They dare ask for help

“This is why we can’t have nice things” wrote a friend as he linked to yet another of those Facebook posts. Maybe you know the ones. The type where the author offers a friendly greeting to the English education focused group and states  how she is teaching a new class this term. She mentions having no experience teaching this sort of class and asks the group for help. This type of post is commonplace here in Korea especially in late February and late August just before the start of a new term.

I didn’t take the time to ask my friend what bothers him so about these requests for help but I have a few ideas and guesses. First is the idea of foreign English teaching folks at Korean universities not being qualified to teach the classes they are teaching. (Side note: I am always leery when using this word “qualified” because I never seem to know what it means to different people or even myself. ) It could be about these instructors not being experienced enough in the areas they are teaching. From there I wonder if he is concerned about the negative impact on the students or the the oft-maligned reputation of foreign (particularly English) instructors in Korea. Or maybe both. Or perhaps he thinks uni instructors should be clever, resourceful, talented and with it enough to find their own materials and ideas without relying on such help from such groups. Another thought is about the timing of such requests. Maybe my friend believes instructors should be more prepared and on the ball and tackle these issues as soon as possible instead of waiting till immediately before classes start.

I suppose should just ask my friend what he meant by this.

UPDATE: 
I sent my friend the above. Let’s see what he says whilst I write the rest of the post and then I can address his points.

 

welcome aboar

 

I don’t want to speak for my friend or put words in his mouth but I get the sense he is focusing his disdain thoughts on the teachers but not so much on the admin and those in charge of making such scheduling decisions. I’d also question how it comes to be that these teachers are placed in such situations. I think the administrations need to fall under this scrutiny. On a larger scale I think there is something to consider as related to idea teachers *should know how to teach. I am a bit torn here because I have recently been in situations where I was teaching outside of my comfort zone and area of expertise  stuff I know a bit about. I think this is inevitable if you teach long enough and I even think it is desirable and useful in terms of development.  You got to start somewhere, homes. Also, if admin asks you to teach a course I feel it is usually a good idea to agree to do it, right?

As related to the update above, my friend got back to me immediately and we had an interesting chat on Facebook about this as well as some related issues like the global perception of English teachers in Korea. “Hi, nice to meet you all. I have never kissed anyone before. Any tips on threesomes?” was his quip in reference to his perceptions of the teachers making the kinds of posts we are talking about. My takeaway from this, aside from my loud laughter in a public space, was the idea teachers need to walk before they can run. Yet, I am still thinking teachers need to continually gain new experiences if they want to keep improving.

Adding to my list of issues he has with these type of Facebook posts my friend added, “It’s also about the screening process for job candidates.” I think this is a good point and I think there is a lot to it as well.  Before reading this I was thinking more in terms of what to do with instructors who have already been hired but I think this is a key. If you know potential hirees will be teaching academic writing it might behoove you to hire teachers who can do this.

Sorry, but I can’t help but keep coming back to issues related to race and native speakers. If people are hired mostly based on factors other than teaching skills it probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if their teaching is not up to snuff. 

My friend added to the list of his problems with these types of posts by saying “And what about the lack of training and professional development for new hires? The should pay me to come in and talk to them for a few hours.” [Those interested in hiring my friend for a workshop, presentation, or seminar series can send me an email and I will get you in touch! I will even waive my customary 10% finder’s fee if you mention this blog post.] He went on to talk about the perceptions of teachers and professionals in this field and country and what goes into hiring them.

I like this idea about training and development and I believe there is more to consider here. I wonder what sort of training and development would be most beneficial to help these teachers in need. My intention in writing this post was to somewhat defend or at least try to understand these instructors but one part of me can’t help but wonder if they are asking the wrong questions and just looking for quick fixes. Asking for materials this time will give materials this time but I am not sure it how helpful it will be next time when another new class is suddenly and inevitably thrown in their direction. I think what I am suggesting is more skills and training in curriculum development could be beneficial across the board in such situations. Or there could be something about knowing exactly what you don’t know and relating this to what you need to know in order to teach as well as possible. 

Thinking more deeply about this I get the sense my friend sees such posts on Facebook groups as symbolizing a lack of professionalism. Maybe as a foreign university instructor in Korea he doesn’t want to lumped in together with people teaching classes they are seemingly not capable of teaching? For whatever reason this connection doesn’t really bug me at all. I don’t feel my professional reputation is at stake when people in the country I happen to live in are asking for help and advice teaching classes they have not taught before. Longtime readers of this blog will know I think about accountants and plumbers a lot. Would an accountant care if a firm across town hired someone not quite ready for the job? Would a plumber be overly concerned with rivals doing jobs they’d not yet performed?  Maybe so, and maybe these comparisons are far from apt as I am really just wondering aloud here.

Regarding this Facebook posting phenomena, there might be more than meets the eye. Perhaps rather than a lack of professionalism these posts show a lack of suitable and helpful networks and communities of practice rather than a lack of professionalism. I mean, I think more experienced teachers might have their go-to people for certain issues and wouldn’t feel the need to publicly seek out help from virtual strangers. Pun intended. Perhaps these posts are examples of teachers just looking for a pat on the back and an empathetic note saying, “I have been there too, you will be fine, I am sure.” Maybe they are looking to make connections with educators in similar (and new to them) contexts. Maybe they feel relatively confident but write the posts in a humble manner so as to garner as many responses as possible. I realize these maybes are not super likely but I also think they, along with other maybes, could be worth considering.

I know as well as anyone that certain things are going to bother each of us and this is something which doesn’t annoy me or even appear on my annoyance radar. For what it is worth, I have enjoyed writing this post and thinking about this topic. Special thanks to my friend for getting this conversation started and for keeping it going throughout the process of writing this post. I will give the last word to my potentially grumpy friend, “I am all for teachers posting and trying to get better, it’s when they post in the hope of becoming adequate that I become grumpy.” Thoughts, rebuttals, agreements, disagreements and requests for help very welcome.

Advertisements

14 comments

  1. Chewie (Gangwon Dispatches)

    Good ideas here. My area gets a lot of people who are brand new to ELT and I think it’s my job as District Coordinator to offer resources and links to useful things for them. The idea centers on educating them rather than chastising them. I understand your friend’s point, but perhaps what you said about the lack of resources is closer to the truth. It’s been my experience that admitting ignorance is far more beneficial than flying blind. This why I wrote “Survival Guide: Books For ELT/EPIK” (http://gangwondispatches.blogspot.kr/p/books-for-eltepik.html) and started to write “More Than Surviving” (http://gangwondispatches.blogspot.kr/p/eflesl-books.html). The idea was to write a reading list for those who are either preparing to teach for EPIK or are already over here and need assistance. The education books I’d read for my English Education degree were helpful, but they were for an American/English Literature context and not ELT. It was only in the past year/year and a half that I found blogs like this one and other resources for ELT. Since then, I’ve endeavored to pass the information along to colleagues in the field.

    Again, thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    • mikecorea

      Hello and thanks for the comments, sir. I am glad you found the post thought-provoking. I was thinking it was a very narrow topic but comments like yours helped me see there can be a lot to think about on issues that didn’t originally seem so.

      One thing that came to mind when reading your comments was about so many teachers being brand new. I wonder if the good people of Gangwon would be surprised to learn the % of foreign English teachers that are completely new. Maybe they wouldn’t care or be surprised, I really don’t know. I can’t help but return to the whole “native speaker” thing. Maybe lots of parents and tax payers think experience/knowledge/access to resources/adaptability don’t really matter as long as the teacher is a native speaker. I mean no disrespect to anyone doing the job of course. Just a thought that occurred to me.

      Finally, It was also nice of you to share the links to the pages you created. Thanks.

      • Chewie (Gangwon Dispatches)

        Thanks for compliments!

        Actually, you’ve raised a fair point about whether or not the good people of Gangwon-do would be surprised to know if EPIK teachers had taught before. I should note many EPIK teachers *do* have a TEFL certificate or have some experience in teaching or tutoring prior to coming to Korea. For the majority (like myself), it’s their first time overseas. You’re correct to note that it may indeed be more about being a “native speaker” than about being “experienced,” yet in my experience, schools do value experience and qualifications. Further, since EPIK teachers teach with a Korean coteacher or Korean English teacher, the Korean teacher can handle, say, the detailed grammatical explanations. Most of the time, anyway.

        While rereading this post and your comments, I remembered what you wrote about your first teaching job in Korea–the boss gave you the coursebook and told you that you had a “free talking” class in 5 minutes. Perhaps he did so because he was pressed for time? Perhaps because as a “native speaker,” you were innately qualified to do so? Or perhaps he did so because he felt that since he hired you, you should be ready for anything. Maybe “I hired you; be ready to do whatever I say,” is really what’s going on when people ask for help when they have to do a course for the first time.

      • Chewie (Gangwon Dispatches)

        *the. Didn’t proofread.

        Also, to @sophiakhan4: Yes, I know what you mean about “Hi…I haven’t done the work, but…” Sometimes I read questions that way too, but then after a second, I think, “Wait. I don’t know this person. Maybe he really doesn’t know. Then again, there are times when that abbreviation RTFM comes to mind, particularly when it comes to stuff like “What do I need to teach for EPIK?” because it’s basic info that’s on the website. It all depends, really.

  2. @sophiakhan4

    Hi 🙂 I don’t have a problem with people teaching a course that is “outside their comfort zone” at all. I will always try to help such colleagues if I can – as you say, we all have to keep developing and trying new things, and indeed we all have to start somewhere. I’ve been in this situation in the past and I’m sure I will be again, and if experience has taught me anything with teaching, it’s probably that “fake it till you make it” is an Actual Thing. But it reminded me of people who post things like “Hello, I am studying a master’s in applied linguistics and I have to write an assignment on [x]. Please can you tell me how to answer this assignment and send me all your useful references. Thank you.” This aggravates me. Any post that (I infer) means “Hi, I have done no work or research but would be very grateful if you could do it all for me” will aggravate me. But I won’t reply in anger, and I think it’s nice that your friend vented to you, rather than flame the poster. I’ve seen this done, and while I often secretly enjoy a truly blunt response, I can’t help feeling that if we are operating in a professional discourse community then we have to behave accordingly, despite the temptation to do otherwise. This is especially true when the responders are ‘elders’ in the community, considering that the poster is probably, or admittedly, fairly new/innocent/lamb-to-the-slaughter.

    I do understand your friend’s frustration though, for all the reasons you and he have described. I think the point about employers though is a key one. I’ve been recently ‘inexplicably’ irritated by a non-teaching friend who went for a job with [prestigious ELT massive worldwide company] as a ‘trainer’ because she had ‘done training before’ even if she didn’t have (quote) ‘that CELT [sic] thing’ (unquote) and in fact didn’t realise there was really an element of teaching English language involved whatsoever. So I guess I need to thank you for helping me to put this in the right perspective. Now I’m thinking, why shouldn’t she, if they give her an interview and are willing to take her on without the minor issue of, you know, ACTUALLY TEACHING ENGLISH, ever raising its miserable head? Uh oh…I’m angry again ☺ Sorry for shouty caps. Basically – why shouldn’t people post things asking for help on the internet in whatever half-arsed manner they like? I don’t care. You don’t have to answer. And they’ll make a pig’s ear of it or they won’t. This is their responsibility and their employer’s. (Yes, students get the short straw – also the employer’s responsibility, as are consequences). What is at the basis of what makes me grumpy is the old problem of the lack of professionalism and standards in this industry. To me the original post in itself isn’t the issue – it’s that it throws into relief the fact that English language teachers who are smart, dedicated, and well versed in their craft aren’t valued in this industry. #endrant #manyBritishapologies

    • Rob Dickey

      Agreeing with Sophia… Teaching outside your comfort zone is part of professional development. Hey, people retire (etc). While it’s unfortunate these questions get raised mere days becore start of term, sometimes there are late course assignments. Nerves increasr days before a new term and sometimes people want assurances. Finally, dismissing other as unqualified borders on pretentiousness. There are legitimately competing different qualification systems. And pay systems. And targets for teachers, e.g. ‘native-speaker vs. near-native proficiency vs. bilingual.’

      • mikecorea

        Thanks for commenting, Rob.

        I think I agree with you on “dismissing other as unqualified borders on pretentiousness” but at the same time I wonder if there are certain basic expectations that employers should and could have regarding instructors’ ability to organize and teach certain classes (new or not)?

        Just thinking aloud here and I think you make some very good points.

    • mikecorea

      Rants are very welcome here, especially from you and especially when followed by many apologies, especially British ones.
      I think what you wrote here makes a lot of sense and I am happy if my original was slightly helpful in adding some perspective to the frustration you felt with your friend.

      Sometimes I find myself wondering where exactly my indignation comes from on many issues in this industry. Here in Korea I hear a lot about unqualified teachers and as I mentioned I get confused about what it means. I think for my sanity I just have to think that is between the employers and customers and not really any of my business. I think I go back and forth on this but that is my current thought.

      I think you are right on and onto something about the issues of professionalism and standards in the industry as well as the perceptions of those outside of it. You wrote, “To me the original post in itself isn’t the issue – it’s that it throws into relief the fact that English language teachers who are smart, dedicated, and well versed in their craft aren’t valued in this industry.” This leads me to think there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about what it takes to be a successful teacher and relates to to the idea that anyone can be thrown into a classroom and teach. I don’t know if I am making sense.

      • @sophiakhan4

        Yes you are making sense. That is exactly what it is about. Waters are muddied by the fact that so many people thrown into the classroom DO do it really well. This is not due to training but due to simply having brains, empathy and research skills. These people would probably blow the crap out of other jobs they accidentally found as well. But those excellent untrained teachers are a minority rather than a rule, I would suggest. In most cases, employers, student and would-be teachers themselves would greatly benefit from a firm foundation in terms of teacher training, which included some guidance in where and how to seek specific further information. I think all teachers (EFL or ‘mainstream’) should have the same foundation. I suppose demanding information in a blasé way is annoying in that it suggests that the poster is just as blasé about their own teaching, i.e. not treating it as hard-won and ever-evolving.

  3. Bryan

    How many professors get any training on how to teach before starting? Usually they’re hired on the basis of their expertise (demonstrated by their degrees, dissertations, etc.) and thrown into a classroom. A recent episode of EconTalk (one of my favourite podcasts) talked about this a little- how it’s assumed that if you’re an expert at something, you’ll know how to teach it, but that clearly isn’t true. My point is that this is phenomenon is hardly unique to Korean ESL. Not that this makes it right, but I think this kind of perspective is helpful.

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for commenting, Bryan!

      You asked, “How many professors get any training on how to teach before starting?” I think this is a very important question.I think in other fields the answer might be something like “not many at all.” But, in ELT I like to hope and believe it is higher.What do you think?

      Your point on what gets people hired really got me thinking. Maybe it calls into question the usefulness of a lot of training and education?

      Regarding experts not necessarily being able to teach, this is something I think about quite often. I think the presumption of expertise equating to being able to teach something is pretty silly.

      Bringing it back to Korean EFL, what expertise are university instructors supposed to have other than teaching English? I can’t help but think as ELT professionals there *should be some sense of adaptive expertise and readiness to roll with things and deal with new challenges and courses as they arise.
      (This is not to say that asking a simple question on a FB group implies people are incapable of doing so)

      Thanks for the exchange!

  4. mikecorea

    Here is a response to the post I got via Facebook. I thank the commenter for allowing me to paste it here.

    Read your blog post about asking for help with how to teach a class. Just thought I’d drop you a thought.

    Back home I’m a Psychotherapist. I came here to teach for one year as an adventure, then would go back and take my life right back up again. But now I’m starting my 4th year here.

    When working in Mental Health agencies, it isn’t so customary, but happens often enough to be somewhat regular, that another therapist will ask a question similar to this. “I’ve got a new client that…. Have any of you done anything that worked really well with such a client?”

    I suppose if you were fresh out of school it would raise eyebrows similar to what your friend feels. But with other professionals who are secure in their abilities, throwing a question out and seeing what response you get is just a brainstorming session. We’d all do fine on our own, but getting other ideas is nice and gives us more options.

    At one place I worked at we had weekly team meetings where people throw out dilemmas with clients and get feedback from the other Therapists on ideas. People participated freely and didn’t worry about not seeming competent.

    Of course there are probably many motivations for the posts in question. But some may be just tossing something out to see what brainstorming ideas come back. Before fb, they probably would have just gone ahead and done it their own way. But like with a Team Meeting at my work, why not throw it out there and get some ideas.

    I’m a believer in secret groups on fb. That way people can ask anything without worrying that others can see the posts. Sometimes on groups that aren’t secret I worry about what Koreans will think about us when they read them. Perhaps your friend is worried about what others will think if they see such posts.

    Just some thoughts on your blog post.

  5. Pingback: Lazy or typical? | ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s