[Letters] Licensed to teach

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[Letters] Licensed to teach

The Korean government’s current plan to push for students to evaluate teachers is well-intentioned, but I fear it’s misguided. Do we really need students to tell us that there are ineffective teachers working in public schools throughout Korea? Will having students evaluate teachers truly improve the learning environment or solve the fundamental problem with Korea’s educational system?

We all recognize that there is a definite need to improve the educational environment in the public schools and the professionalism of teachers, but we differ on how to best solve these problems in an effective and efficient way.

To become a teacher in Korea, a candidate needs to pass a series of tests. Upon successful completion, the candidate is given a license to teach for their lifetime. No retraining, no ongoing professional development, no lifelong learning is required of that teacher. As time goes by, that Korean teacher will lack the necessary skills to teach their students effectively. The lifelong license will enable that teacher to remain in the classroom, while the students suffer. However, Korean teachers are not to blame. The mechanism for licensing teachers in Korea is the problem, and it needs to be changed.

If the license to teach were provisional, requiring teachers to undergo periodic and systematic professional development, teachers would be able to update their educational methods and teaching techniques. Those unable to master a course could be managed and monitored. After sufficient attempts at re-mediation and a probationary period, those proven to be unfit to continue teaching could be counseled into non-teaching careers.

Currently, Korean teachers are merely encouraged to update their skills. They are not systematically required to seek professional development. Though some might be willing to rely on teachers to voluntarily enroll in these courses, others understand that creating and maintaining a nation of passionate and competent educators is going to require a mandatory commitment toward quality teacher training and ongoing professional development.

Having students express their feelings about teachers to turn public education into a popularity contest will do nothing to promote the development of teachers or create higher standards of education in Korea. Rather, by breaking away from the archaic practice of licensing for a lifetime, and instead establishing provisional licenses for Korean teachers, while investing in the success of teachers by routinely retraining them, a higher standard of education can be reached.

Steve Austin,

Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education
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