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“Our Teacher Was Our Father”

Posted May. 14, 2007 07:45,   


At the reunion of the 78 members of the 24th graduating class of Baegun Elementary School in Ungyo-ri, Baegun-myeon, Jinan-gun, Jeonbuk, a special guest has been invited for the last 16 years. She is Ms. Choi Bong-seon (75), the wife of the late Mr. Park Jong-ki.

Mr. Park died of sudden heart failure in 1957 after spending eight years as a teacher. He was 28 and his wife was 25. Their three children, whom Ms. Choi raised on her own, are now nearly 60. Mr. Park Jae-soo, their youngest son who was born after his father’s death, turned 51 this year.

Mr. Park taught these students from their second year until their graduation. In the memories of the students, Mr. Park was a very strict teacher. If they didn’t complete their homework or failed to solve a math problem in class, he took up the rod.

He especially emphasized the importance of going on to middle school, and kept his students after school almost every day to help them prepare for middle school entrance examinations. When his students were in sixth grade, he had them stay at his house to study.

Due to his efforts, the rate of students who continued their studies was the highest in the history of the school. When 35 out of 78 students in a small village school were accepted to middle school, the superintendent of educational affairs personally commended Mr. Park.

Ms. Jang Young-ja (66) fondly remembered her teacher, saying, “Mr. Park came to my house many times to persuade my father, who thought girls had no business going to middle school. I was able to continue studying thanks to Mr. Park, and my mother sent over a whole jar of kimchi to thank him.”

Mr. Park was also a warm-hearted teacher. In postwar times, when everything was lacking, he took money from his own pocket to buy books and pay the tuition for his students.

Due to his giving nature, his wife, Ms. Choi, always had a hard time. Even though they weren’t well off themselves, her husband insisted that his students must not go hungry. Ms. Choi always had to prepare large bowls of rice to be set aside for the students.

Mr. Park’s students, who lost their teacher two years after graduation but would always remember him, decided to look for his wife. After a long search, his students found her, and have taken her on cross-country trips every year since 1991.

Ms. Choi’s youngest son, Mr. Park, says, “My mother declines at first every year, but when she returns from her trip, she looks very happy. She says she is enjoying her older years thanks to my father.”

Mr. Park’s former students have decided to invite Ms. Choi to dinner on May 15, Teachers’ Day, and present her with a gold ring and necklace. Mr. Shin Yong-gil (64) said, “Although they say there are no more truly father-like teachers anymore, our teacher was our father, and his wife our mother. She will be an honorary member of our class forever.”