[Letters] Treating teachers with deep respect

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[Letters] Treating teachers with deep respect

Since liberation from Japan’s colonial rule, we have long referred to U.S. examples whenever we want to introduce a new system or culture to Korea. But now, the U.S. president is often referring to examples of Korea to argue for education reform. It shows the world’s perception toward the Korean education environment.

According to American professors, teachers were highly respected until the 1960s. Corporal punishments were accepted, and parents often said that the children deserved the punishments, siding with teachers. Of course, students respected the teachers, too.

That, however, changed after the Vietnam War. The relationship between students and parents and teachers was recognized as a relationship between customers and suppliers, and teachers began feeling the pain from the changes. Teachers’ salaries also became relatively low, and talented teachers left schools. Eventually, the society lost respect for teachers, and the vicious cycle continued, they said.

In Korea, we have long respected teachers and their salaries were maintained relatively high. Excellent minds are still working as teachers, and the profession is still preferred by many youngsters. And yet, we will soon face a similar problem like the United States if nothing changes. Recently, schools in Japan are experiencing the problem of losing talented teachers as they felt too much stress from controlling their students and from some parents’ complaints.

Incapable teachers must be removed, but it is wrong to say that all teachers are corrupt bribe-takers and that all teachers are violent. Oppressing teachers with students’ rights is equivalent to oppressing Korea’s education itself.

“In South Korea, teachers are known as ‘nation builders.’ Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in his recent State of the Union address. The remark made us think back once again on our strengths.

It will be too late when our talented teachers leave the classrooms. It may be small, but we should revive Teachers’ Day starting this year by assigning significant meaning. It was a tradition highly envied by American teachers. And above all, we must reform the current system into one in which all teachers are assumed to be respectable the moment they pass the certification exam.

*Letters and commentaries for publication should be addressed “Letters to the Editor.” E-mailed letters should be sent to eopinion@joongang.co.kr.

Park Nam-gi, president of the GwangjuNational University of Education.
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