Celebrating Teacher’s Day on Tuesday, Lee Seo-hee felt a sense of awkwardness receiving a paper carnation from a student, as he has often been a troublemaker who would never listen to her.
“I know I have to embrace all students, but still it is difficult for me to deal with students when they often tease me and do not respect me as their teacher,” Lee, who has been teaching in an elementary school for three years, told The Korea Herald.
In her career, she has experienced some cases of sexual remarks and inappropriate behavior from male students, but except for telling them to stop, she has been mostly powerless.
While stressing that she is still grateful for her student’s appreciating remarks, she said she cannot help but feel a sense of distance on the Teacher’s Day.
Students at a middle school in Busan stand in line to offer their teachers roses in celebration of Teachers’ Day, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Teachers’ Day was designated in Korea as a national commemoration day in 1963, to show respect to teachers for their contributions. On this day, students usually express their gratitude to their teachers by presenting carnations.
But many teachers, like Lee, now express skepticism, saying they are not respected in the way intended by the occasion.
Several online petitions called for the abolition of the day, citing that the day has become only a pretentious ceremony while teachers’ rights have hit rock bottom.
“The society says the quality of education cannot exceed the ability of the teachers, and keeps us in a frame where we have to endure everything, as mentors,” a petition posted on the presidential office website reads. It has gained more than 11,000 signatures, as of Tuesday afternoon. “But they neglect situations where teachers’ rights are violated by students and government bodies do not include us in policymaking processes.”
The petitioner added that superficial events could not revive the falling authority of teachers and therefore should be abolished.
Such calls have been rising, as the number of cases in which teachers became victims of violence and harassment by students and parents has increased.
A report last week by The Korean Federation of Teachers’ Association revealed that the number of cases reported on the infringement of teacher’s rights was 508 last year. The figure has more than doubled since 2010, when there were only about 200 cases reported, according to the report. In 2016, the number peaked at 572.
Among the 508 cases reported, 52.5 percent were cases committed by parents and this was followed by senior members of the school at 15.8 percent and fellow workers by 15.2 percent. Abuse by students amounted to 11.8 percent of the cases.
“Parents are becoming more protective of their children. It is very difficult for me to punish students properly because the parents think I am taking unfair measures against their precious child,” Park Min-seon, an elementary school teacher in Gyeonggi Province, told The Korea Herald.
The 30-year-old teacher has been accused by parents of taking sides when two of her third grade students fought. She also had one of her fifth-year students throw a cup at her while shouting swear words, but she could not do anything about it. When Park told the student’s mother about the incident, she was blamed as incompetent for not being able to deal properly with the teenager.
“While the parents expect teachers to be take full responsibility of their children while they are in school, they do not respect our authority as teachers to look after the children. The idea of ‘respect’ and ‘revering’ teachers as mentors, has become an awkward concept now,” she added.
The Confederation of Teachers’ Union demanded revisions in the law to reinforce and protect teachers’ rights.
“While the number of (cases of) violence against teachers by students have increased, the only law on teachers’ protection contains vague measures such as advising the abuser student and parents to take special education courses and therapy,” the union said in a statement on Monday.
It called for a revision to the Special Act on the Improvement of Teachers’ Status and the Protection of their Educational Activities, to introduce stronger legal measures, such as mandating a regional superintendent to file a complaint over the abuser. It also said penalties should be charged to parents who did not take the recommended course.
Another factor that brings discomfort for the national celebration is the Prohibition of Improper Solicitation and Graft Act, which came into effect in September 2016.
Often referred to as Kim Young-ran act -- using the name of the former chief justice Kim Young-ran who first proposed the idea of the law -- the anti-solicitation law prohibits civil servants, journalists and teachers from accepting gifts and meals worth 50,000 won ($45) for gifts and 30,000 won for meals.
But the law appears to be stricter for teachers from kindergartens to high schools and university professors, as they are banned from receiving most gifts, regardless of prices. And those who break the law face a jail term of up to three years or a fine of up to 30 million won ($ 28,000).
As for Teachers’ Day, the state watchdog has allowed paper carnations to be given to the teachers by one student representative on behalf of the class, or to teachers who do not teach them anymore.
“When a mother came in with a cake and snacks for the class for Teachers’ Day last year, I did not take even a bite, but gave them all away to the students,” said a high school teacher, in Nowon-gu, Seoul.
“It is not like we (teachers) want to benefit from these gifts. I also do agree with the good intention of the law to prevent graft, but Teachers’ Day has become an uncomfortable day for me,” she said.
By Jo He-rim (firstname.lastname@example.org)