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Korean Mothers Agonize over Teachers’ Day
Making it a holiday brings more confusion
Hyejin Kim (mine1004)     Print Article 
  Published 2006-05-13 11:08 (KST)   
My sister's world recently turned hectic. Since the beginning of May, we have scarcely seen her face for more than a few minutes. Her sudden disappearances in the middle of family gatherings mean she has gone to use the phone in another room.

She has two sons in elementary school. When the school year began in March, her elder son became a class monitor -- even though she had urged my lively nephew not to run for the position. After his victory, she could not help but also be appointed to the Mothers Association and the Parents Management Committee, and to become the Mother Representative of his class. Now she must attend to duties at the school more than twice a week.

New Policy for Teachers' Day

Mothers seem busier and more confused this Teachers' Day. Seventy percent of the schools in Korea decided to make May 15 -- Teachers' Day -- a holiday. Last October, the Korean Federation of Teachers' Associations (KFTA) asked teachers how to deal with Teachers' Day because of long-term arguments and criticism that it encourages parents to give bribes to teachers. The results showed that 56 percent of teachers surveyed agreed to make it a holiday, 23 percent of them suggested moving the date to February, during school vacation, and 15 percent preferred abolishing the holiday. After a long debate, KFTA let principals decide whether or not to hold classes in their schools on May 15.

When I was in school, we stood in lines on the playground on Teachers' Day. The teachers faced us. We belted out songs for them. Class representatives put flowers on their chests. By the end of the day, piles of presents large and small surrounded the teachers. Some students would choose that day to tell a teacher they had a crush on them. It was clear that some students only gave presents because they knew their classmates would.

To be honest, Teachers' Day was not a happy time for me. My classmates checked to see who brought the biggest present, eyeing the pile on the teacher's desk and wondering what they held. We assumed the students who prepared the biggest presents would receive the most attention from the teachers. That was the case for some teachers. But there were teachers who did not like presents and gave strict orders not to bring them anything. Teachers' Day was a burden to gift-givers and recipients alike.


The changes to Teachers' Day are baffling to parents. My sister's phone has not left her ear because the mothers of other students in her son's class keep asking her what they need to do.

The Mothers Association is another burden. The members have so many different opinions. Some mothers insisted that they should prepare an event for teachers any way. In the end, they decided to make rice cakes and deliver them the day before Teachers' Day. One mother was quite zealous. She told my sister that she was going to prepare lunch and dinner boxes. She kept calling my sister because she was having a hard time choosing which food would be best. She kept asking my sister if she knew the teacher's favorite foods.

My sister blamed my nephew for the trouble. She firmly decided not to organize an event for my nephew's teacher and notified the other mothers. Despite this resolution, I could read from her face that confusion and uncertainty about her decision would last until the end of Teachers' Day. It might even last until the end of the school year.

The Origin of Teachers' Day

While celebrating Red Cross Day on May 8, 1958, members of the Red Cross Youth in Chungnam Province in Korea visited retired teachers to show their appreciation and respect. Their visit led to other events for teachers and May 26 was eventually declared Teachers' Day in 1963. The date was moved to May 15 in 1965. The government outlawed Teachers' Day in 1973, and then reinstated it in 1982.

Teachers are important in Korea's Confucian-influenced society. Those who instruct the next generation have sometimes been regarded as near-gods. Teachers' Day is important because it gives students and parents a chance to show their gratitude. It also gives teachers a chance to measure the generosity of the parents. Nowadays, it is doubtful that respect toward teachers leads to the gratitude of parents and students. Practical relations based on concerns about grades seem to have gained priority.

Some teachers -- but not all -- are strongly against the excessive lengths to which parents will go to please them. Teachers confess that they have a hard time dealing with aggressive parents and agree that today's gift culture has destroyed their credibility.

Relations between teachers, students and parents are not simple. The changes to Teacher's Day show that it has been a thorn in the side of the Korean school system. But leaving this matter to principals' discretion reflects how sensitive an issue it is. Some teachers strongly oppose abolishing Teachers' Day because it implies that they are being written off as corrupt. The hope, of course, is that the new rules will eventually pave the way for simpler relations between teachers and parents. But it won't happen over night. Time will be needed to change our habits.

On the Internet, it is still easy to find questions from parents and students wondering what presents are best for teachers. Yesterday, I was unable to buy underwear because, as the clerk explained, most were sold out for Teachers' Day.

- Korean Mothers Agonize over Teachers’ Day, by Hyejin Kim 

©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Hyejin Kim

  Linked Story - Korean Food Fights: Teachers vs. Parents...

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