A huge protest sparked in South Korea in favor of a teacher who was forced to commit suicide after being harassed by bullying parents.
“My chest feels too tight. I feel like I’m going to fall somewhere. I don’t even know where I am.” Lee Min-so writes in her diary about the fear that overtook her body while entering her classroom to teach.
Thousands of Teachers Went on Strike Against Unbearing Parents
For the past few weeks, thousands of teachers have raised their voices to demand protection against parents. According to the teachers, parents are exploiting a child welfare law passed in 2014. This law states that teachers who are accused of child abuse will be dismissed from their jobs immediately.
According to teachers, parents consider any disciplinary efforts made by teachers acts of emotional abuse.
Kim Jin-seo, a 28-year-old teacher, mentioned how she had to apologize for asking a disruptive student to take five minutes to gather their thoughts in the toilet. In another incident, she had to apologize for reporting a child to his parents for fighting.
Another teacher mentioned that she received a complaint for denying parents requests to wake their child every morning for school. Moreover, one teacher even received a complaint for removing a reward sticker from a boy who had injured his classmate with scissors.
South Korea is a highly competitive society, and everything depends on academic success. Children must attend expensive schools such as Hagwons for extracurricular activities. Previously, families used to have five to six children, but now having one or two children means undivided attention and only one or two chances of success.
Parents Bombarded Lee Min-so with Complaints
Park Du-yong, Min’s cousin, expressed how he was heartbroken once he entered her small, empty apartment, now home to just her goldfish. He came across her unmade bed and a pile of drawings from her first-grade students, expressing their love for her. Underneath was a stack of books on how to cope with depression.
Moreover, Park mentioned that her cousin was fulfilling her childhood dream to teach children. Park also learned that, before Min-so’s suicide, parents of students bombarded her with text messages of complaints. Most recently, one of her students had slashed another child’s head with a pencil, and she’d been embroiled in heated late-night phone calls and messages with the parents.
Bullying and violence among students are known problems in South Korean schools. In February, the government announced that student acts of bullying would be recorded in their university applications. While hoping to incentivize students not to bully each other, this has further fueled parents’ anxieties, causing them to pile pressure on teachers to erase their child’s wrongdoings.
Furthermore, due to rapid economic growth, most parents in South Korea are highly educated compared to the past. This gives rise to the idea that teachers are being paid with their taxes, creating a strong sense of entitlement.
South Korean Authorities to Take Action
Shin Min-hyang, the leader of the Solidarity for the Protection of Human Rights of Students and Parents organization, admitted much of the behavior highlighted over the past month was unjust. However, she argued that these cases were outliers.
In a group chat, an unnamed parent shared the contents, revealing that parents were encouraging each other to harass a teacher over a decision she had made. “If your number gets blocked, then use your family and friends’ phones to call,” one parent in the chat had instructed.
“If teachers don’t have the power to intervene with problematic students, then others will be negatively affected,” the unnamed parent told us.
The government is taking measures to reform its broken classroom environment. New guidelines have been issued restoring teachers right to dismiss disruptive students from the classroom and restrain them if necessary.
Lee Ju-ho, South Korea’s education minister, said “he hoped these measures would return schools to what they should be”.
However, the majority contended that South Korea’s entire educational system, rather than just the classroom, was disrupted. They need to work on their narrow definition of success, which is solely based on academic grades.
*The family’s request led to the change in the deceased person’s name.
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