Need to Check English Teachers? Good Luck!

As it would turn out, the 32-year-old Canadian suspected of molesting young boys in Southeast Asia taught in Korea for four and a half years, teaching in the Seoul and Gyeonggi-do area on and off since 2000. Since August, he’d been teaching at a foreign school in Gwangju, Gyeonggi-do. Before that, he taught at a high school somewhere in Gyeonggi-do.

A Gyeonggi-do Department of Education official said the suspect was remembered as a rather upright character who hardly ever drank, and his former coworkers are shocked by the news.

The suspect apparently fled to Thailand just two days after Intepol posted his face on their website. A police official said they’re still investigating whether the teacher molested any of his students in Korea, but they’ve yet to discover any such cases.

BTW, congratulations to Dave’s ESL Cafe for the media spotlight, although I’m not sure if this is what they wanted it for.

Oh, and I’m sure this will drive Western Confucian up the wall. As an ex-Catholic, though, I have to question the veracity of the report — how could the guy have been a priest-in-training when the Gyeonggi-do Education Department said he hardly drank?

OK, I’m definitely going to Hell for that one.

Anyway, the Seoul Shinmun, JoongAng Ilbo and Hanguk Ibo have run editorials deploring the porous state of Korea’s foreign teacher hiring system. The Seoul Shinmun was in particularly rare form — I especially liked this line:

Korea has been a “dupe” for a long time, allowing foreigners who speak English to get jobs easily and treating them well, but with this, we really can’t help but worry whether Korea will become a “paradise for criminals from English speaking nations.”

Dupes, they are. Dupes! The JoongAng expressed concern, too:

The insecurity of school parents concerning native speaker teachers and instructors is growing by the day. This is because the teachers’ shameless crimes are growing. Just a coupe of days ago, a Canadian wanted by Interpol for sexually molesting small children in Southeast Asia fled abroad after working as an English teacher in Korea as police moved in for the arrest. A while back, there were incidents of a teacher molesting children and a group of teachers smoking marijuana. There must be even more crimes that have yet to be revealed. It’s time to hurry and formulate measures.

Good luck with that. The papers’ rhetorical hyperbole aside, it’s true that teacher hiring practices are borderline criminal — it would seem to me that most people in the English education industry or who’ve spent time in said industry would admit as much. But a revamping of that system would require change at the bureaucratic level and increased cooperation between law enforcement agencies here in Korea and abroad. Change and cooperation requires effort, however, and I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Or at least not before some poor kid gets molested or killed by a guy who should never have been here in the first place.

  • MrMao

    Those “native-speakers caught molesting kids” were at that English Village in Paju and they were Kyopos hired as Korean teachers/ child-minders, not as native speakers. But hey, who’s counting? It’s only the rag Joongang Ilbo. I still can’t think of any child-molestation accusations against E-2’s in the 6.5 years that I’ve been here.

  • MrMao

    Besides, there’s a false sense of security with these background checks. The guy never had a record, in Canada at least. He would have been granted a visa, anyway.

  • whitey

    Three years ago, when I switched jobs in Korea, I was asked for a police background check for the first time. Not knowing how to go about getting one, I did some searching online. I found that in L.A., where I am from, it is necessary to apply for a background check in person. That wasn’t going to happen since I was here.

    I explained the situation to my new employer. They asked me two or three more times for the background check, which was very Korean of them as they were continuing to follow procedure rather than looking at the reality of the situation.

    Eventually they let it go. My previous record as a pedophile remains unknown to them to this day. Okay, that last sentence is not true.

    I’ll probably see if I can get a background check when I am home for the holidays, as it looks like like it will be needed in the future in Korea.

    Anyone else have a similar experience of not being able to get a police check from overseas?

  • mateomiguel

    I got a letter stamped with an official-looking stamp from the US embassy here in Korea that stated I was an upstanding citizen with no previous criminal record. I had written the letter myself and brought it to the embassy for the stamp, seal, and signature. I thought about putting in one additional phrase, “and dead sexy to boot.” but in the end I didn’t.

    The US embassy official I was working with didn’t actually check my criminal record, he just read over the letter, went into the back, and a few minutes later handed the officialized letter back to me. He said it was an unusual procedure for him and asked me what it was for. I told him that I was getting a job at an elementary school and they required it.

    It wasn’t actually a background check but my school was completely happy with that piece of paper. I don’t actually know how to get a real background check done.

    But I don’t have a criminal record except for some unpaid parking tickets in LA county so does it really matter?

  • hoju_saram

    Really, despite what the newspapers are saying and people like pawi seem to believe, foreigner-related crime rates are no higher than that of koreans. For every kiddy fiddling english teacher (and I can recall only 2 reports) there are 99,998 foreigners who are doing nothing wrong.

    This took place in my own home town, at a school my friends work at. I’ve yet to talk to them, but it’s no good news from where I’m sitting. Still, it wasn’t that long back that hundreds of locals were pinched for raping a minor over consecutive weeks at an apartment. They were Korean, yet somehow this is ignored while rabid commentators flock to the red-botton issue of big-nosies acting up.

    Hope this guy gets caught and hope some of the Korean media start using some common sense when dealing with this stuff. (not that I’l be holding my breath).

  • dogbertt

    Everything I’ve read seems to indicate that a background check would have turned up nothing on that guy.

  • Sperwer

    Who’s duping whom? A fundamental problem with the English education system here is that the effective exclusion of (foreign) competition in favor of essentially unregulated domestic operators insures the existence of a market in which the anti-competitive collusion between those operators and the government encompasses a lack of standards and/or effective enforcement of stds of all sorts, incl. teacher qualifications. Better enforcement of the stds of course will marginally improve things, but not fundamentally, as long as robust foreign competition continues to be restricted – if only because as is seen over and over again, it’s not until there are foreign market participants that real regulatory standards are enacted and enforced (usually in a blatantly discriminatory way, at least at first).

  • dogbertt

    effective enforcement of stds of all sorts

    Yet another thing English teachers are accused of bringing to Korea.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    “Really, despite what the newspapers are saying and people like pawi seem to believe, foreigner-related crime rates are no higher than that of koreans.”

    Actually, foreigners are two to three times less likely to commit crimes. I think we calculated that a while back when the Korean media was ran its latest yearly ‘Crimes committed by Foreigners on the Rise’ articles.

  • The Western Confucian

    Not surprising that he should have contemplated the priesthood, given the feminization of the Church in the past 40 years. What is surprising is that they kicked him out! The Seminary of Christ the King in Mission, B.C., must be doing something right.

    And I agree with you that the fact the “he hardly drank” causes concern. The rector of his seminary did say he “lacked the necessary personal qualifications.” Maybe that’s what he was referring to, given the monks’ proud history of beer and wine making.

  • Ut videam

    Indeed, WC. Lots of bad apples have become priests, unfortunately. Lots of others have been in priestly formation but, for one reason or another, never made it to the line. Deo gratias, the latter is true in this case.

  • tbonetylr

    # 1 I’ve been accused of sexually harassing my elementary students and skinship, does that count? They told me that parents complained a few months ago. They gave me a 2 week notice and then I told them they must give me a 30 day notice and they did. I asked them what they meant exactly by skinship but they would tell me. I worked there for almost 13 months.

  • Rambutan

    dogbertt: “Everything I’ve read seems to indicate that a background check would have turned up nothing on that guy.”

    depends on what you call “background check”. All Western (and Western-run) educational institutions I’ve ever worked for have checked references from prior employers, at a minimum.

    Had the Koreans done one on this fellow, they’d have turned up this:

    Officials at Ramkhamhaeng Advent International School said Neil taught there from August 2003 to January 2004.

    “He didn’t pass the probation,” said Poramit Srikureja, an assistant chairman of the Christian school in Bangkok.

    Poramit said the school gave Neil verbal and written warnings about his teaching performance, in particular sloppy lesson plans and leaving students unsupervised in the classroom.

    But instead, here are his own words. Note he’s not talking about a Ding Dong Dang Hogwon, this is a foreign school:

    “Boy was I surprised when after I received a 10-minute phone interview at 1 am I was offered a job!!”

    It’s a problem.

  • MrMao

    “Poramit said the school gave Neil verbal and written warnings about his teaching performance, in particular sloppy lesson plans and leaving students unsupervised in the classroom.”

    But not every reference is glowing. Warnings about sloppy lesson plans and leaving students unattended might be taken with a grain of salt or seen as irrelevant to the job at hand. These warnings don’t really raise a flag.

  • Fantasy

    Yes, I agree with Mr Mao – it is a long way from “sloppy lesson plans and leaving students unsupervised in the classroom” to the sexual moleatation of children.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    He was certified to teach in schools in British Columbia and had no criminal record that would hint at the fact that he was a pedophile. He was, in all appearances, a real teacher.

    PS. I’m going to buy a cat just so I can line the kitty litter box with pages of the Seoul Shinmun,the JoongAng Ilbo and the Hanguk Ibo.

  • Smee

    There was a thread on Dave’s, since pulled, where Peter Jackson talked about how he got out of giving a background check. The schools themselves aren’t doing much in the way of vetting their employees. Granted, if the government and its school districts have lax regulations, it won’t motivate private schools. But we have a case here where several levels were asleep at the switch. As others have said, an orthodox criminal check likely would have turned over nothing (and these are easy enough to fake anyway). But having a system where previous employers aren’t contacted or considered—and vice versa, as the places I’ve worked in Korea can’t be used as references back home—leads to trouble.

    It’s easy to make things look damning in hindsight, and now on Dave’s there are lots of posters coming out of the woodwork, quoting his posts, and saying “I knew something wasn’t right.” The truth is, there was no way to know, and sometimes people slip through the cracks. It’ll be interesting to see what, if any, new regulations are put in place, but I don’t see the resources available for an effecient, reliable method of background checks (hell, they couldn’t even verify our degrees properly the last time around).

  • seouldout

    So I reckon we’ll soon be seeing fake background check documents along side the phony diplomas (and pædophile DVD’s) for sale in Khao San Road. Nifty.

  • McGenghis

    I’d say that so many people seem more concerned about fending off potential Visa problems rather than thinking of the children, but then again, what are you to do? Send them money? Stuffed frogs? Real ones, with the skin still wet? How are you going to make THAT happen?

    The Buddhist monk, who was hit in the face by some random jerk, was asked by his assistant why he didn’t fight back, or at least do something. He basically said that it wasn’t his problem.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    “(and pædophile DVD’s) for sale in Khao San Road.”

    No, tell me you are kidding. That is sick.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    …’sick’ as in ‘unwholsome, morbid, sadistic’. I wouldn’t want anyone to misinterpret my previous post.

  • Maddlew

    McGhengis, catching this guy isn’t going to stem the flow of this sort of criminality one bit. For every Chris Neal there are another million out there who have more self-control and aren’t littering the internet with their pictures. This isn’t stopping this sort of thing and the children are not yet benefitting from all this concern, nor will more concern change things. Until they root out the problem at the source kids are going to continue to be sold to people with an appetite towards the monstrous.
    Pawi, ironically in this country where a man knows how many chopsticks is in his neighbor’s cupboard the topic of domestic abuse and sexual molestation doesn’t come up except in hushed voices in the dark. Doesn’t mean it’s not going on. Because of communal guilt this sort of thing isn’t pulled out from under the rocks and paraded in the light of the media.
    If you want to pretend it doesn’t occur and that somehow Korea has quarantined pedophilia from its communities then go right ahead. You also have to agree that Iran has no homosexuals.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    BTW, I wonder how those newspapers reaction would have been if major American newspapers had printed similarly xenophobic editorials following the Virginia Tech Massacre.

  • Herod

    If I were a school principal I would keep an eye on where my foreign teachers go on their vacations. If it’s invariably to the Pedophile Belt I would start to worry.

  • Breaktrack

    Come on Someguy, you have to understand their situation, but I agree with what you said in #23. The English education and education system in general is corrupt because Korean society is somewhat corrupt. It’s the fault of Korean nationals and no one else’s…like it or lump it. And yes, I know other countries are corrupt too, but how many other countries have problems with cram schools (for example) like Korea? Maybe, they should close themselves off to the world and become hermits again. They might be doing the world a favour by doing so.

  • jefferyhodges

    Robert … I mean “The Marmot” … asks:

    “how could the guy have been a priest-in-training when the Gyeonggi-do Education Department said he hardly drank?”

    Poor English by the Education Department. They meant that he “drank hard.” It’s a common error in Korea.

    But you’re still goin’ to Hell, you infidel!

    Jeffery Hodges

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