Teachers have an enormous responsibility because few other adults have such massive potential to impact students’ lives. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, how many years you’ve been in school, or what kind of school you attend(ed): everyone remembers the people who taught them.
The impact a teacher may have on his or her students can be positive or negative, but today we are going to focus on the positive as we take a look at three of the most amazing teacher characters in K-Dramaland. These characters encourage their students, treat them with respect, and sincerely care for their wellbeing.
Just as in real life, these teachers aren’t perfect and certainly make their share of mistakes along the way. I just want to put that out there so as not to appear to paint these characters as flawless. I think that an important factor to consider is that when they do make mistakes, they reflect upon them, learn from them, and move on while striving to do better in the future.
Enough talk; let’s enter the classroom. First up is a classic (from one of my first K-dramas ever)….
Jung In Jae – School 2013
Jung In Jae (Jang Nara) in School 2013 is spunky, resilient, and — despite her petite stature — firmly stands her ground when some of her bigger-framed students (namely, a couple of the teenage boys) begin acting up. She listens well to her instincts, even when it means risking her popularity among her coworkers by going against the grain.
As tough as she is, however, Teacher Jung has a kind and compassionate heart. When her colleagues warn her that her notorious class of mostly troublemakers are a bunch of hopeless cases, Teacher Jung chooses to give them a chance and believe in their potential even when the students themselves don’t. She truly believes that these young people — in this instance, some of her more rebellious students — have underlying reasons for acting as they do. Rather than glossing over these particular kids and ignoring their problems (like her predecessors seem to have done) she does her best to get to the root of their issues and help each one overcome his or her personal obstacles.
As I stated in the introduction, these teachers are not portrayed as perfect — and Teacher Jung is no exception. She definitely makes mistakes. A particularly poignant example is when she slaps a student across his face. It’s crucial to note that School 2013 aired in (drumroll, please) 2013 — not long after corporal punishment was banned in schools in South Korea. The drama itself openly makes a point of this issue, exploring how teachers and students alike might fit into this (at the time) fairly new dynamic. (This is not to excuse, justify, or rationalize her behavior by any means. But it is something to think about as you watch.)
Oh Han Kyeol – Moment of Eighteen
While watching Moment of Eighteen (also called At Eighteen), I found an unexpectedly favorite character in the a-dork-able Teacher Oh (Kang Ki Young). His contagious smile and happy-go-lucky attitude are delightful, but don’t be fooled by his playful demeanor; Teacher Oh will not hesitate to go to bat for any of his students — even if those he must protect them against are their own parents.
He doesn’t play favorites, but sincerely cares for each student equally as he strives to gain their trust in a world where not every adult is trustworthy. He listens to his students — really listens to them — and makes it clear through both his words and actions that he is ready to fight on their side against whatever obstacles might come their way. He thinks for himself and refuses to be intimidated or controlled by those with more power, money, and influence.
While a lesser teacher might dismiss his or her students’ problems as trivial trials of adolescence, Teacher Oh is a careful observer who quickly realizes that a couple of his students are struggling with hefty issues that span far beyond the classroom walls. As each student fights his or her own individual battles, Teacher Oh does his best to be someone they can rely on in those tough times.
(I actually wrote an entire blog post on Moment of Eighteen, so if you’re interested in reading more of my thoughts on it, click here!)
Ha So Hyun – Mr. Temporary
Ha So Hyun (Geum Sae Rok) in Mr. Temporary (also known as Class of Lies) is definitely one of the best teachers in K-drama history. Something that immediately stood out to me about her is how passionate she is about her job, which she sees as far more than merely a way to earn money. Teacher Ha truly wants her students to learn in school so that they can make the best lives they can for themselves. And when it comes to protecting them, this woman is fearless. She will promptly face off with those who have more power than she does if it means shielding those under her care from harm.
The two dramas mentioned before this one are far more mellow and slice-of-life than Class of Lies, a mystery-thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the (slightly controversial) ending. (Speaking of which, if you’re interested in reading my review of the final episode, here it is.) The reason I mention the genre difference is because very little of the drama is spent in the classrooms themselves, so we actually don’t get to see Teacher Ha teach very much. That said, she still absolutely deserves to be on this list. Why? Because sometimes it’s the behind-the-scenes, unnoticed, and unappreciated work teachers do that demonstrates how much they care for their students. (And no, that behind-the-scenes work doesn’t necessarily involve solving murder mysteries, but I think you get the idea.) This is exactly the case with Teacher Ha. Even though we don’t get to see too much of her interacting in class with these kids, the way she joins forces with the drama’s main character to find out the truth behind a student’s death is totally admirable and just plain cool. Perhaps the occupation of “teacher” can sound mundane, but I think Teacher Ha shows more than anyone on this list how courageous and powerful a teacher can truly be.
There are tons of teacher characters out there; these just happen to be three of my faves. Who are your favorite teacher characters in Dramaland?
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