Living as a mannequin teacher
In spring, several cherry trees were in full bloom around my school’s playground. Many students posed to be photographed at optimum camera angles as if mimicking the gestures of professional models in commercials. Some of them pulled me in to stand by them for more poignantly memorable photos. In that instant, I became a mannequin made to stand as they wanted.
This year, I'm in charge of all kinds of administrative tasks involved with student mobilization such as when they leave school, quit classes, are on sick-leave, studying abroad, or transferring to other schools and vice versa. While processing this work, I ask routine questions of those who come to me to quit school: ``Why did you decide to stop going to school?" Most of them don't want to say because they have already firmly made up their minds to leave. Again, but in a different way, I feel powerless like a mannequin.
Some of the students who quit say they feel tired of the continuous, ruthless examinations and repeating the same cycles over and over. Others, standing firm against the established educational system, refuse to abide by stereotypical expectations ranging from school uniform to cramming.
The rest are suffering from serious mental depression to the extent that they need to go to hospital. Any advice I give is ineffective in changing their minds. The mind set of being a mannequin teacher is ingrained in me. In a sense, it is a necessary psychological survival strategy I’ve adopted as a bread-winner over being a true teacher. If I had fully dealt with each student, as to why they couldn't bear school life any longer, it might have driven me crazy.
I feel quite burdened whenever I ask myself why they drop out of school. I feel a sense of guilt because they leave school due to the draconian discipline of which I am a part. I feel I have pushed them into a mould of obedient uniformity as if they were horses preparing to be raced.
In fact, I have long taken it for granted that there is no other way to successfully prepare them to enter prestigious universities. While in charge of the senior class, I checked all the data available on them and even predicted the most likely candidates to succeed. Then, after they succeeded, I was so delighted that their joy couldn’t compare to mine.
Today's students are inundated with knowledge. In addition, parents and teachers don’t dare mention grades in front of students as this may provoke thorny remarks.
Many universities are trying to shift the parameters of their entry requirements to alleviate the burden of the high grades expected of high school students. Such a concession, however, subtly imposes a different emphasis upon grades rather than entirely relieving students of their burden. Expressions such as “carpe diem" that I blurt out to comfort depressed students often ring hollow.
Regrettably, I have had few opportunities to sympathize with those facing the decision to leave school. I have sought earnestly to stir the passion of students in order that they continue. Instead of looking out for those struggling, my focus has been on the likely successes. I have exhausted all of my strength on them, only pondering why they could not have done better.
The primary instinct of a mannequin teacher is to help students survive the cut-throat competition in society. I think I have to drive my pupils to squeeze out even the smallest academic success. Regardless of how my pupils remember me, I believe that it is a teacher’s duty to do so.
However, since witnessing the pain of the depressed close at hand, my philosophy of education is beginning to crack. I now stand torn between becoming a full-time mannequin teacher or a real teacher. On our neglected Teacher's Day, the weight of a teacher’s role hangs heavier than ever.
The writer is a girls' high school teacher in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.