Thursday, June 2, 2011

An epic rant (on the difficulty of hiring good teachers)

This is from a comment I left at Brian's site two years ago, but in the interest of taking some of my longer, more informative, and/or more researched comments on other blogs and migrating them to my own, I thought I'd reprint this one here in one glorious post.

It starts in response to one commenter suggesting that Koreans don't want native English-speaking "foreigners" to teach English but would prefer to have Koreans teaching English.


[SoKos] want reliable people to teach English. There are some hard-working, clever, innovative, and enthusiastic native-speaking English teachers in Korea — lots! — but there are also some flaky-assed muther fu¢kers who make the whole lot of you look very, very bad, because when hiring schools look at a résumé it's a frickin' crapshoot as to which ones are going to be the guy or gal who doesn't show up on time, doesn't do lesson plans, comes to work hungover on Monday, takes drugs, puts more energy into weekend private tutoring than his/her visa-sponsored (and legal) job, etc., etc.

In the past, I've been in a position of hiring and taking care of "foreigners," and I've gotten really really fu¢ked over by people who just didn't give a sh¡t about their job. There was one person who was hired for a year-long contract and when she heard it might not be renewed started LYING about why she couldn't come in to work. When I confronted her about it, she said she didn't feel obliged because she wasn't going to get rehired — even though she had another two months on her contract and nobody told her she wasn't getting rehired (she was supposed to, but a final decision was not made because of budgetary constraints).

Or the person who made me drop an entire day's worth of work and skip my own grad school classes because she'd lied to us about getting her visa paperwork done, forcing me to go and grovel to immigration.

Or the person who promised to be at a certain place at a certain time but then called in sick because she was actually hungover. Twice in two weeks.

Or the person who walked out because the money wasn't being paid up front instead of at the end like everyone else was getting, while cussing out my superior because the Koreans were all trying to cheat him.

And that was just last week. ;)

In fact, none of them were Black, as the fellow on the right is supposed to be.

And through all this, the native Koreans I work with are just standing there with a collective bewildered look of "WTF???"

And I and every foreigner working with us — Korean or White or Black — is just wanting to shoot these people because it is THEY that are making Koreans distrust foreign workers in Korea because it is such a crapshoot.

Do none of you work with flaky people like I described? Am I just incredibly unlucky in who we encountered? The experience of others I know says, "No," it's par for the course. I know that for each one of these flakes, there are several more who do a passable job, and at least one or two people who really go the extra mile, but there is an inherent insecurity about which ones will that be.

And THAT — plus the lack of time investment that an outsider has put into getting into his/her position — is why the Kwangju School Board or the Seoul Ministry of Education is loath to entrust a handful of "foreigners" (God, do I hate that word) with greater responsibility and authority.

It has to be negotiated and it has to be earned. Nobody, no organization, is really working on the negotiation part. That's what ATEK should be doing, that's what KOTESOL should be doing. Everybody should be returning English teaching to the professional status it once was. The backpackers and those with a non-invested backpacker mentality/attitude are eroding the profession. Not all of them, but a lot.

Trust, professionalism, seriousness, and dedication are what need to become the stereotypes of this profession. Whining about bad treatment is worthless (after a point). Figure out what you can do about you, or rather, what your group can do about your group.

None of these people is me.

The discussion itself was interesting, and I encourage you to go to Brian's and read the rest. One person suggested that "a lot of it could have been avoided if the organization you were employed by took the time to do interviews and get to know the people you were bringing over." To which I replied:

Interview?! We were supposed to interview them?

Seriously, though, we did interview them. Each and everyone one of them, except for the guy who thought Koreans were cheating him by not paying him up front; he was recommended by someone I knew.

None of these people either.

And that is another problem in the Koreans-versus-foreigner dynamic: there is a tendency whereby Koreans feel responsible if they recommend someone for a job (even to the point of troubleshooting if there is a problem) whereas Westerners would recommend whomever is available, and then assume they're doing you a favor (which they are).

There are loads of exceptions to this (I know plenty of Westerners who act very "Korean" about recommendations for important positions, and I know lots of Koreans who go against the Korean grain on this), but it's a good rule of thumb when it comes to understanding the different POV where Koreans and Westerners might be coming from. ...

Even though interviews are a highly imperfect process, it is better to do them than to not. There are types of people you will weed out in an interview that you wouldn't if you saw them just on paper. But narcissists and charisma men who do well in interviews can also be among the least dedicated to their job and workplace, so that's part of the crapshoot.

Sphere: Related Content

8 comments:

  1. there is a tendency whereby Koreans feel responsible if they recommend someone for a job (even to the point of troubleshooting if there is a problem) whereas Westerners would recommend whomever is available, and then assume they're doing you a favor (which they are).

    Well, rather than being a Western vs. Korean difference, I think it has to do with the backpacker mentality of some of these foreign teachers. I certainly know that people who value their professional reputation in America certainly don't just hand out recommendations. Even applying for an internship as a high school student, I was asked to get 2 recommendation letters to work as a candy striper basically. And there was also an interview process with a board of 3 other volunteers who asked my why I wanted the position, etc. Anyways, these slacker English teachers really don't understand the value of professionalism in Korea AND AMERICA and that is why they will act so casually in the Korean workplace.

    I disagree that giving a random recommendation is doing one a favor when the recommender does not care to check the qualifications of their recommendee. So basically, they are just throwing someone from the street at you. "Yeah, I know a guy. His name is Tom. He's okay, I think." Better just to put an ad in the paper. The whole point of getting recommendations is to ascertain that the candidates have been vetted to a certain extent. Otherwise, might as well just find someone on the street.

    Personally, I really don't see the big deal in finding the right people. If you have a good sense for people, then it should be no problem. You shouldn't just go by what they say, but their demeanor, your own intuition, etc. The questions you ask are important, but it really is just a way to spend time with them, getting to know the candidates as people. Even if they answer all the questions correctly, you still need to follow your own instincts and trust your own judgment.

    I just don't understand people who act that way. At some point, you just need to have pride in yourself, your own work. At least, have the decency to live up to your obligations.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The fact that one would give recommendations so carelessly just shows how clueless and ignorant they are, period. I think that can sum up a main reason for the grievances of many English teachers in Korea. They act ignorantly, unaware of how they come off to Koreans. They take things out of context, creating greater misunderstanding for themselves AND OTHERS through their ignorant rants. And they wonder why some Koreans have such a low opinion of them, why they have such a hard time in Korea? LOL.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Are schools rejecting highly qualified, professional teachers in favor of scruffy backpackers? I don't think so. Hiring good foreign teachers is not a crapshoot. I served on our university hiring committee for four years and every single one of our hires was a good choice. Our university contract offered a high salary for a teaching load of only 12 hours a week plus full summer and winter vacations, so we attracted dozens of applicants with impressive resumes, many of whom had lived stable lives in Korea for years. Modest pay for a heavy teaching load with little vacation time and no long-term job security = slim pickings at hiring time.

    ReplyDelete
  4. itissaid wrote:
    Well, rather than being a Western vs. Korean difference, I think it has to do with the backpacker mentality of some of these foreign teachers. I certainly know that people who value their professional reputation in America certainly don't just hand out recommendations.

    I think you are right about that. I know plenty of Western professionals in Korea (both teachers and non-teachers) who take their recommendations very seriously, as I did with the person mentioned in the original post (really, her 180° turnabout floored me, as she'd given me no such indication in the capacity I'd known her in, but I think the economic collapse — this was very late 1990s — had jaded her a bit).

    It is, as you say, the slacker/backpacker mentality that's too blame, to a large extent.

    It is also, if I did not make this clear enough in this post or elsewhere, also the fault of the balli-balli hiring process, though that's sometimes unavoidable when filling a position where your original person just decided not to show up (yes, I'm speaking from experience) and didn't bother to tell you until the day of.

    Personally, I really don't see the big deal in finding the right people. If you have a good sense for people, then it should be no problem.

    I agree with you, but that's not always foolproof. Also, a lot of the people doing hiring simply lack the language skills or experience in a cross-cultural environment to pick up on the warning signs. This is why they so often end up going for superficial criteria, like where someone graduated from school and appearance (e.g., the guy with bad teeth probably has some issues that the guy with perfect teeth does not).

    I have a business model for helping out such people, which I may try to put in place when I'm back in Seoul, but I know even then it wouldn't be foolproof.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Sonagi wrote:
    Are schools rejecting highly qualified, professional teachers in favor of scruffy backpackers? I don't think so. Hiring good foreign teachers is not a crapshoot.

    It being a crapshoot doesn't mean you always pick losers; there are plenty of good people that get picked through the process as well. Like I said early on in the post, there are lots of good teachers among the bad apples as well.

    And speaking of bad apples, I think when you're talking about jobs that require a master's degree or better, you start getting into an apples-and-oranges comparison. Completion of graduate school is in and of itself a tremendously effective gatekeeping function. It tends to keep out the flakes, the lazy, the un-driven, the druggies, etc.

    Thus, you would have an easier time at that level getting a perfect record of hires than if you were only requiring bachelor's degrees. But the hagwons and the public schools can't afford to offer conditions like what you described, so that's what they have to do.

    And the problem is that they have a lingering bias that a bachelor's degree is an indication of good character. :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Exactly. You get what you pay for. Korean K-12 schools and most universities simply can't or won't pay for highly qualified foreign teachers from English-speaking countries. If Korean schools were more willing to hire teachers with experience and native-like English from non-English-speaking countries, they would have more and better choices. US public schools hire foreign citizens through the Visiting International Faculty program to fill shortage areas or work in schools that have a difficult time recruiting competent US teachers because of poor working conditions. By law, these teachers are paid on the same salary scale as US teachers. Like all former K-pats, I am fully aware of the bias towards native speakers. I am simply clarifying the choice that Korean schools have: either sift through a mixed assortment of Western teachers or expand hiring to citizens of other countries. If the US government is willing to hand out employment visas to foreign teachers whose first language is not English, the Korean government ought to consider this option.

    ReplyDelete
  7. It is also, if I did not make this clear enough in this post or elsewhere, also the fault of the balli-balli hiring process, though that's sometimes unavoidable when filling a position where your original person just decided not to show up (yes, I'm speaking from experience) and didn't bother to tell you until the day of.

    Well, the scenario of someone not showing up may be "unavoidable", but I still think one should not rush the process and if one needs to speed it up, there are ways to make it more efficient. But thinking of those ways in terms of a "system" is not really helpful because even if one goes through the protocol, it is not full proof. Just because you put a candidate through the "proper" drills does not mean that you will get the result you want. I just find the whole idea of a defined course of action just a way to make oneself feel better, to tell oneself that whatever happened, at least I gave it my best shot. But at the same time, that still does not guarantee a result. So then, what do you do? What can one do?

    To start off, one should not take action just for the sake of action, just to make yourself feel productive or effective. Don't make it so complicated. Don't make it more complicated than it needs to be. Just focus on what you want, get to a place where you feel GOOD about receiving what you want, and allow yourself to be guided. Don't just be an indiscriminate actor just because society has conditioned us to be so action-oriented. Yes, there is a place for action, but you will know that time when you feel it. People are too caught up in the conventional ways of making things work. Yes, interviewing has worked for many people and also not for others. If taking action was enough, that would be enough to secure the right candidate, but it's not. So then, something else is at work here. You've got to look beyond the surface of what makes things "work" and actually see what DOES work.

    ReplyDelete

  8. I agree with you, but that's not always foolproof. Also, a lot of the people doing hiring simply lack the language skills or experience in a cross-cultural environment to pick up on the warning signs. This is why they so often end up going for superficial criteria, like where someone graduated from school and appearance (e.g., the guy with bad teeth probably has some issues that the guy with perfect teeth does not).


    I hope the bad teeth example was just arbitrary as that reflects more of a health concern rather than qualification. Anyways, the ability to screen candidates well does not have as much to do with language or cross-cultural skills as you think. Perhaps, Koreans are too generous in their assessment of foreigners and so will give them TOO MUCH benefit of the doubt, seeing a character flaw as a Western/foreign idiosyncracy. But one does not need cultural/language skills to assess the heart of another individual. Or their attitude. Perhaps that individual may not do everything according to your culture, but you can know the place they are coming from. I can tell whether someone is genuine, responsible, etc. after looking at them, interacting with them for a while. It is their attitude/heart that is most important. If you can assess that, you don't have to deal with people being irresponsible, not showing up. That is not say that it won't happen, but it will be something out of character for them.

    I have a business model for helping out such people, which I may try to put in place when I'm back in Seoul, but I know even then it wouldn't be foolproof.

    It's not about a "model". Life is not math. Reading people is not math. You just have to go by your feelings, taking into account the objective information you have received as well. There is no "formula" to this. It is an art, a skill.

    Even if you hire the right person, people can make mistakes. Is there a way to avoid this? Yes. The experience does not end at the interviewing room. You're still dealing with, interacting with the candidate and that affects the performance, experience you will get from them. How do you create the experience you want? I just told you. Focus on what you want. Get yourself to a place of feeling good emotionally about it. Then, allow the guidance to come and take it. Follow it.

    ReplyDelete

Share your thoughts, but please be kind and respectful. My mom reads this blog.