20% of Teachers in Korea Regret Choosing Their Profession

Korea has ranked number one again among OECD countries in a recent survey. Previously, Korea achieved a coveted #1 ranking among OECD countries for the creative problem solving skills of their middle and high school students. This time, the top rank is for something less impressive- Korea has the highest percentage of teachers who are dissatisfied with their profession. 20% of Korean teachers regret choosing to become a teacher, despite the high job stability, high pay and more vacation time compared to teachers in other OECD countries. What does this bode for the teaching profession, and the students that are taught by these teachers? How will this impact Korea’s ability to train their future human capital?

Article from Joongang Daily:

20% of Teachers Regret Choosing their Profession…1st Place Among OECD Countries

55 year old Ms. Kim, who has taught math at S Middle School in Seoul’s Kangseo-gu for the past 29 years, recently had an embarrassing incident in class. One student said, “Your method of solving the problem is different from the way they taught us in the hagwon.” Ms. Kim explained, “That might be the case, but this is the standard way to solve it.” A few days later, the student’s mother called her and asked, “How could you rebuke a child?” Ms. Kim sighed and said, “Many times, I feel pathetic and question myself as to why I became a teacher.”

In Korean society, teaching is a highly stable job that comes with an envied pension upon retirement. However, teachers actually often say they “want to quit.” In reality, the percentage of teachers in Korea who say they regret choosing this profession was the highest out of the 34 OECD countries. Professor Yang Jeong-ho, from Sungkyunkwan University’s Education Department, used the OECD ‘TALIS·Teaching and Learning International Survey 2013’ as the basis for analyzing 105,000 middle school teachers in the the OECD countries. South Korea came in first place, with 20.1% of teachers regretting choosing this profession. This greatly exceeded the OECD average of 9.5%. South Korea also had a higher percentage of teachers (36.6%) than the OECD average (22.4%) answer, “If I could choose again, I would not become a teacher.”

(Left) The chart shows the percentage of teachers in OECD countries that regretted choosing their profession. Korea has the highest percentage, at 20%. (Top right) The graph shows the amount of time teachers in Korea spend on administrative work compared to other OECD countries. (Bottom right) The chart shows the salary progression for Korean teachers. Their initial salary is low compared to other countries, but the longer they teach, the higher their salary, and teachers with a lot of work experience attain the highest salary levels among the OECD countries surveyed.

(Left) The chart shows the percentage of teachers in OECD countries that regretted choosing their profession. Korea has the highest percentage, at 20%. (Top right) The graph shows teachers in Korea spend more time on administrative work compared to other OECD countries. (Bottom right) The chart shows the salary progression for Korean teachers. Their initial salary is low compared to other countries, but the longer they teach, the higher their salary, and teachers with a lot of work experience attain the highest salary levels among the OECD countries surveyed.

Korean teachers receive a higher salary than the OECD average. As work experience increases, the salary earned increases, and they become the top ranked teacher in the world according to pay. If we look at middle school teachers with the longest teaching record, teachers in Korea make more than teachers in Germany. Compared to the US and other developed countries, teachers in Korea are also guaranteed salaries during the summer and winter vacation. Because of this, there is concern that teachers may lose motivation/enthusiasm.

Lee Seong-ho, a professor in the Education Department at Joongang University said, “Teachers in Korea have high job stability, but are not satisfied because they have low self-esteem.” “The power and freedom of teachers is decreasing and they are being disregarded by parents, so rather than feeling the pride of teaching, they are questioning themselves, asking “What am I doing”?

korea teachers not satisfied with job oecd

There is also a similar reaction from teachers. One principal of an elementary school said, “Nowadays, if students fight amongst themselves, there are parents who will request litigation via a lawfirm. Principals also have to kneel before the parents.” 56 year old Mr. Jang, a teacher at Seoul’s Seodaemun D High school said, “During class, there are limits to controlling students who say, ‘We learned this at the hagwon.'”

People are pointing out that the vertical hierarchy of the education circle, from the Ministry of Education to the Education Office, Principal, etc is causing teachers who are “superb resources” to become lethargic. Hwang Geum-jung, a Professor in the Education Department of Yonsei University expresses concern, saying, “Teachers are seeing an increase in the administrative work they have to do due to the bureaucratic top-down education culture that stems from the Ministry of Education and other offices. Thus, it is becoming harder for them to find meaning in being a teacher.”

53 year old Ms. Lee, a 6th grade homeroom teacher at Middle School B in Seoul’s Dongjak-gu spends more time doing administrative work than preparing for class. She says, “When the semester starts, I have to deal with more than 10 administrative things, which is already a burden to me.” She confessed, “When I have to process documents from the Education Office, and attend meetings, I feel a lack of confidence, and wonder “Why did I become a teacher?” 33 year old Ms. Nam, a teacher at Middle School P in Seoul says, “Rather than teaching well, teachers who are better at processing administrative documents are more favorably considered for promotions.”

Teacher Yang Jeong-ho says, “The Ministry of Education and Education Office need to come up with a plan to raise the morale of teachers.” “It will negatively impact students to have teachers who are not satisfied with their profession remain in their profession until they retire. They should discuss a plan to renew teaching certificates every 3-10 years.” He added, “We also need a system that gives good teachers concrete incentives.”

Comments from Naver:


You may not feel it from just words…but there are so many impossible kids and parents…IMO…teachers’ authority is as important as the students’ rights.

dong****[Responding to above]

It is not just the students. There are also many problematic teachers. There’s no need to request teachers to have a stronger spirit of public service. Be devoted to your job like other ordinary workers. There are many people who aren’t devoted to their jobs, but they are wrongfully hoping teachers have a spirit of public service. In reality, there are many [teachers] that don’t do as well as ordinary workers. If everyone was devoted to their job, it would be enough. From the president, to the ordinary laborers~^ Don’t ask people to have spirits of public service or patriotism. If you are thorough with your job, that’s enough~^^


Actually, the authority teachers once carried has decreased drastically. They can’t say anything about students sleeping in class…Teachers in classrooms today are seen as easy to deal with, to the point of ridicule. I understand that it would make my heart hurt to see my child being hit under the so-called “rod of love,” but kids these days are overindulged…Even raising my kid like they’re precious gold is a big problem. Teachers who engage in violent actions towards students under the “rod of love” are a problem, but parents who can’t punish their kids at all are the real problem.


This is the responsibility of extreme parents.


It’s not just the teaching profession, but compared to before, I feel that society as a whole is harder to live in.


They should ensure teachers have authority.


Won’t they be pissed off? Most parents say their kid is not at fault, and ran with the wrong friends, blaming other people when their kid causes trouble.


Education at home is just as important as the education kids receive at school. Kids who are only pampered at home are self-centered at school, and they even speak bluntly to teachers. If parents think their kids’ feelings were even a little hurt by a teacher, they will come and yell at the teacher at school. Please pay attention to what kind of person your child is and how they behave.


If parents see teachers as good for nothing, their kids will also have the same perspective. Yet, they hope teachers teach their kids well. And there are quite a few parents who would make a fuss and complain if a teacher scolds their kids.


Administrative work is supposed to be dealt with in the admin offices. They should just convey official messages to teachers. Is the admin office doing work?


When I was in high school, it was 2010, and there were a lot of students sleeping in class even though it was a general high school. However, if teachers woke them up, they would get mad, and ask teachers why they became a teacher ’cause they can’t teach well, and completely challenged their authority. The punishment was to drag the students to the teachers’ room to reflect on their behavior. There are no such thing as teachers who have no emotions when they teach, like a robot. Teachers are all people, and before they teach, they have to spend time preparing their curriculum, and strive not to make any mistakes. It’s important to have an institutional strategy to ensure teachers’ authority, but we should make elementary and middle school students internalize self-motivated and polite learning and behavior.


I respect teachers. Nowadays, kids don’t listen to teachers, you have to coax them. I can’t believe how class time runs..


Seeing these kids without manners, the majority of them were not taught properly at home. They were spoiled, and this is the result. The problem is that if the teachers want to coax these kids into becoming adults, there is an increasing number of parents who have the audacity to grab the teacher by the collar, hit them, and then put it on the news. We should persuade these kids to listen with the rod rather than with words.

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  • milo

    I don’t envy teachers here. If only for the fact that there seems to be a lot of helicopter parents. That is true of most countries nowadays, but from my experience Korean Mothers especially have this nasty edge to them when it comes to their childern and what they think they deserve. I’ve witnessed Korean techers being absolutely ripped to pieces by student’s mothers. I was told this was because Korean mothers “love their children so much and sacrifice everything for them”. Personally i think it’s because females here tend to be quite immature well into adulthood (and old age) and lack empathy that may help them understand the teachers postions instead of what they think their child should have.

    • N.I.C.K.Y

      Yes Korean parents are too involved in the education of their children. I don’t know what the fuck they’re screwed up thinking is. They should relax and should always try to learn from Americans who are hands off and let their children do whatever they want.

      • David

        The problem is not being involved, it is good to be involved. But caring about and wanting the best for your child is not the same as properly handling disciplinary problems. Also, making sarcastic comments about other countries does nothing to address the problems in Korea. While there is not only one ‘right way’ to raise a child, treating him in a way that gives him/her unrealistic expectations well into adolescence is not helpful for anybody (it undermines the teacher which negatively affects education, fails to confront the child with what he will encounter in adulthood and is too difficult and all consuming for the parent). That is my opinion.

      • milo

        Because those are the only two options right? Be completely overbearing and unreasonable or do absolutely nothing at let your kids run wild. No in between area? I’m not holding up the US as the paragon of education and parenting.

      • Katherine Traylor

        You think American parents let their kids do whatever they want?

    • MikeinGyeonggi

      High salaries, good vacation, huge bonuses, and guaranteed jobs? I definitely envy teachers in Korea!! If the worst thing they have to deal with is some bitchy mothers, then I’d say it’s still a pretty sweet deal.

      • milo

        Except, more and more of them don’t have those things. The trend is moving towards “contract” teachers, who are little more then temps. A lot like foreign teachers actually! They don’t get the bonuses, they don’t get salary increases and they aren’t paid during the holidays. They have no job security and they still have to deal with a lot of the usual BS. If you can get your foot in the door AND stick it out for about a decade then yes, it can become a nice little earner.

        • MikeinGyeonggi

          Contract teachers definitely get screwed over. It’s a terrible system. But I believe the article was talking about permanent teachers. Koreans don’t consider contract teachers to be “real” teachers, and they certainly wouldn’t consider contract work to be a profession. The teachers referenced in the article were in their 50s, so they are definitely “permanent” teachers.

          The one (and only) nice thing about contract teaching is that it lets young people experience one year of public school teaching without having to study and pass the onerous teachers’ exams. And if they’re wise, they use their plentiful desk warming time to study for the exams.

          • milo

            Yes, you are right. Good point.

          • MikeinGyeonggi

            You’re also right that the real benefits don’t start rolling in until teachers are about a decade in. Young teachers get paid much less and do much more work. Older teachers have lighter schedules and higher salaries. It doesn’t make any sense.

  • commander

    One of ways to restore teachers’authority that has been dismantled over a decade or so ago by private education and overprotective and assertive helicopter moms is to set up schools rules that specify disciplinary actions and punishment for wrongdoings by students.

    In Korea, there has been no working school rules because teaching students by leading examples and offering consultation is considered as more of a desirable teaching way for troublesome pupils.

    But now things have taken a dramatic change.
    Unlike the past generation, who was taught to respect teachers like their parents, (even there is the saying, “you should not step on the shade of your teacher.”), the present day generation of students has no hesitation to talk back to their teachers, and turn a deaf ear to or take a sleep in class, are eager to find faults with and backbite teachers.

    Parents who mistakenly think of their children as best of the best often gave humilitating treatment to teachers in front of their students.

    Their authority and dignity couldn’t fall further down to the ground.

    The viable remedy to bring the abnormalities in classrooms back to where it is supposed to be is to come up with and apply school rules strictly to all students, giving teachers the power required to stand confidently and exuberantly on the podium in classrooms to give a lecture.

    By doing so, teachers remain confident when they confront and spurn complaints from some parents who think just the reason their being parents allow themselves to maltreat teachers.

    With the ban on corporal punishment at schools in place, stringent school rules is the answer to get authority back to teachers.

    • Chucky3176

      What’s the use of public schools when so many of the students are Hagwon monkeys who uses the classes as sleeping times, with the unwritten permission of teachers and schools? Just turn those desks into beds and let these kids get their sleep in, away from the prying nagging mothers.

      • bigmamat

        They should fail them. But from what I understand all this studying is only to pass tests even university students are “pushed” through regardless of their actual participation. I’m not sure if that’s true or not but recently I read that the drop out rate in American colleges for Korean students is fairly high. The US has about 70,000 Koreans here every year on student visas.

        • David

          One of the big things that nobody talks about in Korea is the lack of academic accountability. All the children all pass. No matter how much or how little work students do in class they will always pass on to the next school year. There is no repeating of a class they fail to master, or even understand.

          • bigmamat

            That’s what I heard but wasn’t sure if it was true.

          • milo

            I can’t speak for high schools, but at the university level…I was pretty shocked. I understand that the university years are seen as time to have fun and decompress from a childhood of intense study, but there is no academic rigour. Plagarism is seen as nothing. Cheating is ignored. If you actually manage to get an “F” (which would be difficult becuase the courses I have seen are designed so as to be nigh on impossible to fail) you can go meet with your “professor” or department head and bump yourself up to a conditional pass.
            I’m well aware of slipping standards at unis throughout the world including the West, but there is at least, in my experience, some academic standard that is upheld. Plagarism is taken seriously, due dates are more then mere suggestions.

          • bigmamat

            Absolutely which why I read about the drop out rate for Koreans attending school in the US. US colleges will fail you.

        • Chucky3176

          “The US has about 70,000 Koreans on student visas”.

          And you think they are there to get a “superior” education? LOL. They are there, to learn or improve on English, so that they can get good jobs with a big company in Korea. I have only heard bad things about Koreans attending overseas schools, that they go there because they can’t hack it, and to escape the high competition in Korea. If you notice, the number of those students have been dropping steadily the last few years. That’s because Korean companies no longer look favorably on those who attended schools in North America. It’s gotten a lot harder for those type of students to find a job because they are stereotyped as slackers who took it easy.

          • bigmamat

            When the actual truth is a lot of them can’t hack it because they don’t know how to learn anything that doesn’t involve regurgitation of facts.

          • Boris

            The funny thing is, it is the same in China.
            No one can fail. Even if the guy cannot answer a question, he is still looking at a C.

          • bigmamat

            As badly as lot of American kids could use a good shot of ambition I still feel sorry for Asian kids and the pressure that is put upon them. It’s like they never get to actually LIVE. You know stuffing your head with arbitrary facts doesn’t make you smarter it just makes you good at Jeopardy.

          • Boris

            The few Asians I knew back home did study hard but also had a life. Out here, they have no life. The systems seems more set out for you either memorised the answer or you cheat.

          • bigmamat

            Did they cheat. If they got caught cheating here they’d be in trouble I’m pretty sure.

          • Boris

            Everyone cheats here or at least given a pass (which negates the need for cheating).

            UK, think the same as the US. There was a report a few months back of a Chinese Uni student in the UK who tried to bribe his lecturer, got reported and kicked out.

          • bigmamat

            Are the tests really that hard? The just sound brutal to me.

          • Boris

            Depends on where the test is, who is giving it and what the test is about. The test itself may not be difficult but cheating still goes on (either by the students or the School by bumping up grades).

          • Katherine Traylor

            I was so sad when a Korean “12”-year-old told me she’d been up till 1 a.m. doing homework the night before. I wanted to stop the lesson and let her take a nap.

          • bigmamat

            I want to know what they hell they’re studying, quantum physics?

          • Yorgos

            High Competition in Korea? Where you can petition for a different grade and such a period is written into the academic calendar? Where class start times are mere “suggestions”? Where plagiarism is outright ignored? Maybe for some bizarre reason Korean employers are looking down on foreign/Western degrees these days (which I doubt, seriously) but it can’t be any lower than how Western institutions look at Asian university diplomas. Even the best Korean universities are an absolute joke by Western standards- and you most of all must know that. Western slacker students with nothing in their bank account cant get free rides at top 5 universities in Seoul. I have never seen anything like it in my life.

  • GangnamStyle2Disqus

    Korea needs to focus on Discipline.

  • gol

    how about they address the racism and abuse in Korean schools before crying about themselves

  • Andrew Stewart

    “Principals also have to kneel before the parents.”
    Oh the shame. The fact is Korean principals walk around like they are figureheads/government officials/royalty of the school and do absolutely nothing. They don’t discipline. They don’t talk to parents. They don’t do anything.

  • World2Disqus

    Korea younger generation lack discipline.

    • Yorgos

      Korean younger generation never understood the “why” of ethics, but only the “big stick”. Now the big stick is disappearing and no one knows how to even wipe their ass without it.

  • goldengluvsk2

    Theyre not saying it but that “fight” sounds more like “bully” to me… if the teacher cant even stop a “fight”, then they’re in trouble…Stuff like bullying happen everywhere and they cant even say a word because theyd probably get sued by the parents and/or fired… Parents being a mafia not wanting to let the teachers teach or correct their children is unnerving and to think authorities dont really do a thing about that and contribute to their workers feeling they have no say in their own classroom is appalling…

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