One year later, ATEK struggles for recognition
By Rob York

When the Association for Teachers of English in Korea launched late last winter, it was aiming high with its objectives. Perhaps a little too high. In particular, the group’s first communications director, Tony Hellmann, spoke of equal background checks for all teachers — Korean or foreign — and visa portability allowing expat teachers to own their own visas rather than needing to have them renewed whenever switching jobs. There were problems with this approach: Greg Dolezal, who joined the organization in the spring, recalls a lot of “internal debate” over it. Things were no better externally, as support for ATEK was far from unanimous among expats. Then, Hellmann became the focal point for criticism when his personal life and career were scrutinized. He departed the organization in April, only a couple of months after announcing its foundation. Dolezal, who took his place as communications director, said that the other members of the founding board — acting president Tom Rainey-Smith and vice president Jason Thomas — also came under personal attacks during the summer. With ATEK’s first popular elections coming up that September, Rainey-Smith and Thomas chose to step down and allow the organization to start over. Rainey-Smith is no longer teaching, but remains an associate member of the organization, while Thomas is no longer in Korea. The election results, Dolezal became the group’s first president chosen by its members, after which the organization decided to change focus. No longer prioritizing a legal change, Dolezal’s hopes for his one-year presidential term have been concerned with matters such as combating the negative portrayals of expat teachers, creating a more positive image of them and strengthening the organization from within. Allegations of discrimination “The same frame gets used over and over to describe us,” Dolezal said of how the Korean media depicts expat teachers. “The reporter finds a way to sneak in (that) we are drug-addicted, disease-ridden sex addicts who have no productive aims in the community.” In particular, there are reports that Korea is currently in the midst of a foreign crime wave. “If you look at the percentage of crimes that are committed by foreigners, it’s actually dropping with the population rise,” Dolezal said. “It’s very easy to show a statistic that there are more arrests than there were 10 years ago.” Dolezal began the process of filing a complaint with the Korean Press Ethics Commission in the summer, based on several news reports in the local media containing allegedly biased reporting depicting foreign teachers harshly. The group had believed it sufficient to mail a hard copy of the complaint to the KPEC’s headquarters in Seoul. Months later, after receiving no response from the commission, they learned that the procedure is more complicated. After a one-month process, during which more alleged instances of biased reporting were added, ATEK communications director Dann Gaymer filed the complaint Jan. 20, as well as one with the Korean Press Arbitration Committee. Should neither press organization deliver the type of response ATEK is looking for, there is the option of filing a legal suit. However, the odds of that tactic succeeding appear long. Under the Korean media-related law, a Korean media outlet threatened with a lawsuit is exempted from a lawsuit if it proves a) that their reporting was done in the public interest, and b) was not written for the purpose of defaming the plaintiff’s reputation, said Seoul-based attorney Lee Chang-hyun. Even when legal action is threatened against a media organization, Lee said that the vast majority of such threats are never taken to court. To prevent legal action, the publication or broadcaster may choose to modify some facts, and this may also be what the accuser is seeking. Should they file a complaint with Korean Press Ethics Commission and not obtain the verdict they desire, they have the option of pursuing a lawsuit. The process of filing a lawsuit involves going through the police or the prosecution, which is followed by an investigation. In the course of the investigation process, a little more than half of suits are dropped, Lee said. Even among those cases that do go to court, most of them do not end with the verdict the plaintiff wants. Still, Lee said that the possibility of a legal suit does require very thorough legal preparation by the media outlet itself, and they often settle with the plaintiffs in the process. When a court does find that the defendant has libeled the target, the most com-

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mon penalty is a fine, Lee said. ATEK also filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission of Korea in December regarding the activities of the online cafe Anti-English Spectrum and their host, the online portal Naver. AES’s stated objective is to uncover foreign teachers involved in criminal activity, but many expats call AES a racist organization that stalks expats. On Jan. 20, however, the Rights Commission declined to get involved, stating that, as the Gimhae Police Department was investigating the complaint, they would take a “hands-off” approach to matters being handled by other government agencies. However, ATEK promptly refiled, stating that the Gimhae Police Department prematurely ceased their investigation. Aside from that filing, Dolezal stated that he will not pursue any further action against AES, whose efforts have been applauded by many in Korean society, and even by the police themselves. “I can’t focus my entire life on fighting

renting buildings for hagwon business,” the representative said. On KAFLA’s website (http://www.kafla.or.kr/), the organization’s listed goals include “dealing with the payment of the foreign teachers.” However, they feel that this can be accomplished without working with a teacher’s group. “For that matter, it isn’t necessary for us to discuss with ATEK because we have many personnel on our team who have professional knowledge and experience from abroad that can handle those kind of issues,” the KAFLA representative said. Dolezal said that KAFLA’s opinion regarding negotiations with teachers organizations had left him “speechless.” “I find that to be a very limited point of view,” he said. “Happy, well-trained teachers are going to be better teachers.” In his responses, the KAFLA representative indicated that ATEK’s previous objectives may not have been helpful. “We understand that the foreign teachers’ group is not mature yet. I assume that their organization may be wanting to deal with the laws.” Internal growth But perhaps the biggest problems ATEK faces come from within. The organization’s national council is meant to seat 64 representatives — four each from the 16 PMAs (Provincial and Metropolitan Associations) ATEK had planned. Within each PMA the group was to have one representative each for the public school teachers, the hagwon teachers, those in adult education and resident visa holders. Currently, though, the group falls far short of that: There were only five PMAs active as of last week — one each for Gyeonggi Province, Seoul, Busan, South Gyeongsang Province and Gangwon Province. The national council had only 16 members. In order for the local association to become official, it must have three members, one of whom must be a national representative and another of whom must be a local leader. A major problem is organization; for example, Dolezal said the organization recently discovered that there are 15 general members on Jeju Island who “don’t know each other, so no PMA.” Dolezal said he hopes that these organizational problems will be solved through the presence of the group’s new membership director, Russell Bernstein. Previously serving as head of Seoul’s PMA, Bernstein has instituted a new procedure for identifying new members, and he will be the member most knowledgeable about the group’s actual rolls. Practical work But the area where Dolezal feels ATEK can make the most progress is in doing some good works in the community. “If we have just practical solutions we will be successful as a teacher’s organization whether the government recognizes us or not,” Dolezal said. On that front, the group recently scored a major victory when its Seoul chapter announced a partnership with the hagwon chain ChungDahm Learning to provide more opportunities for teachers to volunteer. In September, ChungDahm launched its Nanum (“Sharing”) Campaign, a corporate responsibility program that gives its teachers the opportunity to volunteers as teachers and mentors for the Ten Children Centers, a home for underprivileged children. Through the Nanum Campaign, the volunteers help at eight children’s centers, committing one hour per week to providing English education and cultural exchange. Teachers are expected to make a three-month commitment to the volunteer activities Bernstein, who was heading the Seoul PMA when the deal was announced, said the agreement allows members of the association that are not ChungDahm teachers to take part in the Nanum Campaign and help at Ten Children Centers. “This is going to really open the doors for a lot of teachers,” he said. “This is one small step towards a lot of things that are going to be really great for our members.” “This hopefully will encourage other large employers to partner with us in a similar manner.” Also, while it isn’t a service they offer themselves, ATEK is encouraging its members to sign on for legal insurance from the KangNam Labor Law Firm for 20,000 won a month. “If a teacher has a labor-related issue it’s like having this law firm on retainer,” Dolezal said. While it may not be easy for a Seoulbased law firm to help teachers in labor disputes across Korea, the ATEK president called the service a good start. “ATEK’s hope is that other law firms (nationwide) will get this idea,” he said. (rjamesyork@heraldm.com)

Jan. 25 — weekly winner — Near Wonju, a farmer walks through his field.

Kyle Burton

But perhap st h e b i gge s tp roblems A TEK faces come f rom within. T he organizat i o n’ s nat i o n a lc o u n c i li s meant to seat 6 4 r ep resentat ives — f our each f rom the 16 P M A s. Curr e n t ly ,though, t h e gr oup fa l l sfa r shorto f that : T here we re o n lyf ive PMAs a c t ive a so f l a s t week — one eachfo r G yeongg iP rovince, Seoul, Busan, South G yeongsang Province and Gangwon Province.T h e national council had only 16 members .
anti-English Spectrum,” he said. “The Anti-English Spectrum site says they won (the dispute). In some sense they’re right. If I’m the only one who is fighting this battle they’ll win every time.” Instead, Dolezal said he plans to pursue more practical means of helping English teachers. No negotiations An obstacle ATEK faces in helping its 1,000-member constituency is found in the Korean institutions it seeks to work with. In particular, ATEK lacks negotiating partners among employers of foreign teachers, such as the Korean government or those who own schools. “(This) means that any change we hope to accomplish regarding our contracts and the quality of life for teachers is going to be slower,” Dolezal said. “I think that the government not recognizing us is really a sign of their unwillingness to deal with foreigners.” When asked why they would not meet with ATEK for negotiations, a representative from the Korean Association for Foreign Language Academies said that the association has no stance regarding the teacher’s association. “We are an organization consisting of the CEOs of language academies, like hagwon,” said the representative, who asked not to be identified. “We are not an organization of ‘teachers,’ or ‘lecturers.’ They may organize themselves to do their own business.” The KAFLA rep said that issues such as teaching quality were under the responsibility of the individual hagwon and were not discussed at KAFLA meetings. “Our main discussions are issues such as managing and establishing hagwon institutions in Korea, how to deal with the laws related to hagwon business, and

Jan. 18 — weekly winner — Lee Smathers’ photo titled “Cold”

Jan. 11 - weekly winner — Gyeongbok Palace afAaron Raisey ter a heavy snowfall

Be at the right place, at the right time
The Photo Challenge is sponsored by Hyosung Camera (English: 010-7203-9599) and Babo Shirts (www.baboshirts.com). Winners of the weekly competition receive a 50,000 won store credit at Hyosung Camera and a Babo Shirt. To take part in the competition, simply upload your photo at www.flickr.com/groupsseoulphotoclub — Ed.
By Mario Taradan

JEJU — This is probably the most basic, but also most fundamental advice one can give regarding landscape photography. When going about taking photographs of Jeju’s landscapes I find this mantra far more relevant than whether my lens aperture opens up to f/1.4. There’s a rather popular saying among photographers: “f/8 and be there,” meaning that it’s more important to be at the scene you want to capture than to worry about the minor technical details. This is certainly a worthy rule to follow, but as a landscape photographer do yourself a favor and stop down to f/11 or f/16 in order to increase the depth of field of your scene. People often think that landscape photography is somehow difficult and that it requires expensive equipment. It is not and it does not. It is actually rather simple, if one is not there when the light does its magic, it matters not what kind of gear is involved, one simply will not get the shot. Of course, a decent SLR with a filter or two certainly helps, but it’s not a prerequisite. In fact, the lighter your gear, the easier and faster it is to be at that right place. The other couple of requirements are time and patience, because the conditions may not be ideal the first time for that five star photo one wants to capture. Many times I have hiked an “oreum” — a volcanic crater — without any particularly meaningful results, but whenever nature does put on that special light show and I’m there, ready to capture the spectacle, it’s a mighty satisfying experience. Of course the question does come to mind: where is the right place and when is the right time? Realistically, the right place depends on where

you are and what’s on offer. As a Jeju Island resident, I’m quite lucky, having access to hundreds of oreums with many opportunities for all sorts of landscape photography. If you reside in a city, a trip to a nearby national park is always a good place to start at for some instant landscapes. This is not as difficult as it sounds, even in Seoul. National and provincial parks are quite abundant in Korea, as they should be in a country which is geographically 70 percent mountains. However, do scout around where you live. There is often some local scenery one can usually take advantage of. A landscape photo does not always have to be a grand sweeping vista. “The right time” does vary from photographer to photographer, but ideally it is not the harshly lit mid-day. For many, it is the golden hours of dawn and dusk that are the most appealing. This is when the light is the most magical in the way it bathes the environment, creating all kinds of saturated colours, textures and shadow play. The weather also has a large impact on the sense of drama within an image, so it’s wise to work with it, instead of waiting for that perfectly sunny day. Go out during those times when it’s dark and overcast with foreboding moods, or when the sun’s rays pierce the storm clouds, making scenes of inspiration. You’re bound to get wet at some point, but it’s nothing a rain jacket can’t handle. Some additional tips to consider: Use a tripod. Your images will always be sharper than if you rely on your hands. Also, keep the horizon straight as you capture the photo. It’s easier than having to deal with it in post production, where an extremely crooked horizon can cost you precious resolution. Take advantage of the rule of thirds and break it when appropriate. If you’re presented with an amazing sky, push the horizon closer to the bottom of the frame. If the foreground is more interesting, move the horizon nearer to the top of the frame. In general, always pay attention to the sky and what it’s doing and how you can make it interact with the rest of the scene. Lastly, do try to change your point of view. Don’t get stuck on one particular angle that everyone takes a shot from. Explore the surroundings a little and you may walk away with something really unique. (raisey@hanmail.net)

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