English teachers not exploited: envoy
To the best of his knowledge, rife exploitation of English teachers by unscrupulous school directors does not exist in Korea, and there does not seem to be a need for a designated liaison for disgruntled English teachers at the embassy, Canadian Ambassador Marius R. Grinius said in an interview with The Korea Herald.
“I do meet a lot of teachers and I have yet to meet somebody that said to me, ‘I have a really serious problem.’ It hasn’t happened to me yet,” said the ambassador.
“The overwhelming experience (of English teachers) is positive; yet, unscrupulous people will always be around. If somebody does get into some unfortunate circumstance, they should come to the embassy and we will try to help them.”
Marius R. Grinius
Last week the Canadian Embassy hosted a gathering exclusively for English teachers at Big Rock Brewery in Gangnam, where teachers were invited to meet the ambassador. Grinius said that of the 10,000 or so Canadians that are registered with the Canadian Embassy in Seoul, about 7,000 of them are English teachers. The event was an attempt for the embassy to “connect a little bit more with the community,” as the ambassador put it. “The business people (already) know us. We want to connect with our main interest group.”
Grinius emphasized that Canadians should be careful when working in a foreign country. “If you’re a young, or old, Canadian looking to teach going halfway around the world, one would think that you would check things out through word of mouth, the Net. There’s a whole bunch of logical steps to take to really feel that you’re not going to be bamboozled. It’s a cautionary tale to make sure everybody does their homework.”
So, what will the embassy do for you if you actually do get bamboozled?
“The embassy at a high level can try to find out what the issue is. We always have legal assistance. We can say to people, here is a list of lawyers and they can choose anybody from that list,” the ambassador said.
“We can go to the appropriate (Korean) ministry and say, ‘What is going on?’ If there is some malpractice going on we could try to fix that.”
On the issue of teachers working here illegally or with fake certificates, the ambassador said that there is little the embassy can do to prevent this from happening.
“There are those people who are going to say, OK, I’m going to teach. I don’t have any certifications but maybe I will get away with it. But usually it catches up to most people … I would hope somebody would think twice about coming up with bogus teaching certificates. If you know what the criteria are, and you meet them, then you won’t have a problem.”
On the issue of racial discrimination against non-white Canadians in Korea, Grinius conceded that the concept of racial equality here is still developing.
“For the first time Koreans are kind of talking about interracial relations and the children of such relations – suddenly being very proud of (Hines Ward) and reflecting on what globalization means and the fact that Korea, as you know historically, has been a very unicultural, uniracial country, and they’re starting to wake up and figure things out.”
But if interviews with some 20 current teachers are any gauge as to whether or not instances of teacher maltreatment are increasing or decreasing, it seems that the situation is, at the very least, not improving.
Almost all of those interviewed by The Korea Herald have experienced some sort of exploitation as a foreign teacher. Problems brought up ranged from the refusal of the school to pay their salary, to violence in the classroom, to outright racism.
One teacher said that she had been teaching university classes of up to 40 students, and “one student had been actually crawling in and out of the window during class to go talk with his friends, and after I kicked him out of class he freaked out and threw his desk at me. No one from the school disciplined him … it was all up to me. There was a complete lack of professional support.”
Greg Snow from St. Johns, Newfoundland, said, “My friend went to school one day only to find that the doors had been padlocked. It turned out that the school was so far in debt that they shut the school and fled to China.”
The question for the Canadian ambassador, who represents more English teachers than any other ambassador in Korea, is whether the number of such instances warrants the creation of a special liaison for English teachers at the embassy.
“Maybe. But it doesn’t seem that way right now,” said Grinius.
By Matthew Lamers
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