Saturday, April 03, 2010

Rumblings about ATEK: Response to Chris

Over at Chris in SK, there's a long post about recent events at ATEK.

You might want to read up on the whole thing.

April 5: Also, it's now been updated to include a statement from Greg Dolezal, which is worth reading.

According to the post, a few former ATEK officers have quit the organization, and are starting their own group. There was some he-said, she-said disputing some stuff, which looked petty, but there was also some earnest questioning about "what has ATEK done for me lately"

Chris said,
"I'm not making any more money than I was before ATEK was around. I'm not in a more stable position because ATEK is around. ATEK has not done anything that makes a modicum of difference in the world of Korea - sure, it's a great-sounding idea among the world of expat teachers, but what power does the organization actually HAVE?"
and then in the comments, Brian said,
Trying to be as diplomatic as I can, I'll say that ATEK didn't work, and that probably poisoned the market for teachers' organizations.
I nearly left a long comment there, but instead I'm putting it here.

I can understand why a group of people who have decided to get an advocacy group started would feel frustrated with ATEK. For the last year, ATEK has mostly been staying out of the controversies, and really focusing on the structure and numbers aspects of the organization. This kind of stuff is slow, and the first-things-first process is time consuming and frustrating, especially if someone is hoping to get results, and especially if you're thinking in terms of the one year contract of many English teachers.

Well, here are a few initial responses:

Let's start off with this: have we forgotten that everybody involved in ATEK is a volunteer, trying to do this on top of other jobs? Let's factor in the fact that membership with ATEK is free, and that everybody involved is a volunteer, while we set expectations and make judgements. These guys aren't doing it for the money, or for their health; they care about something.

But let's take a longer view here, folks.

First off, I think it's either immature or premature to judge an organization like this after its first year plus change. For one thing, you don't know how many people have been connected with the labor lawyer or mediator they needed: a lot of the people who get that kind of help don't want it publicized. If I knew I'd have my picture published on ATEK's website if they helped me, I might not call them when I'm in a pinch. Next, it's hard to measure how much easier a teacher's first year would be if they got their hands on the "English Teachers Guide to Korea" book they published, but I sure wish I had one like it for my first year, even if one of the several hundred pages was lifted from Wikipedia.

Secondly, for the people calling for high-level changes in Korean education policy and regulation, come on, folks. Rome wasn't built in a day. That stuff only comes after a long time of building relationships -- you really think a year is long enough for a group to decide to take on the Hogwan Owners Association, with all their connections and resources and lobbying power? Let's take a longer view of this: while the ECFA campaign made a splash, it also drew a lot of harsh criticism, and it may have generated incorrect expectations that ATEK would continue to be that kind of a loud, public organization, but those kinds of loud groups often get ignored (sometimes after being roundly mocked). If ANY group wants to get into advocacy, who's going to listen to them if they

1. haven't been around long enough to prove they aren't a flash in the pan

2. haven't put in a lot of time and energy making relationships with the kinds of people who influence decisions, nor made allies at those high levels of policy-making

3. don't have a membership large enough to really say they're representative (If there are 20 000 E2 visas in Korea, I'd say that you can't really speak authoritatively as a representative group until you have about 35-40% of them as members. ATEK's currently at somewhere around 1000, or 5%, which is small enough for a policy maker to sniff and dismiss them as a fringe.)

These kinds of prerequisites for ACTUAL, not just perceived influence, don't appear overnight, and they certainly don't make headlines. You don't know which officials and government liasons ATEK's in touch with, and neither do I, because those kinds of back-channel communicators often don't want to be named; however, without them, advocacy is a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

So maybe ATEK hasn't been in the headlines, though compared to some of the headlines during their controversial kickoff, let's acknowledge that that might be a good thing. However, by establishing some institutional longevity and momentum, they're building up the credibility that will add legitimacy to their voice when it IS time to weigh in on those issues. If they try for too much, too soon, they're going to get pigeon-holed as another lefty labor group, and ignored or marginalized.

Remember that when you say "English teacher's association" to government policy makers, they hear "Labor group" and when you say "Labor group" these are the mental images that flash to mind.

You'll have to forgive them for being cautious about engaging, and taking a longer-term wait-and-see-if-atek-proves-they're-in-it-for-dialogue-rather-than-just-rabble-rousing approach.
If ATEK bites off more than it can chew, too soon, if their tone gets shrill and standoffish without having built relationships patiently, all the leaders will find themselves out of the country, just like Minu Moktan. How does that help us? And is this the relationship we want to have with policy makers? Given that English teachers are in a privileged position, compared to the other migrant laborers in Korea, we have the luxury of taking our time. Why wouldn't we?

So let's step back a little, and look at what's going on. In the long view, ATEK's task right now SHOULD be to get its ducks in a row, to build structure internally, and relationships externally, to gain the trust of the people who will eventually be its allies when it starts asking for stuff, and to grow its membership so that when it speaks, it has the weight of a SIGNIFICANT proportion of English teachers behind it. I really believe that.

If ATEK manages to build its membership and streamline its organization in the first year, while building connections with various people in Korean government, that's a pretty good job; jumping in over their heads (like they might have with the ECFA campaign) won't help anyone.

I like Chris Backe; he's a great guy, but I'd like to see a little more perspective in judging what is meant to be a long-term, nationwide organization.

Next: I don't know the whole story about the e-mails back and forth, as expressed on Chris Backe's page, though I don't know if it was fair to print specific e-mails from Barbara and [Redacted see footnote], without also giving Greg Dolezal a chance to respond with something more than a form letter sent to every ATEK member. Regardless, this kind of public back and forth only damages the credibility of everyone involved, both ATEK and FREED, if it manages to get going. [April 5 update: Chris has now updated his post to include a statement Greg Dolezal wrote to him in an e-mail.]

OK. Next thing: from Barbara Walden's e-mail: to begin with, FREED sounds like a good idea, and while I've said before, and will again, that any group of expats that are deciding to get together and organize, and represent, and try to make the expat community more than the sum of its parts. I'd look forward to reading and seeing a good public discussion over "Aspects of developing this support network farther are being researched." - to see how it takes shape. I hope it's a good, open, fair process, and I hope that the organization takes off. I'm strongly in support of AFEK putting together a strong network of support for F-series visa holders. And if other organizations are getting started, I hope that they succeed, thrive, and work productively with the others.

In my "On Ugly English Teachers and Racist Korean Journalists" series, I wrote:
Another thing we've got to do is support and get involved in the expat and English teacher organizations that are already out there. ATEK, AFEK, KOTESOL, all the regional and interest-based facebook groups and clubs. Join up, sign up, show up... it's worth it. And if you don't like one of the groups, start your own, or get involved with another. As I said before: if we have a dozen groups that can help people form communities with like-minded people, we're miles better off than if we ask one or two to pull all the weight, and then if all those groups can join in on the big issues, we're looking way better.
All along, I've strongly believed that the English teacher community in Korean needs as many groups and organizations as we can, focused on different things. I'd love if we had half a dozen organizations, each focused on different areas. AWESOME! Then, when something big happens, when another Christopher Paul Neil gets arrested, there are a whole bunch of voices pitching in, representing us in the media and with the lawmakers. Wouldn't that be awesome!

So it dismays me when Barbara's letter ends with, "There has been no collaboration and will not be collaboration with ATEK about FREED" -- I hope that door doesn't remain closed, because if English teacher groups are forming, basically to spite or repudiate each other, then we're heading in the wrong direction, and hurting our cause. I don't know the whole story between ATEK's council members, and the two ladies who e-mailed Chris Backe, but I get a feeling that there's more to the story than what they've sent along.

So when Chris asserts that "ATEK has not done anything that makes a modicum of difference in the world of Korea" I'd have to ask him what his sources are, and how he's so sure about that, and without a lot of evidence, I'm disappointed to hear him make that assessment.
After a year of watching, and communicating, and reading up, after the whole debate last spring, during which I moderated a lot of ATEK-related discussions, here's what I think.

I joined ATEK two weeks ago.

I've been in touch with Greg Dolezal and talked with a few people on the council, and my assessment of ATEK so far is this:

They're building the relationships and contacts. After the KOTESOL conference I had the chance to sit down with a bunch of them, and to talk with Greg for a while, and he's been hard at work figuring out what ATEK's direction needs to be right now, in order to achieve its long-term goals; they're streamlining the bylaws in order to operate more smoothly, and they've been dealing with internal politicking, and they've been building relationships with the kinds of people who need to be on our side if English teachers decide to ask for big stuff, or throw down against the Hogwan Owners' Association, or if there's another Korean media blow-up. Appearing at the KOTESOL conference is one example of the kind of relationship ATEK needs to build, and I'd be glad to see some kind of mutually beneficial affiliation between the two organizations.

The area where Atek is failing so far is in communication, in my opinion. There isn't enough knowledge in the general population about what they're on about, about the kinds of connections that are being formed, and the reasons why things seem to be going slowly. Meeting notes ought to be published somewhere on their websites, and regular national council meetings should be announced, with their agenda and notes published, at least in some form that doesn't impinge on the privacy or trust of the people involved in certain ATEK actions. (for example, government liasons who prefer to stay on the back channels, or teachers who don't want their name publicly attached to a labor dispute with a hogwan boss while applying for new jobs).

These things are difficult to schedule and plan with an all-volunteer council, and PMA leaders who work different hours, geographically dispersed, but this might be the next step in building credibility. They've been around for more than a year now, and that's good in itself, and that and its thousand or so members lends ATEK about a bajillion times more credibility than a group that started last month (though I certainly wish the best to that other group too, if it exists).

So what's ATEK's next step? We'll see. There's a vote to approve a set of bylaws coming up, and there are still areas of Korea that need to get organized, with PMAs and local chapters. That's a high priority. So is convincing membership that "what have you done for me lately" is a less helpful question than "How have I helped enable ATEK to help English teachers all around Korea," and that might be the real crux of the struggles.

As baseball hall of famer Satchel Paige said, "Don't pray when it rains if you don't pray when the sun shines" - and if ATEK's members are focusing on what ATEK can do for them, rather than on the bigger picture of how English teaching in Korea needs to improve in reputation and quality, and whether they can contribute to that, they're missing the point of being part of a group like ATEK.

Oh yeah, and ATEK IS doing stuff. They presented at the KOTESOL conference, and they just sent this letter to the Prime Minister's office, as an attempt to open a dialogue and a relationship with them. That'd be pretty sweet, wouldn't it? To have a connection with the Prime Minister's office? But that takes time and patience and relationship building.
One of the people involved has asked her name to be removed from this post. It's easy to figure out who if you go back to Chris's post, or read the threatening comments below. I have complied with her request, because her name is already there to be found, and because I'd rather not deal with threats at this juncture.


Charles Montgomery said...


Well put, as usual. I think the key underlying thing is the short timeframes most foreigners here have. It means they are impatient AND don't stay long enough to note the very real progress that is being made here, every day...

And connection(s!) are the key to this, both in terms of dealing with Korean culture, which is all about connections, and for expats.

Jason said...


Well spoken and well informed as usual....


Why is that YOU are speaking for ATEK???

You point out that they're not doing well in the communication department to keep the general teaching community informed and up to date....and at the same time ask us to be patient and understanding as they try to build membership numbers and infrastructure of the association--but they're sucking at communicating why people should join....

Again--why are YOU speaking for ATEK?

It just makes me wonder about how you can have so much info, and insider access, and yet the rest of the teaching community who might be interested in joining (I'm NOT referring to myself) are left in the dark on many things....

I don't think it's fair of you to take Chris to task when you have so much insider info--that's bullshi# in my book. How can Chris know what you know when ATEK isn't doing anything to keep people informed.

ATEK doesn't have to give specifics, but how about a generalized description? For example, a monthly update on GENERAL things it's done.
1. Helped 8 teachers get legal counsel.
2. Invested X hours in building the infrastructure of the organization.
And so on and so forth....

I appreciate your write up, but again am left with a bad taste in my mouth as I consider that it's YOU writing this based on insider info, and not fair to take Chris to task for voicing an opinion based on the limited info that has been publicized.


Charles Montgomery said...


that's a bit of an odd stance. Both posts discussed here were based on what you, with point tin-foil hat on, call "insider info." Which I tend to call, 'information.'

And asking who Rob is to speak for ATEK. A member, just now. And a clever guy with good thoughts and a wicked handsome face...

Who is anyone to talk?

Who would you prefer?

And why should the rest of us care?

LOL.. I'm overreacting no doubt...

also.. your Blogger ID still points to your old blog.. you might want to manually put a redirect on that page.. if Blogger allows it..

Jason said...

Hi Charles,

I'm not saying Rob can't choose to speak about ATEK, and as a member and blogger of course I think he has the right to...

My question is meant to stress how I'm confused as to WHY he's saying stuff that should be coming from ATEK--in a way Rob saying some of the content in his post ends up undermining ATEK in a small way cause HE'S the one telling us this stuff, and not ATEK....

The reason my blog ID points to my old blog is cause I still use the blog roll sidebar to surf blogs--haven't gotten around to putting up all the blogs I read on my new wordpress blog.

I don't consider those emails that Chris posts excerpts of to be 'insider info' cause I read some of them on facebook too, I think....little hazy on that as I wasn't really paying attention that much. Oh well.

Rob, however, in contrast to Chris' post, has stuff that I'm fairly sure Chris doesn't know about....

Correct me if I'm wrong.

And please, please, please, read this as me speaking in a mild tone with no real personal investment or angst about the topic other than hoping that Korea gets SOME kind of organization that will advocate and help foreign teachers.

Charles Montgomery said...


LOL.. we're largely in agreement...

but if Rob, or anyone, drops new info?

I still think that's a good thing. Chris will respond, I'm sure..

You know he's OCD that way. ;-)

Charles Montgomery said...


sorry.. forgot to add...

I can't speak for ATEK and its ability or inability to get info out. My understanding is they are an E-2 organization, and I have a different visa.

LOL.. if that is wrong, they do suck at getting info out.. ;-)

Chris in South Korea said...

An excellent post, as always. Let me start by clearing up a few problematic things for the sake of clarification.

First, the initial e-mailing went out to all ATEK members, along with anyone else on ATEK's mailing list, so that's not exactly privileged information. Barbara's response can be viewed on Facebook in at least one place (a note from Stephannie is one) - not privileged or 'insider' information. I suspect their online platform at this point is a bit small, so Facebook is as good a way to spread the news.

Second, tegarding Greg Dolezal -I've seen no indication that he's been interested in commenting. I could have e-mailed to ask him his side of the story, though. Now that it's out there in two widely-read blogs / forums, he would have a fairly public place to speak from if he has something to add.

In a way, the foundation of ATEK is a definitive sign that enough people feel the same (or a similar enough) way to organize something and move forward with their agenda. But come on. How many businesses or organizations stay open / functional if they're not making progress towards their goal? Especially after a year and change? Certainly not everything should be finalized and figured out - but the key word here is progress. Rome wasn't built in a day - but everyday featured progress. How long should the 'long view' be before we begin asking questions regarding their effectiveness?

Lay the groundwork, make the connections - but tell people what's going on. Jason offers a great idea - even general, aggregated numbers is better than nothing. You don't have to give names or show photos - but tell us what you're doing. Send out the press releases of your achievements, or of your plans, or membership drives. Give people a reason to believe in you instead of blind faith leading the way.

Yes, everyone working for ATEK is a volunteer, and has a full time job that pays their bills / keeps them legal. How many people put their non-working / free time into a dance club, a band, a blog, or anything else that takes just as much commitment and time?

Perhaps ATEK does need to take its time and get its ducks in order. But how much time? I picture a little kid trying to learn how to swim - putting on his floaties slowly, making sure they're in place, looking out at the water, making sure his towel's close... Sooner or later, however, you've gotta get in the water to start swimming.

Making a 'modicum of difference' is my opinion, and as such is open to debate. It's difficult to prove a negative, for what it's worth. I'll freely admit that I may be wrong - If ATEK has made a tangible difference during your time in Korea, perhaps this is a place to post about it. Certainly some individuals have been helped, but have teachers as a whole been helped?

I wholeheartedly support the recommendations of ATEK as submitted to the Prime Minister. If those policies are achieved, I can definitely say that my life will be different. Not having to re-submit my diploma, CRC, and transcripts for the umpteenth time would be a VERY welcome change. I'm not sure I could say that ATEK did it - the Prime Minister's office would have accepted the ideas, constructed regulations and made things from the top down. Perhaps the Prime Minister and ATEK would continue to work together on other matters related to foreigners teaching English in Korea or living in Korea.

PD said...

completely unrelated, but reading this post reminded me of the time i interviewed korean americans in los angeles right after the big riot in 1992.

at the time, the korean american community in southern california (and america as a whole) had ZERO representation in the u.s. media despite being the biggest victims of the riot. it was so bad that no korean american was even interviewed by any member of the mainstream american press that covered those horrific days.

almost 20 years later, the korean american community still lacks a clear voice in the media and still gets shit on occasionally. but progress has been and is being made. and the ones driving that progress are those who watched their parents' stores and their entire community burn down and vanish while the LAPD put up huge barricades along la brea avenue to protect miracle mile and beverly hills as little kids.

those little kids have grown up to become teachers, business-owners, lawyers, doctors and police officers and are contributing to politicians both local and national. and that has clearly made a huge difference.

koreatown in 2010 still doesn't get the same treatment from the city of los angeles as, say, beverly hills does when it comes to public safety, service and education. but when you compare it to how powerlessly silent and invisible they were in 1992, it's like night and day.

so, i'm in complete agreement with roboseyo when he says that rome wasn't built in a day.

stay patient, my expat friends. and be persistent. you may not get everything you want during your tenure in korea, but your children - should they decide to teach or live in korea some day - will be living in a far better world. and then, you can spend the rest of your life in retirement reminding your children everyday (and twice on sundays) what you had to go through for them to enjoy what they're taking for granted. and then complain about too many damn 외국인's moving into your quiet neighborhood in jeollanamdo and setting up loud irish pubs.

kushibo said...

Will Greg Dolezal or anyone at ATEK ever release the header information on the death threat so we can discern from where it was sent?

That so much effort and focus was spent on those highly questionable allegations in the utter absence of easy-to-provide information that would point to the real culprit, at the expense of real issues facing English teachers, is very damning.

An effective organization like ATEK purports to want to be needs to be run by bridge-builders, not bomb throwers, and people who actually know how to effect the change they want to see.

Too much of the organization's creation and implementation has been driven by emotional and reactive misstep. Sadly, though, the crop of people currently poised against the current leadership are no more promising.

Gregory Dolezal said...

I'm not going to comment on internal affairs at ATEK, but I do wish I had been consulted as source to verify facts.

Even those in alternative media have a responsibility to make responsible reports based on investigation that are not one-sided and based on hear-say.

RE: Death Threats

I filed a formal police investigation with the cyber crimes unit at my local police department. This is all public information that has been reported in the MSM. The 'header' is useless since with was sent from a gmail account. Google protects users from being traced and has denied access to the user data.

I resent the suggestion by anyone that I fabricated this. It was a seriously stressful time for me and other ATEK officers, and attacking me or any other reciepient of these threats is not only in poor taste, but amounts to victim blaming and is an extention of that abuse.

One more thing:

ATEK is representative of its members. No one person dictates policy. We are an all volunteer association and respond to the needs of members.

When members ask us to do something we do it. Otherwise we focus on strengthen ties to the community and building our infrastructre so that there is something lasting and effective in the future for teachers.

If you would like to see ATEK doing something specific the best way to accomplish that is to become a member, or even an officer, and volunteer to affact that change yourself.


ATEK President

Chris in South Korea said...

Greg (and all),
I should have e-mailed you previously for your side of the story - my sincere apologies. It was not an intentional oversight - in the future I'll be sure to get your thoughts before posting.

Unknown said...

First of all, I was one of the people who wrote on Robs blog for the ATEK discussion. I represented the 'neutral' or 'middle' position in that debate.

At that time, and largely due to what I found to be gross mistakes made by ATEK, I was not sure about the groups validity and about the lack of direction it seemed to have.

This latest update both confirms some of my initial doubts and tahnkfully dismisses many more!

Were I still teaching in Korea, I would not consider joining ATEK because from what I read it has taken the long-term view that is necessary. The advocacy angle has also been mostly dropped from the agenda and in my opinion that is a critical change.

ATEK still has to deal with some hard facts of Korean ESL, the most critical being the transient nature of the industry where Teachers rarely stay for more than a year or two and as such have no interest in the long-term vision it takes to improve things in Korea.

Being a NETWORK that connects teachers should have been ATEKs main and only goal right off the bat. Diving into the advocacy/human rights pool simply muddled the issues and polarized the debate. This is simply because advocacy requires mandate from a substantial base, something ATEK did not and still does not have.

The splinter group that seems to be in the throes of birth looks like it will be a human rights advocacy group. If they try to speak for all foreign educators in Korea, they will hit the same wall ATEK did when they tried to do that (consciously or not). The tone of the emails posted on Chris in SKs blog are a bad sign of things to come for that organisation. In stark contrasts stands the ATEK President's reply which is collected, calm and objective. He chose to remain above the mud-wrestling and kudos to him for acting like a professional.

ATEK needs time and space to create a solid base for itself. It has networked with the right people and while the progress may not be apparent now, it might still be happening in ways the avarage teacher does not see.

Chris in SK states he has not seen any concrete improvement and goes on to mention his life in Korea is not easier and that he makes no more money. Well, to be frank, ATEK will not necessarily lead Teachers to higher wages. But it might help some of those teachers that need help in legal ways, thereby setting precedents and establishing credibility.

Dropping the shrill advocacy/Human Rights angle will provide ATEK with far more room to maneuver when it comes to establishing contacts with key partners, the most critical being Korean government departments.

So good on ATEK for making the hard decisions and choosing the less sexy path of slow build for lasting results instead of keeping up with the human rights abuse chant.

Unknown said... too fast...

Some errors in my previous comment.

1- It should read: were I still teaching in Korea I WOULD consider joining ATEK.

Also sorry for the sure to be found numerous typos...

Mightie Mike's Mom said...

isnt this like the pot calling the kettle black? I dont recall Roboseyo contacting me for a qoute or permission to use my name in a post. Hmmmm a long winded rant to do the same as that which you accuse Chris of doing. YAWN

Roboseyo said...

I didn't ask Greg for a statement either, Stephannie; I treated both parties equally, and my main gripe was with Chris' analysis in the first place.

Would you like me to take your name out of the post? All once I used it?

Jason said...

It'd be nice for a change if all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over bruised egos would be put aside and some individuals would exercise some restraint about what they comment about . . .

If all the time and energy invested in ego defense and inflation were put into the issues native teachers have in Korea imagine how much more productive that would be . ..

There's a reason why I haven't blogged about ATEK--and that's primarily cause I get tired of reading all the pissy little comments and flame wars that blow up over who said what, when, how, to who, and why, and then hashing all of it to death.

I'd rather listen to the sounds of lip smacking and slurping that I can hear in the teachers office right now as an ajusshi teacher eats his ramen then continue to hear some of the comments in this post.


Unknown said...

Jason I agree and I do hope my posts did not fall into your category of ego soothing and flaming.

That sure was not my intention.

Still this murky war of words between FREED, ATEK, Mrs White and others is counter-productive as no one here has the necessary information to take an informed position on this issue....if it is an issue at all.

Mightie Mike's Mom said...

I have repeatedly asked that my name not be used in connection with this mess. No one asked me for verification if I was founding a new group or if I was feuding with ATEK. My name was issued by Greg of ATEK without verification. My name was used on this blog in connection without verification. Perhaps you'd like it if I just made up some crap about you & bloged & emailed it to everyone without verification? TAKE MY NAME OFF, this is the second time. I dont do thirds.

Roboseyo said...

Stephannie your name was never used in my post in the context of starting a group; it was mentioned only in reference to your e-mail, published on Chris's post, and now your name is also all over this comment board. I've removed your name from this post as you asked, but I don't respond well to threats in my comment boards, and I'm keeping them here: they're your own words, posted under your own volition, and I think it's appropriate for everyone to see them.

TheUrbanMyth said...

Well it's been a year now so what HAS ATEK done? 

roboseyo said...

Evaporate, unfortunately.