Teacher’s Day with an Athletic Twist

School Sports Day

Teacher’s Day this year was a bit different then last year’s. We started school with Sports Day. The girls got to compete against each other in jump rope, tug a war, and relay races. Of course you can’t show class pride without having wacky fun uniforms to cheer in.

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I asked my student what her sign said. Basically it said to NOT hold your bangs down while running so you can run faster. No lie, it cracked me up because I know EXACTLY what she means. 

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One of my old students who is in 3rd grade now. She was so small and cuuuute when I taught her, and now she’s about to be taller than me. They grow so fast! 

Samsung Lions Baseball Game

If you know me, you know I am not a huge fan of sports. But here is a list of why professional baseball games are sooo much cooler in Korea:

  • A baseball game ticket was 10,000 WON (about $9)
  • You are encouraged to bring food from outside. That is the first thing we noticed. There were fried chicken stands everywhere right outside the stadium. We got a bucket, along with cold beer that they gave us in a small portable cooler that we could keep. A box of chicken plus 4 beer cans and 1 small bottle of soju for 12,000 WON  (about $11)
  • There are no real nosebleed seats, the field is so close that any seat is pretty darn good. 
  • There is k-pop blaring every few minutes, usually a player’s theme song.
  • Their mascot is an awesome dancer!  (I personally found him a wee bit creepy)

Teacher’s Day in South Korea

 Today is Teacher’s Day! Also known as Seu-seungwehnal (스승의 날).

History

Teacher Day has been celebrated on May 15th since 1963. The day began when a group of Red Cross youth members visited their former teachers who were either hospitalized or had retired and since then Teacher’s Day has become a chance for students to once again remember their teachers.

Culture

Under Confucianism there is a saying which goes ‘Do not even step on the shadows of your teachers.’  Whether you are Buddhist or Christian, the Confusiast ideas permeate Korean culture. This saying implies how much respect Koreans showed to their teachers in the past.

Even President Obama praised Korea for the strong respect it has for its teachers. President Obama said in his speech on March 14, 2011 that “We need to help every child get ahead. In South Korea, teachers are known as nation builders and I think it’s time we treat our teachers with the same level of respect right here in the United States of America”.  

Just like Parent’s Day, carnations are a traditional gift given to teachers as a sign of appreciation. Students also give them “love cards” as a way to tell teachers about their appreciation. These are usually student-made. Parties are thrown by universities and schools, awarding the best educators for their hard work.

A student giving a teacher a carnation, 1965

Foreign teachers recieving carnations from students in Korea.

Chonji, Then and Now

A 2009 Anti-corruption and Civil Rights Commission survey found that among 1,660 parents surveyed, 39.8 percent said they give chonji to teachers on Teacher’s Day. When asked what kinds of chonji they give to teachers, 63.1 percent of respondents said they choose gifts, 26.4 percent said they give a gift voucher and 7.8 percent said they give cash gifts.

And what is chonji? In Korea, the practice of parents offering under-the-table bonuses is known as chonji (촌지). Chonji means “a token of goodwill” in Korean, and doesn’t connote anything illegal. The practice of giving teachers gifts is thought to date back to the Goryeo (918-1392) and Joseon (1392-1910) Dynasties. According to a recent article in the Korea Joongang Daily, due to a wave of corruption within teachers in the country, the government officially announced in 2008 that teachers who accept chonji should be fired. Investigators have surprised teachers heading home from school checking their bags or cars for chonji-related gifts. Now that is intense!

My experience

I got the wonderful surprise of walking into my first grade period to my girls screaming and the room filled with balloons. My desk had a piece of cardboard that had mini chocolate cakes (they know me so well!) placed in a circle with a cute heart candle decorating the center piece. AWWW! The school then gave us fruit and rice cakes as a treat.

One class later, the students remind me it’s also Friday the 13th. To which I reply, well since its Teachers Day then the day is nulled to me. Them on the other hand…..

Two classes later, I have them play Rock, Paper, Scissors (Kai-Bai-Bo 가위바위보) to determine who gets to read in class. One of my student gets so flustered she begins to cry after she finishes. Dangit! What a way to end Teachers Day.