Back in the room after a long day, and the issue of noise from outside my room has re-arisen. Some kind of motor is on emitting a low pitch vibration that is most aggravating. In the living room, my hosts are listening to the closing ceremonies of the Asian Games broadcast from Incheon and some traditional Korean “music” with the squawking horns, brass gongs, and drums is blaring. It is hard to think, though there is something important to say tonight.
Finally, the sound of the motor outside has moved away, which is a big relief to my head. The squawking horns have stopped but some other kind of loud wild Asian themed music is on while voices of the narrators are heard trying to speak over it. I will try to produce this blog well in spite of this environment.
At the conference today, one of the opening addresses reminded us that October 3 was a national holiday in all of Korea. Called “Foundation Day”, it marks the founding of the provisional democratic government in the late 19 century, a feat that officially ended the feudal era and rule by the Joseon Dynasty. It was a day that was intended to launch the building of a united independent democratic republic. However, Japanese colonialism interfered, and the underground revolutionary and democratic resistance forces had to struggle against domination for several decades. The speaker, the President of KAFLE, one of the organizers of the international English teachers’ conference that I went to today, expressed a wish for peace and reunification. In fact, one of the slogans of the conference is, “peace through education.” I like the implications of that.
The general theme of this professional development conference for educators is, “embracing change.” This is another positive and healthy message. The last keynote speaker of the day talked about this theme. He pointed out the negative changes going on in education and other domains today, and decried the “marketization” (aka. “McDonaldization”) of education because of neoliberal policies, discourse and planning. The neoliberal discourse uses terms such as the “knowledge economy”, “value-added” education, and accountability, denoting that education has become commodified and turned into a big business in which the emphasis has become service delivery In this light, teaching is underappreciated as governments and institution directors think of their work as delivery of service. That is, they are just supposed to carry educational materials and produce graduates.
This keynote speaker, Scott Thornbury, went on to recommend that teachers maintain a positive attitude and continue to work toward positive social change for the sake of the youth and society, as well as their own sense of worth and professional development. The present circumstances, teachers are undermined and undervalued, and many feel stressed out. There is a way for them to stay strong and positive, asserted the speaker. They need a strategy as professionals to improve the quality of their work and personal lives and to feel valued and valuable. He went on to outline a strategy. First, he discouraged complaining in favour of constructive discussion and negotiation among teachers. Secondly, he suggested that teachers use their own criteria and methods of evaluating both the strengths and weaknesses of their work, such as looking for positive feedback from peers and students, and keeping track of signs of successful learning in the course of daily work and interactions. Thirdly, the speaker encouraged blog writing and other narrative forms of written reflection as a means by which to measure achievements and shortcomings, and seek feedback and ideas for improvement. Finally, Thornbury advocated that teachers continually look for opportunities to change things for the better and take chances at trying new things.
A third political then cropped up. I was reminded that tomorrow, October 5, is World Teachers’ Day. I really must put together a message on behalf of the teacher networks for World Teachers’ Day. I think I can use some of the above ideas to construct a message. Unfortunately, I will not be able to release it tomorrow, as my access to the internet is very constrained, unless I can find an internet café before I get on a bus for Busan tomorrow evening.
The message of Teachers’ Day this year is “Invest in the Future, Invest in Teachers”. That is a loaded call for action. It definitely expresses support for teachers and their work. Indeed, an accompanying slogan for the day is, “We Appreciate You.” We could suppose it reflects value for teachers in their role in the development of society and raising generations. We could infer that it is a defense of public education and public funding of education. We can also infer that it is supportive of regular work and decent salaries, which would also be supportive of collective bargaining and the right to organize.
The publishers' booths beside the plenary hall inside COEX, Seoul.