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Why teachers love Teachers' Day

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By Margaret Curran

Margaret Curran

When I came into my classroom on Friday, the boys and girls rushed towards me, pushing cards they had made into my hands.

"I love you," one of them had written. "I am grateful to you. Thank you for teaching us." Other pretty cards had similar touching messages. One surprised me. "I hope you have a great day. You are the most hardworking teacher I know. And the most smartest teacher I know and the most friendliest teacher I know."

My children are in the first grade of elementary school. I guess at that age, children may think all adults know more than they do. But, I should say, my colleagues teaching higher graders received similarly lovely notes from their students.

I am sure such scenes were playing out in classrooms all over Korea as the country celebrated Teachers' Day (early because this year, it officially fell on Sunday).

I am teaching in an international school based in Seoul and my students come from all over the world. What we have in common is that we live in Korea and, for this reason, we have what we call a Korean culture studies class for our younger students. The teacher focuses on Korean history and traditions, including various celebrations and festivals. Last week, we looked at Teachers' Day.

Teachers' Day itself started back in the 1960s when students who were members of the Red Cross visited teachers who were sick in hospitals. The official day is now timed with the birthday of King Sejong.

Korea isn't the only country that celebrates and honors their educators in this way. October is World Teachers' month, and several countries have national teachers' days, including Mexico which, like Korea, celebrates it on May 15.

I have been teaching in Korea for more than ten years now and have lived in the country long enough to understand how highly education is valued here.

Before coming here, I had taught for 20 years in the UK. At first, I was a bit perplexed about Teachers' Day in Korea. In England, we have Mother's Day and Father's Day and Grandparents' Day. And then at the end of the school year, parents give teachers a gift and cards. But usually, it was parents writing the messages, not the children.

Margaret Curran with her students / Courtesy of Margaret Curran
Margaret Curran with her students / Courtesy of Margaret Curran

What is so inspiring and encouraging about Korea's way of acknowledging teachers is that it is a way for society to affirm our profession and the effort we put in to ensure our students get the best education possible before going out into the world. Other careers may be affirmed in other ways.

The difference is that while teaching is a job, of course, it is also vocation. By that, I mean it is a calling of sorts. It is something that you are drawn to, because of the value it delivers and the satisfaction and fulfillment that comes with that. Given this, it is affirming to find that those who you might say we are accountable to ― including the students, their parents and the broader society ― appreciate us.

Our work requires expertise, as well as energy and commitment. We do this because we love the job. While work-life balance is as important to our profession as any other, we work hard precisely because we love our jobs. I consider it a calling of sorts, even as we were faced with one of the biggest challenges of our careers. The pandemic and the need to pivot to online learning was tough on everyone, including our students and parents. It has also taken a toll on many educators like myself. I confess that the pandemic was a very challenging time. Teachers had to work extra hours to shift to online learning and ensure all our students were following the lessons remotely ― while also checking in on their state of mind.

Meanwhile, we weren't able to travel home to see family and friends for over two years, making us feel more isolated than ever.

I am deeply grateful of the support given by my school, colleagues, family and friends, as well as our students, parents, and the wider school community when it was most needed. It is days like Teachers' Day and the heartfelt gratitude expressed by my students that gives me strength and motivates me. The rewards most certainly outweigh the challenges.

I was reminded of this by the support shown in the UK for medical professionals during the COVID pandemic. It was very moving to see people standing on the streets and clapping as a way of expressing their appreciation for what the medical staff were doing, the sacrifices they made and the public's understanding of how difficult it was for the doctors, nurses and all other medical staff.

Of course, all over the world, there are ways for society to express its appreciation for teachers. I have now come to appreciate that having an official Teachers' Day is something special for it gives students the opportunity to express themselves and teachers to feel acknowledged for the work they do. I think it is a wonderful thing.


Margaret Curran is a teacher at
Dulwich College Seoul.




Kang Hyun-kyung hkang@koreatimes.co.kr


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