Lee Min-so*, in her notebook on June 5th, wrote, “My chest feels too tight” as she recalled the panic that gripped her as she walked into her classroom. It feels like the ground is giving way beneath me. “I have no idea where I am.
The primary school teacher wrote on July 3 that she “wanted to let go” due to the stress of her job.
The 23-year-old’s body was discovered by her coworkers two weeks later in the classroom supply closet. She had apparently killed herself.
Primary school instructors around South Korea are fuming after this catastrophe.
They number in the tens of thousands, and on Monday they went on strike for increased safety measures in the workplace. They claim that demanding parents constantly bother them by calling at all hours of the day and night and complaining about their children.
Park Du-yong, Min-so’s cousin, fights back tears as he cleans up her tiny apartment for the goldfish she now keeps there. Her bed is unkempt, and on the floor next to it lies a collection of artworks created by her first-grade students to express their affection for her. A pile of literature on overcoming depression can be found underneath.
According to Park, his cousin had been a teacher for a little over a year, realizing a lifelong ambition by following in her mother’s footsteps into the field. She was quite fond to the children, he said.
When the authorities swiftly blamed a recent split for the death of Park’s cousin, he stepped into the role of detective. He found numerous text messages, work logs, and diaries.
They disclosed that Min-so had been inundated with complaints from parents in the months leading up to her suicide. She has lately been involved in furious late-night phone calls and mails with the parents of a student who sliced another child’s head with a pencil.
Tens of thousands of educators have been holding rallies in Seoul over the past six weeks, complaining that they are too afraid to discipline students or intervene when they are attacking each other.
Teachers who are accused of child abuse are automatically suspended in accordance with a child protection statute introduced in 2014.
Teachers can be accused of child abuse if they physically restrain a violent student, and a scolding is often interpreted as emotional abuse. Teachers who face such accusations may lose their employment immediately.
A parent who wanted to call their child every morning to wake them up for school filed a complaint against a teacher who refused their request. Another student was reported for emotional abuse after he had his reward stickers taken away because he had used scissors to cut another student.
After receiving two particularly hostile complaints, 28-year-old teacher Kim Jin-seo revealed at a demonstration that she had suicidal thoughts and needed three months off work. She had to report a youngster to his parents for fighting, and she had to ask a disruptive student to go to the bathroom for five minutes to collect themselves. The school made her apologize both times.
Kim stated, “We teachers feel extremely disempowered. ” She felt she could no longer teach her class in a safe environment. Both those who have personally experienced this and those who have only seen it in the lives of others are profoundly affected.
The hypercompetitive nature of South Korean society, in which scholastic performance is virtually paramount, contributes to the prevalence of complaining there. Starting at an early age, students fight aggressively to achieve top academic performance in order to gain admission to prestigious universities. During the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 p.m., parents send their children to expensive after-school study centers called hagwons. Families in Korea often only have one child now instead of the previous average of five or six.
Rising inequality is partly to blame, according to Professor Kim Bong-je of Seoul National University of Education, where he teaches future educators.
He added that traditional Korean society placed a great value on teachers, but that this was changing as a result of the rapid economic development of the country. In his words, this translates to a general disdain towards educators. They falsely believe that their tax dollars have funded these services. A mindset of entitlement is so fostered.
Kwon, another teacher, confided in us that the burden of dealing with both parents and students had led to two separate bouts of depression and panic attacks during his ten years in the profession.
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He explained that teachers had the freedom to send troublesome students to the hallway or the rear of the classroom up until about four years ago, when parents began filing lawsuits alleging child abuse. Kwon transferred to a school in a less affluent neighborhood lately and can attest to the fact that wealthy parents are the worst.
He stated, “Their outlook is ‘only my child matters,’ and when all you can concentrate about is getting your own child to a top college, you become quite selfish. He’s convinced the kids are feeling the effects of the parental pressure. They have nowhere to vent their frustrations, so they take it out on each other.
Student aggression and bullying are well-documented issues in South Korean educational institutions. The Glory, a popular Korean drama from 2017, followed a woman as she exacts vengeance on the people who bullied her in the past. The film, which was inspired by real events, showed graphic depictions of violence. The show’s director was falsely accused of bullying and had to publicly apologize, which added a twist to the story.
The government finally responded to public criticism in February by announcing that students’ bullying histories will be considered as part of their college applications. In an effort to alleviate parents’ concerns and discourage bullying, schools have instituted zero-tolerance policies for bullying.
Despite acknowledging that much of the behavior highlighted during the past month was reprehensible, Shin Min-hyang, who runs the organization Solidarity for the Protection of Human Rights of Students and Parents, emphasized that these examples were outliers.
Most parents are good, but we’re worried that this will make it harder to voice our concerns to the authorities. She claimed it was wrong to blame parents for their children’s problems.
Shin conceded, however, that she had previously complained about teachers and wanted greater say in her child’s curriculum and disciplinary measures.
An anonymous parent expressed concern that the allegations had gotten out of hand. He presented us with a conversation in which parents discussed how they should all harass a teacher because of her decision. One parent on the chat advised their teen, “If your number gets blocked, then use the phones of your family and friends to call.”
“If teachers don’t have the power to intervene with problematic students, then others will be negatively affected,” the anonymous parent informed us.
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Moreover, there is a possibility that there would be less faculty available for the pupils. Only 24% of educators reported being happy with their jobs in a 2023 survey, down from 68% in the first survey year of 2006. The vast majority of respondents said that they had considered leaving their jobs within the preceding 12 months.
The government recognizes that its schools have “broken” educational systems. New regulations state that teachers may now physically remove or restrain disruptive kids from the classroom. Teachers might decline to meet with parents after school if they don’t agree on a day and time in advance.
“I hope these measures will return schools back to what they should be,” Lee Ju-ho, South Korea’s minister of education, said.
Many, however, contend that the problem extends beyond individual classes and that South Korea’s whole educational system, as well as the country’s narrow notion of success, must be overhauled.