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IN DEFENCE OF NETs IN SOUTH KOREA !

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I was persuing the archives of The Korea Times at Sang-Ju's public library the other day and I came across an article by columnist Jon Huer entitled "Is Teaching English here 'Gold Rush'?" published on the 8th May, 2009 and I must say the portrait he paints of English expat teachers in Korea is far from being a pretty one. Indeed, he portrays them quite disdainfully as without "pedagogic talent" and without any "sense of lifetime committment to teaching as a career". He even goes so far as comparing them to "gamblers" and "drug addicts" lured by the "drug" of money and even "gold prospectors" like those of the 1848 Gold Rush.

Although there may well be examples to whom this disdainful description of the English expat teacher may apply there are many who also come with the virtuous intention to fulfill the mission given to them which is to help Korean students improve their English language skills.

What's more, there are also many teachers who've been awarded the internationally recognised TEFL / TESL certification and who've acquired extensive teaching experience both at home and abroad.

The fact that he fails to recognise that there are NETs who do have pedagogic talent and a teaching certification and extensive TEFL / TESL experience is tantamount to an affront to these individuals and undermines the strength of his argument.

Another area I'd like to discuss which the columnist touches on but doesn't go into much depth about is the standards of English teaching in Korea.

He states that there is "no real quality control" of English teaching and that the "English-alien Koreans" have no idea what good English teaching is and that success in teaching English hinges on "someone with a happy and creative personality" and "luck".

There is some truth to what he says but what he fails to realise - probably because he's "never been and English teacher in Korea" as he points out at the beginning of the article - is that for NETs in the public sector at least, THERE IS quality control because the NET and the KET teach together in the classroom.

Having said that though, I would say that there is a need for reform to enhance the quality of Native English Teaching in Korea and the way NETs are adminstered.

Indeed, since I've been here (some 23 months now) I haven't once been inspected or given any concrete advice on how to teach English. In short, I've been left to my own devices like so many other NETs in the public sector.

In the private sector however, there is a set curriculum and methodology to follow. Although this amounts to some sort of quality control, some NETs I've met who've been teaching in the private sector have expressed misgivings about the method they have to follow wshing to be free to adapt and tailor it to the needs of their students . (Once again the fact that there are NETs with a proactive positive approach to teaching undermines his unflattering description of NETs in Korea).

So there is a need for reform that much is clear and here's what I propose to enable NETs to fulfill their mission which is to improve the English langauge skills of Korean students:

First, I'd recommend an intensive teacher training course of at least one week for all NETs especially because some or perhaps many NETs arriving in Korea have no prior TEFL experience. This would enable these NETs to be not only be familiarised with the TEFL trade but will also furnish them with not only successfully proven teaching methods to use in class but also with the knowledge of the way the Korean education system works and the rules, scholarship and tradition of Korean schools be they public or private.

There is no shortage of funding for such a reform. In the last two months four schools where I teach have received just short of 200 million won to build state-of-the-art "English zone" classrooms in which I teach.

Although it's excellent to have such state-of-the-art technology and resources I cannot help but think that the money used to build these classrooms could have been better spent on training NETs arriving and teaching for the first time in Korea.

In addition to training courses for NETs I'd also suggest the establishment of a lesson bank which I've already proposed to my recruiting company and the local LEA. Imagine all those successful lesson plans thought of by the successive waves of NETs over the years which have all been lost ! Imagine a bank of government stamped and approved lesson plans designed by NETs for new NETs to draw from, wouldn't that be an ideal source of support for NETs new to the TEFL trade and a means to guarantee that students' English language skills are developed ?

Of course, NETs shouldn't be spoon fed so I suggest that NETs be required to come up with lessons, at least one every two months, to be submitted to the LEA. What's more, to be able to draw from a pool of government stamped and approved lesson plans, NETs could be made to submit one of their own in exchange for one from the lesson plan bank.

Another reform proposal I'd recommend would be a tri-monthly inspection of NET's lessons by experts in the field in order to guarantee and help maintain high-standards of English language teaching by NETs.

Also, I think a curriculum that all NETs would have to follow would be a good idea too as it would not only give NETs an idea of what they're expected to teach but also make their contribution worthwhile for the students because the curriculum would of course be designed to prepare students for the tests they'd take.

I'd also suggest that more emphasis be placed on English speaking and listening skills. At present, the mark of oral tests contribute only around 5% of the overall mark of a student's progress in English. If oral tests amounted to let's say 40 % of the overall mark that would spur students to improve their English oral skills more. At the same time, it would make students value more the presence of an NET whose teaching places emphasis on English listening and speaking skills.

As this isn't the case, the lessons students have with NETs is likely to be undervalued by students even unnecessary because what they learn with an NET (mainly English listening and speaking skills) would have little if not no impact at all on their overall grade in English. If this reform were to take place it would certainly make our job as an NET not only more appreciated but also easier.

Finally, I'd suggest that the feedback we give to our Korean co-teacher (in the public sector) or to our employers (in the private sector) on student progress and behaviour in class is taken into account and published into the students' report and in turn relayed to the parents.

Making students understand that the way they behave and progress in English with an NET is taken into account would make them better respect and value the contribution we make to English language learning. As this is not the case at present, there is a strong likelihood that students perceive NETs as a mere source of amusement even unnecessary having no impact whatsoever on their overall grade and record during their schooling.

As a result, it's highly probable the students don't take us seriously as they should and in turn don't fully benefit from the efforts NETs make to help them progress in English.

Posted by JBarker 16:54 Archived in South Korea Tagged living_abroad

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