Let our teachers show their stuff
When I was in middle school in the early 1970s, my history teacher often expressed his dissatisfaction with his career. Now that I think of it, he must have felt bitter that his friends, who had been as smart as he was in school, were getting paid far more in the private sector. He made self-derogatory jokes, and it still gives me a wry smile whenever I think about him complaining about his life to us teenage boys.
Nowadays, things are different. Teaching positions are popular and teachers colleges competitive. Compared to other countries, Korean teachers are better off in many ways. Teachers in Chicago recently went on strike over evaluation procedures and extended teaching hours. While the average household income in Chicago is $47,000, the teachers get paid an average of $76,000. So many locals are not appreciating their cause.
Some American economists fanned the frustration of the teachers further by proposing to apply loss aversion theory on their evaluation. Loss aversion is a theory that losing something makes us feel worse than gaining the same thing makes us feel better. A group of economists suggested that a bonus be given to educators first and then taken away when the students do not perform well enough.
According to the Korean Employment Information Service, five educational professions are ranked among the top 20 most satisfying jobs among 759 professions in the country. Elementary school principal topped the ranking, followed by university professor in seventh and elementary school teacher 16th. These professions provide higher job satisfaction than doctors and lawyers, largely because of job security and flexible schedules. A teacher with 15 years of experience is one of the highest paid in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.
But what’s worrisome is that the Korean teachers feel the lowest self-esteem among the OECD member countries. They do not feel confident about their abilities or proud of the guidance they are providing. What happens to teachers today? There must be reasons for the elite educators who passed the competitive entrance and license examinations to feel so frustrated and lack confidence. The primary cause seems to be influence of politics in education. In the controversy over school transcript records, voices of teachers are buried in the shouting by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, some vocal superintendents, and the Korea Teachers and Education Workers Union. The teachers have no room to use any authority as they have to follow official policy from the education office and are pressured by students and parents. They gradually lose their pride and sense of worth. It is regrettable that these elite brains are unable to display their talents in teaching.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Noh Jae-hyun