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The Work Attitude of (Some) Expat Teachers

perfect university(A PERSONAL ESSAY)

I started teaching here in South Korea in 2013. For six years now (going 7) that I have been working with expat teachers from different parts of the world, mostly from countries where English is the native language. Rarely do South Korean universities hire Asian ESL teachers (like me).

Those years I worked with my fellow expat teachers gave me the opportunity to witness first hand their brand of professionalism (or the lack of it). I saw them work, I heard them talk, and I witnessed how they behave as persons and as professionals. My being given by the university where I am teaching now the privilege to be a head professor for three (3) semesters a few years back allowed me also to have an access to information about them. In addition, for the past four years, I have been a member of the university’s   hiring committee and I have literally gone over hundreds of résumés of ESL job applicants. A few of those applicants were first-timers and the majority were attempting to transfer from other universities here. That enabled me to scrutinize their academic and employment background. I discovered that MANY of those moving  from other universities are not teachers by profession and it was their first time to teach when they were hired as ESL teachers here in South Korea. In the job interviews where I was assigned to be a member of the panel of interviewers, I came to know more about the expat teachers.

Sometimes, even without me asking, tactless birds from the grapevine would tweet to me a thing or two about my fellow expat teachers. I am also a member of an organization of Filipino professors teaching in different universities here in South Korea and during our meetings I would be getting more information about ESL teachers from different countries in their respective workplaces which kind of confirmed my overall perception and observation about them.

I have become so awkwardly familiar with my fellow expat teachers’ behavior in the workplace. I can describe vividly their work attitude. And this personal essay is exactly that – an exposé about the work attitude of some expat teachers here in South Korea.

Anyway, these are just my personal observations. I may be wrong. But what if I am right?

Before I proceed though, let me just clarify that MOST of the expat teachers I worked with in the past years (and those who are still with me where I am currently teaching) are very good ones – personally and professionally. But as you may have noticed, I used MOST, not ALL, for the obvious reason that there are a FEW bad apples.

Yes, there are a FEW bad apples. And you know how the saying goes – “One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel.” For the bad decisions they make as persons and professionals, there is a possibility that employers will think that all expat teachers are like them. That’s my worry.

I hope that Koreans wouldn’t think that expat teachers are alike. MANY of us are serious with our work as ESL teachers here but those FEW who don’t might be creating a negative perception about us.

I witnessed how certain policies were changed in my workplace in response to the bad decisions some of my former colleagues did. Remember that when school administrators implement a new policy or amend an existing one in response to the wrongdoings of one bad apple, the changes will affect all expat teachers and not only the one who did something wrong.

There are expat teachers everywhere who complain a lot about what they perceive as imperfections of the universities where they belong. Some of them would say things like “In my country, this is not the way we do things.” Others would make some unnecessary comments about this country and its people as if they themselves, their respective countries and their countrymen  are perfect and blameless. If that is the case, why did they decide to leave their countries and work here? If their universities back in their countries are the best and most ideal why didn’t they apply for teaching jobs there? Why are they here in South Korea? Did they come here to whine?

This reminds me of what one of my former colleagues from the US said sometime ago when he got so frustrated about the complaints of our fellow expat teachers – “Why can’t this people accept the fact that the reason they are here working as ESL teachers is because they couldn’t get a decent job back in their own countries.”

The problem with the expat teachers who have a lot of complaints about the policies in their universities, and granting that their complaints are valid,  is that when their employers offer them a contract for the next school year they would sign their names on the dotted lines. They would come back and still teach in the universities that they malign so much.

Is that a dignified thing to do?

If these expat teachers think that the system in the universities where they are currently working is rotten, why do they keep coming back? (I personally know some of them.) Is salary the reason? Is it the reality that back in their countries they will not be able to earn the money they are being paid here? Would they even qualify to teach in their universities (or are competent enough to be chosen among qualified applicants)? Is it the fear that should they not accept the contract their present university is offering them they may not be able to convince another university to hire them?

These expat teachers claim that they are complaining because they want to change the system. Really? When will the  Don Quixotes  stop fighting the windmills? Okay, if they insist, here is my advice – They should request a meeting with their respective university Presidents and present to them their complaints and the reforms they want to implement. Let’s see what happens. If they are really the idealists that they are seemingly trying to  project themselves to be, they should do this.

These expat teachers should express their grievances and suggest the reforms they want, not to their colleagues during meetings, but directly to university officials who have the power to implement changes. Or better yet, go either to the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Labor and file a complaint against whatever is it that they think their university is doing wrong. That is if aside from barking they are also capable of biting. That is if they got balls. If none, they’d better keep quiet and just work. They should not waste the time of their colleagues listening to their whinges and whines.

One thing that I have noticed that most of the expat teachers I met who are fond of complaining are the teachers who are not “trained to teach” but are “forced to teach.” They are not “real teachers” but “pretenders.” Please click this link if you want to know how I differentiated the “real teachers” from the “pretenders.

The way they conduct themselves as professionals, deliver instruction, treat their students, and comply with the requirements of the job are telltale signs that they have no formal training as teachers. And truth be told – SOME expat teachers here in South Korea were not trained to teach. They have no degrees in education. They were lucky to have been hired. Well, they trained as teachers on the job. Hopefully, they eventually became “real teachers,” no longer “pretenders,” after a year or two. But wait… did they?

What is so frustrating is the ones complaining a lot are not doing their job the way they ought to. I witnessed how SOME of them sweep  their incompetence under the rugs of their complaints. They thought that they could hide their inability to perform and deliver by verbally assaulting school policies and administrators who are not present to defend themselves.

I have some colleagues who voice their discontent about policies but at the same time perform their functions as best as they could.  Their students never complained about being shortchanged. They know that whatever disagreement they have with policies, it’s between them and the school administrators. The students should never be caught in the crossfire. They help in solving issues that could be remedied.   They are professionals and I admire them.

I could go on and on and say a lot more about the work attitude of SOME expat teachers here is South Korea, but I need to stop at this point.

Let me just give the following parting shots: Expat teachers should perform in such a way that nobody would accuse them of being “mercenary teachers.”  And if they think the universities where they are currently working do not measure up to their personal core values and standards of excellence, what should they do? Nobody is forcing them to stay. They should go and find their perfect university.




My Essays on Education

educationThe year  South Korea hosted the Summer Olympics was the year I started my journey as a teacher. That was 1988.

Those many years I spent in the academe, 24 years in the Philippines and 6 years here in South Korea, taught me a lot about the teaching profession – more than those that I learned from undergraduate and graduate schools. My experiences as a classroom teacher and as a school administrator enabled me (and they still do) to look at issues, problems, and disputes using the lens of the one teaching and that of the one formulating and implementing school policies.  My having been in the position of  both made me understand how it feels to be in-charge of students and to be in-charge of both the teachers and students.

Those 30 years in 10 different schools in 2 different countries made the following very  clear to me: that it is not easy to wear the hat of a teacher; that teaching is not just another job; that teaching is not just a means of livelihood but a way to serve; and that everything schools, from the simplest activities to the most complicated policies, should be student-centered because the students are the reasons schools exist.

There were many times that I reflected on teaching as a profession and education in general. Those reflections resulted to essays and research works.

This is where I put them (essays I wrote on education and  some of the research works I have completed  here in South Korea) together. I added also in this section the dissertation and thesis I wrote as requirements for my PhD and Master’s degrees, respectively.

In the university where I completed my PhD and Master’s, the research papers  students are required to complete are called differently –  dissertation for PhD and thesis for Master’s.

The other studies listed in the subsections identified below (with links) include those that I presented in international conferences and were subsequently published in SCOPUS-indexed international journals. Papers published in international journals are usually longer that the versions presented in international conferences.

The following is my most recent research work:

English Proficiency of Tourism and Engineering Students in Two Asian Universities – A Comparative Study

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I presented this in an international conference in Manila earlier this year and is currently waiting approval for publication in an SCOPUS-indexed international journal.

Links to the international journals where some of the articles were published  as well as links to the websites of the conferences where they were presented are provided on the pages allotted for the papers.

This part of my website is divided into the following subsections:

My Essays on Education

Papers Published in Journals

Papers Presented in Conferences

My Master’s Thesis

My PhD Dissertation 

Unpublished Papers

My website also features the following section:

Personal Essays

Most of the articles found in this section are my very personal reflections on education.


How Different Are Teachers From One Another

617286-Teachers-1381640520No two teachers use the same lens when they view teaching as a profession. They don’t have the same set of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values either. Like their fingerprints, their mindsets, tendencies and other personal qualities are very unlikely to be identical.

Even if  teachers are made to use a similar lens, they would still look at their job (as teachers) differently. They have perspectives, educational and personal,  that are uniquely theirs – or  some of them may have none at all.

When given the same course syllabus, we should not expect them to map out their daily lesson plans in the same manner. They would design learning activities and deliver or carry them out in ways they see fit. Some would not bother to plan anything

The work attitudes of teachers are also not the same.

There are those who are so conscious about the number of hours they are required to serve as stipulated in their contracts. You could not expect them to go overtime and do extra job – unless you give them extra pay.

Conversely,  there are teachers who are willing to go the extra mile. They assist their students beyond their assigned teaching hours and volunteer for tasks and do things not  written in their job description, expecting nothing in return.

Of course, the worst are those teachers who either come to class late or dismiss their classes earlier than expected – or both. For reasons only them know, they do not perform their assigned tasks the way they ought to. They submit required paperwork either late  or not at all.

If you are a teacher reading this, here is a question for you, “In which of the three groups do you belong? Of course, only you know. At the very least, be not the one described in the preceding paragraph.

There are teachers who are eternal fault-finders always trying to find something wrong –  either with the policies being implemented or with their colleagues and administrators.  And should they succeed in finding one, they would either whine or gossip about it, or both.

Teachers also differ in the way they treat their students.

Some teachers would set standards that are difficult to achieve while others know how to calibrate their standards to give even the slowest of learners a chance to succeed. There are teachers who have “one-size-fits-all” mentality thinking that educational processes  and approaches to teaching and learning are standard and could not be tailored to meet individual needs. Conversely, they have counterparts who understand that students have different learning styles, abilities, and personal backgrounds. They know that they must recognize the uniqueness of each student (or groups of students) and differentiate their methods and strategies as teachers. These teachers don’t believe  that standards are absolute.

Describing how teachers are different from one another could boil down to the following statements: 1. There are teachers who display both passion and compassion – they are passionate about their job and compassionate to their students; 2. There are teachers who have only one of the two; and 3. There are teachers who do not have both.

And again, if you are a teacher reading this, here is another question for you, “Which of the three statements in the paragraph above applies to you?”

If it’s the third one, you could be in the wrong profession. Think about it.

Now, let’s try to find out why teachers are not the same.

In doing so, let’s answer the following questions:

“Why do teachers view their profession (or approach teaching) differently?”

“Why do they have different work attitudes?”

“Why are some passionate with their job and compassionate to their students while the others are not?”

Before we answer those questions, it is important to note  that  there are only two ways to classify the way teachers perform – effective or ineffective; two ways to label their work attitude – good or bad; and two ways to view the way they treat their students – fairly or poorly.

What could be the reason teachers treat their students the way they do? Some teachers are perceived by their students as mean, unfair and inconsiderate. Is it because these teachers were not taught by their parents the values of kindness and fairness during their formative years? Did their experiences in life make them rude? Or were they treated in the same way by their former teachers and they are thinking that being mean, unfair, and inconsiderate to students is nothing but normal.

Teachers need to be reminded of the importance of establishing a good rapport with the students. In several studies conducted, what emerged as among the  top qualities of effective teachers as perceived by students include “the ability to develop relationships with their students” and “patient,  caring, and kind personality.”

As Andrew Johnson puts it, “Teaching starts with a relationship. Until then, you are just a dancing monkey standing up in front of your students performing tricks.”

The hardest stone that school authorities could pick up and hit their heads with is if they would decide to hire a “nonteacher” to be a teacher. There are teachers in (some, a few, or is it many?) schools who are not really teachers by profession.  They either have non-Education degrees or they did not receive any kind of teacher-training but were lucky to be hired for whatever reasons only those who hired them know.

How could a “nonteacher” be effective and passionate in a job completely alien to him/her?

Being a math wizard doesn’t give one the right to become a Math teacher. Having a perfect accent and impeccable grammar in English doesn’t make one qualified to teach English. These are things I emphasized in one of my essays about teaching It doesn’t mean that if you know it, you can teach it.

How do we expect somebody who has no training in pedagogy to be effective in preparing a lesson plan – to set objectives, to choose the strategies and methods appropriate for a lesson and the levels of students, to motivate students before delivering the lesson, and to create tests intended to measure and evaluate learning.

Do you really think that teaching is just another job?

How do we expect a “nonteacher” to understand what kind of work attitude teachers should have – to agree with what Ben Orlin said that he sees teaching as an act of self-sacrifice, as a hard path undertaken for the greater good.

So, when colleagues in the academe are not performing and behaving the way a teacher should, check their academic background. They could be “nonteachers.” And pardon me using the word “nonteacher.” It’s not in any dictionaries I checked online, except for one –  I just can’t think of a word to label professionals in the academe that were allowed to teach even if their degrees are not related to education or they did not have any training as a teacher at all.

But a more serious concern in the academe is this – Why are there teachers who were trained  to be teachers who  act as if they themselves are “nonteachers”?

The way teachers perform are dictated by the personal educational philosophy they developed when they got exposed to the many isms they studied while pursuing their education degree. Such philosophy would evolve through time as they accumulate actual teaching experiences.  Teachers also have personal belief systems that inform whatever  decision they make. Or their decisions are influenced by the colleague they surround themselves with.

The way teachers behave and talk reflect the kind of personal educational philosophy they have (or the absence of it). The way they conduct themselves as professionals depends on whether they adhere (or not) to the code of teacher professionalism.

When teachers act and speak strangely, it is possible that they don’t know that there exists a code of professionalism created so teachers would be guided accordingly. Or they chose to ignore it.

But even if let’s say teachers are not aware of the existence of such code of professionalism, common sense would tell them that they ought to be careful with whatever they say or do or else they will be charged with conduct unbecoming to a teacher.

That is if they care and it’s not only the paycheck they are after.

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