Wednesday, January 12, 2011

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Find Out What it Means for Korean Teachers

Teachers have long been revered in Korea. Confucian tradition puts teachers in the realm of kings. And competition for new teachers is still very tough, as many see it as an honorable and stable career.

But lately, their status seems to be slipping.  The abolition of corporal punishment in classrooms has sparked debates about how much respect (and obedience) teachers can command in today's society. A series of news stories portray classroom chaos and students assaulting or berating their teachers. One video clip circulated on-line shows a student asking his teacher a series of humiliating questions about her sex life.

Such behavior would have been unthinkable a generation ago, many say. 

"When I was little, teachers were heroes to children," said Go In-Gyung, chairman of Pagoda, an English test preparation company. While so many children once pinned their hopes on a teaching career, he said, "now they are interested in becoming movie stars, chief executives, sports figures."

This generation grew up with money. They did not know what it was like to be hungry like their grandparents did or to share a small apartment with four siblings as their parents may have. They have a whole new sense of entitlement and their career goals extend beyond stability.

The authority of public school teachers is also being increasingly challenged by the growth in private cram schools.  Three out of four Korean children attend private tutoring outside the public school day. The exploding popularity of these private cram schools has led to a spike in the influence and personal wealth of their teachers.  Some on-line test-preparation teachers are treated like celebrities and earn more than $1 million a year.

With so many families taking learning into their own hands, what public school teachers do during the day is becoming less relevant. Many kids say they go public school to see their friends and pass the time, but they actually learn in cram school.

It's a difficult dynamic gives some prospective public school teachers pause.  "I don't want to be a teacher if students are just going to sleep through my class," said Jung Chun-Mee, a student at Korean University. She said she began her studies thinking she would pursue teaching but now she's not sure. She decided to double major in business.

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