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.

Share This Article
Help us maintain a vibrant and dynamic discussion section that is accessible and enjoyable to the majority of our readers. Please review our Comment Policy »
Personals @ chinaSMACK - Meet people, make friends, find lovers? Don't be so serious!»