Monday, March 26, 2012

ATEK is Dead; Let's Bury it: A Eulogy


Since 3WM published its "Atek, the Great White Hoax" series, starting almost exactly a year ago, ATEK has gone silent. I've reached out to those who are keeping the website online, and the outlook ain't hot. The bad press has made it pretty much impossible to recruit officers, and without officers, it is impossible for ATEK to help English teachers in the way the organization hoped to in the beginning. ATEK has been without a president since last spring, and its other officers have slowly moved on, or shifted the networks they initially formed through ATEK, along other lines, under other names. ATEK's Facebook groups are mostly spam-catchers, the ATEK name has become radioactive, and whichever English teacher's organization comes next will have to answer some tough questions about why they're different from ATEK, and how they plan to do differently, or better. The ATEK website is basically defunct, though still operating, the English teacher help forums there are silent (except somebody who wants you to buy some video games), and all the ATEK e-mail accounts have been closed but two.

ATEK the organization, and the people involved in it, with a few exceptions, did want to help English teachers, for the most part. Yeah, some were in it for the resume padding or the networking or the ego-gratification, or to try to get a little extra buzz surrounding some other cause or gig they were involved with... but when is that untrue of any volunteer organization, and how does that preclude an organization from helping people, if people can set those agendas aside and focus on the goals of the organization?

It's a shame this group of people couldn't work that out, that for too many of the people involved in the organizational breakdowns, being right became more important than being pragmatic. I suppose that's the drawback of new organizations like this, though: they attract idealists, when they need pragmatists, and the pragmatists get frustrated with the drama, and seek out venues to get stuff done, where they don't have to deal with hissy fits.

Why it failed:

Problem 1:
ATEK talked a bigger game than it actually walked for pretty much all of its existence, promised a little more than it could deliver, and got started on the wrong foot with some of the groups and people it most needed to have supporting it: some of the people who would have provided the leadership, continuity and competency it lacked, and then was too inflexible to find a way to work with some of those people, even when they gave it numerous (probably undeserved) second and fifth chances. And a few people put too much of their personalities into ATEK, in the wrong way, for it to ever quite get completely clean of the stain. While I have well-publicized issues with the 3WM ATEK series, it is more or less accurate in its picture of the ways ATEK got in its own way, and hobbled itself from becoming a more useful organization.

Problem 2:
While some involved in ATEK might still maintain that the online peanut gallery, unwilling to contribute positively, but quick to loudly recount past flaws and wrongs, was mostly responsible for ATEK's demise, I disagree. While they ensured ATEK had a hard time living down its failings, if ATEK had had more successes, those criticisms would have sounded hollow.

Problem 3:
ATEK was brought down by a toxic mix of personalities, pretty much all of whom meant well, at least when they started in, but too many of whom couldn't work together, too many of whom couldn't set aside their egos agendas and vendettas, because of the way they were trying to portray themselves, or their beliefs about the role they had, or personal issues they had with other players, or their desire to please too many people with conflicting views, or their desire to be vindicated taking precedence over the greater good for English teachers. These ugly personality blends submarined the organization just when it was approaching the critical mass it needed to become a useful institution.  A few of the very best people involved in ATEK were too quiet during times when their voices of reason could have provided much-needed calm and leadership, or had already left in frustration, or got booted on technicalities, and so weren't around when their points of view were badly needed.

Problem 4:
ATEK became far too organizationally bloated, far too quickly, and that hampered people who wanted to help out, from finding places where they could help out with the talents they had.

Problem 5:
ATEK depended too much on the part of the foreign English teaching population that is least reliable in the long-term: the E-2 visa, one-year, high-turnover teachers. Some -probably most- of the people in Korea on E-2 visas are amazing people, with great ideas and awesome energy... but when 60-80% of an organization's membership repatriates every twelve months (the average officer served somewhere around six months while I was there, despite officer terms being one year), when nary an officer carries out their full term as an officer because they're changing jobs and countries, it's hard to generate organizational continuity and coherence.

Problem 6:
There had to be a way for people who weren't strictly, rigidly English teachers, even who did have something they wanted out of ATEK (people selling textbooks looking for buyers, recruiters or school HR people looking for recruits, labor law firms looking for commissions, whatever) to contribute to ATEK meaningfully, while remaining honest about what they were in it for. ATEK started working on a disclosure policy far too late.

Problem 7:
ATEK simply bit off way more than it could chew. University teachers, public high school, middle school and elementary school teachers, after-school hagwon teachers, preschool hagwon teachers and adult hagwon teachers each have their own unique needs. F-visa holders and E-visa holders have different concerns and needs, and by trying to address all the various needs of so many overlapping groups, ATEK couldn't do a good job of representing any of them.

Why We Still Need Something Like ATEK:

A year ago, when I wrote about ATEK, I mentioned that with all the back-and-forth over ATEK, we were forgetting this very, very important point:
Anti-English Spectrum is still out there, organized, and active. Anti-English Spectrum members continue putting bugs in the ears of Korean policy makers, and going through foreign English teachers' trash, and "following" them. And English teachers (and various non-English teacher expats) continue cannibalizing their own, rather than mounting/supporting/contributing to an organized response to it.

This remains true. And as long as they exist, and there is no organization representing native English teachers, the Anti English Spectrum will continue to set the terms for how foreign English teachers are portrayed in Korean media, and we don't want that. Unless you like invasive drug and disease tests, and constant resubmission of documents, and being scapegoated.

coming soon:
What next... (read part 2)

1 comment:

Roboseyo said...

Do you happen to know who would have the list of lawyers that was on ATEK's site?