By Shin Chul-ho
Once I co-taught English with a Korean-Canadian woman teacher. As the expiration of her term of service was approaching, I had to employ a new native English teacher. I asked the principal what type of native speaker's background he wanted. He preferred a white female teacher in her 20s or 30s from America, England or Australia.
Complying with his instructions and keeping in touch with a few recruitment agencies, I tried to hire a native speaker but that's not so easy. Above all, many foreign teachers are not suitable for the principal's preference. Some teachers that suited his taste would not come. A teacher appropriate for the job said, "Okay!"but at the final stage she refrained from coming for her own reasons. One agency told me that most schools wanted to have Caucasian people as their English teachers.
I fell behind the recruitment so much that the principal said, "If it's so hard, I think you can fetch a black woman teacher from the school nearby." The moment I heard what he said, I was stunned. Later, after many twists and turns I succeeded in employing a young Hispanic woman from the United States. But the principal was very satisfied with her.
I wondered why he tried to hire a white woman teacher, dismissing the Korean-Canadian teacher who would never think of quitting her job. At the welcoming party for me and a teacher at the beginning of the school year the principal murmured to me his intention to fire her. What was happening to her? While I worked with her during the first semester, she often left school earlier because of an illness. But that was no problem teaching students. Did her habit of leaving school earlier get on his nerves? Why did he hate her?
Later, I learned the real reason he tried to fire her. In retrospect, the Korean-Canadian was superior to the Hispanic in terms of teaching students. Nothing is more important at schools than teaching students. Then, why did the principal abominate her? I heard a surprising remark made by him again. He said that the girl of Korean descent was not well regarded by school parents because she looked like us. For him, educating students was less important than a demonstrable effect on the school.
He didn't forget to mention the Hispanic teacher even at his retirement ceremony. He complimented her on her contribution to the invigoration of English education and the students' experiences of American culture. Judging by working together with her, his praise for her achievement was completely groundless.
As international exchanges are unprecedentedly accelerating, multi-cultural families show drastic increase in their number and more and more people from the families will be assimilated into the mainstream society of this country. Thus, it is eccentric for schools to encourage racial discrimination. The problem is not only with schools but with Korean society as a whole. Why does this society treat white people with favoritism, while discriminating against non-white people? We discriminate against foreign workers from Southeast Asia, even North Korean defectors and Chinese people of Korean descent.
I know that there are white supremacists in both North America and Europe. But they are only a tiny minority. I also know that invisible walls exist between ethnic groups there. But American citizens appear to have overcome racial barriers because President Obama has been reelected. A young white man from England that collaborated on English teaching with me showed his family picture. I found a black man in the picture and asked who he was. He replied without hesitation that he was his elder sister's boyfriend. That is almost unimaginable in Korea.
In the near future, one of the most important appraisal standards for a country will be whether or not racial discrimination exists there. This will more severely than now influence the country in terms of international relations because human rights have been extending their influences in more and more fields around the world. Let's a hold thumbs up that social justice is firmly established in this nation, that racial discrimination is wiped out, and that this nation is respected around the globe.
The writer is an English teacher at an elementary school outside of Seoul. His email address is email@example.com.