Monday, December 12, 2011

Article on SMOE foreign teachers teaching alone

Asia Gyeongje published this even-handed article about native speaking teachers teaching classes alone on December 2:
Native speaking English teacher 'Teaching Alone'... "Regulations ignored, classes barely function"

It has come to light that at some schools the "Native speaker English conversation" system implemented by the government at a cost of millions of dollars to foster students' practical English communication ability is not being operated according to its intended purpose and improvements are urgently needed.

Education authorities say that for classes to proceed smoothly, guidelines are set so that during the native speaking teacher's class, a Korean teacher must always be present with them, but in actual classes, regulations are violated and it's common for native speaking teachers who speak almost no Korean to teach classes alone.

This newspaper was able to easily confirm these non-functioning classes at an elementary school in Seoul's Jungnang-gu.

An English conversation class for about 30 grade 6 students was in progress. At the front of the class, native speaking teacher A (a 29 year old American male) was constantly saying in English "Look here please" and "Be quiet and pay attention to the class," but not many students were listening. Only a few students sitting in the front row watching A teacher with curiosity showed any interest in English conversation.

Most of the other students were talking, sleeping, walking around or chatting with the person sitting beside them. After A teacher pointed out a student who was talking, he said in poor Korean "Be quiet," but the student had a confused look on his face before snickering at A's funny pronunciation, and his attitude didn't change at all.

After the class in which A teacher basically read the material alone, the students poured out of the classroom without a word. Not a single Korean teacher had come by the time class ended. A is assigned 3-4 English conversation classes a day, all of which go on like this with him alone.

A teacher complained, "When I speak Korean awkwardly, the students laugh. The students do not follow English well. With the way things are, the atmosphere in class is terrible. It clearly says in my contract that I'm to teach with a Korean teacher, and when I teach alone I feel like a fool."

A teacher also said, "At my school there is one more native speaking teacher, and that teacher is in the same circumstances as I am." A, who has worked at the school since last year, said, "I have complained to school officials a number of times, but in most cases they only came to class a short while before leaving me on my own again."

Students also feel pessimistic. Kim, a 6th grade student in the class, said, "The native speaking teacher's class is a disaster. In the beginning I looked forward to the native speaking teacher's class, but now I don't expect anything. I don't understand it and it's not fun." "Usually half the class is sleeping or doing something else while half participates in class. Sleeping or making nose is pretty much what the teacher gets."

Yu, a grade 5 student, also said that "English conversation class is not much fun," "Sometimes I feel sorry for the teacher." Both the teacher and students have been thrown into an inefficient and awkward situation.

The experience of A teacher and the students is a clear violation of regulations. According to education authorities [interviewed] on the 2nd, in order to help students' understanding and increase the effectiveness of the class, a Korean assistant teacher should co-teach during a native speaking teacher's English conversation class in elementary, middle and high schools. This is stipulated in each education office's regulations and is the premise of employment contracts between native speaking teachers and education offices. Schools which violate these regulations should from now on be penalized when receiving funds.

However, a great many native speaking teachers have no choice but to teach alone because the Korean teachers think that the native speaking teacher's class is 'not their problem' and consider it a time to rest or take care of unfinished work related to their own classes, A teacher explained.

A teacher said that "Because Korean teachers are busy preparing their own classes or have many administrative tasks, they feel that helping with the native speaker's class is burdensome." "So they don't participate sincerely in the native speaker's English conversation class and it becomes break time or a time to take care of other things."

This problem is common at other schools as well, it turns out. On the basis of tips to this paper, at other schools besides A's elementary school, including B high school in Yongsan-gu, C high school in Gwangjin-gu, and D middle school in Seochu-gu, most native speaking teachers' classes proceed without help from Korean teachers.

One should be careful of blowing this up into a problem that affects all elementary, middle and high schools on the basis of these confirmed examples, but we can presume that already at many schools the officials there would explain that this situation is not surprising. An official at B high school said, "Having the native speaking teacher teaching alone is not just an issue at our school." "I would guess that it's an issue throughout Seoul's elementary, middle and high schools."

Regarding this second hand information, Won-gwang University English education professor Yun Seok-hwa explained that, "If we look at the big picture, native speaking English education is very important." After stressing the necessity of native speaking teachers' English conversation classes like A teacher's, he said, "Educational authorities must make a thorough management system and follow the regulations without fail, and on this basis must protect the native speaking teacher system from harm."

In regard to this, a Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education official said, "By sending documents or manuals and carrying out on-site instruction, the authorities constantly train [schools] that native speaking teachers should absolutely not teach alone." "Most schools which receive support [from SMOE] run the system sincerely, but in some schools there are minor defects."

The official also said, "Realistically, it's true that complete management and supervision is difficult, but effort will be made to prepare effective measures so the system is more stable." According to Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, 309,459,660,000 won was invested this year in the employment and management of native speaking teachers.
While this is even-handed, extensively interviewing the foreign teacher and placing blame to some degree on the schools and the Korean teachers, I have no doubt it could be selectively quoted from by others to make a case for dumping the system (which is already being done to this article by SMOE in justifying its budget cuts. The support shown in the article for the NSET system is interesting, considering the events of the last week.


King Baeksu said...

"By sending documents or manuals and carrying out on-site instruction, the authorities constantly train [schools] that native speaking teachers should absolutely not teach alone."

I would argue that this regulation is itself flawed. Korea is home to what Edward T. Hall would call a "high-context" culture, with radically different approaches to communication than native English speakers from the U.S., Canada or Australia, for instance. Even a Korean teacher with perfect English grammar will still be communicating in a Korean way to Korean students during their English-language classes. They are only teaching half of their subject, which is more than just a system of abstract rules, but more importantly, is a mode of communication with its own unique, inherent cultural characteristics.

Thus, native ESL teachers should be teaching alone in Korean classrooms whenever possible. Of course, classroom management skills are paramount when handling elementary, middle-school and high-school students in particular, requiring professional teachers who actually know what they are doing. Duh.

However, since local Korean education authorities are unwilling to pay the kind of salaries and, equally important, afford the kind of respect that would attract such professional non-Korean teachers to their public schools, they have improvised this half-assed, stopgap measure requiring native ESL teachers to be accompanied by Korean teachers during their classes, which as the article notes is itself often a failure since many Korean teachers are no doubt wearied by such bothersome hand-holding.

In other words, irony of ironies, SMOE seems to not understand simple, basic pedagogy. It really does seem to be a case of the blind leading the blind, or more accurately, the mute leading the mute.

I would suggest that hiring actual dancing monkeys for these classes would be far more cost-effective, and achieve nearly identical results.

Darth Babaganoosh said...

A (a 29 year old American male) was constantly saying in English "Look here please" and "Be quiet and pay attention to the class," but not many students were listening.

Like this is any different with the Korean teachers. Students aren't exactly rapt with attention on KETs (or even KTs in general) lessons. There is still the same amount of students sleeping at the back, talking to each other and ignoring everything the teacher said, reading comic books, etc. It has nothing to do with the students "not understanding' the NSET.