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EPIK 10th Year Renovation (2008 Essay contest)
EPIK 10th Year Renovation (2008 Essay contest)
  Date: 2009-07-18 01:13     View: 2226  

EPIK 10th Year Renovation

The best way to recruit teachers is to keep the teachers we already have!




Undong Middle School

David W. Fingerote



A very famous American movie details the struggles and eventual success of a group of kids playing baseball on a team called the “Bears”. Some of the children were playing for the first time, some weren’t very athletic, but all were looking for guidance toward achieving a common goal on the baseball field.  We GETs (guest English teachers) also come together for a common purpose, to teach English.  Just like the Bears, some of us have never taught before and some of us are nervous about our teaching abilities.  Our shared goal of becoming successful members of our schools as well as members of Korean society aligns us with the Bears.  The Bears became successful when they found their strengths and used them to support the entire team.  EPIK too can become a stronger organization by locating its internal strengths, using them to help support new members, acknowledging those who work hard, and inevitably retaining a larger number of teachers. We teachers must work together in an effort to produce fundamental strategies for EPIK and its employees just as the Bears’ coach brought cohesiveness to his team while making each member feel like an active and valuable participant. We can all celebrate EPIK’s 10th birthday making sure that three key areas are targeted:

I. Ensuring that new GETs are well-informed about their lives and jobs in Korea.

II. Providing a comprehensive (work and life issues) support system for teachers currently working within the EPIK program.

III. Transforming EPIK into a more enticing career option by providing veteran GETs with an option for career advancement.


The Situation

EPIK began as a formal organization ten years ago and after nearly ten years of supporting GETs, it is time for us EPIK teachers to support a reformation that will streamline the transition of new teachers into their roles as members of our EPIK team. The EPIK coordinators do an outstanding job of alleviating the initial anxiety by greeting teachers at the airport, providing accommodations with warm meals, and providing a healthy amount of information that is crucial for new GETs.  After the issues of shelter, cuisine, and communication are settled, GETs begin to worry about the larger issues that will impact them over the next year. I have experienced orientation from the perspective of a new GET and a presenter and believe I am aware of the most common concerns voiced by new and current GETs. These concerns are directly related to what they can expect from their job and what will be expected of them by others in Korea and at their places of employment.

New teachers at orientation addressed conflicting information that they acquired regarding appropriate interactions with co-teachers, interactions with students, and responses to every day experiences in Korean life.  It occurred to me that, if from the start of orientation, EPIK were to provide new teachers with a reliable support system for matters in and outside of school, much of the anxiety that new teachers feel could be mitigated.  

Veteran teachers have expressed concern about whether EPIK's inability to offer them any form of promotion or extra responsibility will negatively affect them in their future job searches. Creating a team to tackle new GET’s concerns will provide a new opportunity for expert GETs who want more responsibility. In order to gather GETs, EPIK coordinators need only identify and solicit the teachers who are willing to help.  The majority of the work will be the responsibility of those individuals who have volunteered their time to make it possible.


The Solution: EPIK TASK

  The components of such a support system should be gathered from individuals who know EPIK best, veteran teachers.  The individuals who are accustomed to EPIK are those who have chosen to familiarize themselves with the inner-workings of the organization by excelling in their workplace, working with the EPIK office, and participating in other leadership roles.  The EPIK office could identify and recruit these individuals by requesting applications for membership to EPIK T.A.S.K. (Teacher Assistance Support and Knowledge). 

The benefits of EPIK TASK will affect everyone participating in EPIK from top to bottom. The EPIK office which currently “runs a counseling office where bilingual coordinators handle over 340 phone calls, visits and e-mails everyday” will provide itself with a group of well-trained individuals who can give support to the office as well as other GETs (Korea Herald, 2008). With the help of TASK members located around the country, EPIK will be able to redirect some of the phone calls and emails to TASK members living and working in the areas where people have concerns.  A large portion of the questions that can’t be redirected will be answered by materials produced by TASK (available either online or at orientation).  TASK’s new level of support and organization will also produce positive side-effects related to the teachers who participate.

These changes will assist EPIK in retaining more of its experienced teachers, whereby keeping their knowledge and experience in the classrooms and in the organization. It is widely known that “[Institutions] that provided mentoring and induction programs…had lower rates of turnover among beginning teachers. In addition, [institutions] that provided teachers with more autonomy and administrative support had lower levels of teacher attrition and migration (Guarino, 2006). Similarly, “contemporary literature indicates that more experienced teachers will have a higher retention rate than new teachers.  The longer a teacher is at a particular district, the greater attachments they have in the school. Experienced teachers also have roots in the community.” (Eller, 2000)

Veteran teachers will benefit by having something to work towards if they aspire to play a larger role in the organization.  Many times in our mother countries, as far as employers are concerned, one year of EPIK teaching experience is equal to two. The opportunity for personal advancement is important for those teachers who intend to pursue teaching as a career outside of Korea, and this support structure could potentially provide a solution.

Most importantly new EPIK teachers will know from the beginning of their tenure that there are experienced foreign teachers who are focused specifically on making their transition as smooth as possible. Given that the majority of EPIK teachers are placed as lone teachers in a particular school or area, proximal mentors could combat feelings of isolation, a common trend in Korea.  A Stanford graduate reflects on what made him decide to continue teaching while many of his colleagues changed fields shortly after beginning.

Lee Swenson can point to two major factors that have kept him teaching while others have left the field: a close-knit department in which teachers collaborate and support one another, and the opportunity to develop his career. During lunch each day, teachers show up and swap ideas about lesson plans, tests and classroom management. That’s a missing ingredient for a lot of teachers. It makes you want to go to school, and not just for students, he says.  Swenson has also worked under administrators who encouraged him to take on new challenges. He has attended workshops and has helped develop curriculum at the district level. “That is a large part of my happiness,” says Swenson, who believes teacher retention might improve if more schools provided similar opportunities. (Foster, 2001)

     With specific regard to providing employers and employees with tools to promote employee retention and career advancement the city of Detroit developed a Regional Career Development Ladder which I have adapted for the purposes of EPIK. Their suggestions include:

I) Develop organizations that are valued by employers and are cost effective to implement: The EPIK TASK will prove to be invaluable in saving time, money, and resources of the EPIK organization. The members will already belong to the EPIK workforce and, as the team is voluntary, will not necessarily require extra compensation.  The TASK members can make themselves available via email or an exclusive EPIK online forum on which they will answer questions and provide information.

II)                      Provide mentors the tools to effectively support new employees: As veteran GETS, EPIK TASK will collectively have similar experiences and will have the main duties of working together to transform those experiences into meaningful, useful, and purposeful materials to be used by new and current GETS.


The Stuff: Materials

What specific services will EPIK TASK provide in the immediate future?  Though there are many jobs, large and small, that can improve the working and living conditions of GETs, a handful of preliminary duties will greatly increase the efficacy of the next orientation. 

All of the following suggestions can alternatively be made available online.

I.  Video detailing an efficient and effective classroom. Such a video can be produced at a school with the necessary equipment (video camera, students, GET and co-teacher). As the Korea Times recently reestablished, many teachers leave orientation with many important questions: "First, I didn't exactly know what to teach. I also didn't know what my co-teachers expected from me. Was I supposed to teach alone or with them? Were they going to translate everything I said?" (Korea Herald, 2008) TASK’s video will help to answer these most commonly voiced concerns.  The video will need to exhibit as many aspects of a properly run classroom as simply as possible. Topics should include: what a classroom looks like (set up, variations of student composure), appropriate discipline techniques, the necessity for creating a routine for students (Engage, Study, Activate), possibilities for GET and co-teacher interactions, and at least one example of a real lesson in a real classroom with real students and a co-teacher. It’s not important that this video display the ideal classroom, new teachers want to be prepared for how difficult it can be in a real class, as Clarissa McHale understood, “We need to see teaching in its natural environment with actual students where the teachers must overcome cultural and language barriers! We need to see teachers exercising classroom management skills!” (McHale, 13).

II. A manual providing basic lesson plans for each of the communication topics covered in the various English books used throughout the country.  Ms. McHale again emphasizes a critical point that “most [GETs] do not know the curriculum requirements their co-teachers follow nor have they ever seen their students’ textbooks” (McHale, 6).  As far as I know the elementary schools all use the same English books, but the middle schools have a variety to choose from. A simple way to cover the majority of topics is to compile the language points from each chapter of each book, find the overlap, and use this template to produce bare-bone lessons for each topic so that any teacher in a time of need can confidently turn to the booklet and have a useable lesson at their disposal (the same can be done for a catalogue of after-school lessons).  Of course teachers will retain the freedom to create the lesson differently, but the necessary component of support will be ever-present. Furthermore, with this information added to the general orientation book, staff and presenters will always have an answer to the “What will I teach?” question. This also serves to standardize the English that students across the province receive, and eliminates potentially duplicated lessons given by replacement teachers who do not follow a curriculum guideline.

III.                Basic Maps of rural communities. With the growing number of teachers inhabiting rural communities, many worry about how to locate necessities when alone.  If someone currently living in those areas produced a basic map of restaurants, PC rooms, and other places of interest as they are located relative to the person’s school or house, these additional problems could be solved.

                  There exist far too many examples of situations that new and current teachers are likely to find themselves in, but these small steps toward supporting new teachers, as well as veterans, will lead EPIK into its second decade with a refined and matured spirit.  EPIK will be recognized as an organization focused on support and inclusion of its members, all in the name of helping the students of Korea achieve their goals.




Eller, S., Doerfler, C., Meier, K. (2000). Teacher Turnover in Texas: Problems and Prospects.

EPIK website.

Foster, C. (2001). Why Teach? K-12 education still attracts the best and brightest. Keeping

             them is another matter. Stanford Magazine.

Guarino, C., Santibanez, L., Glenn, D. (2006).  Teacher Recruitment and Retention: A Review

             of the Recent Empirical Literature. Review of Educational Research.

Korea Herald Newspaper Online (11.18.2008).

McHale, C. (2007). Playing English Instruments. EPIK Reunion booklet. Ministry of Education

             & Human Development.

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