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“Low-Quality English Teachers”

There’s a meme that’s floating about in Korea that “low quality English teachers” or “unqualified foreign English teachers” are multitude here. Well, and indeed, depending on what you consider a language teacher, and what you think the qualifications ought to be, they could be argued to be legion… but in Korea, “unqualified” or “low quality” is an ethical judgment: unqualified is often misused by Koreans discussing foreign teachers in English, as Matt points out here, and then misunderstood to mean something more like “dangerous” or “criminal” or “bad.”

Of course, the facts of life in Korean society include a degree of xenophobia, especially in the media but also in general exchanges. It doesn’t help that hate groups like AES (which, again, Matt’s about the best authority to talk about, see here for the most recent post on this hate group) are out there agitating against foreigners, and indeed, as Matt points out, building up a wide, unconscious assumption that foreigner=AIDS. (Even though, in fact, within Korea it’s Korean men who are the biggest victims of, or carriers of, HIV.)

Anyway, the thing I want to reiterate is that, as Matt notes in one of those links, the discussion of “unqualified” or monstrous hakwon teachers of Korean descent hasn’t been allowed to interrupted the xenophobic “unqualified English teacher” discourse on foreigners. This struck me when I heard a story Miss Jiwaku related from her own workplace, a hakwon in Shindorim, involving a teacher who is widely understood among her coworkers to be, well, a psycho.

Miss Jiwaku had first hand experience with the woman’s psychosis, of course: before she knew about the woman’s status, they had been chatting about the state of English education in Korea. Jihyun had confessed that she felt sorry for kids who had to go to hakwon, since it deprives them of free time and the chance to develop their identities, play with friends, enjoy life, and form some kind of relationship with parents. The teacher admonished her, bragging along the way that she’d taught at hakwons in the upper-class district of Gangnam (oooh!) and that nobody who’d taught there felt sorry for Gangnam kids. An hour later, as a kind of non-sequitur, the woman barged into Miss Jiwaku’s class and summoned her out into the hallway to scold her to “be professional, even if this is a part-time job for you!” Soon after, everyone warned her, “Yeah, just stay away from her, she’s a crazy bitch.”

And then she started hearing stories. in bits and pieces. One of the saddest was about some incident involving the whole class–except one kid–being given ramen by this teacher, who then mocked that kid in front of all the others, for having the temerity to cry about it.

Miss Jiwaku regarded this as insane to begin with, though having classroom experience she wondered if it wasn’t a brutal response to an actually questionable action. (That is, she wondered if the student had sworn at the teacher, or something. Not that this would have justified the teacher’s reaction to her, but she figured that was the kind of thing that had triggered it.) It wasn’t till she heard the psycho teacher relate it to the boss herself–explaining the wisdom of her action–that she saw how insane this woman really is. (The boss was trying to laugh, but there was a look of horror in her eyes.)

You see, it turns out that what had happened was, the teacher had told the kids, “You’re going to be doing exams, and maybe you’ll get hungry, so you should bring some food… some little boxed lunches or something.”

The kids eagerly began discussing what kinds of food they might bring, when one kid, mouth watering with anticipation, joked to the teacher that she just asked them to bring the food so that she could eat from their boxed lunches.

“How DARE you accuse me of that! How could you?” the teacher screamed at the kid, and at the end of class, she took the whole class out for ramen… except that one kid.

How clever. How wise. How infinite in… psychosis. Sure, lots of foreign hakwon teachers are idiots and losers… but if you look at it proportionally, doesn’t it stand to reason that most of the abuse of students would happen at the hands of Korean hakwon teachers? That is… unless you’re assuming that foreigners are somehow significantly more likely to be crazy than Koreans.

But then, wouldn’t that make you racist?

(Okay, not really; I see lots of pretty dysfunctional foreigners in Korea, and there’s something about Korea that seems to attract dysfunctional expats and helps them to stay. No, wait… I think it’s rather that the conditions in Korea–work conditions, living conditions, social conditions, and more–simply frustrate, and fairly soon drive away, most highly functional, qualified expats who end up here. What that says about me is beside the point… there are cool people who stick it out for whatever reason, too, including some of my best friends here. If you ask me, it’s more a case that the hakwon industry itself attracts disproportionately high numbers of screwed-up or dysfunctional Koreans and expats alike…)

As a bonus, Miss Jiwaku mentioned reading the AES website the other day and noticing that they’d posted a thread soliciting praise for “good expat teachers.” Unsurprisingly, the majority of the posts involved men who were somehow unlikely to date Korean women, such as “an old couple who are very nice” or “a Western guy who is dating a Western girl.” Nothing was said of their teaching ability, of course. Teaching skill isn’t what would make you qualified in any case–it’s who you sleep with, of course.

Then again, AES is a hate-group that did begin as a hissyfit over a net-publicized wet T-shirt contest involving Korean women and expat men, in some bar in Itaewon. Because some people have no life. If they were truly concerned about the quality of kids’ education in Korea, as their new rebranding name suggests (Citizens for Right English Education, sure) then they would be arguing what I’ve argued all along: that it’s time to burn down the hakwons, and let the children play.

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