A teacher was forced to write a letter of reflection for a student who was frequently verbally abusive in the classroom. The next day, the student’s father protested vehemently. When he did not answer the phone, he called the staff room and threatened to cut the homeroom teacher’s head off with an axe.
The student urinated in the bathroom. The parents were called to the school, but the teacher left with the student’s soiled underwear in his hands without taking any action.
These are just a few examples of problems teachers have been involved in, as reported on the website of the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations. The stress on teachers in Korea is increasing year by year. A member of the ruling party, “People’s Power,” received a shocking report in July from educational institutions in 17 municipalities across the country.
The data showed that in the six years between January 2006 and June of this year, 100 public school teachers had taken their own lives. Of these, 57 were elementary school teachers, 28 were high school teachers, and 15 were middle school teachers. The suicide rate is particularly high in urban areas such as Seoul and Busan. The number one reason was ‘unexplained,’ the number two was ‘depression and panic disorder,’ and the number three was ‘family problems.
Going to the funeral home to confirm his death
On August 14, the South Korean TV station “MBC Broadcasting System” broadcast a shivering case study. Other media outlets, including the JoongAng Ilbo, also repeatedly reported the following details of the trouble.
Mr. A, an elementary school teacher, committed suicide in December 2009. 400 messages, including protests, were exchanged between Mr. A and Mr. B, a parent of a student who had been absent for a long time. When another teacher told him that Mr. A had passed away suddenly, he became furious, saying, “Don’t lie to me. He went to Mr. A’s funeral home to confirm his death, but did not offer his condolences.
Why are there so many sad cases of teachers taking their own lives in the field of education in Korea?
“The position of teachers vis-à-vis parents is relatively low. In some cases, they receive persistent complaints from parents who have failed to pass the heated entrance examinations, saying that they are not qualified to teach their children and why their children’s grades are not improving. There are even teachers who have been threatened by the parents of children who failed the heated entrance examinations with ‘take responsibility’ and have been unable to teach due to mental problems.
The government is not sitting idly by as the situation worsens. On August 17, the Korean Ministry of Education issued a “Draft Announcement Concerning Guidance for Teachers’ Student Life. The ministry is trying to strengthen the authority of teachers by, for example, ordering them to expel students who do not comply with their instructions. On the other hand, there are concerns that strengthening the authority of teachers will cause further opposition from parents.
The Korean education system is becoming increasingly exhausted. Teachers continue to be at the mercy of the trend to emphasize academic credentials and excessive complaints from parents.