ATEK at a crossroads – the fallout post-3WM

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Author’s note: if the title of this post makes no sense to you, please read this post to catch up.

Author’s note: if the title of this post makes no sense to you, please read this post to catch up.

Some weeks after the Three Wise Monkeys’ expose on ATEK (read part 1, part 2, and part 3), the first salvo in response seems to be ready – Roboseyo’s four posts on ATEK (part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4 are here, although comments are closed on all but the 4th part), a press release stating the ATEK president is stepping down, and the Seoul Podcast’s first podcast in two months interviewed Greg Dolezal – former ATEK president and present Communications Officer.

It’s in the Seoul Podcast’s interview with Greg that we learn there have indeed been some efforts to change behind the scenes – Greg himself has stepped up to replace Rachel Bailey. This podcast interview, of course, doesn’t come without a few notes:

  • In the 15th minute, Greg seems to think that the 3WM carry some sort of journalistic responsibility. In a world where mainstream journalists are neither fair nor balanced, that expectation seems unfair at best and unrealistic at worst. Sure, we’d like people to write from an objective, impartial perspective, but that’s not exactly common anymore.
  • In the 16th minute, Greg tells us about the president’s future resignation and the organization’s future restructuring – “talk of combining the National Council and the Executive Council”. Um, ok – with the exception of the aforementioned press release, where else has this been discussed?
  • In the 20th minute, Greg talks about how the bylaws haven’t been changed in a year, and that they may be coming up for rewriting soon. Why? “The current affairs”, and to show “we’re doing something here.” OK – how about telling us about the people you’ve reached, or the problems you’ve helped to solve? Even now, after receiving dozens of ATEK newsletters and official communications, I’m not sure which issues ATEK could actually help me with. I couldn’t tell you who I would contact, either – now without a peek at a website (and there’s no guarantee that’s accurate either)
  • Just before the 23rd minute mark, Greg mentions how the number of members has been a bit higher in the past. A few seconds later, he says there’s been a “net gain every month”. Does not compute.
  • In the 23rd minute, he notes how it’s been tough to get associate members to take that extra step, to get them more deeply involved or fully register. What incentive do they have to register? If I can get everything I want with a lower-level membership, and won’t be asked to serve in office or volunteer, that sounds perfectly fine to selfish little me.
  • In the 36th minute, Stafford asks if you “only help members”; Greg responds “absolutely not”. Seconds later, Greg mentions that “we don’t go around advertising that we’re going to help anyone that comes to us”, but that they try to provide help to people if they can. OK, ATEK, let’s pick a side of the fence and stop hopping it. Are you a soup kitchen (helping all comers, no matter who you are) or a club (helping only your members)? Are there certain questions that can ONLY be answered with membership? If I can get you to answer my question without joining, what incentive do I have to join? In the interest of clarifying, some companies offer a chart showing you what each level of membership offers – for example:

Source: screenshot from hostgator.com – no endorsement intended. It’s just an example.

  • In the 38th minute, Greg reveals only 5 of the 16 PMA’s are active – and how adopting “the KOTESOL model” regarding the chapters across the country would make ATEK easier to run. Not a bad idea – but if the problem is inactivity, the solution would involve drumming up more interest and activity, not consolidating.
  • In the 46th minute, Greg talks about the Legal Assurance Program – what sounded like a good idea has now been killed, and a relationship that could have been rebuilt now sounds permanently broken.

Throughout the podcast, Greg sounds like he doesn’t know what’s going on. At one point he says “you’ll have to ask Jeff Nunziata [the current membership officer]” about how many members the organization has, although only the Communications guy actually communicates with the press and this information is publicly available on their own website. He could be forgiven were he a new officer still learning the ropes; however, Greg has been part of the organization longer than anyone else ever has.

 

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Within hours of Roboseyo’s first post on ATEK, the 3WM had a response in the inboxes of their mailing list. One telling line: We invited Atek for an official response that we would run in full– they declined.” [Emphasis mine] Odd English notwithstanding, the ATEK cry for balance becomes suspicious if you decide not to comment.

A slightly longer quote from the 3WM’s e-mail now:

Now to more important stuff: Does 3wm care about English Teachers? Not as much as we care about English students.
I get enraged when I make the expat rounds to the pubs and cafes and music gigs and theater performances and the bodegas and the soju tents and the churches and the bookstores and the galleries and all all all of the time I always here the expat teachers here going off on their trips to Thailand their stage debut their latest screen play etc etc et-fucking-cetera.
Let me ask you when is the last time you heard some of us teachers over here talking about what’s needed in the class room for the students?

What’s needed in the classroom? A lot less homework, a lot less class time, less punishment of the corporal type, and a lot more critical and creative thinking. Are you going to hear teachers talk about that openly? No – not because it’s not of interest, but because of how little control we foreign teachers have over how Koreans have decided to run their educational system. For better or worse, a foreign English teacher is a hired hand, paid to deliver lessons in the manner the school wishes. Protesting that system or fighting that system does nothing. Zilch. The vast majority of foreign English teachers are neither in the position to fight for change, nor are we particularly able. By the time any individual or organization had significant influence, they would be investigated, fired, and arrested or deported for one reason or another. Anyone remember the nerves Minerva struck?

Even if we were organized to talk about it, it would easily be construed as political activity. When even the Korean teachers feel taken advantage of, or when the local teacher’s union / political organization can’t create change, what hope do you have for a loosely-organized group of expat English teachers whose interests and priorities are far from the same? With all respect to KOTESOL and the educational opportunities they offer, what changes have they – the country’s largest ESL organization – been able to make in Korean classrooms?

Another quote, which directly follows the previous one:


Great, so you write a farce to deal with how little you can help kids? As for the ‘underdog’ ‘proof’, a single story about an unfortunate individual given a chance to live in a foreign country also seemed as much about the opening of a new bar in a popular expat neighborhood. Tell me, when was the last story 3WM wrote about the life of Korean kids in classrooms?

Sure, plenty of expats come to Korea to teach – and they discover there’s plenty of other opportunities that might not have existed back home. Keeping a blog about my life in Kentucky? Not nearly as interesting as life in Korea. Now add choirs, dance groups, filming documentaries, forming a band, traveling, and any other number of things going on around Korea. I came to Korea to teach English, yes – and as time went on, I learned of opportunities I’d be a fool not to accept.

ATEK, get your website up to speed – your second most recent ‘Association News’ should not be about your new president when that was eight months ago – especially since that president is now resigning. The desire to become an NGO is a good long-term goal – but the emphasis is on long-term. You don’t get to the major leagues until you show a solid foundation and room / ability to grow. Thus far, ATEK has neither. Roboseyo’s advice to ATEK in part 3 is more helpful and clearly written than anything else I’ve read on the subject. That there are many many sources of information – some good, some mediocre, and some excellent – tells me we need an aggregator, not another new source of content.

3WM, if you’re serious about helping kids in the Korean classroom, tell the rest of the world about your experiences effecting change in such endeavors. If expats talking about extracurricular activities really “gets your mick up”, stop publicizing them. I’ve seen more about past HBC Fests from your site than anywhere else on the blogosphere. Put up some ‘public service ads’ that advertise something other than expat hangouts – or take down the ads altogether. Why are you running free ads for for-profit companies anyway?

To both of you, any podcast you may end up recording can only serve to hash up past problems and stir up the pot among the handful who still care. If that’s your point, please prove me wrong by focusing on the issues concerning the future, and rise above the silly political grandstanding and double-speak.

Comments are open – play nice, and avoid personal attacks.

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