Teachers debate their role in school violence issue

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Teachers debate their role in school violence issue

During lunch time at a high school in Gyeonggi last October, one male student was spotted cutting in line at the cafeteria. When a female teacher told him off, the student responded not with an apology but insults and swear words.

A couple of days later, the school held a disciplinary committee meeting but the teacher asked the school not to punish the student. She was worried the punishment would anger him and he would try to seek some kind of violent revenge.

During an unsupervised study period at a high school in Seoul in October last year, one boy told another to stop chatting so loudly, which led to a fight. A teacher rushed into the classroom to break it up, but they boys kept fighting.

“Teachers are no use,” said a 17-year old student at that school surnamed Park. “They are like lumps in the porridge.”

Teachers’ authority in schools has been scraping bottom in recent months, with liberal school boards ending corporal punishment and focusing on boosting students’ rights. The balance tipped quickly, with students usurping the powers taken away from teachers.

Many teachers have responded by giving up trying to instruct students about ethics, morality and good behavior. Some accept and ignore the rising levels of violence in schools among students.

But other teachers bemoan the changes, saying they should be the frontline against violence in schools. They say teachers play the role of the students’ parents during school hours.

“With the exception of a handful of students, most at least listen to their teachers while they ignore their parents in adolescence,” said Noh Jeong-geun, 53, a teacher at Yongho High School in Gimpo, Gyeonggi. “Teachers must have the passion to be concerned about their students’ behavior in order to eradicate school violence.”

A survey conducted by the JoongAng Ilbo showed that 35.7 percent of the teachers surveyed believed their active guidance of students is the primary solution to minimizing school violence.

Hong Mi-sun, 17, a high school student in Gyeonggi, said that her middle school teacher behaved like a father when she was shunned by classmates, suggesting various ways for her to be more involved in school activities.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my teacher,” said Hong.

By Yoon Seok-man, Lee Han-gil [sharon@joongang.co.kr]
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