Survey Results – Part 11: Top 24 Most Interesting Korea ESL Problem Solving Comments

Top 24 Problem Solving Comments From Question 24

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I was going to make this a top 10 list for all comments in the survey but there were simply far too many great comments.  In fact, I printed out most of the comments from the survey and it totalled 48 A4 pages (double-sided).  As much as I want to distill and present the survey results I also want to let the respondents speak for themselves.

The Question: If you could identify the top solvable problem you have with working in Korea, what would it be and what solution would you suggest? (if you’re keen you can write more than one).

“1. They have little or no concept of modern teaching methodology.  Rote memorization of a language is not possible, but I am meant to teach that way.  It’s ineffective and dissappointing.”

Rote memorization is something we went through in the survey and came up a lot in the comments.

“2. My wife is 100% native-level teacher with a B.Ed. in English, zero foreign accent, incredibly professional–one of the best you could hope to find.  She is not allowed to teach here legally because her passport is from a non-English speaking country.”

Such a shame really and quite unnecessary, too.

“3. Top problem is the fact that Korean teachers (those I have worked with, anyway) insist on sticking to impractical methods of teaching and using crappy national textbooks and will not seriously consider alternatives. It makes the job repetitive, boring, and feel totally pointless, as I watch the kids’ level of English not improve one bit. Can’t figure out a solution other than to go home and switch jobs.”

The sad part is the last comment.  If you aspire to teach ESL as a career then I can understand why you’d decide not to wear yourself down trying to change a system and instead go and teach where conditions are best.

“4. This sounds terrible, but – put ME in charge! It would make life so much easier if I could tell the administration what I need and have them work with me to provide it (“it” being Korean co-teachers for after-school classes, and more consistent discipline, etc)”

Ah yes, I think everyone just starting out in any industry feels this way.  Of course, in other industries you get to make the decisions once you’ve worked your way up, no such pathway really exists in Korea unless you teach at uni – but even those jobs have their limits, too.

“5. Visa flexibility. The option to leave one’s job and secure another without bureaucratic contortions would be nice. So would an end to the AIDS testing. More communication between the separate administrative layers of each school. A professional culture which attracts teachers who want to teach and gives them the resources they need. A reduction perhaps in the scale of the industry, a moral refusal to take money from people whose children hate studying English. Better online integration, perhaps through the usage of spaced-repetition memorization—a focus more on long-term retention in general.”

All excellent points.  The VISA one came up a lot in the comments as well with many a comparison drawn to the Japanese system where teachers own their own VISA.  I wonder what the official stance is to why they do it differently to Japan.

“6. Subjecting Native Teachers to seminars on how to live in Korea when the teacher has been here multiple years.”

Yes, I’d say this is well-intentioned and looks good on paper but often ends up being paternalistic garbage.

“7. Teachers are not being used uniformly, our purpose here is not very clear and can change depending on any number of factors”

To me, this gets at the heart of the problem and relates to something referred to as Garbage in, Garbage Out (GIGO).  The concept is basically that if you aren’t clear when defining a question or request then you’re not going to get a ‘good’ answer (the “How long is a piece of string?” question is an example).  This part of the Wikipedia definition stood out the most to me: “It is used primarily to call attention to the fact that computers will unquestioningly process the most nonsensical of input data”.  Hmmm, remind you of something perhaps?

“8. Being treated like an equal member of staff”

Yeah, this is an important one for any human being – to be given fair consideration by their peers.  Transcends race, nationality, gender, beliefs, etc… Very demoralising if you feel you haven’t been given this consideration.

“9. 1) The Language Barrier.  I think that easily accessible Korean language lessons would definitely help many teacher become adjusted to living here; especially those of us who are in the rural areas.”

This challenged a subconscious assumption I had that NESTs aren’t interested in learning Korean.  Turns out from many comments that they are but have few resources to draw upon.  This also ties in to number 8, people want an opportunity to show their worth to their community, to participate in that community and make their contributions to it.  By not recognising that NESTs want to learn Korean and providing resources (even if it’s just a list of private courses you can enrol in) you implicitly discount the notion that NESTs have a role to play in their communities.

“10. There’s too much evaluation and testing for ESL teachers.  I feel like I’m under constant scrutiny and it’s very stressfull.”

This was the only comment of it’s kind and not one I ever expected to hear from an ESL teacher in Korea, I must say.  Maybe their co-teachers thought it’d be fun to tell the new teacher that they had to be evaluated every Friday – just to keep them on their toes.

“11. idk”

I ran this through the Gen Y translator and it’s defined as “a lack of consciousness”.  Kidding aside (I’m Gen. Y myself) I actually liked the honesty here.

“12. After years here I am convinced that Korean students are the problem. The vast majority are not interested in learning English and are actively hostile towards it. Many take pride in not being able to speak English as some sort of badge of honor or proof of their pure Koreanness. They often think they know more than the native teachers, question their authority, etc, etc I don’t have a solution, but this is clearly a problem.”

This touched on something profound that I hadn’t considered before.  That there are students who treat not speaking English the same way some students treat smoking.  In an ironic way it’s like when I drank my first beer with a few mates when I was 14.  I’d recently moved from Brisbane to Sydney.  I hated the test and was terrified of getting caught so after one swig I said “Not for me, I guess I’m just a XXXX man” as though nothing could compare to beer from my then-native state.  Just like every male before me I had used bravado to hide my insecurity and fear.  Seems like when it comes to learning English the scared kids who are afraid of looking stupid cover up by boasting.  Seems obvious now that it’s pointed out but I thank this commenter for making the observation :-)

“13. Problem: Not enough support for English teachers Solution: I think some coteachers need to be more sympathetic to the MASSIVE transition you go through to live in Korea and be more educated about these differences and try to make it as smooth as possible for us.”

I saw this kind of comment a lot as well.  I often find myself dwelling on this turning it over in my head.  I remember at my orientation in Korea they were keen to impress on us one thing in particular: “You didn’t do anyone a favour by coming here”.  I understood what they were trying to say at a gut level but I couldn’t understand it logically.  It’s be in my head ever since.  I think it boils down to entitlement.  I also think it’s disingenuous.  I think that both sides when signing the contract believe it’s a fair exchange but from that point onwards the relationship is very unequal.  It’s the same way many Asian countries have used the phrase “Unequal treaties” to describe agreements they made when they had no bargaining position.  On the one hand I understand the innate human desire for fairness.  On the other hand I want to point out that it’s an unreasonable expectation to have, so welcome to the world, son.  But with this specific example the difference is that, on some level, NESTs are hired to promote cultural awareness.  Stands to reason that they would want this to be a two-way street.

“14. Teaching methodology – not enough focus on real English. Focus tends to be on making sure that the students can pass the test, not speak English. In my situation I create and administer the tests. If If I make a test where the students have to produce the answers, at any difficulty level, the results are terrible.”

Teaching to the test is definitely a problem in Korea, as well as many other countries.  The startup that fixes this will be bigger than Google.

“15. Korean language: learn it.”

This is like comment 9 but from a different angle.  I’d say the majority of NESTs who speak Korean would say: “I did it, so can you” and the ones who don’t speak Korean would say: “I would but the resources aren’t there”.

“16. In public schools, NETs have co-teachers…but the co-teachers have never been taught HOW to co-teach. They don’t know where they are supposed to stand in the situation and so NETs get a wide range of attitudes from co-teachers. Everthing from anger and distrust and a general sense of the teachers not wanting them to be here to the perfect co-teacher who plans with the NET and executes with the NET. I have one co-teacher who only ever speaks to me to say “Good morning.” That’s it. Seriously. The only saving grace is that I only have to work with him one day a week. I have no guidance as to what to do in that class. Basically, co-teachers need to be trained on how to interact and work with the Native speakers coming in. Over job happiness would improve and so would the quality of lessons that the students are recieving from their classes with the native speaker.”

Like comment 13 only the key difference is that this commenter is highlighting why it’s in the interests of the Korean education system to do it as it would aid in the achievement of their objectives (whatever they may be).

“17. …the school should simply FOLLOW THE CONTRACT.”

Yep, there’s no rule good enough to work when it’s not enforced.  They’re pesky and inconvenient things you know, these fancy schmancy laws to protect the rights of these barbaric, uncivilised minorities but it’s uncanny and inexplicable how doing so coincidentally leads to a civil society.  Funny that.

“18. To be taken seriously as a teacher by Korean society. Many people such as myself were certified and experienced teachers in our home countries.”

I saw this kind of comment come through a bit.  The kind of comment that says treat me better because I’m qualified not because all people deserve to start with a clean slate whatever their race or nationality may be.  I’m all for getting qualifications, I myself got my CELTA before going to Korea not because I needed it but because I wanted to do a good job.  But in the end it’s a tad pointless if you’re not able to use what you’ve learned because the system won’t let you.  The CELTA course I took was for classes with up to 18 students (a NEAS regulation in my country for language schools) whereas when I taught in Korea I had 30-35 students per class who I saw 40 minutes a week.  I’d rather not have known there was a better way.  In the same way that if you made a NASA trained astronaut drive a bus they’d find it more depressing than they would without the training.  And yes, I just compared my CELTA training to that of a NASA astronaut.

“19. Let British Council and other pro EFL ESL experts run English education…make a sub department in Ministry of Ed for them….never happen though.”

I reckon it would work a treat.  Korean Air hired an outside consultant (a westerner) who forced all the pilots to speak English at all times when their pilots kept crashing because they weren’t communicating properly (it’s a long story but one thoroughly worth checking out).   Korea and Japan are both countries that have shown the ability in the past to adopt things outside of their comfort zone in the pursuit of progress, so if any government could do it I’d say it’d be theirs.  I’m not holding my breathe though.

“20. I think and feel that Koreans don’t like me because I’m an outsider, pot smoker, hard drug taker, alcohol abuser, sexual assaulter, HIV/AIDS carrier, with low morals. My suggestion would be that so-called professional leaders/employers step up and tell the public that 98-99 percent of E-2 teachers are good and just because we want the same things Korean teachers want like employers to follow the labor law doesn’t mean we should be replaced by robots. Stop the stigma and racist media.”

I completely agree but if they did that they’d lose their favourite scapegoat.  By having someone to blame it no longer makes you responsible for not having the life you feel you deserve.  Happens everywhere.  In Australia it’s the asylum seeker issue, in the USA it’s the Mexicans if you watch Fox News and it’s Fox News viewers if you don’t, etc…

“21. People are Sensing as hell here, leaders as well. Lack of iNtuition. It’s a problem for them, BUT it’s the reason I have a job. If those in charge were smarter they would be doing things way more efficiently and you’d see the number of NETs cut down substatially here. So, no problems. I’m glad the leaders are idiots. Fillin’ up my bank acct bc of their stupidity.”

Yep, we all have to face the fact that there are some NESTs who think this way.  The question is ultimately what percentage.

“22. My problem may not my another’s problem. All ESL teachers in Korea need to speak Korean. How to hell can you teach Korean kids and not speak their language. That is a slap tj their face.”

Fair enough.

“23. Solvable? From our end??? Perhaps a stronger community presence would give us more rights or sympathy from within Korea society. Perhaps a greater pressure from the expat community to encourage professionalism in the newbs might help in public perception. Maybe lots of visible community service-type things as well.”

What I love about this comment is that it looks at finding solutions in a place that NESTs can control.  I have also wondered what would happen if a bunch of foreigners banded together and decided to work on a social or community-based project together.  In my mind they would all wear matching tracksuits and go to the train station to hand out candy to strangers and their t-shirts would also say: “We LOVE Korea, could you love us, too?” in English and Korean.  Something fun, visible and done with a spokesperson who can speak Korean.  At that point my boss whacks the back of my head and tells me to stop daydreaming and to do some work.  Sigh.  Any takers?

“24. In the beginning of my contract, the secretary and my boss spoke pretty good English. At the new school year, the positions changed, but not the people. The same people who used to speak English now pretend that they don’t and won’t help me. It’s very strange and can easily be solved, but I don’t know what to do about it.”

I wanted to end on this comment as it segues nicely into the question:

Question: How would you solve commenter 24′s problem?  Best/Funniest/Most creative answer wins! 


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