It is widely accepted that today’s students do not respect teachers as much as their parents did decades ago -- a sign of inevitable changes in South Korea’s education culture.
Gone are the days when teachers had enjoyed strong authority in the classroom, even over unruly students. Nowadays, misbehaving pupils perceive teachers as easy targets of their verbal, sexual or other types of abuses.
A striking example is a recent video clip of a middle school student lying on the teacher’s platform during class that triggered heated debates and strong reactions.
The 12-second video, uploaded on a social media last Friday and circulated on major online communities, shows a male student lying right behind a female teacher, who was conducting a lesson. He was seen aiming his mobile phone toward the teacher, with viewers wondering whether he was filming her from below or working on his phone.
On the same social media account where the video was uploaded, other videos show one student completely shirtless and another talking on a chatting app during class.
Even by today’s drastically lowered standards of courtesy, their wayward behaviors were deemed shocking and extreme, sparking a barrage of criticism online and from media outlets.
Some users call for strong disciplinary actions against the misbehaving students, who apparently ignored basic rules in the classroom that both teachers and students should maintain.
The incident took place at a middle school in Hongseong, South Chungcheong Province, and a local chapter of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union demanded in a statement that authorities should carry out a thorough investigation into the suspected infringement of teachers' rights.
The underlying problem is that teachers across the nation often feel helpless in the face of such unruly behaviors by students, due to the absence of effective countermeasures during class.
Since corporal punishment by teachers was banned in a revised education law in 2011, teachers and education offices have long complained about rising problems caused by misbehaving students in class.
Even though a growing number of teachers are insulted and even assaulted by their students, they are reluctant to take action against classroom bullies because a teacher’s individual punitive measures, however legitimate they may be, could lead to child abuse claims filed by their parents, thereby damaging their career and reputation. In addition, school authorities do not actively punish violent or wayward students with disciplinary measures such as volunteer work orders, suspensions or transfers to other schools.
No wonder, then, that many teachers simply give up controlling their wayward students in class, who openly trample on teachers’ rights to conduct classes and negatively affect other classmates.
Decades ago, some abusive teachers and their excessive physical punishment caused social problems and wreaked psychological damage on innocent students. The situation is now fully reversed as some wayward students are taking advantage of soft or rarely enforced punitive measures for their abusive acts in class, undermining teachers’ rights and interfering with the study of other students.
Meanwhile, the local education office in Hongseong said it asked the police to investigate the student who was seen lying on the teacher’s platform in the video, while planning to take disciplinary measures against the two other students. It turned out that the school prohibits the use of mobile phones during class, but the three students did not turn in their phones.
There is no question that students’ rights should be protected. By the same token, teachers’ rights should be respected. This is a minimum courtesy that students must learn by themselves.