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.
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.
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?