Frustrated by educational authorities’ inability to protect school children from the alleged improper conduct of a music teacher at Jian An Elementary School in Taipei, a group of parents and education advocates complained that the school system makes it extremely difficult to dismiss unfit teachers.
According to information compiled by the Humanistic Education Foundation, a music teacher surnamed Liang (梁) has been repeatedly reported by parents for using corporal punishment in the classroom, including hitting students with a broom, a flute and drumsticks, since 2002.
In 2007, Liang was ordered to receive counseling and competency mentoring for asking several students to drag one of their classmates out of the classroom, leaving him with severe bruises and mental distress.
In April, a group of parents filed a complaint against Liang again for beating their children and demanded that she be fired. In response, the school said the instructor would retire in June.
When the new semester started early this month, parents found that Liang was still on the payroll.
The teacher postponed her retirement because if she had retired last semester, she would only have qualified for a lump-sum pension payment of about NT$3.6 million (US$122,657), the Humanistic Education Foundation said. If Liang waits until this semester to retire, she will be entitled to monthly pension payments for the rest of her life. According to the foundation’s calculations, Liang, now 50, will receive more than NT$17 million by the age of 80.
“She has been beating kids for 10 years, and now we as taxpayers have to pay her a handsome pension,” the foundation’s CEO, Feng Chiao-lan (馮喬蘭), told a press conference held with Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) on Friday. “We are asking the school to fire her so that she won’t get a penny.”
Ting Shih-fang (丁士芳) from the Ministry of Education’s Department of Personnel said Liang has been referred to the school’s teacher evaluation committee and undergone counseling again.
However, in the view of the education advocates, the counseling system and teacher evaluation committee are part of the problem.
“Liang is not an isolated case. We receive similar complaints every year,” foundation secretary Chien Hsiao-chuan (簡曉娟) said. “The teacher evaluation committee is mostly made up of teachers and instructors. It is designed to protect teachers’ interests and benefits, not the children that they teach.”
Chien added that the counseling system fails to tackle “repeat offenders” like Liang.
“A teacher misbehaves, receives counseling and the case is closed. The next time they misbehave, the same process starts all over again,” she said. “Each time, the teacher’s misconduct is treated as a single incident.”
In addition, the lack of guidance for how counseling sessions and review processes should be carried out makes it difficult to assess the effects of the system, Chien said.
Chou Chih-hung (周志宏), an associate professor at National Taipei University of Education agreed, pointing out that the Teacher’s Act (教師法) gives school authorities the right to dismiss instructors for serious misconduct or incompetence, but admitted that in practice, it is extremely difficult to legally fire teachers.
“As long as they don’t make gross errors, unfit teachers won’t get punished for minor misconduct,” Chou said.