a million? Do you really believe that? Using your math, that would mean that there are only 30 people in Canada who smoke the evil weed, and only 300 in all of the United States. Hey, I guess we Western barbarians are not as barbaric after all. Good news!

But wait! Five of those 30 Canadians and 13 of the 300 Americans who smoke those "happy cigarettes" were recently arrested right here in Korea. Imagine that! This according to a newspaper report by the JoongAng Daily under the headline, "English teachers arrested on drug charges." (September 6, 2007.) What are the odds, huh? All in all, 23 people were arrested that day for drug possession and trafficking, including two Koreans and three Brits. The article goes on to say that "Some of the teachers were intoxicated while teaching students."

So you see, Miss In The-dark, one in a million is not quite accurate. Especially when one considers the periodic drug sweeps in your country which consistently nab a dozen or more people every time. Back to the letter.

"To avoid any similar incidents, here are some announcements I would like to make:

1) Do NOT go into a class to teach WITHOUT a Korean co-teacher. (I know you are sometimes asked to go in alone because the co-teacher is busy. In this case, refuse to teach alone.) Korean law states that unless one is duly licensed to teach in Korea, then one MUST be accompanied in the classroom by a teacher who is actually licensed. Even though you are teaching 100 percent of the class, a co-teacher must be present. Our office will be sending official letters to all co-teachers regarding this.

2) Leave the disciplining of students to the Korean co-teachers. In recent years the punishing of students has been a huge controversy, so Koreans are very sensitive about this.

3) Swearing to students is not acceptable... (but we all know that, right?)

4) Using pop-songs and movies to teach English can be fun for the students, but too much will not... (but we know this too, right?)

I wanted to let you know what happened and hope this will not happen again. Every one of you is a respected and valued member of the teaching staff. Don't forget that. (Insert smiley face here.)"

Really! In the original letter there was a smiley face at the end of that sentence. Oh, before I forget,

5) From now on all teachers--- foreigners and Koreans--- must wear underwear!

Ah man! You mean I can't teach commando anymore? Sorry. Couldn't resist. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I'm not sure which statement would be more accurate in attempting to describe the absurdity of this whole situation: (1) That this whole exercise in futility is so funny that it's tragic, or (2) that this whole exercise in futility is so tragic that it's funny! Where to begin. How about at the beginning.

EPIK has been in operation since 1995 in some form or another, and since 1995 it has gone about hiring foreign English speakers, many of whom can barely teach a camel to piss on sand! In fact, many schools in this intellectually and morally bankrupt organization actually go out of their way and request a young, inexperienced, and nubile lad or lass to perform important functions--- like educating young people--- when the job clearly calls for someone with at least a modicum of intelligence, wisdom, educational acumen, morality, and life experience. The Korean, Japanese--- and, by extension, Asian--- fetish for young, inexperienced, and foolish native English speakers to fill the classrooms of their nation is stupid, irresponsible, and akin to a mental illness.

It's easy to understand why this fetish for young people. Young and inexperienced teachers are a lot easier to control than us older folks with a big mouth and who like to rock the proverbial boat. Their inexperience coupled with the fact that many of the young teachers are scared shit less, being away from home for the first time, only adds to the delight of those who are so willing to take advantage of someone's youth and inexperience. Many older Koreans with a hint of xenophobia lick their chops at the prospect of having a young native English speaker by their side asking, "So, what should I do now, Lord and Master?"

"Well, talk about your culture?", comes a typical response. "Play pop-songs, play bingo, have fun." In other words, do everything but teach. Do what you like, as long as you don't make the Korean co-teacher look bad. After all, how good a teacher can you be when you're playing the latest Britney Spears ditty? How bad can you make the the co-teacher look when you're playing animal bingo?

Talk about my culture? I'd rather pluck my eyes out with a chopstick! Korean teachers everywhere celebrate whenever a foreign English teacher does something this stupid. It's not that I don't give a damn about "my culture", (whatever Canadian culture is). The reason I don't do this is because no one in Korea wants to see pictures of my Aunt Shirley and Uncle Moe standing ass deep in snow. I don't even want to see that! Only a Korean co-teacher with serious self-esteem issues would tell a newbie foreign teacher to spend precious class time talking about his life growing up on Prince Edward Island. Like 15 year olds in Busan really give a rat's bottom about Aunt Mabel and her delicious banana muffins. Insecure Korean co-teachers, who lack confidence in their own teaching ability, begin to look really good when newbie John starts showing home movies of his uncle Fester watching hockey.

The real problem here is twofold: Newbie John really does have no idea what to do; and an insecure Korean co-teacher with serious issues of confidence and self-esteem does not want to look any worse than she already feels. She is more than content to let newbie John fall all over himself in his attempt to teach. She is not the least bit interested in helping the foreign English teacher succeed, (in her classroom and country, remember), when she is obviously having a problem seeing herself as a success. This is a problem many foreign teachers are having, and this is a problem that EPIK and many of the schools falling under her umbrella are not able and/or willing to solve.

What these foreign teachers don't know, (at least not at the beginning), is that by acquiescing to these insipid requests to talk about their Aunt Gertrude winning first prize last year at the Minnesota State Bake-off to a bunch of bored 14 year olds, they are being set up to fail. By not stepping up and taking charge of the situation, they become willing participants in a dangerous and perverted game called "Watch the Foreigners Fail."

Don't believe me? Then let's look at some numbers. (Remember, numbers don't lie; people do.) Throughout last term, several foreign public school English teachers in one particular district of Busan had one of their classes observed by various people, from the school principal to an administrator from the Busan Municipal Office of Education. (All foreign English teachers from this year will have three of their classes observed and evaluated.) From what I was told, and from what was written on the "official" document faxed to my school by the BMoE, 30 percent of the foreign teachers passed the observation lesson, while 70 percent failed. (Those who failed will be sent to a re-education camp in North Korea where they will be forced to toil in the fields seven days a week, 12 hours a day.) Sorry. Again, I couldn't resist. (They will, however, have to attend another one of EPIK's infamous in-house training seminars where they will probably be taught, among other things, the fine art of using chopsicks.)
One can only imagine the results of these evaluations city-wide and across the country!

For the record, I was one of the 30 percent who passed. Big deal! What did I do to receive such an honor? I went into class and taught a real English lesson using the time-honored audio-lingual method of listen/repeat. After all, isn't this what I'm supposed to be doing? This year I've been very fortunate. I have helpful co-teachers and a very kind principal and vice-principal. Many others in this program are not as fortunate. As they say, no one can succeed on his own. My co-teachers and I work together to help our students succeed. And, in turn, our students help us to succeed as teachers. The young and inexperienced foreign teachers need help, and a lot of help if they are to become the competent and successful teachers they need to be.

The same concept applies to failure. No one fails alone. I will bet dollars to donuts that most of the foreign teachers who fell into the 70 percent bracket were given a gentle and not so subtle nudge. Let's be blunt here. Seventy percent is just too high a number to be a mere coincidence. And what really galls me is the fact that I seem to be defending many of the same foreign English teachers that I have spent many of my columns railing against. So let me be very clear. I am no friend of most of the foreign English teachers in Korea. In fact, I dread the thought of being in the same room with most of these monkeys. The truth be told, I'd rather spend my evenings all alone in my apartment watching endless reruns of 'Desperate Housewives' than socialize with these EFL losers, many of whom have all the charm and social skills of a serial killer. But I also can't deny a lucid and glaring fact in all this, and here it is: The Perfect Storm.

By focusing on recruiting mainly young and inexperienced teachers, EPIK is helping to ensure that the care and education of its children in the public school system is well staffed with those who have little or no knowledge of how to teach a second language properly and effectively. Remember, the marijuana monkey-boy of which Miss In The-dark speaks was actively recruited. So are thousands of others every year. Recruiters are paid up to one million won, (just over one thousand U.S. dollars) for every marijuana monkey-boy--- eh, excuse me, native English teacher that they can get over here. The five minute phone interview from someone half-way around the world usually consists of three questions:

1) Do you have a Bachelor's degree?
2) Do you like Korean food?
3) Do you have hair just above your "special place?"

If you can answer "Yes" to at least two of those skill testing questions, then congratulations, you got the job! (Again, I couldn't resist. But I'm not far from the truth. In some of my interviews, I was asked the first two. I'm still not sure what my reply would have been had I been asked the third question.) So why would recruiters care--- especially those of the unscrupulous kind--- who they're talking to? One thousand dollars goes a pretty long way when you need food on your table. And how in the world can anyone tell a good teacher from a bad teacher from a five minute telephone conversation?

Now let's throw some another huge problems into the mix: Pencil-pushing and empty-headed bureaucrats, who have nothing better to do than interfere with your teaching; bored and nosy supervisors, who have nothing better to do than interfere with your teaching; and, in many schools, lazy and envious co-teachers who want nothing to do with a native English teacher setting up shop in what is supposed to be the Korean teacher's classroom. Now let the games begin! Watch the sparks fly! It's the perfect storm. In an atmosphere of this nature, which EPIK and many of the schools falling under her umbrella seem to be, is it any wonder that 70 percent of the native English teachers in my district failed the first of their three teacher evaluations? Quite frankly, I'm shocked that 30 percent can pass an evaluation in that kind of teaching and learning environment.

And if that's not enough, now certain members of Parliament are getting into the act. In a story from the September 16th issue of the Korea Times under the glaring headline, "32% of Native English Teachers Found Unqualified", Representative Lee Kyung-sook of the United New Democratic Party (UNDP) quoted a study which revealed that of the "997 foreigners [who] have been hired from 2004 through 2006 to teach English at English immersion programs nationwide.... 326 or 32.7 percent of them were found not to have certificates, such as CELTA." The rate of unqualified teachers were even higher in other provinces, according to the survey. Didn't they realize this BEFORE the teachers were hired?

Representative Lee concluded, "To improve the quality of the program, it is essential to provide students with teachers [who have] appropriate certificates." Duh! You mean that Dave the plumber can't teach English with only his plumbing certificate anymore? Just how long did it take this educational mental midget to figure that out? It's not that I disagree with Representative Lee. The fact is, there are way too many bad and ineffective native English teachers in the system. But hey, many of them were actively recruited and hired. The Koreans who hired them knew the damaged goods that they were getting. This is why I don't feel the slightest tinge of guilt when I say about Miss In The-dark's letter,

"Hey Korea, you hired this idiot! You and your recruiter minions hired marijuana monkey-boy, and many others like him. So don't feign shock and surprise when marijuana monkey-boy starts to fling his feces around the room. That's what monkeys do. They certainly can't teach English. You see, Korea, this is what happens when you send a monkey-boy to do a man's job. A little damage control from Miss In The-dark? A bit too late for that now, isn't it? You want damage control? Stop hiring monkey-boys and start hiring real teachers."

But will they do it? Will the powers that be finally start hiring real English teachers? Hell no! At least not until Koreans get over their superiority/inferiority complex. They have always had a love/hate relationship with the Western powers, endlessly vacillating between an unhealthy adoration of all things American and European and a pathological abhorrence to their dependence on Western aid, such as the U.S military. And, of course, many of the foreign English teachers feel caught in the crossfire. To compensate for this vacillation of feeling both good and bad about themselves, the powers that be in the Ministry of Education need a certain amount of foreign English teachers to fail. It makes them feel good. It reinforces certain beliefs that Westerners are barbarians after all. As a result, young and inexperienced native English speakers become pawns in a very nasty anti-foreigner war that is still being fought by too many people who refuse to move forward. And, as usual, it's the students who suffer.

So Korea, go ahead and continue to hire unqualified native English teachers. You know exactly what you're doing. You're hardly walking and talking testaments to your own good judgement. So Ministry of Education and EPIK, go ahead and continue to hire more marijuana monkey-boys. And make yourself feel good when they fail in their duties. Go ahead. Hire more degenerates. More foreign losers. More Western morons. And at the end of each year, wonder why your country is becoming less competitive in the world. Wonder why your students still can't speak English after all these years. Wonder why they, (and you), still haven't learned a damn thing!

A plague on all your houses!


I'm planning to study in California (I live all the way in Southeast Asia) and I'm thinking of pursuing a Fine Arts degree as an International Student. Some people say it's more affordable to take foundation courses in a community college first before transferring to an actual art school/university.

By jammydoug, (19th October 2010)

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