Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pillars and Foundations

About a month ago, we had a very interesting experience. Our Education Director “Ronny” informed us a few days in advance that we would be having a teacher training day to explain the new system we will be using here at Yangpyeong English Village. What we got was more than I think any of us expected.

The morning started off with Ronny asking us why we were all here. At first we thought that this was just a rhetorical question, but then he asked each of us to give a brief statement that could be written on the board. The end result was a list of about 10 reasons ranging from “Job Opportunity i.e. money” to “New Experiences”, to “Making English Fun!” and even “Self Development.” Hokey, I know but I have to admit that I found some value in what he was doing. I’m not entirely sure that the rest of the foreign teachers felt the same way. The point he was trying to make was that these are the things we should keep in mind as we go through our challenges here at EV.

The next order of business was to discuss the future format for the 5 day Power Speaking program. I believe this part went relatively smoothly. Really the only complaint that was raised was that there was too little focus on education and too much focus on the having fun part of the lessons.

Now this is the part were things got interesting. The President of YEV, who happens to be a pastor, gave a rather long winded speech. I’m going to attempt to sum up his 40 minute speech in about 4 sentences.
The best teachers are the ones who are entirely self motivated, never complain, and selflessly make any and all sacrifices possible for the sake of even the worst of students.
These are the kinds of teachers we want to create here at YEV and if you will strive to be this kind of teacher, it will bring you so much happiness.
The students you’re teaching are the pillars and foundations of this country and you never know which one might be the next CEO of Samsung or the next President.
So let’s not bicker over how much money who should be paying who, because what really matters is how much we are all striving to be the best human beings we can be.

It was actually pretty motivating to be honest and at points it was even inspirational. The problem is this; I don’t doubt that he genuinely wants YEV to be a “beacon of light” but their actions seem to tell an entirely different story. They don’t seem to understand that it’s not ok to ask teachers to take half their pay this month, or to say that for weeks we are paid and there are no students, we owe the company hours to be worked at later dates.

Now, it should be said that 90% of the administrative staff are part of a religious organization that has been given the responsibility of managing the English Village and of them I would guess that less than 10% are actually qualified for their positions or even have ANY experience running a business or teaching for that matter. So much of their inefficiency and shortcomings are simply the result of inexperience. However, it’s pretty hard to believe that SO much inefficiency is the result of ignorance. Perhaps it’s a cultural differences thing.

Whatever the cause, poor Ronny was caught in a maelstrom of months worth of pent up frustration and resentment that had finally found an outlet. I have to say I’m quite proud of the guy for handling it the way he did. He was patient, calm and receptive. But what came next was probably the most surprising and somewhat disheartening thing I have seen yet.

After el presidente gave us his motivational speech, he headed off back to his office. I swear he knew what was coming and didn’t want to have to be a part of it. Poor Ronny was left to bear the message.

Essentially what he said was this; The school is loosing money. The foreign teachers are expensive. The solution proposed is that when the school has no students, teachers will get paid but we will owe the school hours to be worked later without pay. Essentially it would be an indentured servant system. If the school couldn’t get more students, then it only makes sense that the teachers would have to make up for the money the company was loosing by keeping us employed.

All Hell broke out and although it didn’t exactly take Ronny by surprise, he did seem a little confused as to why we weren’t agreeing to it. So he proceeded to tell us just how much money the school was making and how much it was spending on everything. I’m not sure if he was honestly showing the rundown or if he was just using numbers to make his point but either way, it was a rather depressing moment. It dawned on us then just how desperate things are getting here at YEV. When the administration is having to show their teachers the financial status of the school because they don’t have a clue as to how a business can work, things ain’t lookin good. We spent the next half hour trying to explain how we the teachers should not be held responsible for the schools inability to get more students. Furthermore, our “expense” is so high because of the huge turnover resulting from unhappy teachers. Ronny’s response was that they would then need to change our contracts as the company would not be able to afford them the way they are. Another resounding no. Finally Ronny asked us what we thought should be done then. First response, get a professional business person to write out a new business plan! Stop asking teachers to keep the school afloat. Second response, hire an efficiency manager to cut down the insane expenses that this place incurs. Right now the company is stepping over dollars to pick up pennies. Third response, figure out how to get more butts in the chairs. The facilities here are huge and fantastic. There is only one reason why there aren’t more people coming out here and it’s the quality of the experience or more directly the lack there of.

Even though Ronny politely responded with “I’ll certainly think about all that” I’m pretty sure that he had every intention of ignoring all of those ideas. They all cost money in the short term and that’s just not how this group likes to do things. To be honest, I’m starting to think that this mind set of cut costs at all costs in fact plagues most of the english institutes here in Korea. None of them seem to understand that the only ones that make it are the ones that let go of the illusion that you can make money without spending money and not have to worry about the quality of your product. If our students are the “pillars and foundations” of the future South Korea, then I’m seriously concerned about the “stability” of this country. If they really want us to be cranking out Global leaders then they really need to start treating this place like a global institution. The simple fact is, the only way this place is going to stay afloat is for the administration to completely renovate the system from the ground up. Bust out the mental dynamite guys and let’s get to blowing these archaic ideas up! Teacher’s on debtors systems. Honestly.

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