Sunday, November 14, 2010

That "qualified" Thing

This is a response to recent comments on my post "Up Against The Competition." I think, although heated, most of the comments were on point and did a good job of correcting my thoughts.

But still I feel the old debate of what makes a "qualified" teacher is worth some harder thinking. However, I am not really interested in analyzing this aspect right now but rather want to focus on what it is like for those who are, academically speaking, "qualified" to teach in the Korean public school.

It is my assumption that this person would find themselves working with people who have little to no understanding of the tools they have brought with them. Korean public schools, especially Elementary, are still breaking out of the rote-memorization process of teaching. The "English Zone" in the school is likely to be the only place where they experience Western based methods of teaching. Meaning putting the students first and letting them explore in order to find the answer.

That is why I feel it is great for people with experience teaching to come here, because they can pass on what they have learned to their coteachers but also give Korean students a chance to experience learning on different levels. Despite the fact that I have no teaching credentials I have always naturally taught my classes based upon my experience as a student back home.

Of course these are all assumptions and I can only write from my own experience. I just really want to know what our Korean coteachers expect of us in the classroom. Until now all I have been told is that they want us to be "fun and active" like those guys on the "EBS English" channel. In other words, they want us to be clowns. In some aspects, for instance teaching kindy - 3rd grade, I can agree that a lively attitude is all but necessary. But asking us to just be "fun and active" means that anyone could do that. Are they going to hire someone with a Masters in Education and years of experience in the classroom to be just "fun and active." If I came here and heard that, with those qualifications behind me, I would feel insulted.

Again, though I could be wrong and just spitting out a bunch of bias, and that is why I want to be proven wrong. I want to know that Korean coteachers and Principals want their Native Teachers to come up with enriching lesson plans that involve kids using all their skills and learning on all levels. I want to know that they aren't just interested in pleasing the parent's and having someone at their school with "Ooo-ahhh" credentials.

Wherever I will be next year I will be sure not to act all high and mighty just because I have two years experience. Instead, I plan on focusing on my students and designing lessons and materials that will truly engage them. In my execution, I plan to be a lively and active person but within the limits of my own body's ability.

The fact remains that so many of us teachers in the classrooms across this nation have little-to-no qualifications teacher wise. Yes it would be our responsibility to get more credentials, but I also feel it is the Korean government's responsibility to give better and more proper training to us. If you are going to hire "unqualified" folks and not give them enough training then don't act astonished when they quit or don't live up to your expectations.

Finally, no matter what kind of person a school hires, whether it be a "qualified" vs. a "recent-grad-off-the-plane", for goodness sake Korea give these people more training in how to work with a Korean coteacher and in the Korean school environment. Hey, I know! Why not have the Korean coteachers and the native teachers go to training together? Oh that's would rather put your money elsewhere.

All right...your thoughts.


  1. Way, way back during my first (and rather horrific, work-wise) trip to Korea back in 2001, my school hired a Korean who had just earned her degree in the US (Master's I think, but it's been a long time and I don't remember exactly) in teaching to supervise the teachers and to help us. The woman had never taught. Ever. And her oh-so helpful tips were things like, "You should make them have better pronunciation." Um, ok. I definitely think that earning a degree in education can give a person a lot of useful knowledge, but it doesn't necessarily qualify a person to do the job. So much of teaching one learns by doing.

  2. 'Qualified' is one of those words tossed around to make people feel better or put some people down. A person with a Master's degree in Education can be 'licensed', 'experienced', or 'educated', but even this person can be called 'unqualified', and no one can prove otherwise. Don't worry about what 'qualified' means - ask 100 different people and you'll get 100 different answers.

    Furthermore, it's the responsibility of the worker to adapt themselves to the job - it's not typically the other way around. You get the appropriate training before you start, and you get some on-the-job training as you go.

    Instead, focus on the 'meta' aspects of your job - building relationships with co-workers, talking about what you're up to, honoring the people in charge, and fitting into the system in place at a given class. Your Korean co-teacher wants you to give more homework to the kids? Coordinate, then deliver. It isn't rocket science.

  3. Chris,

    This may be the first comment you've ever posted anywhere that I agree with. But I think Joy is way past the point of getting advice on how to fix her problems on the job. I've tried and failed to offer her some suggestions about that in the past, and she doesn't take them. She's having the same problems of communication with co-workers about her job that she had in her first months in Korea. She assumes she's improved as a classroom teacher, but without any evidence to prove that (such as through assessment and tracking performance measures). Now she's looking for a new job with two and half years of teaching experience in Korea and not one solid stand-up reference. This is a BAD position to be in.

  4. Joy,

    You make some valid points in this post. I have always advocated for better in-country training for native English teachers hired abroad.

    The trouble is that your last post was about your inability to find a job because the hiring entities are asking for teachers with teaching credentials--which you don't have. A number of hagwons only hire native English teachers who graduated from ivy league universities. I didn't. Did I get mad about that and insist they change their policy? No. I found a school where my background and skill set are appreciated. Because whatever I said and whoever I complained to, it didn't matter. It wasn't going to change my degree to say "Harvard" on it and they weren't going to change their minds about hiring ivy grads. Same for jobs who in Korea who only want Kyopos (which I'm not) or white (which I am) or females (which I am)... I knew jobs that had those kinds of qualification requirements were not the kind of jobs that would suit me. I thought it was dumb (to only want ivy grads) or racist (to only want kyopos or whites) or sexist (to only want females), but it's perfectly within their rights in Korea to have those kinds of hiring restrictions. If you don't like it, find a country (like the U.S.) where those kinds of hiring restrictions are illegal.

    Now you're complaining about them having hiring restrictions that actually make sense because they happen to exclude you? Well... then change that. Nothing is stopping you from obtaining teaching credentials or English degree certification. These days you can even find that stuff online.

    I actually agree that successful teaching experience ought to count for something. Trouble is, you compared your two and half years in Korea--during which time you have never been asked to continue at a school where you have worked, which means that it was not successful enough--to count for years of training. Your experience actually proves the opposite of what you think it does to a hiring entity--it proves you're not re-hire-able, not a desired teacher. In that light, someone with no teaching credentials AND no experience is actually a BETTER candidate than you.

    I'm sorry to be blunt enough about this to have earned a Golden Klog of cruelty from Rob, but I really think it's time you re-evaluate your desire to teach in Korea. If you've decided this is the profession for you--hit the books, get the paper proving you've got the classroom knowledge, then get to finding a job. If this isn't the profession for you, then why are you still pursuing it? You've been doing this long enough that you should have had this insight by now, and it boggles the mind that you have addressed neither the cultural divide with your co-workers (by say... learning the language) nor the lack of formal training as a teacher (which would give more validation to your "methods" than "this is what I did in school") in your two years at the job.

    Perhaps it's time for some real, honest self-reflection.

    To Rob,

    Although perhaps blunt, all of my comments on this blog are always meant to help Joy. I really feel for a lot of her troubles she's had both personally and professionally in Korea and want to see her happy. I get frustrated when a lot of the suggestions I've made fall on deaf ears and then she later complains about how it's so hard and lumps all foreigners together, but I hope she takes the comments in the constructive light which I intend. Joy's honesty about her struggles on this blog are admirable.

  5. I would like to point out that I have not continued at a school becuase of the personal relationships. Not because of my teaching. It has been due to my failure to accurately "be Korean" in the public school environment.

    When it comes do it I was always praised for my teaching, ideas and materials.

  6. Joy,

    Just to clarify... I'm NOT saying you're a bad teacher.

    But being asked not to return, for whatever reason, does not look good to future potential employers. A teaching credential would help you support your case that you are a good teacher, but that you have not found the proper work environment for yourself.

  7. Joy it's very important to get the praise documented... In a formal review/assessment from your supervisor or a letter of reference from whomever issued the praise!

    This discussion is getting really old. And....please let's not continue to beat up on Joy for trying to make it in this foreign land or being ignorant, defensive or immature and/or UNPREPARED! She's tried to do something really difficult...that many people would never attempt to do!
    With all that said.....I think Joy just about "gets it now" & will continue to mature professionally & personally!

  8. ps.
    That includes me too....I know I've been harsh when riled!

  9. "I'm NOT saying you're a bad teacher."

    Actually, that's exactly what you're saying. Own up to it at least.

  10. Hey thanks Mom. :)

    All of this obviously shows that we as expats in Korea have very strong opinions about our jobs here.

    I for one just end up feeling confused over the whole thing, since what people tell me and what I experience at the school are completely different.

    At the end of the day (I hate this expression), we (expats) don't really have a say in the whole process anyways. Yes ATEK is helping to get our foot really in the door.

    But all of our squabbling over the internet does little when it comes to our treatment and voice here in Korea. That is what I believe needs to change. Instead of busting it out with each other we should make our voices heard beyond the digital.

    But I'm leaving soon for a long vacation...


  11. Where did I say she's a bad teacher? I have expressed no opinion one way or the other about her teaching. I have not observed her teach, so I am not able to comment on it. I may have an opinion about it, but it would be based on speculation.

    However, I have pointed out facts that are readily available from Joy's own blog: she has not been re-hired from three teaching jobs. If I were in a position of hiring, I would not be excited about a candidate who has that track record--whatever the reasons. If I called her former employers and got even mixed reviews, I would be concerned.

    She's the one who says it's because of interpersonal conflict rather than teaching ability. So I say: do something to prove it. Like her mother said, get it in writing. Document it. Show student test scores before and after. Get credentials. Get publications. Gather student work. Make a portfolio of lesson plans. Whatever she needs to do.

    Otherwise, hiring people will not take a risk on her.

    Remember, this whole thing started because Joy said hiring people should "count" her experience the same as a credentialed teacher without experience. The onus is on her to prove that her experience counts for that. Those credentials are a formalized way of "proving" a certain knowledge and training to hiring people. If Joy wants her experiences to count for that, she has to SHOW that it should count. And even then, she has to expect that most people won't want to take the time to listen.

  12. You know, I think others have been quite mean. I know they have given you advice in the past, and maybe you have not listened or taken it on board. But you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink...I don't think then trying to bullying it into drinking is the way forward.

    I would say that at least you (Joy) try to reflect on your experience and understand where you are going wrong. That's always the first step to fixing something. From your more recent posts it does seem like you are beginning to realise that keeping your emotions more in check is vital.

    They are definitely right that you are in a bad position with no references, when I was looking for a GEPIK job this year that was all they wanted to know about. So although you have experience you may have to accept the fact that due to your references you may have to start at the beginning and be flexible about your choice of jobs!

    But I just want to say at least you have the guts to be honest about your situation, and I don't know if its necessary for these people to jump on you in quite the aggressive way that they have. In reading all of these comments I have felt quite bad for you.

    Because you know what, at least you're trying to fix it/understand the reasons you're in this position. That's more than alot of people try to do.

  13. Thank you Sara-Jayne.

    I don't really want things to become on here a mudslinging fest. Of course when there is mostly negativity that makes it hard.

    The thing is yes, I did say that my two years of experience should count towards someone with actual credentials. From the comments I received i have changed my opinion.

    In the beginning I reacted very strongly to Amanda's and Diana's comments. Mostly because I couldn't understand why I had upset them so much. Nowadays, I try to wash aside the harshness and take what I can.

    I think it is great to see other readers challenge their comments and even challenge my own thoughts.

    I share most of this publicly on my blog not because I want to start a war, but because I think other readers need to see and hear our experience. One aspect of living here is also dealing with how other expats view each other. Before I came here I thought the we would all get along and support each other.

    Turns out to be not always true. I have received comments before telling to suck it up or move back home. Is that constructive? The thing is I just wish people would put down the "Korea life" badges of honor and see that we all are dealing with the same thing.

    Anyways... I would like to blog on other stuff just been busy lately.

  14. For the most part you make an good point, the expectations are not clear in a public school. There's no formal training, no clear guide about what role you should take and thats confusing to say the least.
    Maybe being a trained teacher would help, but I'm not sure thats even the case all of the time.

    The key to getting a good reference is making good relationships...and this can be harder in Korea than the West because these good relationships on are often not at all based on how good you are at your job. However I'm not saying that personal relationships are not important in the West.

    But really I think you know all of this, and I can understand your frustration that you have learned things and gained experience but that you can't seem to get anywhere.

    I hope that the next place you end up enables you to exercise all that you've learned! And you know the Koreans!! They just want a smiley face all the time!!

    (When I go nuts with frustration I always clench my fists and try to think nice thoughts! Anything but show it! Then at the next opportunity I go for a walk or something. I also try to have little projects, such a changing the classroom display, or rearranging the library..these things help me feel like I am making a positive difference and I don't have to work with anyone else to do them because they are my projects..that means if I am having a bad day I potter along with these, and then I don't look rude for not engaging others!)

    Anyway, good luck in the job hunt and enjoy your vacation!!

  15. Joy,

    I must say, I really appreciate your openness on your blog. I try to steer clear from really putting too much job information on my blog, just out of fear, lol. I think it's great that you try to work through what you're experiencing, even though some of the responses are tough.

    In Korea, it's hard. Everyone's expecting you to adapt to the culture here, while no one takes into account the way you may be feeling based on your culture and experiences. That's hard.

    There are many schools who would rather hire a young, blond chick straight out of university, rather than someone with experience, or qualifications. So, sometimes, it doesn't even matter. If I'm not asked to return to my school, next year, I know that it has nothing to do with my job performance, or my relationship with the other teachers, but rather just because the VP thinks I'm too fat to be a teacher here.

    You know, in a country where looks are so important, and stressed, it's hard to also throw credentials and all that in the mix and take it too seriously. :(

    Keep your chin up! Something will come up! :)

  16. Hey Jennifer ~ what blog do you have? I can't access it when I click your name.

  17. Joy are you dead set on getting a job in your region or would you be willing to relocate? I know of several openings here in Daegu, their always looking for teachers down here.

  18. First, the schools don't want Western teaching. I've yet to see an open class that didn't have a candy/point system the way a special education class in America would have.

    Second, Korea doesn't attract people who solely want to teach. The pay is too low and the culture isn't inviting to those people. Instead, it attracts people with Asian fetishes, people who want to party and people who couldn't find a job because of the recession.

    All the qualified teachers I know, people who came just to teach with teaching degrees, have left because the most they can make is 2.5 million won and there's no further up they can go. There's really no reason to stay in Korea if you're not with a Korean or if you don't want to date Koreans.

    And that's why there are so many problems with Korean education.

  19. Silly Rabbit. Thanks for that hard slap of truth. Indeed it pretty much represents the dynamic here. However, I do really want to teach and make it work within the Korean education system.

    But you point to the reality of it all which most of us figure out after being here a while.

  20. Palladin ~ Thank you but gotta stay close to the BF. However if other folks would like to live down there I would suggest they contact you .. ;)

  21. Diana - Please don't take this the wrong way, but when you started out here in Korea, you did not start in a typical Korean working environment. Certainly while "our" hogwan has aspects of the Korean work environment, the fact that it has an American as the director means that the management style, particularly with respect to foreign teachers, is completely different from your average hogwan. Future recommendations from this school are based on your performance, not on how friendly you were with your co-teachers. I remember you even wrote on your blog that you didn't truly experience the Korean work environment until you started at the public school. It is entirely possible that you would have had difficulty finding a second job in Korea had you been at one of the schools where Joy worked; those jobs didn't allow her to ease into the Korean way of doing things like ours did.

    Joy - I only have my BA and a TEFL certificate. I've certainly looked at jobs that require a MA and wished I was qualified, I haven't had any trouble finding jobs with my current qualifications. (Of course, I'm also open to working all over the world, which gives me more options that you have, since you've opted for staying near Seoul. I should also point out that I've been friends with the American director of my hogwan since we were kids, which gives me an edge in Korea that most people don't have! Additionally, I do plan to get my MA if I ever decide to start teaching in the US, although I suspect that will be in the distant future.) I think there is probably more competition for jobs in Korea at the moment, simply because the economy in the US is so terrible. These days, it seems that an MA with no experience has a better chance of landing a job in Korea than in the US... However, I can guarantee that there are way more jobs in Korea than there will be people with MAs applying for them, so just keep applying! (Although from your most recent post it seems that you may have already found one!)

  22. I second Jane's last comments. A lot of it is nothing more than the "dumb" luck of the draw.

    Most people commenting here seem to have been in pretty good and stable work situations over here in South Korea, but how many people with the "right qualifications" to be hired as a native English teacher in the first place end up having to pull midnight runs due to some truly awful/nightmarish situations or end up with no money and no way home if the hagwon they worked for went out of business overnight?

    For the most part, the hiring is based on nothing more than looks, age, and nationality. It has nearly nothing to do with actual teaching ability, and many Korean co-workers are going to be rightly resentful of young know-it-alls coming for a year of partying while working relatively few hours and then having the gall to complain of desk warming while getting paid handsomely to do it.

    And actually, Joy, you may be too qualified after being here for a few years as you now "cost" much more to employ than a fresh off the plane newcomer. If things don't pan out the way you are hoping for soon, you might want to make some changes to your resume and say you have little-to-no experience here. You might have a better shot if you no longer cost so much to employ.

  23. Jane,

    That is a fair comment--my experience in Korea was not "typical" in some ways. But then again, I did a lot of research before coming to Korea and turned down several (much) higher paying gigs because I knew the environment at the hagwon where we both have worked would be better for me.


    Perhaps I have been too harsh on Joy. I did not intend to bully her. I wanted to encourage her to back up her statements to future employers and help her understand why she might experience problems being hired and what she can do to work through that. I may have approached it in an inappropriate manner.


    Your initial arrogant statement pissed me off. Since you now have changed your mind, I owe you an apology. I should not have reacted as badly as I did. I hope that you find a job and take your new insights with you so that you have a successful year in Korea. I see from your new post that you are well on your way--good!

  24. Hey Joy,
    My blog is . :)
    Have a wonderful day!

  25. All right I have had some time to read through these comments and think of something to say.

    For one thank you Diana for the apology. Just so you know I always try to look past whatever it is that I said that made you upset and figure out what you are really trying to say.

    Another thing is I do have a letter of recommendation my previous coteacher at my previous school.

    Also, if I wanted to I could get a personal reference from my friend who owns a hagwon, where I volunteer from time to time. But since that isn't legal work...I try to stay clear of being in trouble.

    It would be great to get in writing an assessment of my work. But I can't ask for this if the school refuses to give it. Ideally, I wish the school would respect the year of work I put in and look past the personal crap and give me an evaluation. But since one can't live without the other...I have to let it go.

    Lastly I think it is great that we are thinking about our role here and what it means to be "qualified". It comes down to money and looks, as John pointed out. Which is all true. I am sure there are a small fraction of schools that really do care about you and your teaching ideals.

    As for the native teacher's side your experience in Korea depends on how well you adjust and accept the cultural differences. From the beginning of my time here I didn't adjust well.

    I have learned a lot and do apply a lot of what I learn everyday at work. I want to say that I have put up with a lot in the last two years. From being put in a house with no-window, to having to work with people who expected me to be 100% Korean and there was no gray area.

    Leaving this country for good would make all these troubles disappear. But I don't see it as "the grass is greener".

    ANyways ... thank you all for your thoughts. :)


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