So Visa Changes Won’t Cut It … What Would Work?

I recently took off on a mini- or not-so-mini-tirade about Korea visa procedures, which might seem odd as they don’t even affect me personally. It did get me thinking though: it’s easy to criticize, but what would actually help a) keep out criminals/child predators, b) raise the bar for teachers generally, and c) reduce the number of EFL teachers employed illegally?

As far as keeping out criminals or child predators – this is a question for any school and not just EFL schools in Korea, and as someone who has no special background in criminal justice, my advice is pretty limited. Certainly the obvious precautions – which are done in most non-EFL teaching situations but are sometimes skipped if EFL in the demand for “one warm body right now”- would help: checking references and police records, holding different rounds of interviews, conduction observations and ensuring other regular interaction between admin/supervisory staff and the teacher.

In any place though, as in this particular recent case, criminal background checks will not pick out those with no criminal record. There are probably a ton of cultural factors (and again, not just in Korea or Asia, but different factors wherever you go) which make it easier for bad guys to do what they do. They probably adapt that to the situation or culture. Some of the rules in the US that we laugh at because they seem paranoid – like forbidding teachers to hug students – may make it easier to report some kind of predator, or to create an atmosphere where people are looking out for that. It would be interesting to learn if there has been any research on the results of these laws.

There are probably also cultural elements that inspire bad guys to be bad guys. And likewise, if one bad guy is caught and prevented from abusing others – this probably prevents those others from becoming predators themselves. I suppose the point is that the solution is not just catching and apprehending criminals, but preventing them from becoming criminals in the first place. This seems hard to do, especially if the population in question is foreign teachers, because the government making the laws is only in a position to prevent predators from entering the country, not to influence the circumstances they grow up in.

As far as raising the bar for teachers – I think the answer includes some of the same things that would work in other jobs: hiring selectively in general, doing regular observations, requiring certain levels of education or training, providing ongoing training, and otherwise creating a decent work environment with the tools and conditions necessary to do the job well. One factor that is so obvious I almost left it out is that the teachers have to want to do the job well. While employers can obviously look out for this in interviews, it’s not a simple thing to mandate.

TEFL is, however, different from many jobs that on the surface seem similar (other teaching jobs, many jobs which require a college degree generally) because many who chose to pursue it see the job as a means rather than an end in itself.

Lots of people don’t want to move abroad at all, for a month or year or longer, so EFL employers need to work with those who do. As most teachers find out, teaching English, even adults at a language school, is actually a job, but there are some who don’t take the job seriously or make an effort to do well. I think it’s just reality that if schools had to rely on career teachers to teach English, they’d have a much smaller group to work with and would have to offer better conditions to entice people to live abroad. The result is that schools take on some or a lot of teachers with other motives. This isn’t necessarily bad, given that there are plenty who do the job conscientiously despite the fact that it’s not their career, but to be fair to employers it is a bigger challenge to employ people who aren’t particularly interested in the job.

I think the fact that, in the case of language schools, education has become a business makes it a little like health insurance in the US
(see my post on Sicko). There are things which make economic sense which don’t make educational sense and vice versa. That in itself doesn’t mean that putting economic constraints on education always has a bad net result, but it does mean that sometimes solutions that address existing problems AND make economic sense don’t exist. To some extent as long as language schools work on a commercial basis some problems will remain mostly unsolvable.

Stay tuned for some more grand thoughts on reducing the number of teachers working illegally. While you’re waiting, why not mull over what I had to say about under the table jobs?