Go to contents

What I want to tell burnt-out teachers

Posted August. 05, 2023 07:53,   

Updated August. 05, 2023 07:53


On July 13, The Times magazine published an interview with U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, 48. The Times stated that he faces 'unprecedented challenges' in his third year in office. From the Supreme Court's rulings on education to ideological clashes in schools, controversies over declining academic achievement, and demands for better treatment for teachers – the issues at hand are different from those in Korea, but U.S. education has also been struggling. “This is a time when the country needs teachers the most,” Cardona said.

At a time when our education landscape is darkened by the suicide of a first-grade teacher, the reason I am mentioning the U.S. Secretary of Education is because of his career. He was an ordinary teacher of fourth graders at an elementary school in Meriden, Connecticut, a town of just over 60,000 people. After more than two decades of teaching, he became the youngest principal in the state, served as the commissioner of the Connecticut State Department of Education, and was appointed as the first Secretary of Education in the Joe Biden administration in 2021.

Secretary Cardona's leadership, commanding schools and teachers with his field experience, reminded me of recent complaints from teachers around me. Every time the government responds to a teacher's death, teachers tell reporters, “The government and the education authorities don't know what's really going on in the schools."

Let's recap what happened after last month's incident. The principal of the elementary school where the deceased worked quickly issued a statement denying the allegations, stating that “there were no reported incidents of bullying.” There might not have been any 'reported incidents,' but bullying did occur. “If you can't take it back, make it like it never happened.” This is a line from the Netflix show D.P. 2, which does seem to apply to schools.

The government blames 'the Student Human Rights Ordinance' for the problem. "It's true that the ordinance is burdensome, but it's only one of the reasons for the collapse of teachers' authority," said one teacher. The National Education Commission, which was supposed to lead the social debate and stabilize schools, has disappeared after ‘mourning’ the situation. While announcing measures to protect teaching rights, Cho Hee-yeon, superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, created an artificial intelligence (AI) program called ‘Education Office Chat GPT’ that could be used for parental counseling. This has demonstrated the limitations of a ‘professor-turned-bureaucrat.’

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education says it will create parent complaint centers in schools and increase funding for litigations. One teacher was cynical, saying, "It means that, in the end, the teacher alone will be responsible in the complaint centers and court." Some say it would be different if the minister or superintendent had been a teacher.

The problem lies ahead. Young teachers in their 20s and 30s who see their school's shambles are leaving the profession. They don't care about guaranteeing retirement age or pensions. "Teachers in their 20s have been dwindling for a few years now,” a 20-year high school teacher said. “They often move to cram schools, corporations, or prepare for the 7th-grade civil service exam." Elementary, middle, and high school students who dreamed of becoming teachers and aspiring teachers who are preparing to teach are also watching the situation cold-heartedly.

But I do have a message for them. "I know that teachers these days are very exhausted and think about quitting. Burnout is real," Cardona said in an interview with the Times. "But to that young person that wants to become a teacher: you have an administration in office right now that’s fighting hard for you, and that’s supporting you.”

Sadly, we have to borrow the words of a secretary from another country to comfort our teachers.