Mike says: I received the following from a long-time native English teacher in South Korean public schools. This teacher wanted to share his/her feelings about the experience.
The other day I was thinking about how I would describe a career as a foreign EFL teacher in public schools in South Korea. With so many ways to think of it, I could only come up with one that truly describes my personal feelings after nearly 7 years in the public school system working under contract with local and provincial education offices. My position leaves me feeling as if I am little more than a used car to those that are “in charge.”
Think back to the purchase of a new car if you have ever made such a purchase. You get the car and it is all shiny, clean, and perfect. That was me as a new teacher in Korea. I was shiny and clean. There were no dings on my body and no scratches on my paint. The owners, the office of education and school, were so happy and they wanted to take care of me and show me off to all of their friends. They wanted to maintain me with regular servicing in the form of pay increases, ample vacation time, and a schedule that didn’t put 100,000 km a year on the odometer.
As time has passed, they have taken away a large majority of the regular servicing in the sense that vacation time has decreased by 50 percent, pay increases have stopped, the number classes has increased, and employer provided housing has taken a hit. Like a used car, they see little need to maintain us. They want to drive us harder and faster and then they want to take us to the scrap yard and get a new model.
I am not saying that this problem is unique to Korea and that it doesn’t happen in other places. I would be naïve to think in such a way. I also understand the way that Korean contract teachers are treated. Many of them are treated as if they don’t matter and they are forced into doing everything that the “real teachers” don’t want to do. During my time in Korea, I have worked with some contract workers who have English skills and teaching knowledge that surpass that of a large majority of the “real teachers.” Unfortunately, they were unable to pass a test, which many of the older “real teachers” never had to take, or their major was something other than English and they will be confined to the role of a disposable used car like many of us.
Many of them will never receive the recognition or benefits that they truly deserve. A clear case of this can be seen in the following statement that was published in a recent article in The Korea Times. “The government has refused to recognize that two part-time teachers at Danwon High School, who perished in the ferry Sewol sinking, died while on duty because they were not full-time teachers who are categorized as public servants.” So, they were not on duty because they were only part-timers and not “real teachers?” Do they not deserve any recognition for their service or sacrifice? According to those in charge, they don’t.
Some will say that this is life and it happens to everyone. I cannot deny that this is life and it happens, but does it have to happen? Would it hurt the people in charge to give a few more benefits and treat people with a little more respect based on their time of service? I feel like it wouldn’t hurt them at all and the trade-off between a greater expense and the quality of employee work would probably come close to evening out for all involved parties.
In closing, I would like to say that the things I have written only reflect my views on how some NETs and Korean contract teachers are treated. In general, Korea is a decent place with a lot of nice things to offer and a large number of people that are good and hardworking. However, until the “owners of the car” decide to maintain their automobiles better, the junk yards will become full and harder to keep out of sight.