The need for mentors and role models
After finishing graduate school in 2008, I did something my friends and family considered ``crazy.”
I turned down a full-time permanent position at the U.S. Department of Justice to become a high school English teacher in Korea for one year. The rationale for my supposedly illogical decision was simple: I wanted to make direct and positive impact on the lives of others sooner rather than later. But after one semester spent dealing with sleeping, rowdy and disrespectful students, I began to have my doubts.
With regard to student misbehavior, the overall situation began to improve during the second semester. On that note, I would like to mention my former students of Class 1-3, which could be considered my lowest-level class in terms of English proficiency, as well as the highest in terms of disorderly conduct. Nevertheless, as I spent more time with my students, I found myself taking on the role of mentor and ``hyeong” (``older brother”) to these ``troublemakers.”
As the months went by, Class 1-3’s behavior improved for the better ― improved, in fact, to the point of becoming the best-behaved group of students of all the classes I taught during the year. What these students lacked in English ability, they made up for in diligence.
Because of that, I did everything I could to ensure that their motivation levels remained high ― chatting with them in and outside of the classroom, encouraging them to ``keep up the good work” and ``do your best.”
In my lesson plans, I emphasized community service and volunteerism as a means of developing in my students a ``service spirit” and imparting upon them the importance of respecting and caring for one another. For their final assignment, I had students give presentations on global issues, ranging from school violence to global warming.
One student’s presentation, in particular, I will never forget because of the way she concluded it. At the end of her presentation, she told her classmates: ``It is ‘our’ responsibility to save our world.”
Another student, whose dream is to someday become the Korean Minister of Education, criticized Korea’s education system and its emphasis on ``studying as the only way to success,” and noted that although ``earning lots of money and getting a good job is the goal of most students … success in this world should be defined as having kindness and humanity.” Other students’ presentations had messages just as insightful and as moving.
I concluded my teaching year with a final goodbye to the faculty and students in the school auditorium (plus, a surprise farewell party from Class 1-3). That day put to rest any doubts in my mind that I had made the right decision in choosing to teach in Korea. I left the high school realizing that I really did make a difference in these students’ lives.
From my experience in teaching and mentoring over the years ― in Korea as well as in the United States ― I’ve learned that change comes from within. With regard to juvenile delinquency, I personally believe that for a person to change his attitude or behavior for the better, he himself has to have the genuine desire to do so. That being said, a positive role model can become a catalyst for that change.
Especially in a time when school bullying and violence is on the rise, the youth of Korea don’t need teachers who just merely cram seemingly endless amounts of facts and trivia into their heads. They need teachers who can cultivate not only their minds, but their hearts as well. In brief: Don’t just be a teacher, be a mentor.
Kenny Loui is a professor in the Department of Police Administration at Catholic University of Daegu and a Cadet Programs Officer in the Civil Air Patrol, U.S. Air Force Auxiliary. Email him at Kenny.firstname.lastname@example.org.