Tuesday, 26 April 2011

ATEK 2: My farewell letter to ATEK Officers

Dear ATEK Officers,

While I have had a great time working with ATEK, it is time to inform you that I am now resigning from my role as ATEK’s National External Communications Officer. It has been an exciting but challenging experience, and I have learned a lot. I believe that another officer will be able to do a better job of promoting ATEK to the media than I have been, and I believe ATEK will benefit from new blood. Where I have failed, or proven inadequate to the job, I apologize. Where I have done well, I thank you for your support in giving me the opportunity to do so.

I will remain a supporter of ATEK, even after I am no longer an officer.

Before I go, I would like to say a few words about what ATEK is, and what it can become, and ask you all to consider this as you promote and recruit for ATEK, and plan events.

While I believe that ATEK will grow stronger as more teachers volunteer and contribute, I ask you to consider that there are some people, in some positions, who will better serve English teachers from outside the organization. A journalist who supports ATEK will do a better job of helping ATEK as a friendly press connection than by becoming an officer, at which time, for the sake of journalistic objectivity, he/she would not ethically be able to write about ATEK.

This becomes especially true in two cases: (1) where there is money to be made (for example, if I am the publisher of a book about teaching) and (2) where ATEK’s goals and purposes could impede me from acting freely because, as an officer, my actions would reflect on the organization at large (for example, a human rights lawyer: where their work might help English teachers, a too-close affiliation with ATEK could lead to the appearance that ATEK plans to engage in human-rights agitation). There are organizations and groups that are developing services for English teachers and, while ATEK would benefit from having members of some of them, there are others that work best as allies or friends of ATEK. ATEK must be judicious in choosing when, and how, to form relationships and affiliations, in order to guard the organization’s image, both now and for the future. It is important to support ATEK’s President and Ethics Committee as they help make decisions about forming such relationships.

As a writer, writing guides often urge me to consider my audience. As members of an organization that can do a lot of good for English teachers, I ask all of you to consider the different audiences that are watching and passing judgment on ATEK. In particular: many of ATEK’s officers are foreign English teachers; however, foreign English teachers are not the only ones watching ATEK, and initiatives that read well among English teachers don’t always play well to other audiences.

Consider this:
Developing labor services looks great to foreign English teachers and having a record of helping English teachers, Korean and foreign, get fair treatment will look very good on ATEK’s record.

However, if the perception develops that this is the only thing ATEK does, this will damage ATEK’s ability to perform other goals that will, in the long run, serve English teachers. If labor is ATEK’s main strength, and the area where ATEK expends most of its energy, the hagwon owners’ association, and anybody else who employs English teachers, will look on ATEK as an enemy. This will ultimately hurt English teachers, as the ideal outcome for English teachers and, for English education in Korea, is for ATEK to have strong ties with such an association in order to work together and develop concrete steps for improving the resources and training available to English teachers, steps which can be developed by the talent contained in ATEK, and then implemented by the administrators and decision-makers who have final say.

This is why professional development initiatives MUST play a larger role in ATEK’s future. This is why community contribution: volunteering, social events, clothing drives, and other philanthropic efforts MUST NOT be scoffed at. ATEK is not only concerned with teachers getting their severance pay, as dishonest treatment from employers is only symptomatic of the bigger problem that foreign English teachers are being used as scapegoats for the problems in Korea’s English education system. In order to deal with the larger problem of scapegoating, building goodwill with community action is of VITAL importance to ATEK’s long-term goals.

Foreign English teachers are not the only group with whom ATEK must build credibility. Parents’ groups, school boards, school administrators, and others concerned with Education in Korea must also see something in ATEK that they consider positive, and the perception that ATEK is a pseudo-union will not be the thing that wins their hearts and minds. For these audiences, ATEK must project the image that we are reliable, that we are professional, that we are actively and concretely helping teachers improve as teachers, that we are actively and concretely helping teachers contribute to our communities, and that we are actively and concretely helping teachers transition more smoothly into life in Korea and work in Korean schools.

Our audiences are as follows, and we ignore any of these audiences, as an organization, at our peril.

Education administrators in the Korean government school owners and administrators in all kinds of English programs and departments short-term foreign English teachers long-term expat English teachers (including those with F-visas) Korean national English teachers, parents of children in school, adult English students, other NGOs and NPOs dealing with education issues, other NGOs and NPOs dealing with expat and migrant worker issues, the Korean media (English language and especially Korean language), and – through them – the Korean public in general.

Some of these groups might be impressed by short-term actions; for most of them, establishing credibility and building good-will will be a long-term project.

While this is a common issue in volunteer organizations, many of us know that a lot of stress and turmoil has come through ATEK lately. This came from numerous sources, but ultimately, it boils down to this simple issue: ego. A few very smart and capable people decided that their opinion, and their vision for ATEK, was better than that of others, and a few other very smart and capable people insisted likewise.

I’d like to remind all the officers in ATEK that none of us owns ATEK. ATEK does not belong to any of us, nor to any one body of the association. ATEK is an idea bigger than one or another of our conceptions of it, and the only way ATEK will grow to be as big and as exciting an organization as it CAN be is if people acknowledge and respect other points of view, other opinions, and look for ways to collaborate and compromise, rather than seeking ways for their view or vision to win primacy over others.

Those who have been with ATEK a long time must be mindful that, as more talent joins the organization, their level of sway over the organization will decrease, and THIS IS A GOOD THING, because it indicates that ATEK’s resources are expanding. Those who are new in the organization should be mindful that the ATEK has been around for a while. It is built the way it was built for a very good reason, and they should seek the insights and counsel of those who have been involved for longer.

Everyone should remember that, in everything they do, they are not just acting now but also creating an organization they will pass on to others when their time in Korea or time with ATEK expires. And, when there is a difference of opinion, the need to listen and respect others’ views is more important and serves the organization better in the long run than the need to say one’s piece.

One of the most practically useful things ATEK did in its opening months was to publish the English Teachers’ Guide to Korea.
Some officers are working on developing the second edition, the online edition of this guide. This is a practical, hands-on, lasting contribution ATEK can make for the English teaching community in Korea, and the scope of information an online guide can provide is inexhaustible, if we find and coordinate the people to help with this. This is also a project where many people outside ATEK, but sympathetic to ATEK’s goals, would be happy to help out. I strongly urge every officer in ATEK to consider how they can help with this project, and to do so.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please support the President, and the officers around you, as we try to build a better organization. Please support the next National External Communications Officer, and please continue working to support and improve life for English teachers in Korea.

Your (former) National External Communications Officer, Rob Ouwehand

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