Current Teachers
  • Administrative Tasks
  • Co-Teaching Videos
  • EPIK Life Videos
  • School Culture Episodes
  • Volunteer Stories
  • Teachers' Resources
    • General~High School
    • EPIK Teachers’ Essays
    • Korean Teachers’ Essays
    • EPIK Manual for Korean Teachers
    • Counseling Booklet
  • Contest Submission
Overcoming Issues and Improving......(2008. Essay contest)
Overcoming Issues and Improving......(2008. Essay contest)
  Date: 2009-07-18 01:16     View: 1955  

Overcoming Issues and Improving the Native Teacher Program in South Korea


Byeongjeom Middle School

William Donald Hay (Don Hay)


South Korea has developed into a thriving, energetic, and highly competitive country within the world market. It is admirable how quickly it has become so strong and how its economy is one of the leading in the world. The demand for more native English teachers in South Korea is increasing every year due to the global interaction where English is the most commonly used language.  The need has increased so much that the criteria for native English teachers has lessened.  Due to these facts, many issues have arisen and challenges between schools, teachers, students, and communities in South Korea have resulted.  The problems include: miscommunication, inaccuracy of teaching, differing customs, bias, inadequate accommodations, conflicting personalities, etc.  As more and more native English speakers arrive daily, the intensity of these issues rapidly mounts.  There are many debates about how to solve the many issues that have surfaced, yet actions seem to have been slow to remedy the problems at hand.  Although hundreds of new English teachers come each year, there are always many people who do not choose to teach in South Korea due to various reasons like adverse living conditions, small salary earned, disapproving internet postings and negative referrals.  Many pessimistic comments are due to hagwons and private school systems.  It is up to the schools and the teachers to make the one year contract period as positive as possible so that a great learning environment is established.  Some significant ways that all sides can combat these concerns are to implement “Korea and Western” orientation classes, require TESOL/TEFL certification, and create focus groups for teachers and students.   Using one or all of these possible solutions will enhance the mission of the native English teacher program.  These proposals are in no way the only means in which a total cure to the ailing system happens.  These are only a few ideas that will make a major impact to the current state of affairs.

The first suggestion for addressing the issue of native speaker teachers in South Korea today is to implement a   “Korean and Western” classes.  There would have to be a series of classes provided to the native English teachers, co-teachers and the faculty of the school.  The classes would prepare everyone for the potential issues that they may experience.  Ultimately, the classes would help both cultures to understand why the opposite culture does the things they do. 

The first discussion is related to the native English teacher.  The native English teacher may, or may not, have experience teaching children at all, or may not have ever been away from their home country before.  Their first few classes will begin with the Korean culture along with a brief history since that is a huge part of understanding Korean customs.  The class will discuss the hierarchy of the Korean people in society, all the way through traditional foods.  The contents will include the education culture of children discussing the long school hours and rigorous studying habits that the student are expected to endure.  An understanding of the English language studying methodology in Korea has been mostly preparing for tests versus traditional Western style teaching methodology.  The trend is changing, but it will take many years before the system is completely transformed.  Teachers should also be shown the basic differences between Korean grammar/sentence structure and English. Many sounds are omitted in Korean as well.  Learning more about the Korean language and culture will enable teachers to understand the reasoning behind the systems that schools have implemented over the years.  The more prepared the native English teacher is, the more effective they will become and it will decrease the adjustment time for them.  Finally, the native English teacher will need to learn about their role and how it relates to the Korean co-teacher.  This part is also very critical since these two individuals have to work together on every project.  Sometimes there is more than one co-teacher, which makes it all the more complicated.  These relationships are extremely important to the longevity of the native English teacher and to an effective English learning program.  If there are any issues between the counterparts, the students will be in a dysfunctional learning environment.  A healthy relationship will foster greater teaching abilities for the teachers and increase learning abilities for the students, and that is everyone’s ultimate goal.

The second phase of the orientation would be designated for the Korean co-teachers.  This is very similar in many ways to the native English teachers’ orientation.  Co-teachers will undergo an extensive education on Western ideas and culture.  They will have to see what the expectations of most foreigners are and how the co-teacher can assist the native English teacher in adjusting to the students, the culture, and the overall expectations that the school system has prescribed.  The will see that detailed schedules, curriculum, tools, etc. need to be given within the first few days of the commencement of the contract.   The teachers would also observe videos of native English speakers in other countries teaching English so that Korean teachers can see effective alternative ways of teaching.  Teamwork exercises should be done and success testimonials should be shared during this training session.

Quarterly workshops should compliment these two separate orientations between the native English teachers and the Korean co-teachers by the Board of Education involving all of the schools in the designated province.  During each joint workshop, native English teachers and co-teachers should work in a positive manner and concentrate on positive remedies and not be a gripe session.  The teachers will see that there are more successes than failures in the joint teaching arena.  These meetings will enhance all of the aforementioned training and will help ensure a better teaching environment for the teaching team and a tremendous learning environment for our students.  The students will be able to see a difference and will want to get more involved in learning English.  

The thoroughness of the orientations and workshops will enable the school system to concentrate without pettiness between the teachers, to develop more advanced and creative ideas and strategies to teach the students.  During the new few years, the need for hagwons will hopefully diminish due to the new effectiveness of the improved public school system.   Students will become more enthusiastic about learning English and it will be presented to them in a more natural way than it has been in the past.  It will even have a positive economic impact for the Korean society due to the monetary expenditures for private English classes every month. 

The second recommendation to enhance the native English teacher program is to require TESOL/TEFL course certification.  This suggestion is to help ensure that native English teachers have the required knowledge for teaching students.  Most native speakers are generally inept when it comes to English grammar.  Through the natural process of instinctive learning through speaking English as a child we sometimes miss important grammar rules.  It is amazing how many rules we break on a daily basis.  Many native English speakers don’t know the rules of different pronunciations of “the” and when to use it.  The placement of adverbs, adjectives, etc is usually inaccurate as well.   Most native English speakers know what sounds right, but they do not know why.  The list goes on and on.  By mandating teachers to pass a TESOL/TEFL course, it helps make sure that the teachers are reminded of the things that here somehow forgotten or even missed as they grew up.  The fundamental grammar rules will stop much of the confusion that comes from a foreigner giving contradictory information to students who have a very good knowledge of English grammar.  Not all teachers will obtain perfect grammar skills just by attending the course, yet it will improve their English teaching skills and accuracy.  It would be equally important for the Korean co-teachers to pass the TESOL/TEFL course too, since many of them have limited English speaking skills and pronunciation, yet have excellent grammar skills.  Students tend to think that English is not as important when the English teachers are not able to speak fluently in the language that they are teaching.  This new combination of advanced skills will tremendously improve the learning curve of all students.  The goal should be that a student has the conversational ability of a current 9th grader when he/she reaches the first grade of middle school.  If the native English teacher and the Korean co-teacher both have these advanced skills, this goal is highly achievable.

The final recommendation for enhancing the native English teacher program is to implement focus groups for teachers and students.  It has been recognized by many analyst that focus groups are able to identify potential failures in teaching style and methodology.  It is also a great way to recognize our successes too.  Students are very quick to tell us what they don’t like, yet they are equally as fast to tell us what they enjoy.  These groups need to include the native English teacher, the Korean co-teacher, students who actively participate in our daily classes, and those students which just participate arbitrarily. A different focus group should be established for each grade and learning level.  Through these meetings, teachers may be able to find out many activities and teaching styles that everyone will be attracted to.  During the meeting, teachers may give sample lessons to evaluate the responses by the attendees.  Since this is a sample group of the students as a whole, the teachers may find that they have more active, engrossed, and better students by improved lessons.  Although focus groups are very effective, they should not be overused and should not be the only source of inspiration for a teacher’s class.  Focus groups should only be used to enhance the way in which a teacher will teach their students. 

In conclusion, the native English teacher program in South Korea has many obstacles to overcome.  The South Korean government is currently undergoing increased initiatives to bring in native English speakers as teachers.  Their aspirations are to have the Korean student educated and able to speak English fluently.  South Korean government officials are having to evaluate the global demand of native English teachers and are trying to lure the teacher to South Korea versus China, Japan, and other Asian countries.  Europe, along with Central and South America are drawing from the same select group of teachers as well.    Some problems, such as the amount of salary and the decrease of value of the Korean won versus foreign money, prevent many foreign teachers from coming to South Korea.  The main issues found surrounding native English teachers in South Korea include erroneous teaching, prejudices, differing customs, inadequate accommodations, conflicting personalities, etc.  These subtle challenges sometimes prove to be too much for the school, co-teacher, or the native English teacher.  Many changes are beginning to happen, yet many people feel that more radical changes should be put into practice.  The suggestions provided to reduce these prevailing disorders are to institute a “Korean and Western” orientation class, require all teachers to be TESOL/TEFL certified, and to utilize diversified focus groups.  These proposals would have to be used by all of South Korea to ensure that consistent procedures are enforced.  The end result will mean a more qualified English education for Korean students, satisfied Korean co-teachers, and delighted and enthusiastic native English teachers.  The native English teachers would not only stay for longer than one year in South Korea, but they would encourage others to come and teach here.  There are several methods of enhancements that can be entertained, yet these are a few things that will enable South Korea to make positive necessary changes to their English teaching program.  If advancements are made, everyone wins.


print email Twitter icon Facebook icon

  • List