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EFL teachers claim they were falsely accused of assault

Photo: Flickr by USAG- Humphreys. The photo is not related to the story.
James Hyams
Written by James Hyams

Teaching English in Korea can be a tough job especially when students raise false sexual abuse and assault allegations.

A Reddit member on Thursday, using the handle falselyaccusedinSK, wrote that he has been falsely accused of slapping a student.

UPDATE: This source requested we remove the article. I’ve agreed to remove all quotes that might identify him with his school: “I appreciate what you are trying to do however drawing media attention to this could really hurt the case and upset the school who is currently supporting me.”

He has now closed his reddit account but the thread remains.

While many suggest this individual seek legal advice, some have also shared their horror stories.

IamDokdo_AMA, writes that he worked at a school where false allegations were frequent and poorly managed by staff.

“I was working at an after school program in a public school with no co-teacher in the room, in a room with no cameras. I was accused of touching a girl under her clothes in front of the class. Ultimately, the other kids were like “that didn’t happen” and the kid confessed to lying and the parents were really ashamed.”

The confession did not prevent other teachers thinking that IamDokdo_AMA was guilty.

“I didn’t feel comfortable being alone with a kid in the classroom because of the previous incident. [The other teacher] then wondered aloud if it was because I really had touched the girl.”

IamDokdo_AMA then took what some might consider a drastic step.

“I set up a camera in the back of the room to record classes because almost every week a student would accuse me of some sort of physical or verbal abuse. I finished my contract and got out of teaching. I will go home before I will ever teach in this country again,” he writes.

A former teacher, using the handle koreathrwaway27, writes that the specter of false accusations that are dealt with in an unprofessional manner haunts every foreign teacher in Korea.

“What makes a lot of foreign teachers angry and bitter is their dealings with Korean adults at work. Like [IamDokdo_AMA’s] co-teacher, who refused to believe you didn’t molest a student, then acted like you were in the wrong for trying to prevent future accusations, or kid’s parents who complain about anything in the hopes of getting a discount.”

Koreathrwaway27  is adamant that the most frustrating part of being a teacher in Korea is dealing with the adults.

“For example, a little girl tried to sit on my lap at my ASP, and I gently removed her and told her it wasn’t appropriate. The mom called and said that the girl had told her that it wasn’t fair, as the other children always got to sit on my lap, which is patently false, and that I hated her.”

“The same thing happened to another teacher at a different school. The kid actually did sit on his lap, briefly, while they read a storybook and there were like, five meetings, apology letters written, and lots of bad feelings. His co-teacher had simply agreed that he was a “probably a pervert” in an effort to make him look bad.”

Koreathrwaway27 says that there is a culture in Korean schools for shifting blame onto the first person it will stick to when a complaint is raised.

“Problems with kids can always be dealt with in an adult manner, by teachers who have each other’s back professionally. Unfortunately, it was so rare to find that with Korean teachers that I left ESL completely.”

If a teacher is found guilty of assault their visa can be suspended. They can be fined and the family can seek restitution.

If you are falsely accused of assault it is best to seek legal advice immediately.


About the author

James Hyams

James Hyams

James Hyams juggles several careers including being a journalist and a social worker. James has an avid interest in 'telling it as it is', exposing matters of public interest, and reviving investigative journalism in the new digital era. Testimony to this is his thesis titled: “U.S. Government secrecy and the withering watchdog: Is WikiLeaks the answer?”

  • Kevin Kim

    Just a technical note: “ESL” (English as a Second Language) refers to English as it’s taught in the United States or in another anglophone country. In Korea, what’s really being taught is EFL—English as a Foreign Language. The difference between FL and SL has to do with whether the students must still use the target language once they leave the classroom for the day. In America, a student learning English must continue to use English when interacting with people outside of his own speech community, so this is English for everyday life, which is why it’s “English as a second language.” For those learning English in Korea, the students revert to Korean once they leave the English-language classroom; English *isn’t* necessary for daily life, so it still has the status of a foreign language—hence EFL.

    Aside from that minor note, I found this article to be a big step in the right direction to increasing awareness about the difficulties that many foreign teachers face when trying to teach in Korea. Much of this article focuses on the casualness and frequency of lying, which is a big problem in Korean culture in general. I’ve taught at the university level for several years and can confirm that plagiarism—an academic form of lying—is rampant and not even viewed as wrong by many students. Part of the problem may simply be cultural: when a Korean learns Chinese calligraphy, for example, s/he is taught to copy the work of the great masters first. After skill in imitation has reached a peak, *then* the student may branch out and get creative, making his or her own calligraphic style. Repetition, rote memorization, and copying are all part and parcel of an ancient educational theme that harks back to Chinese culture.

    But at the same time, like it or not, we now live in a globalized world, and the modern norms for lying, cheating, and stealing are well-known, even to Koreans, who really should know better these days. It’s disheartening to read, in the article, that kids will casually lie about what their teachers do in class. It’s discouraging to hear about frequent false accusations. I’ve never had such problems at the university level (aside from plagiarism), but I imagine life is very different for expats teaching in hagweons, secondary schools, and primary schools.

    • John Bravo

      Interesting perspective. This may explain the shocking lack of innovation in Korea and China. Everything seems like a knock-off of some other invention or culture. No one seems to question “why” things are done a certain way either. It’s all about appearances and not about results (except in the case of test scores of course).

    • realitycheck

      Of course it’s different for k-12 teachers. They don’t have students whoring themselves to A+ or to further their English ability. And don’t play the but “I’m different” card. lol

    • guest

      This society is highly sociopathic. It’s centered on greed and status like America. With greed, honesty, integrity, courage and willingness to speak the truth go out the window REAL fast.

      I think it’s safe to say that this particular society suffers from inferiority complex being situated between Japan and China. For this reason, sociopathy has and will continue to be the accepted norm.

  • Stefanie

    I have been accused of swearing in the class, the mother of the student threatened to get me fired. Luckily I had other students and Korean co-teach (not in the room) back me up. Unfortunately the managers didn’t believe me. I’ve also had a student tell his mother that my co-teach and I kept vodka (no alcohol) in our desks. She didn’t believe him because she knows he lies but wanted to warn us.

    Sometimes I would like to set up a camera in my classroom for a record but to also show the parents certain behavior in class (no, not my son. My son is an ANGEL.) It is really sad that this is becoming an issue.

    This isn’t only for foreign teachers though, we are just the easiest target. The schools don’t usually back up the Korean teachers (public schools) if there are issues either. They always tend to take the parents’ side, constantly wanting to please them. These are PUBLIC schools where the parents’ only alternative choice to to change their address to change school. Parents have too much control in the classroom and the teachers have too little back up.

  • Stefanie

    Also, can this picture be edited? It has nothing to do with the article at all and is very misleading. It looks like it was taken off of someone’s Facebook page.

    • smithington

      Weren’t they just on here the other day in the comments talking about how they were going to learn lessons and improve the quality of what they produced? Here we have a story with a picture that has nothing to do with the incident in question, and an incident in itself taken from a subreddit known for being a playground for bored expat trolls. I see zero effort made to verify if this is true.

      • James

        Are you suggesting the sources are lying to us? By extension, you are then suggesting Stefanie, who just shared her story, is lying too? Stefanie just commented: “I have been accused of swearing in the class, the mother of the student threatened to get me fired. Luckily I had other students and Korean co-teach (not in the room) back me up.” What would you prefer we do? Breach our sources confidence by contacting their school’s headmaster and create conditions that would get them dismissed?

        • Joseph

          Isn’t fact checking journalism 101? Copy pasting quotes from unverified sources on the internet seems like lazy work. And who’s confidence are you protecting by quoting random Reddit users? The title itself, “EFL teachers falsely accused of assault” is unverified. At the very least, it should be “An EFL teacher claims they were falsely accused of assault.”

          • James

            Sure, finding the truth is a central tenet of journalism but so is protecting sources and minimising harm. These sources are not “random Reddit users.” Naming the individuals and investigating their claims with their schools and co-teachers will make their employment untenable. Would you like me to call the parents? Call the children? Do a stake out at the school? I suppose in your mind these sources were lying to give a false indication of what an EFL teacher might face? If I was in doubt of their stories I would thoroughly investigate: When in doubt, leave it out! More to the point, I link my account here to my facebook and have an open and public account so that people can decide for themselves on my credibility. People can track all my activity. Your account is private, anonymous, and you’ve only made 8 comments all of which you have hidden. Are you sure you are not just trolling?

          • Joseph

            I certainly didn’t claim they were lying. They are certainly unverified sources and your original title, “EFL teachers falsely accused of assault” made it sound as if due diligence and basic fact checking were done and the statement were fact, which may or may not be true. You say you want to protect the sources, but all you really did was copy and paste what someone wrote online and ran with it. Based on a followup thread, it seems no effort was done to even ask the users named to elaborate or confirm what they wrote, which you could have done at a minimum. You say that if there was doubt in their stories, you would leave it out, but that’s not what investigative journalism, which the Korea Observer claims to be should be doing. If “the truth” is based on whether the write thinks it’s true, that’s a very thin standard. And I don’t think the fact that my account is private should be an issue here as I am not the one claiming to be an investigative journalist. Is it the policy of the Korea Observer to accuse anyone who offers criticism a “troll?”

          • smithington

            Protecting your sources? You have no sources. no one has personally confided in you. You went to a thread and copy and pasted some things that anyone could have written for any reason and call that a story. Protecting sources is something a journalist does, but you are no journalist and those aren’t sources.

            The subreddit has a history of being repeatedly trolled by multiple people. Including people associated with the ones you’re quoting.

            I have no idea if they are lying or not, but I sure as heck wouldn’t try and create a news article out of it without trying to verify it first.

            Wreaks of that “Irish are drunks” CL article a little while ago. Same level of shoddy journalism there too.

    • John Paul

      Yep it is a rip. The person being paddle is actually an American soldier.

      • Stefanie

        Wow. Just wow. So I take this site is more like a blog with multiple writers….

  • Small twon

    Oh for crying out loud …really ? reddit ? that’s your news ? I have known Korea observer is shameless garbage but this is new. What will be the next news ? Story he heard from random guy in the Itaewon bar ?

    • James

      “Don’t fee the trolls,” they said. Thanks for reading all our articles. I appreciate that you enjoy our content enough to keep reading and writing about it.

  • Nick Richter

    I have seen foreigners accused of everything from sexual harassment, abuse and violence; when it is in fact the Koreans who are doing it. This country has long been known as in your face discrimination and prejudice against foreigners. The real problem is not with the foreigners; it is with a culture and country that is both disrespectful and ungrateful towards other foreign countries. I have been living and working here for almost six years and still see how Korean pride affects how Koreans deal with foreigners. In fact, at the school at work at, they will promise foreigner students something and than take it away. Yet, it is not just this school that sees foreigners as second hand citizens, but almost every school in Korea. Than there is the Korean government, which seems to always want to blame foreigners for many of their mistakes and mishaps.

    Kevin Kim is correct when he labels English as a foreign language instead of a second language. Yet, students and Korean citizens refuse to use it outside of a classroom, which is why they have difficulty with it. While Korea and its citizens constantly look down on English, they better take it seriously if they are to communicate with the rest of the world. Yet, many Koreans let their pride and their culture affect how they treat both foreigners and the English language, which will create a very negative response from the rest of the world. In fact, many foreigners see no difference between the way South Koreans treat foreigners compared to North Koreans. If this becomes the case, many foreigner countries will refuse to help South Korea advance in the future.

    Finally, I have heard that many South Koreans want to continue their education in the western countries. Yet, with their negative attitude towards foreigners and English, this will greatly prevent many westerns from actually helping Koreans when they do travel to the US. While there are some great advantages and things about South Korea, many foreigners focus on the negative and report these negative aspects back to others in their native countries. This could have a devastating affect on South Korea in the future if they do not change their attitude and behavior towards visiting foreigners and the English language.

  • smithington

    Dear The Korea Observer,

    We really need to start asking that you provide some honesty in your bios.
    “international investigative journalist” we’ve just seen this guy copy and post some random user generated content as if it was fact. I’m sorry, but you can’t do that and try and play the “investigative journalist card”

    “an academic” i covered this on the last article of his I came across, but I can’t believe anyone so wilfullly ignorant is an academic. To completely buy into the 80% pay gap myth despite the fact that there are plenty of studies, including common sense, which completely refute that claim, again throws into doubt any claim of being an “academic”

    I request that these two things be removed from this “writer’s” bio immediately pending proof of said items. There has been a lot of problem with people providing fake credentials in Korea, and it seems you may have fallen victim to that yourself.

    • Tae-hoon Lee

      My apology, smithington. It is my bad that I asked James to write crappy articles without paying him or giving an ample time to write. The KO has limited time and resources and in order to allocate time for stories that deserve proper investigation, we are intentionally making a lot of sacrifice in many stories. I’m not saying what the KO is doing is right or justifiable. It needs such great feedback and constructive criticism from people like you. Thanks, smithington.

      • smithington

        You can’t have it either way. You claimed you wanted to be taken seriously, and yet you produce this garbage, and then follow that up with excuses as to why you did. Which is it? Do you want to be taken seriously or do you want to be a joke? I can tell you which direction you’re headed right now. The “we did it for free” line shows a lack of self-respect and pride in your work. If you’re making excuses, you know you didn’t do the best job you could, and if you’re not going to do that, why waste everyone’s time?

        Respect is earned through professionalism and you guys are a long way away.

        • Tae-hoon Lee

          smithington, I totally agree with you. No excuse.

  • itdoesntmatter

    Fair enough. Expat Observer coming soon! But unlike this site focused on one nation, the Expat Observer will encompass all regions around the world. Korea, France, Brazil, and…. Southeast Asia, oooooooooooooooh we don’t wanna go there? We will cover topics such as Expat white privilege, G.I. immunity to local prosecution, and sex tourism. And we’ll ask questions such as “why are most expats usually losers back in their home country? (especially ESL)” and “why they become cry babies when the host country have things that are unusual.” Hopefully the Expat Observer will draw in readers of this site, outraging them once more, probably for different reasons.

    • Tae-hoon Lee

      I look forward to the launch of the Expat Observer! Good luck!

      • itdoesntmatter

        Are u crazy? I’d never proliferate crap such as those from the Korea Observer. And fyi, just because you have global friends doesn’t make you globally aware.

    • Anonymous_Joe

      itdoesntmatter: “Expat Observer coming soon! ….We will cover topics such as… G.I. immunity to local prosecution….”

      Sounds like your site will lack content. Why don’t you name one instance of “G.I. immunity to local prosecution” where local prosecution has jurisdiction?


      …Name one.

      (Waiting… waiting… waiting…)

      • itdoesntmatter

        This is obviously a mocking joke of this site and hence you have no common sense. And you by stating “Waiting… waiting… waiting…” defeats the purpose of the joke for whom it is intended for, YOU. Thanks for the confirmation!

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