Better education through mentors

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Better education through mentors

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Not all teachers of primary, middle and high schools dream of becoming a principal or a vice principal. There are teachers who want to devote themselves to teaching students until their retirement.

Lee Won-chun, a teacher at Hwagwang Middle School in Namyangju, Gyeonggi, is one like that. Lee, who has been teaching for 30 years, strives to become “a teacher who is good at teaching.”

He believes that the sole duty of teachers is to devote themselves to the development of creative teaching skills. He does not hesitate to play the role of a “teaching missionary” who spreads his knowledge about teaching to other instructors inside and outside his school.

Between improving the teaching skills of himself and others, Lee did not have time to strategize ways to climb the education hierarchy. “The only thing worthwhile is mentoring other teachers and convincing them to improve their methods,” he said.

Hwang Hyo-sun, who teaches at Mapo Primary School, has also taken the same path. She would rather teach students than have to spend a lot of time on administrative and management affairs as a principal or vice principal. She also finds pleasure in introducing her 33 years of teaching expertise to new teachers and teachers at neighboring schools.

Teachers like Lee and Hwang are called “head teachers,” a title given to them by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. These teachers were selected for their excellent performance as teachers and as mentors for other teachers. This system was introduced two years ago, but it is still considered to be in its test phase.

Meanwhile, other countries are using a system like the “head teacher” one in all of their schools.

The position in Britain of “advanced skills teacher” is the most similar to Korea’s program. The role of advanced skills teachers is spreading their teaching methods to other teachers. They devote themselves to teaching instead of getting promoted to administrative posts.

In the United States, head teachers are called variously “master teachers,” “mentor teachers” and “support providers,” according to the region. Their duties are more or less the same: spreading excellent teaching methods and providing mentorship to new teachers.

In Japan, they have the “principal teacher” system. The “principal teacher” plays the role of a mediator between principals and vice principals and regular teachers. They give advice to regular teachers and nurture teachers so that they, too, may become great instructors.

In China, there are “super class teachers.” As experts in teaching and learning, they are the role models of other teachers.

The Education Ministry is going to expand the trial of the head teacher system by selecting 333 new head teachers this year. However, the bill related to the introduction of the head teacher system is being held up in the National Assembly’s Education and Science Committee.

I think it is of no use to expand the trial system without legal support for the improved status and role of head teachers. The government should work to increase the number of teachers who want to teach and not just be promoted to principals. Only when we have more teachers like these will the public education system of the country be able to stand upright.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


By Kim Nam-joong
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