Once again the already fragile reputation of foreigners teaching English abroad is called into question and this time it is making international news headlines, as seen for example in this BBC article.
Whether the man is guilty of the murder of JonBenet is irrelevant, this case is now highlighting the issues at large in the ESL (English as a Second Language) industry. Unqualified teachers, in other words, people who aren't teachers at all, can gain employment in all manner of schools around Asia.
In Japan and Korea it is probably more difficult - I had to provide my original diploma to get an E2 visa which allowed me to stay in Korea for one year - there was however no criminal record check or background check. People ask me "How did you get a job in Korea?" and I answer "On the Internet". I used a website such as this one. Here you can see the global demand for teachers of English. My recruiter who was based in London found me a job and arranged a phone interview which took about 5 minutes and was basically to establish that I was breathing. Within 8 weeks I had gone from surfing for a job to having my visa and flight tickets in hand and boarding the plane. All I needed was my University degree. It really is that easy. Of course everybody leaves for different reasons; mine were the same as many at my age - a real desire to see the world and a total frustration with my lack of options at home; however you can imagine that with the process being so easy, many other kinds of characters successfully apply and gain employment in Korea. What kind of characters I hear you asking......well, I've met them all. People who wouldn't fit in back home, social rejects, people with a bad smell, a drinking problem, bad social skills, people with undiagnosed mental problems like ADD or OCD. Indeed, inside the expat teaching community these kind of teachers are notorious. I suggest you read this 'thread' (note: waygook means foreigner in Korean) on the popular expat teachers disscussion forum: a brief example:
A 40 something year old guy. INSISTED he was 28. Really short and scrawny. We kind of felt sorry for him. 10 days in he was short of money and said he needed food. Lent him 100, 000 won. Later found out he borrowed 100,000 from another foriegn teacher and 100, 000 from a Korean teacher. We went out that night and he kept trying to pick up girls by staring at them and disgustingly and leacherously licking potato chips. It was so gross! I left. Next day he pulled the old midnight run.
The midnight run is where the teacher packs up and leaves the country, in the process not telling anyone, breaking contract and adding to the bad rep of foreign teachers. It's a vicious circle and it ends up impacting all the people here who are sane and don't smell like cabbage. Teacher comes to Korea. Teacher is imbalanced. Teacher hates job and crappy apartment. Teacher hates disgusting old man Korean boss. Teacher leaves Korea in the middle of the night. Old disgusting boss has foreignerless classes at his school. Boss hates lousy foreigner. Boss will never again trust forgieners. Boss will now treat all foreign staff like badly behaved children no matter what. As usual, its the majority that suffer thanks to the actions of the few; I for one however don't hold anything against some people who do runner to escape their miserable contracts and jobs which they walked into blindly expecting much better than what they actually got. It works both ways; the profession has a rep for odd characters, but school bosses are well known for lying, providing the absolute bare minimum by way of accomodation, overworking staff, penny pinching to the extreme etc etc. So that's teaching in Korea for you.
Teaching English in South East Asia has the same problems. Thailand and Cambodia, and to a lesser extent Vietnam, are well known for their 'sex tourists'. As the BBC article says :
But there is little doubt that Thailand, and South East Asia as a whole, has an unenviable reputation for attracting paedophiles - a problem brought into the spotlight in recent months by the conviction of British pop star Gary Glitter in Vietnam.
The dodgy teachers in this part of the world fall into a different catagory than those in East Asia (China, Japan and Korea). I think those in SE Aisa were wondering through the region already doing their thing. They meet people of a similiar persuasion in bars of an evening, and they think 'Here's my ticket to live this lifestyle on a permanent basis'. It's easy to get a job because of the nature of the industry....so many language schools, so many people desperate to learn English, so many people desperate to cash in on all those desperate people desperate to learn English.......means that teachers will be hired almost immediatly without any consideration to background or experience.....sometimes its a case of 'a warm body in the classroom is good enough'. Read the expat teachers in Thailand discussing the effects of the JonBenet case here. The industry needs more regulation to vet potential teachers.
The Vietnamese government recently tried to make all foreigners get a work permit. I went through all the steps, including getting a criminal record check from Britan. However, I think it depends on how 'friendly' the language school is with the Ministry of Education as to how stringent they are on the staff. There were stories of one school being 'raided' and unqualified/work permitless teachers being deported, buts thats the only one I've heard. Maybe the 6 month tourist visas shouldn't be so easy to get. How can I be in Vietnam on a tourist visa yet work and pay 10% income tax to the Vietnamese government. Whilst the authorities are having their cake and eating it, there is no answer.
There are a million different people in this industry and they all have a million different reasons but the profession is seriously stigmatised. When I go back to the UK next year and tell people 'I've been teaching English in Asia for the last 3 years' I wonder what kind of reaction I'll get. I still have friends who say things like 'When are you coming back?' and 'I can't believe your still out there' - as if I am still wondering around with my backpack on 5 years after I started, so I know they think of me as a 'traveller' and not a 'teacher'; they may be surprised to find that I actually am a teacher and I try to do my job professionally, and I am interested in professional development and linguistics and child pyscology, just the same as many young teachers in the field. As for all this other bad stuff I read, the stuff I've talked about here, and it's stuff that I know is shaping people's minds and opinions towards English teachers, I have to curl my mouth down, open my palms skyward, and in my best New Jersey accent say this:
"Waddya gonna do?".