Korean/expat teachers fail to see eye-to-eye

In the late 1980s or early 1990s, Oryang Kwon published (in a KOTESOL/AETK publication?), a piece1 in praise of expat language teachers who went the extra mile, who went above and beyond the call of duty in their availability to students and their efforts to help their students learn English. At the end of the article, he hoped that every foreign teacher could be like this.

In a subsequent issue2, Carol Kim3 attacked the article, citing the unreasonableness of doing what Prof Kwon was suggesting foreign teachers do, even though this was kind of beside the point, because that was actually what he was saying, that teachers were doing more than could be expected from them.

Apparently, judging from the responses to the article Prof Kwon had some suggestions4 about what teachers could do. I had forgotten about this aspect of the article, perhaps because fitting it in with the praise of the teachers who did more than could be expected, and the hope all expat teachers could be like this was difficult5?

Anyway, the attack was followed by a series of responses6 in support of the two parties that partially merged with a parallel discussion of expectations7 of expat teachers and Korean students that started in the same issue as the attack.

Speculating about Prof Kwon’s motivation for writing the article, he always gave the impression he would never let a fear of ruffling feathers prevent him from speaking his mind on an issue, but I can’t believe he expected to work foreign teachers up with his suggestions. Perhaps his intention was to present some ideas that he had for ways to replicate the experience of the students with the pioneering teachers in a framework for the ordinary teachers that followed them and to ask people what they thought. So, the attack probably came as an unpleasant surprise to Prof Kwon, leaving him “scratching his head”, in the words of one of the responses.

I don’t think anyone understood what the motivation for the attack was. Was Prof Kwon being attacked for venturing to characterize the work of the foreign teacher? Anyway this was the impression I think she made on readers, saying, impolitely expressed, Don’t tell me what to do, or alternatively, of ‘biting the hand that feeds it’.

But although the effect of her article was to push back at the notion foreign teachers are only in Korea at the pleasure of their hosts, was this her intention in writing? Or was the attack a vehicle for her to get off her chest some of her feelings about how a teacher (like a housewife)’s work is never done8? Or was it more targeted at the situation in Korea. Intercultural relationships in Korea have been described from the viewpoint of foreigners as “walking on eggshells,” so was she expressing dissatisfaction with the assumptions and expectations foreigners confront in Korea, in a parting shot, as she prepared to leave Korea?

John Holstein, editor of the AETK Newsletter, participated in this discussion, publishing his own article, in which he argued for a misunderstanding of Prof Kwon’s hope that every teacher could be like this. But I think if a misunderstanding was involved, it was a willful misunderstanding. Hoping is not expecting9. As I remember, there was no ambiguity. Prof Kwon was hoping, not expecting. So, I didn’t quite agree.

Talking with him later, I didn’t express disagreement with his point of view. I reminded him of the expression, ‘Your wish is my command.’10 He said that if he had thought of it, he would have used it.

I like to think she and Prof Kwon were expemplifying the problems of intercultural communication, and in particular the Tony Jones11 Principle12 of Intercultural Communication (and Dr Bean Principle of InterPersonal Communication) that intentions, motivations and feelings are never aligned.

Some time after, Prof Kwon told me his article had been reprinted in a TESOL Interest Section newsletter13, probably the TEFL IS one, which must have reassured him that Carol Kim’s views of the article were not in line with the views of representative EFL teachers.

Back to KoreA

  1. The article, Koreans’ expectations …, was actually printed in the December 1991 issue of the AETK Newsletter, according to the following responses, but this issue is not archived at https://koreatesol.org/sites/default/files/pdf/AETK_92–11-1.pdf. This is good as it allows us to read into it our own interpretations of the incident, like a crystal ball. There are no facts, only interpretations, and people only ever talk past each other.

    For example, I didn’t remember Prof Kwon having suggestions/advice for expat teachers in the article. I don’t remember hearing him deliver the original address. I must not have been present at the original keynote address at the October 1991 KATE conference, or I’ve forgotten it, although I thought I attended all KATE conferences before 1992.↩︎

  2. In the April 1992 issue, of the AETK Newsletter Vol. 11 No.2, archived at https://koreatesol.org/sites/default/files/pdf/AETK_92–11-2.pdf↩︎

  3. I knew Carol Kim, but not very well. She must have been married to a Korean man, because she didn’t look Korean. I never talked to her about her article. She once said if she hadn’t become a teacher, she would have been a secretary, implying it had been a good decision to become a teacher and teaching as a career was a worthwhile occupation.

    She probably was the kind of teacher Prof Kwon was writing about. When she left Korea to teach at Boise State University some time after, it was her idea to arrange an interview for me at Inha University.

    In recent years I have tried searching the Internet for what became of her, but never turned anything up. Good keywords for her were hard to find.↩︎

  4. Were they suggestions or advice? What you can do? Or, what you should do? Is there a difference between the two? Is it a difference in the relationships between the two parties, with advisors having more authority than the advised, and the advised having to say whether they followed/will follow the advice or not?

    Were suggestions being seen as advice? Your suggestion (in your eyes) is (in my eyes) advice.↩︎

  5. You’re doing more than can be expected? Here’s some more you can do.

    Thinking about it now, I see the relationship of this suggestion aspect of the article to the praise and hope parts quite like the “what you can do” part of the “what has been said,” “what has been done,” “what you can do” framework of (possibly) Longman’s Language Teaching: a Scheme for Teacher Education series of the period.↩︎

  6. In support of Prof Kwon:

    Arch Gilchrist, letter to the editor, in AETK Newsletter, vol 11, no 3, June 1992

    Jack Large, A response to Carol Kim’s critique .., in AETK Newsletter, vol 11, no 3, June 1992

    In support of Carol Kim:

    Nadra Selmy, letter to the editor, in AETK Newsletter, vol 11, no 4, October 1992

    Virginia Martin, A question of expectations, in AETK Newsletter, vol 11, no 4, October 1992

    In support of both Prof Kwon and Carol Kim:

    John Holstein, Great expectations and the facts of life: Whither .., in AETK Newsletter, vol 12, no 1, December 1992↩︎

  7. Started off by Christopher South, Mitigating circumstances, in AETK Newsletter, vol 11, no 2, June 1992

    my letter to the editor, in AETK Newsletter, vol 11, no 3, October 1992

    A TESOL publication article by James Brown, The biggest problems TESOL members see .., in AETK Newsletter, vol 11, no 4, October 1992

    Virginia Martin, A question of expectations, in AETK Newsletter, vol 11, no 4, October 1992

    John Holstein, Great expectations and the facts of life: Whither .., in AETK Newsletter, vol 12, no 1, December 1992

    Whether this in fact a different stream to that started by Prof Kwon can be debated.↩︎

  8. Is the way I express this inappropriate or sexist?↩︎

  9. Reading the article now, I see he was not saying there was a misunderstanding. He was saying ‘expect’ has different meanings, and if used in one common sense implying some degree of obligation, expat teachers might react with some resentment. He was establishing conditions under which the article would be read in a negative way.

    Expect is polysemous. Expectations can be desired outcomes, just things you want to happen, ie hopes, as in teachers’ lowered expectations of students. Teachers had hopes for student achievement that were not fulfilled, and they’re now looking for less from them.

    Expect can also be used to refer to situations where the cooperation of the other people/things involved is the focus. Teachers expect (ie, require) students to do homework, but also expect (ie, predict) some won’t do homework.

    Some other uses of expect: If you’re expecting, you’re pregnant. And if you’re expecting guests for dinner, you’re not just hoping they turn up, or expecting them to turn up, you know they’re going to turn up, and they know you’re waiting for them.

    Wish is also polysemous. If you wish it would stop raining, you expect it won’t stop raining. You don’t think there is any chance of it stopping. But if you wish someone a Merry Christmas, you’re not expecting them not to have a good Christmas.

    As for hope and expect, if you hope it stops raining, you think there is some chance of it stopping, but if you expect it to stop raining, you think there is only some chance it will not stop raining.

    How do expectations develop? If someone gives you something you hoped for, perhaps (or starts acting toward you in a certain way) often enough, you start to take getting it for granted. It becomes an expectation. That’s just psychology.

    Student: Why isn't the teacher responding to my inordinate request?
    The teacher's always responded to my inordinate requests.
  10. The expression is associated with the djinn in Aladdin’s lamp, but this doesn’t appear to be the origin of the phrase. The earliest reference I could find on google books was to an 1846 play in which these lines appear.

    As I in your esteem would still maintain
    The rank and place a gentleman should hold,
    Your wish is my command.
  11. Tony Jones was the Deputy Director of Studies at the British Council in the early/mid 1990’s, responsible for its ELT program. I had a good relationship with him. He gave a talk to the AETK/KOTESOL Seoul chapter, but he never became involved in AETK/KOTESOL.↩︎

  12. Tony Jones’ Principle of Intercultural Communication was his mock-academic, semi-serious observation about the inability of people with different cultural backgrounds to understand each other’s intentions, motivations and feelings, despite the appearance communication is taking place smoothly. It’s impossible for people from different cultures to understand each other, because intentions, motivations and feelings are never aligned.

    I think his principle does not just apply in intercultural communication. Even for people in familial relationships, intentions, motivations and feelings are never aligned, despite the perception we are all on the same page. Most clearly these perceptions are a mistake when communicating interculturally, but they are equally illusional interacting with people we are close with, and language plays a role in fostering these illusions. All communication is intercultural communication.↩︎

  13. The article as it appeared in a TESOL publication is not at the TESOL TEFL IS newsletter archive The oldest publication there dates from 2011, but I thought I remembered issues archived there dating from 1997.↩︎