Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Gangwon English Teachers in the news.

Two Gangwon English Teachers are in the newspapers this week.

In an article that could be titled: English Teachers - whiners or victims? Sara Avrams, a teacher in Youngwol, I believe, and an occasional speaker at the Gangwon KOTESOL meetings, is interviewed. She states that most of the time, the teacher involved didn't research the position well enough.

Teachers often hear horror stories about how the Korean legal system appears unwilling to get involved. Avrams points out that once they do get involved, the teacher is likely to be out of a job so nobody wins.
Avrams says the official channels will sometimes soft-pedal the gravity of the issue. Rather than rushing to court, they will often encourage the teacher to try to reach an agreement with the school.

"They are not trying to protect the employer, I think. They are aware that if they have to enforce a rule on behalf of the employee, the employee will likely be fired."

By offering advice to teachers rather than getting formally involved, the authorities are indeed helping. It's a reasonable point and I feel my POV broadening yet again.

Avrams worked as a legal educational advocate before coming to Korea so I expect her opinions to be based on fact. I can only describe my personal experiences. Here they are, should you care. (Below are my comments on an article by a second Gangwon English teacher.)

I certainly didn't do enough research before first coming to Korea but was apparently lucky. At my first hagwon, I learned of the loophole in the contract that all hagwons seem to love. Having a contracted set number of hours per month means they can work you into the ground in February. With Lunar New Year in a short month, 130 hours means almost ten hours a day.

I didn't get a year end bonus at that place because the roof leaked in a typhoon during my eleventh month there, closing the school. They did treat me well and I have no complaints with management.

I went home for a year before returning to Korea and working in Seoul. I knew better what questions to ask but had a strange interview. I asked many questions, eventually including a repeated, "Do you have any questions for me?" The interviewer explained that by asking smart questions, I had already displayed good knowledge of teaching and hagwon life. I was happy working at BCM. Some found the split shift exhausting - me, too, but I can sleep during the day.
In my second year, I was the foreign teacher liaison or coordinator. When I gave info to propective employees, I was positive about my experience but listed every problem we had had. Teachers I hired had their eyes wide open. There were fewer problems later that way.

Next, I worked at Baegam, Kyounggi-do. A nightmare job. I worked for ETC- this is where my blogging email address came from (brianetcetera (at) hotmail...) As always, great students but here is where I first saw creative accounting and other trickery. Oh, ETC changed it's name and a new company may now use the name elsewhere - any current ETC is not the one I am badmouthing.

I am now at Kwandong University. Almost any university position is superior to to any hagwon position and in my opinion, Kwandong takes good care of it's teachers. In general, you get better working conditions but students of a wider range of motivation at universities. It's easier for a teacher to be enthused at universities because there is more available prep time. The biggest negative for university work is, again, the range in motivation in the classes. Each class is fairly homogeneous in motivation but one class (best examples are medicine and education) is likely to be much more motivated than another (least motivated classes are typically piano, Phys Ed and Engineering). A few individuals will buck the trend, naturally.
Fro researchers on this university, there were posts on a blacklist website a few years ago. While there are problems at any jobsite, I don't think Kwandong belongs on any current blacklist.

The Herald closes it's archives to non-subscribers after a week -SO HURRY if you want to read it. They will be part two next week.

Rick Ruffin writes an interesting article about over- or conspicuous- consumption here on the peninsula. The article sort of reads like an interview with Jack who has no last name. On the whole, I agree with Jack's opinion about reducing consumption but he picks a strange opening example. He says,
"...the Korean government wants to build more dams. I understand that the recent floods were a terrible setback for hundreds of families living in the river valleys, but this response is only too typical for a world that can’t think outside the boundaries of ‘more.’ "

His other examples are all reasonable but he really doesn't give any alternatives to dam building. I can agree with drinking smaller amounts of coffee or using an air conditioner judiciously but these are not life and property-threatening choices.

I actually have a tiny bit of knowledge about dams in Korea thanks to a wonderful speaker who gave a lecture at Minjok Sagwan when I was working there. This speaker must remain even more anonymous than 'Jack' as I can't remember her name. Let me paraphrase what she told us:
Korea ranks very highly in total number of dams built and I believe is first in dams per capita. Dams are only stopgap repairs: They eventually silt up so they lose value in preventing floods or storing water for agriculture. Korea has been building dams for fifty years and still has flooding problems so they are clearly not a perfect solution.

Perhaps dams are not a longterm solution but they do mitigate the damage caused by flooding. A more appropriate opening example or alternative solution would have been nice.

1 comment:

Ben McFerren said...


We started a free site called teachade for teachers and I was wondering if you'd take a look to see what you think. Basically we're looking to build a community of teachers to support each other through professional development and resource exchange. We're looking for your input and suggestions on how to improve the site. Hope to see you join us and participate.