Deplorable school environment

By Lee Eung-tae Lee Eung-tae ( is a former high school teacher who taught English for 35 years.



The Korea Times Co.


Some years back, most local governments passed ordinances guaranteeing student rights in education, religion and private life. In particular, our government no longer permits any corporal punishment in schools and proscribes extreme scolding and shouting as they infringe on student rights. Most liberal teachers and parents applauded the legislation. Now, students from kindergarten to high school can spend their time in school without worrying about being scolded or physically punished by their teachers. They can be free and happy. But are all Koreans, including parents, teachers and students, happy with this changed educational environment? I am not so sure. It is true that corporal punishment and extreme scolding are frightful experiences, especially for young, fragile children who are mentally immature. Obviously, scars from early childhood can traumatize some students for life. Now that these laws have sunk deep roots into the school environment, any teacher using corporal punishment will be instantly complained about by parents and even reported to the police. But unexpectedly, these laws have actually produced untenable school environments. Once clean and quiet classrooms have turned into jungles which young female teachers fear to enter. Innocent kids became rude, talking disdainfully to teachers. Teachers are no longer respected but ridiculed by students and parents alike. Teachers are no longer the ones to criticize and correct students’ misbehavior in the hope of forming better citizens in our society. They have become bystanders in too many classroom situations, just doing their duty of teaching their subject for the given class period without taking any notice of disruptive behavior. As a former teacher, I was saddened to see a video clip in which a young female teacher was teaching in front of the board while one student lied down on the teacher’s platform taking pictures and another one — torso quite naked — giggled, and a third played a cellphone game. I was infuriated when the school authority claimed that the students’ impudent actions were due to their intimacy with the teacher. So it’s okay for them to behave so rudely in front of their parents, too? I found another news report at least as deeply shocking: a parent barged into a classroom and slapped the face of the teacher in front of all the children. Why? Her son had been told off the previous day for misbehaving. While frustrated at this sad reality, I realized that this abysmal situation was anticipated from the beginning. When the ordinances were initially discussed, lawmakers and the others concerned were only focused on students’ rights without considering their repercussions. Legislation ordering students’ human rights would have catastrophic results because it didn’t go hand in hand with measures and programs to create a total harmonious school environment. Where is the ordinance that will guarantee teachers’ rights for teaching in the classroom?