Good teachers are our forgotten heros
Yesterday was Teacher’s Day, and the holiday got me thinking about my own experience with the profession. In my 20s, I taught Korean to high school students. My teaching career was brief, and I have to admit that I did not do much for my students. Now that my students are in their mid-40s, I should ask what they thought of me back then. It would be interesting to see what they say.
I know I have memories of great teachers who did many favors for me. For instance, I was especially lucky to be a student of Im Gyo-sun, an elementary school teacher and author of children’s books. He is famous for writing lyrics to “Chorong Flower,” which is featured in an elementary school music textbook.
As I was a second grader, the teacher was a grown-up, but now that I think about it, he was only a young man of 28. He lived in a small studio near the school with his wife and a child. One day, he called me over and said, “You should come to my house after school and work on your writing from now on.”
I did not know why I was chosen, and I never asked. Even when I met him at an elementary school reunion, I didn’t get a chance to ask why he offered to give advice on my writing. Since our journal entries were reviewed by teachers, I could only assume that he noticed I was interested in writing from reading my entries. For nearly a year, I visited his house after school almost every day and got comments on my essays and poems. On school days, I used to have dinner at his place with his family.
Though Mr. Im offered detailed individual tutorials, he never even mentioned any kind of compensation. Because of my family’s financial constraints, my mother greatly appreciated his special attention and tried to pay him with whatever we could afford. However, he flatly said that it was rewarding enough for him that I often won awards in writing competitions.
Yesterday, I called Mr. Im and asked him for the first time why he had called the young boy to his home 46 years ago. He remembered the lessons in detail. “I was writing to enter the annual spring literary contest at the time,” he said. “When I watched your behavior and writing closely, I wanted to nurture your literary sentiment.”
People say teachers are no longer respectable, but I believe that the majority are still as honorable and hard working as Mr. Im. Some claim that our schools are industries, not educational institutions. But as much as the bad teachers stand out, there are far more devoted ones.
*The author is the editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Noh Jae-hyun