Kookmin People

[Goodbye KMU]

Life in the Bugak Funhouse

  • 09.12.02 / 이민아

Kevin Thomas Were (Full-Time Lecturer, Dept. of General Education)

 I vividly remember my first faculty meeting at KMU. It was also the last faculty meeting I have been asked to attend here. It was in Feb 2006 and I was among a group of eight teachers being oriented to our new jobs at KMU.  We were given a brief intro-duction to the university, handed our schedules for the semester and given the texts for our classes. After that, one of the experienced teachers got up and said, “if you have a car you can get a permit to use the parking, see me if you want to join the gym, now let’s go to lunch.”
 It was a 10 minute meeting and a 3 hour lunch. It was also the beginning of a four-year period of largely unregulated teaching independence. No meetings, no meaningful evaluations, no annoying supervisors dropping in to monitor classes, pure teaching freedom. 
 Of course this has both good and bad sides. While it’s nice to have creative freedom to work without a curriculum straitjacket, the problem is that this also meant that there were no standards that were evenly applied across classes. In the four years I have taught here every English teacher has decided his or her own requirements for class workload, homework, and assessment without any reference to others; a true carte blanche. In some classes students may do a lot of work (mine, for instance, or so students have told me) and in others, they may do very little. Differences in homework requirements, testing that was relatively rigorous or lackadaisical, indifferent quizzes with too easily satisfied standards ― it seems to have all been par for the course. In the final analysis, though, all classes are allotted the same proportion of As, Bs and Cs. In this environment, an A in one class may be equivalent to a B or C in another ― it all depends on individual teachers’ yardsticks and expectations. In effect, then, the final grades are largely meaningless as they reveal nothing about any language measure students may or may not have reached.
 At the end of last year one of my freshman students complained to me about her grade: “I came to all the classes, did all the homework and assignments (role plays) and still I got only a C. My friend in another teacher’s class missed many lectures and often didn’t do the homework, but she also got a C.” She, understandably, thought it wasn’t fair.
 This point was further brought home to me when I was teaching a course in Advanced English Conversation. At the end of the second class one student came up to me and said, “Last week I went to another teacher’s Advanced English Conversation class but it seemed too easy. This week I came to check out your class but it seems too difficult. So, I’m going back to the other class.” Different standards, but for the student, getting an A is what matters. Too bad the grade doesn’t really reflect anything.
 It is interesting to see that KMU is going to introduce an English proficiency certification system next year. This is definitely something that is long overdue. However, at the same time, no foreign teacher that I know has had any input into this decision and it is hard to see how the changes will relate to current conversation classes. These will probably become test preparation classes because, while some kind of standardization must be a good thing, the introduction of standardized TOEIC, TOEFL, and TEPS testing seems likely to perpetuate the culture of testing based on recognition knowledge rather than productive language capacity.
 The foreign English teachers at KMU operate pretty much in a twilight zone, a world with no reference to anything beyond the sphere of their own group ― no broader career structure to belong to, no ‘points’ system for extra effort, no promotion, no training or expectation of on-going professional development, not really part of anything. Therefore no incentive. And consequently their focus tends to be outside the University, which seems to be a loss of a broad range of experience and culture to the University.
 This semester, eight foreign English teachers, all who have MA degrees, were all advised that their contracts would not be renewed next year. They had reached the four year limit for non-tenure staff. The University also has a group of foreign English teachers who have a lesser BA degree. All of these teachers will stay because they can be placed on different, apparently cheaper contracts. In short, Kookmin University is terminating more highly qualified teachers while reemploying teachers with lower qualifications. 
 This seems to be a strange choice for a University that has ambitions to be one of the top ten Korean universities. The decision shows no regard for teaching ability, no apparent interest in retaining any teachers who may have demonstrated teaching skill. In fact one of these teachers was awarded the ‘Best Teacher’ award last semester. Now he has been told not to come back. Doesn’t KMU value effective teachers or is their award as meaningless as the grades for English conversation classes?
 I had an interview at Hongik University this morning for a teaching position for next year. They told me that they no longer applied this four-year rule as they found it was not good for the University or the teachers. This might be something KMU could give consideration to as well.
 It is hard not to miss the constant rhetoric about the commitment of Kookmin University to a program of development and improvement, the ever-present cry of ‘globalization,’ and ‘international exchanges.’ The future is always better and, indeed, the school slogan, Higher & Broader urges students to keep pushing forward.
 Beyond the slogan-making, however, we might ponder the logic of how smaller decisions fit into the broader picture of the University. In reality, the teachers that are leaving will be replaced by fifteen new teachers, reflecting the expansion of the University’s language programs. The net result will be more teachers ― an improvement in terms of quantity ― but a decision that seems to have little regard for the quality of its foreign English teachers.
 Regardless of this I have enjoyed working here. I have met many hard-working students who I wish well in the years ahead. From my own struggles to learn the Korean language, I know how difficult it is to learn another language and hope all students will be successful in their future efforts to gain some facility in speaking English.

THE KOOKMIN REVIEW No.214

Kookmin Review Kevin Thomas Were - 2009/11/30

[Goodbye KMU]

Life in the Bugak Funhouse

Kevin Thomas Were (Full-Time Lecturer, Dept. of General Education)

 I vividly remember my first faculty meeting at KMU. It was also the last faculty meeting I have been asked to attend here. It was in Feb 2006 and I was among a group of eight teachers being oriented to our new jobs at KMU.  We were given a brief intro-duction to the university, handed our schedules for the semester and given the texts for our classes. After that, one of the experienced teachers got up and said, “if you have a car you can get a permit to use the parking, see me if you want to join the gym, now let’s go to lunch.”
 It was a 10 minute meeting and a 3 hour lunch. It was also the beginning of a four-year period of largely unregulated teaching independence. No meetings, no meaningful evaluations, no annoying supervisors dropping in to monitor classes, pure teaching freedom. 
 Of course this has both good and bad sides. While it’s nice to have creative freedom to work without a curriculum straitjacket, the problem is that this also meant that there were no standards that were evenly applied across classes. In the four years I have taught here every English teacher has decided his or her own requirements for class workload, homework, and assessment without any reference to others; a true carte blanche. In some classes students may do a lot of work (mine, for instance, or so students have told me) and in others, they may do very little. Differences in homework requirements, testing that was relatively rigorous or lackadaisical, indifferent quizzes with too easily satisfied standards ― it seems to have all been par for the course. In the final analysis, though, all classes are allotted the same proportion of As, Bs and Cs. In this environment, an A in one class may be equivalent to a B or C in another ― it all depends on individual teachers’ yardsticks and expectations. In effect, then, the final grades are largely meaningless as they reveal nothing about any language measure students may or may not have reached.
 At the end of last year one of my freshman students complained to me about her grade: “I came to all the classes, did all the homework and assignments (role plays) and still I got only a C. My friend in another teacher’s class missed many lectures and often didn’t do the homework, but she also got a C.” She, understandably, thought it wasn’t fair.
 This point was further brought home to me when I was teaching a course in Advanced English Conversation. At the end of the second class one student came up to me and said, “Last week I went to another teacher’s Advanced English Conversation class but it seemed too easy. This week I came to check out your class but it seems too difficult. So, I’m going back to the other class.” Different standards, but for the student, getting an A is what matters. Too bad the grade doesn’t really reflect anything.
 It is interesting to see that KMU is going to introduce an English proficiency certification system next year. This is definitely something that is long overdue. However, at the same time, no foreign teacher that I know has had any input into this decision and it is hard to see how the changes will relate to current conversation classes. These will probably become test preparation classes because, while some kind of standardization must be a good thing, the introduction of standardized TOEIC, TOEFL, and TEPS testing seems likely to perpetuate the culture of testing based on recognition knowledge rather than productive language capacity.
 The foreign English teachers at KMU operate pretty much in a twilight zone, a world with no reference to anything beyond the sphere of their own group ― no broader career structure to belong to, no ‘points’ system for extra effort, no promotion, no training or expectation of on-going professional development, not really part of anything. Therefore no incentive. And consequently their focus tends to be outside the University, which seems to be a loss of a broad range of experience and culture to the University.
 This semester, eight foreign English teachers, all who have MA degrees, were all advised that their contracts would not be renewed next year. They had reached the four year limit for non-tenure staff. The University also has a group of foreign English teachers who have a lesser BA degree. All of these teachers will stay because they can be placed on different, apparently cheaper contracts. In short, Kookmin University is terminating more highly qualified teachers while reemploying teachers with lower qualifications. 
 This seems to be a strange choice for a University that has ambitions to be one of the top ten Korean universities. The decision shows no regard for teaching ability, no apparent interest in retaining any teachers who may have demonstrated teaching skill. In fact one of these teachers was awarded the ‘Best Teacher’ award last semester. Now he has been told not to come back. Doesn’t KMU value effective teachers or is their award as meaningless as the grades for English conversation classes?
 I had an interview at Hongik University this morning for a teaching position for next year. They told me that they no longer applied this four-year rule as they found it was not good for the University or the teachers. This might be something KMU could give consideration to as well.
 It is hard not to miss the constant rhetoric about the commitment of Kookmin University to a program of development and improvement, the ever-present cry of ‘globalization,’ and ‘international exchanges.’ The future is always better and, indeed, the school slogan, Higher & Broader urges students to keep pushing forward.
 Beyond the slogan-making, however, we might ponder the logic of how smaller decisions fit into the broader picture of the University. In reality, the teachers that are leaving will be replaced by fifteen new teachers, reflecting the expansion of the University’s language programs. The net result will be more teachers ― an improvement in terms of quantity ― but a decision that seems to have little regard for the quality of its foreign English teachers.
 Regardless of this I have enjoyed working here. I have met many hard-working students who I wish well in the years ahead. From my own struggles to learn the Korean language, I know how difficult it is to learn another language and hope all students will be successful in their future efforts to gain some facility in speaking English.

THE KOOKMIN REVIEW No.214

Kookmin Review Kevin Thomas Were - 2009/11/30
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