Monday, February 28, 2011

GEPIK Does not Want High Quality Teachers? Memo to Korea: You Get What You Pay For

If this comment under Brian in Jeollanamdo's post about GEPIK budget cuts is true, then it seems that it's true, the rumor going around that Korean educators are giving preference to low-level, less experienced, less qualified teachers, rather than experienced and qualified teachers.  Can any other readers corroborate similar experiences?

This draws into stark relief, the pure hypocrisy of the Korean media bitching and moaning about "low quality English teachers" when that's all the ministry of education is willing to pay for.

This makes articles like these (covered by Popular Gusts) even more contemptible and disgusting: trotting out the ugly "unqualified teachers are in our classes" scapegoating trope in the aftermath of a frigging suicide, when the choices of Korean education policy and decision-makers chose to bring those 'low-quality teachers' in, is lower than low.

There is lots of talk about providing counseling and services to help others who come to Korea: specifically, the immigrant brides in the countryside -- yet instead of using the suicides of two teachers in a week to start a discussion about extending further support and services to expats having trouble adjusting, instead they gasp that some of the mentally ill and suicide prone people teaching Korea's children are foreigners.  (What is the suicide rate among Korean schoolteachers?  Anybody have that on hand?  What about the crime rate of Korean schoolteachers against students?  Hurting kids has GOT to be higher on the "education-related social outcry" totem pole than self-harm, hasn't it?)

On the other hand, I guess it makes sense that counseling is only being considered to be provided for immigrant wives, when they're the ones mothering little Korean (or at least half-Korean, which seems to count now) babies.  (Don't get any ideas, English teachers.)

In the meantime, since it becomes clear that emergency and services and counseling help are clearly nowhere near the interests of the powers that be, it's time for English teachers to counsel themselves.  I'm gathering sources from a few different places, and I'm preparing a post that will list them, as completely as I can.  If you know of emergency counseling services that expats and English teachers can use, paid or free, in person or online, let me know.

Dear Korea:

Re: low quality English teachers:

You get what you pay for.



Breda said...

Don't you think this is true in many fields, everywhere? At some point the balance tips and those with experience have trouble finding a job, while the less-experienced, cheaper ones get hired. It def happens in journalism.

Roboseyo said...

You're probably right, there, Breda... but those other industries don't then contribute to media smear campaigns based on the lack of qualifications of said employees: they'd probably be trying to mask their corner-cutting, rather than openly scapegoating their cheaper, less-experienced recruits, lest they, the ones hiring them, lose credibility in their industry.

James said...

I'll never forget the "mental health background check" portion of my first job application to Korea. It was a little slip of paper with a question at the top: "HAVE YOU EVER BEEN MENTALLY DERANGED OR ADDICTED TO DRUGS OR ALCOHOL?"

At the bottom you could check YES or NO.

Substantive screening for drug use or health problems (mental or otherwise) is a good idea. But in the Korean system it's just a smoke-screen. The hagwon need native English speakers _now_, damn the details. There's an underlying profit-motive for the hagwon that the Korean press will never, ever admit to. (While it's a loose analogy, it reminds me of how the American press demonizes illegal aliens from South America when it's really the fault of the _employers_ who take them on, pay them below the minimum wage, and deny them basic things like health care.)

By contrast (yes, I'm going to compare Japan to South Korea now) to get a student visa to Japan a while back I actually needed to visit a real doctor and get a real physical, including a real blood test, while on American/native soil. I had to do all of this at the initial stage of my application. If there'd been a problem, I never would have been granted a visa and this would have saved everybody's time and money all around.

And my prediction is that the recent addition of an FBI background check will soon be over-written. Three to four months is way too long for the very profitable Korean hagwon to wait for their next batch of underpaid English native speakers, some of who are qualified, some of who aren't, but all of whom want a fair and square employment deal with their Korean businesses/schools that they will rarely get.

T.K. (Ask a Korean!) said...


You know I love you. I have come to tune out this topic, and I no longer bother to address it. But I am responding here because I know you think carefully and you will be receptive to criticism without taking it personally. So here it goes.

1. The greatest confusion involved in this entire conflict (repeated in many different iterations) is over the word 부적격, translated as "unqualified." When Anglophones see the word "unqualified," they think about "qualifications," i.e. degrees, experience, etc. But that's not how Koreans understand the word 부적격. By 부적격, Koreans are really talking about "unfit." And I see this confusion plaguing your post here.

I am sure you would agree that no matter how inexperienced and lowly paid a teacher may be, that teacher may not show up to teach drunk. That is a legitimate expectation, and let's be honest here -- that expectation is often not met. And that issue is separate from whether experienced or inexperienced NSET teachers are hired. Lowered GEPIK budget has nothing to do with lower "quality" NSET teachers. Lower budget might attract less experienced teachers, but it has no bearing on attracting less civilized people.

2. I am frankly somewhat disappointed in the manner in which you phrased this post. (I understand you are upset, so I am not angry or anything.) Even accepting the "unqualified" confusion, that GEPIK lowered the budget and that the Busan newspapers wrote articles involve separate actors. In fact, one can easily read the newspaper articles as exhorting Korean government to do something better about hiring well-qualified teachers.

That can be characterized "lower than low" only if you characterize "Korea" as a whole undifferentiated mass, never containing any individual part. To me, this is a case of government doing one thing while the media wants the government doing another thing. That happens all the time in a democracy, and it is not low at all. (For the record, the articles give an unfair impression of NSETs and are pretty despicable standing alone.) The way you phrase the post, this is a case where a single entity -- "Korea" -- says one thing, and does another thing. That is neither accurate nor fair. And then, your coup d'grace is a pithy "Dear Korea." Now, you connected the action of one minor government branch (GEPIK) and a few newspapers over which no one gives a shit (seriously, who reads Busan Ilbo?), and fashioned an indictment against the whole country, as if the whole country has a say on GEPIK policy and the whole country wrote the Busan Ilbo article. That is not a fair criticism.

Roboseyo said...

Thanks for your comment, The Korean: you've pointed out the danger of cherry-picking sources, and I'll respond, or at least think carefully, about your comment, when I have more time.


James: I also had an experience like that: an employer asked me if I had a drinking problem during my job interview. When applying for my Korean drivers' license, I also was asked, "Do you have any mental problems?"

Fortunately, I knew the right answer to the questions.

Anonymous said...

AAK writes "Lower budget might attract less experienced teachers, but it has no bearing on attracting less civilized people."

Right. Because we all know that the top global companies advertise their low, non-competitive salaries in order to snatch up the best and brightest employees.

I'm sorry, but that's the dumbest thing I've read all week.

"one minor government branch (GEPIK)"

I've never taught in the public school system here, but given the thousands of foreigners who teach through GEPIK this is another one of your baffling mischaracterizations. If you're talking Gyeonggi-do you're talking one of the largest suburban areas in the entire world.

(didn't fully log in last time as James)

Flint said...

You asked about counseling in Korea. I have been away for a year and not sure if there are any new counselors there but you can contact Adaptable Human Solution (though a bit expensive) and there is also Yvonn Malenfant he has a website (not sure what it is) that has other resources. You can also contact the Seoul Help Center's medical hotline (again not sure of the contact number but it can be found through google.
Not sure of any in Busan.

chiam said...

Anyone who wants help can find help. Walk into any major hospital and ask to speak with a psychiatrist. In ten minutes, you'll be speaking with a psychiatrist. In Seoul, they generally speak enough English to know what's going on in your life, and provide some advice/solutions.

The fact that help isn't saught has nothing to do with Korea. People don't seek help anywhere, and it isn't the responsibility of the Korean government to force it upon people. The help is available if someone wants it.

Go to Yongdong Severance and ask to speak with a psychiatrist. Go to SNU hospital in Daehangro. Instead of just assuming that it's only being provided to catalogue wives (individuals that are FAR FUCKING MORE VULNERABLE than university grad adults from the west, and who may not know English or be able to confidently use the internet) is assinine and it bugs me that you do that so much.

This is like another post when I argued with you for snubbing the waste management/environment situation in Korea. Then when you wrote that post about things you learned while doing the radio show, you mention that Korea is doing a good job with regard to waste management and the environment.

Come on man, I'm not trying to give you a hard time, but why is it you insist that the Korean government should hand-hold every foreigner who comes here?

Searching "Seoul psychiatrist" shows a considerable amount of information for someone who seeks it.

Morally Unfit My Butt said...

The Korean,
I got this through the net written by Benjamin Wagner...
"Now it seems that regardless of professional qualifications, the Anti-English group has decided that foreigners are “morally unfit” to teach.

This is a shrewd move on the part of this group. After all, professional qualifications can readily be identified and satisfied by foreigners; “moral qualifications,” on the other hand, will be unattainable.

In a recent interview Spokesman Lee explained that “[t]he majority of foreigners are acting innocent or indifferent about their indecent behaviors which don't follow the Korean moral code [because] their behaviors are not problems in their motherlands[.]”

In other words, simply being foreign makes it nearly impossible to behave morally in Korea. With the majority of foreigners indifferent to morality or unable to even comprehend when they are behaving indecently, the group’s spokesman reaffirms the point that discriminatory measures are justified."

Chris in South Korea said...

The Korean's comment on 'unfit' is right on - and let's face it, too many English teachers view the job as a 'gig', a party with occasional requirements to work, or a short-term investment for some quick cash. There's little point in talking about credentials when a Master's degree holder gets sh!t-faced and makes a fool of himself out in public. There's also the storm that gets riled up when we foreigners 'take' a Korean girl away from the Korean guys (this despite free will of all parties).

That the AES is trying to claim the 'moral high ground' is unsurprising - and perhaps all the more reason why responding with a 'we're good people' line does nothing to appease most. How CAN foreigners respond? I'm open to ideas.

3gyupsal said...

It's true what Chaim said. Some hospitals have mental care facilities called 정신 병원. They might help, they might not, they might call somebody at your school and tell them that you are going to a mental hospital. You never know.

Down where I work the local education board was very vocal in their appreciation of me, but I had to swallow a pay cut when I was supposed to be getting a raise so I changed jobs halfway through my contract. They did say that they would look for a way to pay my proper salary next year, but I had had enough.

It is true though, GEPIK, EPIK, and SMOE are probably having some financial problems. The number of NETs has indeed shot up in about five years. That is by no means an excuse, but with the world austerity trends it's hardly surprising that they would want to tighten their belts a bit (Or gouge us on our taxes-they decided to surprise me this year with the gouging of a lifetime.)

Roboseyo said...

While The Korean,

as I mentioned earlier, I did cherry-pick my sources and then make sweeping generalizations,

However, part of the whole scapegoating issue is the way that people commenting on English teachers, including the AES, readily move the goalposts, so that the word "unqualified" even if used in reference to academic credentials, or moral qualifications, invokes through association every negative image of degree-faking, pot-smoking, kiddie-fiddling, han lady violatin' neo-colonizer, and using it to refer to one aspect of those, calls up associations of all the others.

Popular Gusts is the place to look for how the tropes and catchphrases go back decades, but the accusations have a surprising history.

Roboseyo said...


I am working on getting counseling resources together for expats in a tough spot, you're right that migrant workers and immigrant wives are MILES more vulnerable than English teachers, and I don't mind a bit when you take me to task.


Anonymous said...

"The Korean's comment on 'unfit' is right on"

Sorta kinda not really. He's arguing that across-the-board salary cuts won't further lower the overall quality of NET's coming to Korea. Somehow, through the use of magic kimchi dust I imagine, you can cut compensation and still attract higher quality candidates, since a person's teaching skill level and their overall professional demeanor have no relationship to one another.

Eve said...

I'm normally not one to give out free publicity but I second the kudos for Adaptable Human Solutions. A woman there seriously saved my ass when I was about to have a nervous breakdown my first few months in Korea. Expensive as hell but worth every penny.

T.K. (Ask a Korean!) said...


If you want to discuss scapegoating, you will not hear any objection from me. (I already agreed that Busan Ilbo article is pretty despicable standing alone.) I believe that is a real issue, and I am glad that Popular Gusts discusses it.


I already made my position about AES pretty clear in a post I wrote more than a year ago. If you are trying to equate AES with Korea in general, you are making the same mistake of taking "Korea" as an undifferentiated whole.


Even a corner store hiring for the ability to sit around for 4 hours and make correct changes in exchange for minimum wage can reasonably expect the employee to not show up drunk. The visa regulations already require that NSET teachers hold a 4-year college degree. That is a reasonable "floor" for expected professional demeanor.

JIW said...

The whole GEPIK system is something to be scrutinized. Not just hiring low qualified folks (degree and experience wise) but also the lack of support within the system. As a GEPIK veteran I experienced isolation and lack of help when it came to problems in the workplace.

The usual response from my district coordinator was to "communicate better" with my colleagues. But this was the problem.

The fact of the matter is we don't really understand why we are placed in the schools. We think it is to teach English, but the English programs at the school are usually just trophies for parents to see or for the school to brag about.

It is rare you end up at a school that genuinely cares about the English education, understands and has knowledge about how to effectively teach English and has proper resources to do so.

The Korean's explanation of being "unfit" makes complete sense when working with GEPIK. Public school teachers (Korean) have a very narrow view of themselves as public servants who must be upstanding moral citizens. Yes of course not all of them are, but the charade is that they act like it.

When the foreign teacher comes along and exhibits natural behavior of adjusting to Korean society. (Depression, anxiety and insecurity) they think we are weak and unfit. I have been literally told I was "bad teacher" with a "cold heart" after just coming to work feeling down and out.

I don't care who GEPIK hires...they need to reevaluate their system entirely.

Anonymous said...

Why have you been posting more negative comments toward Korea recently? DId something happen to anger you toward Korea?

Roboseyo said...

I haven't had time to upload my pictures, anon.

I'll write my blog however I please, thanks.

Bigrich said...

The Korean: you're making repeated references to foreign teachers showing up to work drunk (or at least, insinuating it). Can I get some references to back that up? Some statistics or official figures? Some newspaper reports? I'd settle for personal experience, since I generally respect your viewpoints on most issues, and am willing to trust you.

Or is snide insinuation all you have to offer on this one?

p.s. to save you some time, none of the articles I've read about the two suicides in Busan stated that the men in question taught drunk. Had drink problems, yes. Committed suicide while drunk, yes. Were drunk at work, no.

T.K. (Ask a Korean!) said...


Fair point. I don't want to get to a point where I tip off who I am, but my father has been an active, well-known player in Korea's private education market. So let's just say that he has seen a huge pile of NSETs' dirty laundry -- for a while, his job was to quietly take care of NSETs who make a fool of themselves -- and I trust the firsthand accounts that my father tells me.

A Deal Or No Deal said...

I've gone to work with someone who was still drunk from the night before, to the point that the potential employer he was speaking to on the phone at 9 am also realized it.

I've had known at least two other people admitting to being drunk at work.

I don't know, on the other hand, how that would correlate with the experiences of a Korean teacher with two years of experience.

shotgunkorea said...

Oh boy. This debate has been raging everywhere it seems. While I do know plenty of great, hardworking NET here, I also know plenty of others who make me embarrassed to be sharing the same profession.

I was a teacher in the U.S. and I've seen the same situation happening over there. It is relatively easy to become a teacher (in the U.S.), and unfortunately there are many people who take advantage of the system. There are teachers worldwide who are not fit to teach, but as always, cretins find their way in.

I feel like a traitor for saying this, but I think if Korea wants to see better teachers, they should have a more rigorous hiring process, and I'm not talking about F.B.I. checks, drug screening and asking applicants whether they are "fit" or not (I got this one in two different interviews).

No one should be surprised that often times the "teachers" here are a bunch of recently graduated kids who view teaching as something to get through, not to learn from. The way coming to teach in Korea is advertised does nothing to dissuade "unfit" people from coming over here and making asses of themselves. Who is to blame in this situation?

Anonymous said...

I plan on being in this country a long time. I love it here...and generally try to tune out the anti-[race] bullshit because it neither affects my daily personal life or has an effect on who I am.

...however...this is the one situation that concerns me. Mainly because I:

a) am considering switching over to public school teaching
b) plan on continually earing more professional development (trophies) because it's good for my job, my brain, and since I am a teacher, if I decide to go back to America, it would be nice to have some of those things on my resume.
c) do my best to be the damn best teacher I can be everyday. biggest worry is that, in all my efforts, am I working myself out of a job?

I would suspect that there will always be enough loosers out there for me to find a job...and if all else fails, I'll just leave a year or two of experience off my CV.


A Deal Or No Deal said...

I feel like a traitor for saying this, but I think if Korea wants to see better teachers, they should have a more rigorous hiring process, and I'm not talking about F.B.I. checks, drug screening and asking applicants whether they are "fit" or not (I got this one in two different interviews).

Absolutely. It seems that schools look at applicants and hire them based on their resume and picture, pending a non-disastrous interview. I once asked a question about two minutes into an interview, to which the school responded by saying "you can see all that in the contract we're going to send you."

I think we have a shorter hiring process in the West than they do in Korea, with an initial selection process based on a resume and other qualifications, then two separate tests on a variety of unrelated topics ("what do you call the player between the third baseman and the second baseman?"), and then two rounds of interviews.

That seems the complete opposite of the way English teachers are hired. I've witnessed longer interviews at coffee shops and restaurants here than I have had for many teaching jobs.

Roboseyo said...

I agree: all the regulations in the world, including the silly interview that is (was?) supposed to be conducted at a Korean consulate near one's home, don't take the onus off the place where I think the real fault lies: the people hiring, who care more about warm bodies in classrooms, and the bottom line, than quality teachers.

I'd be interested to know, from someone who regularly scans the job listings at Dave's ESL and the like, what percentage of job listings there require applicants to submit any or all of these:
1. a teaching philosophy
2. a sample lesson plan
3. a video demonstration of them in a classroom

I bet it's less than 3%, and I bet those 3% are almost all universities.

Stafford said...

Edumonkeys = peanuts.

Right now that I have that out of the way, it's just the hypocritical argument around being "qualified" and then not wanting to pay for it that drives me up the wall.

Also as a freshly minted Masters holder I would like to defend my right to get sh!t-faced and makes a fool of himself out in public.

Occasionally and in the right circumstances :-)

kushibo said...

Can I get some references to back that up?

I've had experience with English teachers calling in sick because they were actually hungover.

That said, I think most English teachers are all right folks who take their jobs seriously. At least, in my own personal experience.

I think The Korean is right that lower pay in no way justifies unfit behavior (in or out of class), but eventually, sloughing off experienced teachers in order to save a buck on completely inexperienced teachers will tend to lower the average quality simply because (presumably) good and fit teachers who have shown themselves to be that way will be forced to go elsewhere or will choose to go elsewhere. And then you will be left with a higher portion of teachers who see this as a "gig," as Chris put it, and not a serious job.

That said, The Korean is right to call out Roboseyo on treating Korea like a monolithic entity. It sucks when portions of the Korean media do that to English teachers and it sucks when it's done to the whole country.

It's also counter-productive and injurious to one's own self. It fosters this niggling impression that "they all hate us" when that is far from true. While Popular Gusts does a service for pointing out the crap in the media when it comes to English teachers, the tendency of K-blogs to focus on the negative stories creates a cognitive distortion. It gives the impression that (a) the Korean media is talking about English teachers a lot more than they actually, and (b) a far greater proportion of those stories are negative than they actually are.

How big is the "media smear campaign" really? There are entities in the Korean press who lazily accept the AES hate group's take on things, but you'd be wrong to think that their view is universal or even dominant. Were that the case, most every E2 would not be in Korea right now.

(Roboseyo, sorry if I sounded like I was piling on with you. Like The Korean said, you are receptive toward criticism and I meant what I said constructively. The we don't see eye to eye on everything, I think you are an asset to both the K-blogosphere and to ATEK, and have said as much in various places.)

Roboseyo said...

It's OK, Kushibo.

If I am speaking of Korea in monolithic terms, I deserve to be called out: the comment board is one of the reasons I will always like blogging more than twitter, because the feedback from comments has helped me refine my thinking about Korea, and lots of other issues, probably more than anything else.

I also like it that overall, the comments I get are quite respectful and thoughtful.