School violence rules stoke fear among teachers

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School violence rules stoke fear among teachers

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With new rules on school violence being implemented across the nation, schools across the country are facing a new challenge as teachers increasingly decline to volunteer for leadership roles that could put them at risk of criminal charges.

With the new academic year set to start on the first week of March, most schools are now working to designate teachers for leadership positions as homeroom teachers and head disciplinarians. A school usually has a number of homeroom teachers, based on the number of classrooms, and one head disciplinarian, who administers punishments when students don’t follow the rules.

Though the deadline to appoint homeroom teachers and head disciplinarians is fast approaching, many teachers have expressed their unwillingness to volunteer for the positions, prompting some schools to force younger teachers to accept the roles.

A report by Yonhap News Agency described the plight of a high school in Seoul, which wanted to appoint 54 homeroom teachers for its 54 classrooms. But of the 140 teachers at the school, only 12 agreed to be homeroom teachers and all 12 wanted to be responsible for the senior class, which would be focused on preparing for the college exam.

The principal of the school told Yonhap that around 70 teachers wanted to be homeroom teachers last year. He said he has “no choice but to demand some teachers take the role,” but added he is concerned whether they will do a good job, because “they are being dragged into it.”

Meanwhile, a mathematics teacher surnamed Jeong, 29, at an all boys’ high school in southern Seoul said she was selected as a homeroom teacher again this year but didn’t have a choice in the matter.

“The atmosphere these days seems to be focused on holding teachers responsible for school violence, so most teachers feel burdened by the prospect of becoming homeroom teachers,” Jeong said.

“It’s really difficult to talk to students and be a homeroom teacher while also being a math teacher. I tend to talk to my students a lot compared to other teachers, and even I can’t figure out every detail about students who are being bullied unless they tell me specifically and honestly what’s going on.”

Teachers with long lists of complaints that they “feel victimized” insist that they are already overburdened with work, which makes it difficult for them to make time to give students additional attention.

Park Hyun-sook, 47, who has been teaching for 24 years, is a homeroom teacher for an eighth grade class at Hanyang Middle School in Seoul.

She said she spends eight hours a day preparing for her classes and teaching, including after-school programs, and two hours dealing with administrative paperwork. She said she has very limited time to meet with her students before or after school, or during the lunch hour.

“If I don’t give up my lunch hour, I have no other time to talk with my students,” Park said.

By Yim Seung-hye, Chun In-sung [sharon@joongang.co.kr]

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