Conflict of rights
A recent article in The Korea Times described the Korean career women’s frustrating ``glass ceiling” situation. Their status is often dire. A nationwide negative perspective on female competence in the professional sector makes it hard for women to advance in most professions.
Married women are frequently discriminated against in most companies because it is assumed they will eventually take maternity leave. A popular misconception is that the returning career women will have a hard time readjusting to work, and thereby be incompetent. Female workers need strength and endurance to overcome this widespread prejudice.
In the field of education the working condition for female teachers sometimes seems unhappy beyond description. Female teachers outnumber their male counterparts by an overwhelming margin. Some elementary and middle schools are said to have only one male teacher to more than sixty female teachers. This gender disparity has had far-reaching repercussions within public schools, and for female teachers.
As male teachers are few, female colleagues, most of who are in their late twenties and thirties, have to undertake the arduous task of homeroom teachers. So, understandably, these ladies become stressed in their multifunctional role of mother, wife, and teacher. In extreme cases, female teachers who are just a few months away from delivery have to assume homeroom supervision.
This overwhelming workload often causes serious mishaps such as recurrent miscarriages, lung cancer and depression mostly resulting from stress. I was recently heartbroken to see a young female colleague weeping at the news of her appointment as homeroom teacher. The cruel reality of leaving a three-month-old baby in a stranger’s custody until late evening must have deeply saddened her.
However, I don’t want to give my sympathy only to the painful situation of our young female teachers. I’d like to mention another serious repercussion of the gender imbalance: the negative effect on students. The opposite side of coin is that from the standpoint of learners their reality seems no less cruel than that of young female teachers.
Ideally, teaching and learning should be performed in a consistent and natural flow just like flowers needing continuous care with favorable sunlight and water. Unfortunately, as many young female teachers take maternal leave for three months or more to take care of their baby while the semester is in full swing, this natural flow of learning interaction may well be impaired by intermittent stopping and resumption of class.
Worse, if a homeroom teacher is away from school for a few months’ leave, students will feel a sense of disorientation just like children without consistent parental guidance. As a result, their attitude toward study as well as their behavior can deteriorate. It is true that there is a mechanism to protect students’ right for learning and to fill the vacuum of their homeroom teacher. Temporary replacement teachers take over the job of teaching as well as homeroom guidance.
However, needless to say, they can barely control students’ mischievous behavior, simply because they are temporary and have no leverage or authority over students. In this situation, unruly students often behave arrogantly toward their replacement teachers during class. One piece of recent shocking news concerned the case of a middle school student hitting her female replacement teacher on the cheek several times in angry revenge for being scolded.
Undeniably, quite a few negative factors exist which sink our school environments from bad to worse. My concern is that the effects of gender imbalance in schools seem to be among the main culprits threatening both the rights of young female teachers and the right of students to learn.
If current gender disparity is not resolved, the unbearable mental and physical stress inflicted on female teachers will continue and students’ alienable right to have proper education will be further undermined. Consequently, the vicious cycle of school violence and moral degeneration will be hard to break.
Hopefully, our education policy makers will take this issue into immediate consideration before it is too late.
The writer is an English teacher in Gimhae Girls' High School in South Gyeongsang Province. His email address is email@example.com.