Eduardo, Harry, and Daljeet walk into a bar…

The title is not the start of a bad joke but rather the start of a true story that could serve as a parable of sorts. The names have been changed to protect the mostly innocent. Keen observers and those who know me in “real life” might be able to figure out who the people are and that is fine. 


Picture it. Haebangchon, Seoul 2012. Eduardo, Harry and Daljeet walked into a bar. Over too many gin and tonics they caught up on each others’ lives and teaching situations. The conversation, as it frequently did, turned to their complaints about the EFL industry in South Korea and around the world.  They bitched about TESOL organizations, textbooks and the admin where they worked among other things. On this night, the topics that drew the most ire were racism and native-speakerism in Korea and around world. As the drinks flowed the rage grew. While the lads had all been hired as “native speakers” and benefited from the situation in Korea, they were driven by a sense of fairness as well as hopes that Korean students would get the best education possible. They could see this was not happening.

Eddie, Harry, and Daljeet had varying degrees of experience working with untrained native speakers and felt the system was broken. They had seen and dealt with a lot of shite native teachers and didn’t think the way hiring foreign teachers in Korea was reasonable or helpful. They had varying degrees of disdain for the hiring system and its results.

The boys had all finished their MAs in TESOL or Applied Linguistics within the past 4 years and were deeply affected by their readings, discussions, and assignments related to native-speakerism. They were hyped up on ideas of fairness and equity. And yes, gin.

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Courage

Harry mentioned how he’d recently seen a job ad requiring only native-speakers from a small list of countries to be hired as teachers in Seoul.This was it. After talking bitching about the situation for an hour this ad set them off. There was nothing particularly new or different about the ad but it happen to be in front of them. It came to symbolize everything that was wrong with the industry.

Job ads usually contain contact info. This particular ad contained the contact info for the Korean-American coordinator, including his cell phone number. Can you see where this is going? Yep. All fired up on gin and equity they decided to place a call to the coordinator.It was just after 11:00 pm.

They decided not to call the coordinator on their cellphones (for fear of callbacks and/or repercussions) and decided to call via Skype. This being Seoul there was wifi in the bar. Eddie was carrying his laptop with him, as he is wont to do.

Eddie left a series of semi-coherent messages imploring the coordinator to change his ineffective and immoral hiring policies. He appealed to the coordinator’s sense of fairness and justice. He talked about helping Korea get away from the perception of racism in its hiring practices and how the hiring just native speakers might be hurting Korea. Since he only left messages we can only guess about the impact these messages might have had. My guess is that they were not very effective. The coordinator probably listened to them over his morning coffee and thought some people have too much time on their hands.

With some distance I can say Eddie (who is, in fact, me) is much more of a fool and perhaps a coward than a hero. He called out the coordinator for a policy the coordinator surely is not in charge of. It is an issue of visas and not the coordinator’s own personal preference or racism. This decision was made by people much higher up.

I think  these phone calls were a case of the wrong target and the wrong approach. I don’t think it is useful to vilify someone for something they have no power over. What would I have the coordinator do, leave his job in protest in order to be replaced by someone who would have the same directives? I believe the above story is an example of misguided idealism and poor manners.

I wrote above that this story happened in 2012 but it could have been 2013. I think it was 2012. In any case it was surely before I was aware of TEFL Equity Advocates. A recent post over there highlights “Five ways to speak out against the discrimination of non-native English teachers” This post would have been useful for Eddie/Mike and the boys back then. I think there is a good reason why “leaving slurred messages on coordinators’ voicemail” is not mentioned as one of the five ways.

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Rather than finishing on a self-flagellating note perhaps I can share some good news. Last week at the KOTESOL National Conference I had the pleasure of speaking to Lindsay Herron, the President of KOTESOL. She informed me that KOTESOL had a new policy for their job board and suspected I might be happy to see it. I was, especially since  in the past I wondered if TESOL orgs should allow ads with discriminatory language.

I mentioned at the start that this could potentially be something of a parable. So, Dear Reader, any takeaways you’d like to share?

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19 comments

    • mikecorea

      Thanks so much, Clare! I appreciate it. Sometimes I am halfway done writing something and worried nobody will care or be entertained or anything so this is very nice to read. 🙂

  1. Hana Tichá

    Hi, Mike. The sentence that struck the chord with me most is “I don’t think it is useful to vilify someone for something they have no power over.” This reminded me of my favourite idiom we use in Czech ‘to cry at the wrong grave’. Well, I guess some ways of showing disapproval and more effective than others and one probably does what they can in a certain stage of professional development. But even if you cry at the wrong grave, someone might hear you in the end and direct you to the right place. So, no matter how many shots of gin you had on that night, you did the best thing at that moment – you named a problem. 🙂 Thanks for an interesting post.

    • mikecorea

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I am actually generally optimistic about things changing in Korea and around the world even if I can be cynical at times. 🙂

  2. Marc

    I suspect things could be different in Korea regarding NNEST employment. In Japan you are unrestricted in your work if you have a spouse visa or special long-term residence visa. Yet schools still shun all but those from inner circle countries.
    Takeaways? Maybe a few drunken calls to the place the job was advertised would have been better.

    • mikecorea

      Hey Marc,
      Yeah in Korea you are mostly restricted to work in the place you got your visa through (there are exceptions for those who have been here a while or people that are married) but for the most part the visa is tied into one specific employer and the passport has to come from a particular place. I honestly think it was just a decision made back in the day without thinking too much about the implications or the reasons for it. I think it might be because the powers that be figured it would be easier to have this blanket policy rather than making decisions on individual qualifications/skills of potential English teachers.

      I think this sort of leads into your takeaway in that someone took that job ad and might be better positioned to effect change.
      Of course the govt. also sets the visa conditions and all (and I am sure it is not an easy process to change things) and the recruiter/supervisor placing the ad is not in charge of such things. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • Marc

        Other than spouse visa holders, instructors and specialists in humanities services need to have 13 years education in English to work as English teachers. This basically means Native Speakerism rules to an extent.

        I think if Korea and Japan decided to go Thailand’s route and make sure teachers (got) qualified, it would be good in the long term but chaotic in the short term and line Cambridge/Trinity’s pockets.

      • mikecorea

        That is good info. Thank you. And I thank you for your response(s). I remember in the wake of IATEFL I saw lots of talk of things like “IELTS for everyone” and I couldn’t help but think that is great news for Cambridge/BC/IDP and not necessarily great news for the majority of working English teachers around the world.

        That said, I can’t help but think there would be a huge advantage to countries like Japan and Korea in opening things up and hiring the best they can get rather than some native speaker who doesn’t care about teaching or the country or whatever.

        I am toying with the idea of trying to write on op-ed on this very topic this summer.

        On Mon, Jun 6, 2016 at 9:34 PM, ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections wrote:

        >

  3. Jamie C

    I badgered an HR guy on Facebook recently who had posted a ‘natives’ only teacher ad in a Ho Chi Minh City expats group. His response was pretty much ‘Cmoooooon maaaaan, leave me alone’. He didn’t change the ad, then asked me to try and find my inner peace. Another expat was badgering me at the same time as to why the ad was unfair. It’s an uphill struggle.

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for sharing this Jamie.
      I can see how it is an uphill struggle. I’d be curious why the expat was badgering you.
      Was he worried about his wallet? Did he think you were being overly sensitive? Did he think it is of course unquestionable that “native teachers” are superior? I am just sort of wondering aloud here….And also thinking about how one might try to change the hearts and minds of such people.

  4. marekkiczkowiak

    I had a similar experience myself. One Sunday morning a poster from an IH school in Poland came up in my news feed. The slogan on it was: ‘English with the English in English’. Before I considered the consequences, I shared it on my FB wall and on TEFL Equity Advocates. You can imagine what the comments were. IH came in for quite a lot of criticism. And not expressed very politely. As it turned out, I managed to piss off the school director as he felt publicly attacked. Contacting the school directly and expressing my concerns about the poster would have definitely been more productive. Difficult to be diplomatic all the time, though. Sometimes the blatant native speakerism in ELT is a bit too much to take.
    Great post, Mike. And great to hear about kotesol change in policy. There will be an interview with the president about this soon on TEFL Equity Advocates 🙂

    • mikecorea

      Hey Marek,
      Thanks for commenting!
      Actually, I did see the back and forth about the IH school in Poland and felt a bit uncomfortable. It felt a little bit like a witchhunt to me at times. Also, I didn’t see those “defending” the ad to be making much sense either. It got me thinking about the best way to tackle these issues (and might have influenced my decision to write this post!). I don’t mean to say that you were wrong to share it because I think we need to shine light on things.

      Your point about the difficulty in being diplomatic all the time is well-made and well-taken. I guess it is a balance like many things.

      • marekkiczkowiak

        Hi Mike,
        The only argument they used was that I was scapegoating IH Toruń in public. With hindsight, I should have probably written to the school directly first, before making the matter public. On the other hand, if you post posters like that one on social media, then you can expect that they’ll be shared and commented on. Also, I’m getting a feeling the school still doesn’t see anything wrong with the poster. Innocent promotional material. No bias against ‘non-native speakers’ at all.

      • mikecorea

        Thanks for the response!

        I feel like I am arguing (which is not quite the right word) at least two sides here but…. Umm. If they don’t think there is anything wrong with it, how could they ever object to someone sharing it? Isn’t that the point with such ads? I fully agree ” if you post posters like that one on social media, then you can expect that they’ll be shared and commented on.”

        Yet at the same time I think it is too easy to attack an ad/company/whatever from afar without knowing the particulars of that country/culture and this is what sort of made me uncomfortable from the exchange you mentioned. Again I am not criticizing your choice to share it (which i think was more than reasonable)

        I think there is a lot of room for discussion on these issues. For example, I cannot say here from Seoul what the exact racial makeup of a particular ad in Poland *should be.

        On Mon, Jun 6, 2016 at 10:35 PM, ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections wrote:

        >

      • marekkiczkowiak

        So I guess because they don’t see anything wrong with the ad, they felt they were being publicly attacked and slurred on FB.
        While I agree to an extent that you need to take the particulars of a given country into account, I’m afraid that if taken too far, it could lead to moral relativism. The racial make up of the ad was controversial too (only white faces). And the fact that Poland is a very homogeneous nation (90% could be described as white) doesn’t justify it. After all, English is an incredibly diverse language. Posters like that mislead sts into thinking NS=white.

  5. Sophia

    “Leaving slurred messages on coordinators’ voicemail.” I would like to see more research into this as a method for effecting social change. I suspect it could be more useful (and entertaining) than is commonly admitted.

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