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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Yoon orders measures to restore teachers’ classroom authority

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People visit a memorial altar in Daegu, near the local education office, to pay respects on Monday to an elementary school teacher of Seo 2 Elementary School in Seoul who took her own life last week. [NEWS1]
People visit a memorial altar in Daegu, near the local education office, to pay respects on Monday to an elementary school teacher of Seo 2 Elementary School in Seoul who took her own life last week. [NEWS1]

President Yoon Suk Yeol ordered his government to revise “unreasonable” educational ordinances that could possibly infringe upon teachers’ rights in schools on Monday.

He also instructed his aides in a meeting with senior secretaries to come up with comprehensive guidelines to better protect teachers’ rights, said the presidential office in a statement.

The order comes after the apparent suicide of a 23-year-old elementary school teacher in Seocho District, southern Seoul, last week.

The tragic death brought to the surface difficulties educators face in the classroom, especially the inability of teachers to discipline misbehaving students for fear of complaints from parents.

“Swiftly prepare notifications from the Education Ministry that provide realistic guidelines on the field,” Yoon said in the meeting, according to presidential spokesman Lee Do-woon.

Yoon said his administration has prioritized strengthening teachers’ authority as a part of its key national policy tasks by revising the enforcement decree of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Yoon further called on aides to consult with political parties and local governments to “push for the revision of unreasonable self-government ordinances that infringe” on the rights of teachers.

He was apparently referring to student human rights ordinances that were first enacted in 2010 in Gyeonggi and followed by six other local educational offices, including Seoul.

The ordinances ban corporal punishment by teachers and better protect students against discrimination or abuse due to religion, gender identity or socioeconomic status. It also gives students more rights, including lifting restrictions on hairstyles and clothing.

While the intentions of the ordinances promoting the individuality of students were viewed positively, teachers have complained over the years over their diminishing authority.

On July 18, a first-grade teacher was found dead at Seo 2 Elementary School in Seocho District, southern Seoul.

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education confirmed the following day that police are conducting an investigation into the exact cause of the death.

Teacher unions immediately alleged that she suffered severe stress due to parent complaints over a school violence case.

The school has denied the allegations.

However, the young teacher’s death has resulted in an outpouring of people supporting the plight of schoolroom educators and recognition of the immense pressure they may face being at the mercy of parents’ complaints without proper support from their schools and educational authorities.

“Since its inauguration, the Yoon administration has consistently pursued a policy of strengthening teaching authority,” spokesman Lee said in a briefing Monday afternoon. “It is based on the philosophy that establishing teachers’ authority normalizes education, which in turn benefits students.”

The Ministry of Education also said Monday that it will prepare notifications that outline the scope and method of proper guidance for teachers by August. It also plans to revise student rights ordinances and enable the filing of serious violations against teachers’ rights into official school records.

The move is to enable teachers to conduct fair “educational activities” by restricting some of the provisions prohibiting discrimination or invasion of privacy in the student human rights ordinances.

In following with Yoon’s instructions, Vice Education Minister Jang Sang-yoon in a press conference at the central government complex in Seoul said, “We will improve the system for establishing teaching authority and prepare legal grounds to ensure its execution power.”

He added, “To protect victim teachers, we will immediately separate them from the perpetrators, and we will make improvements so that serious violations of educational activities are recorded in school records.”

Education Minister Lee Ju-ho held a meeting Monday to discuss the protection and restoration of teacher rights with teachers’ unions at the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations headquarters in Yeongdeungpo District, western Seoul.

The ministry also plans to establish reasonable communication standards between parents and teachers, in consultation with municipal and provincial education offices, as well as prepare a complaint response manual in order to protect teachers from malicious parents.

The Education Ministry also said that a full-fledged investigation will begin this week into the death of the elementary school teacher.

Likewise, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education on the same day urged for legislation to protect teachers’ rights, including against assault of teachers by students.

The office said it will consult with three major teachers’ organizations in Seoul to come up with measures to better protect teachers in their educational endeavors, in consultation with the Education Ministry.

This comes as another incident of an elementary school student attacking a teacher was reported, Busan education authorities said Monday, the third case of its kind in recent weeks.

A third-grade student at a Busan elementary school hit the female teacher in the face and kicked her body during class last month, said the Busan Metropolitan Office of Education.

The teacher had asked the student to behave in the process of putting away instruments after music class. After the teacher was assaulted several times, a student finally called another teacher for help.

The teacher is currently on sick leave after being recommended three weeks of medical treatment after sustaining injuries, including to her breastbone. She is also suffering from psychological trauma but has asked authorities not to punish her student.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]