[Letter to the editor]A plea for common sense
I was an English teacher in South Korea from 1997 to 2000. My stay in Korea sparked a life-long interest in Korean culture and history.
Since my return to Canada I have completed a master’s degree and have begun teaching history and political science at the college level. I am saying all this to establish that I have strong ties to Korea and that I am a professional educator.
Recent developments in Korea have shaken English education there.
Foreign teachers with fake diplomas have been arrested. Criminals were unmasked (Mr. Neil for example) and illegal teachers jailed and deported. This has led the Korean government to take a long, hard look at policies regarding the hiring of foreign English teachers.
This was, in my opinion, a long overdue self-examination. Korean students could only benefit from a stricter selection process for foreign teachers.
I even applauded an initiative to require criminal background checks and degree verifications for all applicants for teaching visas.
All this time, I had planned to return to Korea in 2008 with my wife, a Korean, and our son so he could learn Korean properly, connect with his Korean heritage and spend time with his grandparents in Busan.
We had planned that I would take a one-year sabbatical from my teaching position here in Canada and move to Busan. I was planning to teach English again and was looking forward to living in a country I love with a family of in-laws very dear to my heart.
Then came the shock.
It seems that I am no longer qualified to be an English teacher in Korea.
Indeed, one of the many changes implemented by the government to better control the quality of English teachers in Korea has been a change in teaching visa eligibility for Canadians. People from Canada who graduated from French-language universities were declared ineligible to teach English in Korea.
The measure may seem sensible at first glance. However, it will eliminate many qualified teachers without giving them the opportunity to prove they have the required proficiency in English. It would not be that complicated to verify that an applicant has the necessary mastery of English. A simple test or interview would do. The new policy does not even allow this much.
My current job requires that I teach and grade academic papers. My students are in large majority native English speakers.
I also have more than two years of experience teaching English in Korea and have been teaching since. Yet, according to the new rules, it would be pointless to even apply for an E-2 visa because it would be rejected based on nothing more than a cursory look at the university I graduated from.
I find this measure close-minded and completely inflexible. It does not take into account past experience nor the linguistic reality of Canada. Furthermore, it cheats Korean students of many qualified and highly motivated teachers. In the end, this change in policy has led me to give up my plans to come back to teach in Korea. The result of this decision may be insignificant in the larger picture, but it is symptomatic of what Korean students are losing: motivated, dedicated and experienced educators disqualified solely by speaking English as a second language, although fluently.
Language education is about far more than being a native speaker.
Jean-Francois Marcoux, a history and political science teacher in Quebec, Canada