English Teachers Look to Change Their Image

Robert Lee, Korea Herald, Nov. 17, 2010

One of Korea’s biggest foreign English teacher associations is taking an enlightened approach against the fight on mandatory HIV testing by correcting, rather than complaining about, the public’s image of English teachers as promiscuous party animals.

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National Communications Officer Rob Ouwehand of the Association of Teachers of English in Korea believes that the regulatory testing stems from both the fear of English teachers and HIV, both of which can be cured with knowledge.

In an interview with The Korea Herald, Ouwehand explained that rather than criticize the ministries and third party organizations involved, they look to themselves to polish the tarnished image of foreign English teachers.

“ATEK prefers taking a problem-solving approach to that kind of a question, where rather than complaining about some perceived injustice, why don’t we get to work on improving the reputation of English teachers in Korea, by going out into the community and doing good stuff.”

And knowledge of English teachers is exactly what the association plans to distribute through several positive means which includes building internal pressure, connecting with Korean English teachers and rebuilding the Korean public’s view of foreign teachers.

To reconnect with the public, Ouwehand believes they need to put themselves out there, swapping scary thoughts of English teachers with positive images.

The perceived reputation of foreign English teachers in Korea, fueled by the Anti-English Spectrum group and perpetuated by the media, had long been one of drinking, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity and disease.

It is speculated that the efforts of the vigilante group helped push the ministry’s institutionalization of the testing in 2007.

“It’s not so much English teachers, it’s the idea of English teachers,” he said.

“When English teachers go out into the community and volunteer, collect clothes for poor kids and volunteer English lessons at the orphanage nearby, than instead of being that kind of faceless, scary, English teacher, it humanizes us and by contributing to Korean society and saying we’re not here just to drink and party and take our money and go home. We’re part of Korean society, and we want to be responsible members and contributors to Korean society.”

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“The Korean government has already been working hard to promote the idea that Korea is a multicultural country and as they promote the idea that we can live together and understand each other, once again, that’s building the knowledge that will replace fear,” said Ouwehand.

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