Saturday, August 26, 2006

the sweet, sweet whiff of scandal!

English teachers in Korea must fight an uphill battle to uphold their honor (such honor as we have) in the face of repeated scandals and a general lack of respect for the profession-- said disrespect emanating from both Koreans and their non-Korean teachers.

The Nomad has collected a few links to blog posts on the subject here.

My opinion in a nutshell:

1. The Korean system and Korean attitudes toward both foreigners and English education do much to contribute to the problem. To that extent, Mike is right to suggest that the problem is structural. Hiring practices that screen out the undesirables should be put in place after first arriving at a clear notion of "desirable" and "undesirable."

2. At the same time, any structure is composed of individuals, and these individuals make choices. The structure plays its role, but individual teachers (and students) are responsible for their own actions (or, in the case of harassment, inaction-- say, by victims who fail to report a problem, or by authorities who fail to act swiftly after hearing of a problem). The best approach to the structural issue, then, is to think globally but act locally: hold teachers accountable when they perform unprofessionally, but by the same token, reward those who show above-average performance. An individual boss can make a big difference in this area, and individual teachers are grown human beings who can conduct themselves well or poorly both inside and outside the classroom. Responsibility at this individual level is just as important as instituting structural fixes.

3. Expressing lust on a blog probably brings one close to a certain ethical line, but whether that line is crossed will depend on several factors: one's own attitude and writing style, one's own intentions, the mindset of the reader(s), and so on. I, for instance, have admitted attraction to some of my hotter college-age and adult students while at a previous place of employment, but I have always played those feelings for comedy on the blog, primarily because such situations were funny to me, and because I knew I'd never act on those feelings. Look But Don't Touch.

4. Mike is entirely correct to say that there should be a very clear teacher-student relationship: professionalism demands nothing less. To that end, I never invite my students to my place (except on one occasion, when a group came over for about ten minutes to help me carry some stuff to campus for an in-class foodfest), and while I give my email address and phone number to my students, I always wait for them to call me first. Most students don't even bother. I also don't "hang" with my students in a relaxed, buddy-buddy sense. I've started groups such as our English Circle and the free French class, but you won't see me chowing down and doing shots with students on weekends or weekday evenings.

5. Korea currently plays host to a lot of Western freaks, quite a few of whom I've met, many more of whom I've heard about. But Korea abets the situation by fetishizing the English language and, as Mike notes, white Western culture (though I'd add that black American culture has its influence here, too, as seen in the form of awful, watered-down rap and R&B).

6. However, educational standards are improving, as more Korean parents become aware of the overall problem, and schools start to tighten up their hiring practices. That's the good news. But:

7. In Korea, a general disrespect toward teachers in general, foreign or not, seems to be on the rise, which isn't good news for anybody. I see this aspect of Korean society swinging in a disturbingly American direction (having taught French for two years at an American high school, I know firsthand how disrespectful American students can be), and hope Korea will see the cliff it's heading toward and apply the brakes. This is one of those areas where Korean Confucianism, retooled for modern sensibilities (e.g., a Confucianism that drops the notion of female inferiority), might offer a better solution to the disrespect issue than a greater infusion of Western egalitarianism and individualism might. I'd like to elaborate on this, but don't have the argument fully formed in me noggin right now.


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