On Taking Responsibility: From The Korea Times

A second-year participant in the EPIK program in Korea recently published an article in the Korea Times (thanks to Tesall.com for the link) essentially saying teachers need to accept more responsibility for how their jobs turn out. I’ve quoted him frequently because I don’t have personal experience with Korea; despite this, I think his message is extremely important in any teaching context.

He initially responds to the comment on a message board that “your experience [in the EPIK program] will totally depend on the school you are placed in.’’ He takes issue with this, pointing out that while co-workers and administrative staff at the school will play a role, saying it all comes down to luck “eliminates any responsibility that the native teacher has over his own experiences” and asks “… intelligence has nothing to do with choosing a job? How about wisdom? Reflections on one’s life experiences and lessons learned? And careful planning? Do native English teachers really think that teaching English in Korea comes down to rolling the dice and hoping for a lucky number? Do they not see that this fatalistic attitude contributes, in part, to any bad experiences they may have?”

He assert that in life in general “we make our own luck” (I must say I think there is a lot to this even if I wouldn’t apply in universally). How do we do this, and by extension, what can teachers in Korea do?

“By doing research; by making the right friends who advise us wisely; by surrounding ourselves with good people; by using our common sense, intelligence and life experiences to reach certain conclusions; and, most important of all, by not listening to ignorant and bitter people, especially over the Internet, who do not have the best interests of others at heart.”

And finally he puts into words something I feel I took issue with here, but I didn’t explain as succinctly.

“We [native speaking teachers] are not innocent victims. We are willing participants in this Korean/Western dance. Sometimes it’s an ugly tango full of stumbles and missteps, while other times the dance is pretty much in sync. But we are all willing participants in the lives we have chosen for ourselves here in Korea. This “playing-the-victim-card’’ when it conveniently suits our purpose cheapens the fact that there are very bad experiences here for foreigners such as nasty hagwon directors, late pay or no pay at all.”

It’s worth noting that he does acknowledge that there are very real bad experiences. The message here is not that you don’t need to worry about problems in Korea, but that as teachers we need not to just sit back and throw up our hands and call it inevitable – we need to put the time and effort into securing a good situation. Certainly in any country there can be EFL employers who lie and mislead and are practiced at it; this may be hard to identify in advance. But again, that doesn’t mean that all are like that or that research will be fruitless.