Having Their Native Say (2)
By Jason Lim
This is the second installment of a three part series on the results of the online survey the author conducted asking the native English-speaking teachers what they thought about the new president's proposed English immersion plan. ― Ed.
In the first column of this series, I noted that, contrary to general preconception, a surprisingly large percentage of native English teachers have been here for a significant length of time, with more than 45 percent overall having spent three years or more teaching English in Korea, and 31.3 percent more than five years.
From these numbers, we can infer that only slightly less than half of the native English-speaking teachers in Korea have an organic network of personal relationships, financial interests, and other ties that keep them in Korea. In short, they are a part of the long-term social, economic, and cultural fabric of Korea.
But how are their experiences in Korea as English teachers? From my own experience as a recruiter for a prominent language institute in Seoul, as well as a teacher of reading and comprehension classes, I witnessed the almost dysfunctional disconnect between the native English teachers and the management of these institutes. Would the survey results reflect my own experiences from ten years ago? Or have things changed since then?
Unfortunately, not much seems to have changed. Close to 73 percent of the respondents said those organizations either hinder or have no effect on their ability to become a successful teacher; and 56.2 percent said that they are very ― or somewhat dissatisfied ― with how their organization or program is being managed as it impacts their ability to teach their students. Close to 65 percent of them also believe that their head administrator or leader is a very weak or somewhat weak leader.
All in all, the native English-speaking teachers don't have much confidence in the capability or leadership of their organizations and programs. When these numbers are matched up to the individual comments in the survey, a perceived lack of communication and transparency on the part of the Korean management ― for whatever reasons ― seem to breed an atmosphere or isolation and distrust among the native English-speaking teachers as to the motives and competency of the management.
At the same time, the morale results seem to reflect a more optimistic picture; 19.3 percent of the native English-speaking teachers said that morale was very high or high, in contrast to 33.8 percent that said morale was very low or low. However, 47.1 percent stated that the morale of their fellow native English-speaking teachers was moderate. I would have expected a more pessimistic and gloomy crowd, especially in light of chronic disconnect between the management and teachers and recent outbreak of negative media coverage and instability surrounding the English education debate.
These relatively neutral morale numbers could mean that morale is not directly proportional to the teachers' work environment and that they find more rewarding activities ― personal or otherwise ― outside their primary workplace. It could also mean that the native English-teachers in Korea are a happy lot by nature, with a strong sense of adventure and optimism.
When I asked the native English-speaking teachers to self-evaluate their teaching effectiveness across a range of metrics, it mostly came back positive, which is not surprising. However, it is nevertheless interesting to note that there is a general drop off between the teacher's ability to explain and teacher's overall effectiveness in transferring knowledge to the students, a consistent efficiency gap between a key teaching competency and student learning, as noted by the teachers themselves.
Some of this gap could perhaps be explained by the generally negative regard that the teachers hold for the required teaching materials, including texts. This conclusion is further supported by the fact that only 58 percent thought that texts helped students learn while an overwhelming 84 percent thought that in-class activities helped students learn; in fact, 42 percent thought that texts actually didn't help students learn.
As to the all-important questions about the proposed English Immersion plan, 33 percent of the native English-speaking teachers thought that it will succeed eventually. However, only 7 percent thought that it could succeed within the announcement time frame. In fact, a staggering 70.1 percent believed that the plan would not succeed within the announced time frame.
When it came to the different components of the proposed English Immersion plan, the respondents didn't have a pronounced opinion one way or another, except on the idea to outsource 23,000 teachers. In this, the responses were overwhelmingly negative, with 53.1 percent disagreeing or strongly disagreeing that this aspect of the plan will succeed. In fact, less than 20 percent thought that this aspect of the plan would succeed.
This negative outlook is buttressed by the responses to the question that asked whether their organizations or programs had policies for recruiting and retaining faculty. More than 40 percent said that there were no such policies in place, and 27.6 percent responded that they had policies but they weren't tied to a specific plan or strategy.
Now that we have a glimpse of what the native English-speaking teachers experience at work, my next column will present what their biggest concerns and motivations to teaching English in Korea are. As the last installment of this series, it will also pull together a list of top policy recommendations that the Korean government should consider to make recruiting and retaining native English-speaking teachers more effective.
Jason Lim is a research fellow at the Harvard Korea Institute, researching Asian leadership models. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.