[Viewpoint]The plight of our educators

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[Viewpoint]The plight of our educators

Recently, a middle school student made a shocking and embarrassing appeal to Lee Ju-ho, Minister of Education, Science and Technology. The student said what was the most difficult to endure was his teachers’ indifference and that he’d rather be receiving corporal punishment than being ignored.

In Korea’s schools and in our society, the biggest fear is exactly what the student talked about - being treated as a shadow. Internet users often said no response is scarier than vicious responses to their postings. The student complained that no teacher tried to discipline him even though he slept during class or sometimes walked out of the classroom. His appeal is the mirror of the country’s schools today.

And a recent visit to a middle school proved that the student’s complaint was nothing but the truth. The view of the classroom through a window from the hallway was shocking. During class, students in the back rows were chatting freely in groups, while the teacher was standing in front with a microphone hung around his neck. It was evident that the student’s appeal to the minister was not based on a special case.

Only students with good performance in high schools can enter teachers’ colleges - and then they have to pass the extremely competitive state exam to become certified teachers. Because the tenure of a certified teacher is relatively long and is guaranteed with a high pension, it is a dream job for many. Yet, the cowardliness of teachers en masse, sadly, is evident in our society today.

There are reasons for this situation. Teachers are humiliated at school and elsewhere, and they are feeling a serious loss of self-esteem. In the end, they have reached a state of “learned helplessness” because they now think that nothing will change whether they speak up or not and it is useless for them to speak up.

Students and parents often humiliate the teachers. Because children grow up at homes where their parents look down upon teachers, they have no respect for their teachers.

A shocking episode in a luxurious neighborhood in southern Seoul is a case in point. “My kid comes home late at night after private cram schools, so you have to give him proper personality education because he has no time at home,” a university professor told a teacher over the phone.

The teacher had no choice but to bitterly smile. Teachers are often compared to private tutors and are told to pay attention to students’ personalities if they can not instruct them as effectively as private tutors can.

If we see certified teachers as simply workers with a job that have short hours and long vacations, we have to change our view. They are in charge of about 30 troublemakers at once. Instead of showing respect to the teachers, many parents try to give bribes in order to make them favor their children more than others. What can their children learn from such parents? Will they be able to have respect for authority when they grow up?

And there are people with even more serious problems. They are school inspectors from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and local education offices. Many of their policy decisions drive teachers to despair.

The inspectors have all had experience with teaching students and they know about the situations at schools, but their written orders often ignore the reality in the field.

School headmasters just try to please their inspectors and the inspectors just try to please the superintendents. And the superintendents just try to please the heads of the education offices. They are education professionals but their obsession is with forming cliques based on university ties, so it is no wonder that they have no time to pay attention to what is really going on among the teachers at schools.

The solution is not about starting a campaign to respect teachers. The issue here is that the teachers suffering from hopelessness are the reason behind the school violence. The government is struggling to come up with effective measures to root out violence from schools, but it must understand that the key is the lack of the teachers’ voluntary efforts. Unless their self-esteem is regained and the conditions are improved for teachers to enjoy their work, our future is dark.

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

by Kang Hong-jun
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