Elwood 5566

Wanted: A Plastic Professorship

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Education, esl, Westerners by 노강호 on May 13, 2010

Have you noticed its predominantly university teachers who hand you business cards? Fingering  the little stash I’ve collected over the years, not one is from  a Haggwon teacher.  I’ve never owned business cards, but then as I’ve never sent a text message and only used an ATM machine once in the UK. I’m slightly odd.

I pine, you pine, he pine, she pine!

I wouldn’t mind handing  out a name card from a university, even a crap one but like most teachers, I would probably feel a little ashamed handing out something from an institution one notch up from a kindergarten or the kids’ party entertainer at Mac Donald’s. Even though haggwon and university pay are now fairly similar, in status there’s a world of difference between Coco the Clown’s English Academy and a University.

No matter how hard a haggwon tries to give itself credibility, names like ‘academy’ or ‘colleges’ don’t hide what most really are, factories (공장). ‘TOSS English‘ reads the bright neon strip over a college near where I live.  Despite the amusing name, it must  be successful as it has a fleet of mini buses and has been in situ for at least  8 years. However, back in the UK, ”Toss’ is slang for ‘shit’ or ‘masturbation.’ And then there’s ‘Kolon English Academy;’ Colon is the destination of the doctor’s digit when you have an extremely bad gut.  Then there are the logos, the cap and mortar board, the pillars of some classical order column. Sometimes they use letters of the Greek alphabet which in the UK would be unrecognized to all but the students of British grammar schools.

In Britain, any awareness of the roots of western civilization is relegated to 5 or 6 year-olds and hence denuded of its significance as the cradle of western civilization. The invasion of ‘ ‘Greece” by Darius in 490BC and Xerxes, 480BC, had they succeeded, would have radically altered the face of western history possibly resulting in an Islamic Europe. Mention Thermopylae to most British people and it is now associated predominantly with a comic or a partly animated, fantastical movie.  Many Korean kids can recite or narrate the Battle of Thermopylae or Marathon and some have even ‘explained to me how Socrates came to commit suicide.  As  a history teacher in the UK, I can put my hand on my heart and tell you I have never seen or heard any mention of Thermopylae , Marathon or Socrates in a British school.  For various reasons,  the most significant aspects of our history, often due to political imperatives, are demnatio memoriae.  Koreans students certainly have more awareness of classical history than do their western peers and so the column, pediments, alpha and omega,  and other little symbols of academia and learning are common but  ironically, the ‘colleges’ they represent are as genuine as the Phrontesterion in Aristophanes’ The Clouds; the silly little ‘Thinkery’ where students bend over, bum holes gazing intently at the heavens in the quest for knowledge.

Much as I love Korea, their method of teaching English needs a total overhaul and the dependence on memorizing phrases, a number of which are clumsy and strange, needs scraping.  Koreans have a similar attitude to teaching  English as they do cooking bean paste soup. I’ve told several friends I add a dash of black pepper powder to my dwaen-jang.  They were shocked and repeated ‘pepper’ several times as though I’d said I piss in it.  Then they told me that black pepper wasn’t part of ‘the recipe,’ as if there is only one recipe, only one way to do it. Korean education is very successful, but their standard of English, despite the haggwons and schools, is dire. Perhaps if they treated English education more like  ‘pushion pood (fusion food), squirting jam over pizzas, replacing mozarella with that stretchy, play cheese, or sweet potato and dipping bistro hotdogs in a concoction of syrup, mustard and red pepper paste, standards might improve. ”I’m  pine,’ ‘Have a nice day,’ ‘pleased to meet you,’ ‘ drive you to suicide. And then there’s the constant American twang but that can wait until a future post!

Currently, I’m waiting for my business cards to arrive and they will probably carry my school’s logo, a cartoony character but I’m not particularly bothered. I’ve worked in enough language factories and a high school,  to know that my boss has genuine intentions and besides, my loyalty is won because my conditions are probably superior to those of most university teachers whose pay is no longer way in advance of a haggwon teacher and whose holidays, at one time a guaranteed four months have been whittled down and interpolated with various obligations. My boss and her family have been close friends of mine for over ten years and have even vacationed with me in England. Though I would  love  to become a professor, albeit a plastic one, working in a university, for me at least, would be a step down.

A teacher from the Coco the Clown Phrontesterion of English. (I'm Pine and You)

Of course, most university teachers, instructors, give you a name card not because they teach in a university, but to impress on you the fact they are ‘professors.’ Professors are the officer class of Korean teachers with haggwon teachers relegated to ‘rank and file.’ Yes, I would probably do exactly the same but it is non the less amusing in its snobbery.  Name cards of the highest status carry ‘professor’ in both Korean (교수)  and hanja (敎授) in order to separate them from ones simply in English. I’d probably have mine embossed in gold. In reality however, it’s the knowledge and skills of a ‘professor’ I would like and not merely a hollow title. By English standards, I’m not too clear how it works in the USA, a ‘professorship’ is a position, ‘a chair,’ awarded to top academics and not a title conferred merely by teaching in a university.  Despite the demise of standards in the UK and the ascendancy of ape values, you still read or hear of academics being ‘invited’ to a professorship.

What, by gad! No dickie?

Last year I spent several days adjudicating a speaking competition with three professors all of whom gave me name cards. Two wore  little silk dickie bow ties and the other a complete set of plus fours and matching walking cane.  When I first saw him, from a distance,  I thought it was Sherlock Holmes until  I heard his American accent. He didn’t have a pipe but his plus fours were real and actually made of tweed. Ironically, I’d met this chap before, some 6 years previously when we worked together in an academy ‘factory.’ Before the plus fours and business card, and of course, ‘professorship,’ he used to turn up for work looking like a backpacker, his hair never combed and his clothes disheveled and scruffy. One day, I recall my old boss consulting me as to whether it was acceptable to offer to buy him some new clothes. If I’d known at the time what I now know I’d have simply suggested conferring a professorship upon him and buying him some appropriate name cards. The rest would have taken care of itself.

Even when I’ve known teachers who for one reason or another moved from university to hagwon, from the status of ‘plastic professor’ to that of a boring ‘teacher,’  they’ve initially introduced themselves, or been introduced to me as, ‘professor.’ Further, not only have they continued wearing the dicky bow, but they’ve insisted students call them by title.

I’m a snob, academia, the classics, the entire gamut from music, art literature to history, Oxford, Cambridge, public schools, grammar schools, dickie bows, waist coats and plus fours, professors, even plastic professors, I adore them all. When I was a boy, this was what constituted education and refinement and through out my twenties I aspired to it. Sadly, by the time I got to university, in my early thirties, the gown, mortar board and anything ‘classical,’ if not already on a heap in the college quad, were on their way! And now, well, every Tom, Dick and Harry have a degree – usually in hair dressing or business studies. As much as I mock plastic professors, tongue in cheek, a least the title sets you apart from the herd. Sadly, of all my university friends, some of whom are university lecturers, professors, some even renowned in academic circles, few embraced ‘the classical’ with any passion in little other than their individual subjects. I don’t want to leave my current occupation, that would be foolish, but secretly, I would love one of those business cards and the snobbery of calling myself a ‘professor.’ Is it possible to teach a lesson or two a week in a university, even a poxy one, and ‘earn’ the title ‘professor,’ or even ‘associate professor?’ If so, pathetic as it is, I want the job!”

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13 Responses

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  1. Hamish Nelson said, on May 15, 2010 at 12:21 am

    So you want the professor title? How about considering a job in Mexico? The pay is terrible, the conditions are interesting to say the least but you’ll get to put professor on your resume.
    The other day I showed my Korean boss my Teachers ID from there which has my job description as a professor and she was taken back somewhat.
    Realistically though I was no more than an under paid teacher with a ‘cool title’.

  2. Chris in South Korea said, on May 16, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Hamish has a point – if all you want is the title and the cool business card, that can be arranged. Hell, you could go down to your local printing shop and have a card printed up, proclaiming you to be the owner of Samsung.

    Personally, I have a name card – NOT a business card, a personal card. Name, e-mail, blog address, and a few words describing myself. Add your phone number if you want. The fact that it’s designed by yours truly and not printed up by a school means I have free rein to give out as many as people will take. So what if I run out? I’ll go out and get another 500 for cheap.

  3. Nick said, on May 17, 2010 at 1:37 am

    Um, don’t take me too seriously. it was a topic to write about and not something I lie awake at night and angst over.

  4. thesupplanter said, on May 19, 2010 at 7:55 am

    Ha ha – so it’s true about irony being lost on Americans!

  5. thesupplanter said, on May 19, 2010 at 7:58 am

    Sorry, I’m cracking up about those comments! Oh my god …

  6. Charles Montgomery said, on May 30, 2010 at 9:37 am

    Nice balance in that post….. envy/irony/sarcasm.. well done..

    BTW.. I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest to thesupplanter that Hamish probably isn’t from the US…. and that Chris probably doesn’t think that it is realistic to get cards that propose you to be the chairman of Samsung.

    Some people have difficulty reading, I guess? ^^

  7. […] Attaining the Holy Grail of EFL Teaching June 22, 2010 thesupplanter Leave a comment Go to comments Apologies to my loyal fan for not updating recently. I’ve been busy job hunting, and after sifting through the offers and selecting the one with the least working hours, I can proudly announce that I have secured a position at a Korean university, thus fulfilling my lifelong ambition to attain a plastic professorship. […]

  8. A Moving Story « Supplanter said, on September 18, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    […] moved house and changed job. I now live in Haebangchon, and as I mentioned here I’m now a plastic professor. I hate the former and am getting comfortable with the […]

  9. Unctuous Jones said, on October 29, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    If you’re actually curious, in the states, university teachers come in three flavors: assistant professor, associate professor, and full professor. Full professors by definition have tenure, and the others do not. Tenure essentially means you cannot be fired under normal circumstances, the idea being that professors should be free to pursue their research as the see fit. Generally tenure requires a successful PhD dissertation, and the publication of some papers and books. Associate professors desperately aspire to become professors, though often without success. The assistant professorship is a grim lot. I don’t know the British system at all, though it sounds like chairs are at least basically the same. I somehow can’t accept the idea that you all know which dorm Newton roomed in at Cambridge.

    Perhaps you weren’t actually curious, but I can’t tell. I eat too many big macs and leave my dick hanging out.

    • Nick said, on October 30, 2010 at 3:44 am

      I didn’t even know Newton went to Cambridge. Half the population in the UK wouldn’t even know who he was and to them Cambridge and Oxford are dirty words.Thanks for your info which I do find useful. I’m going to make a few addition in the light of snippets you’ve passed my way.

  10. Bianca the Skydiver said, on April 23, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    haha Chris in Whorea couldn’t resist the temptation to instruct on how to get business cards made up

  11. F5Waeg said, on January 16, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    I’ve waited far too long to respect this post. Suppose the right moment was wanting. Many thanks you brilliant poser, you.

  12. 努江虎 said, on January 17, 2015 at 11:52 am

    Whoa. Where did that come from??? It took me at least a minute to calm down and I was already to ask, quite aggressively, what offense I’d committed. Then I realized your sarcasm! I’m afraid the lack of sarcasm in Korean humour has caused me to slow down. Anyway, I’ve been busy on another project. I recognize your ‘handle.’ I read you blog avidly a few years ago, Hope all is well.


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