What comes to your mind when you think of history? The subject likely conjures up images of rote-memorization and boredom, and it doesn’t seem relevant to present-day. However, there is one history teacher, who is trying to spark interest in the subject even among those who despise history. The teacher makes history fun and actively promotes critical thinking on the subject, especially, on the issue of how to live in today’s world. The Sookmyung Times met with Choi Taesung, a renowned high school history teacher, who has become a bit of a celebrity on EBS’s Kunbyul (Big Star).
When did you first decide to become a teacher?
In high school, I loved history and received my highest grades in that subject compared to other subjects. So, I chose to major in history at university with the thought of becoming a teacher. However, to tell the truth, after entering university, I pondered questions about my existence: Who am I? What do I live for? I was constantly comparing myself to others, so I couldn’t find the answers. I lost sight of my hopes, dreams, and challenges. Therefore, I was on the path to become a teacher solely because it was a stable job that could provide a steady income. Unexpectedly, after becoming a teacher, I was surprised that students listened attentively to me in class. I came to realize I was good at presenting ideas and providing knowledge to others. I thought I could be happy sharing this ability with others. After standing in front of students, I finally attained my answer for living.
You usually use charts and graphs to display the events of history clearly on the blackboard. How did you come up with this style?
Actually, I thought this style of learning in high school. At that time, my history teacher would write the content obtained from reference books on the board. Although the events or background were interesting, it was still hard for me to grasp causal relationships between those historic incidents from that kind of explanation. At the time, I vowed that after becoming a teacher, I would arrange historical facts and events and create visual displays of the historic content to help students understand historic causation. I am now finally doing just that, and I use a variety of visual displays in my classes. Also, I enrolled in many teachers’ lectures, and by investigating their teaching styles, I developed my own teaching style.
How does it make you feel when you receive positive comments from students about your class?
To me, these students’ letters are vitamins of my life. I even received a student’s letter telling me that because of my teaching, the student have altered the way the student sees the world. When I read these kinds of letters, I feel helpful, even if it is just a trivial type of aid. I am not saying, I am overly proud of my influence on others, but as I grow older, I have come to understand that money can’t buy happiness; rather, the moments of helping someone else are pleasures in life. When I am in a depressed mood, it makes me happy.
Among the magnitude of students’ letters you receive, do you have one that stands out more than others?
One student’s letter made me reflect on myself and grow as a person. The first reason I became an EBS lecturer was to merely appear on television. After the audition and callback, I started to work for EBS in 2001. In 2004, while at EBS, a boom in internet lectures appeared, and a lot of people were thinking that private lecturers were better than the free lectures provided on EBS. At the time, I received a letter from a girl living in the countryside. She wrote about how she envied her friends who could take private online lectures, but that her family was not financially stable, so she had no choice but to only listen to my lectures. I was shocked and came to realize the importance of my EBS lecturing position. It is not a job to be taken lightly. From that time, I decided to provide the best lectures possible so that all students, regardless of financial background, could study and learn from the best out there. I listened to other internet lectures and study them hard in order to develop and improve my lectures. It was this one student’s letter that changed my direction and made me change as person. Students help teachers grow.
You have appeared on TV programs like The Infinite Challenge and 1night 2days and have also been part of the panel of experts on History Journal: The Day. How do you manage appearances on other TV programmes when you are surely busy with teaching history at high school and lecturing on EBS?
I choose which programmes to appear on carefully. As a teacher, it is my job to pass onto others my knowledge constantly. Many people see teachers are all being the same. They think teachers merely retell the same knowledge over and over again; however, it is impossible to truly repeat the same content as over and over as it constantly evolves from ideas in my brain. I can’t teach students if I myself feel bored with my words; therefore, to make a class fun, I have to constantly adjust and add new knowledge. To me, TV broadcasting programmes are great chances to study and learn new knowledge that will better my classes. Especially, Historic Journal: The Day gives me the opportunity to learn from other history professors and experts, so it is really helpful. Then, I take what I learn and sometimes use that when I teach my students.
I heard that you will lecture along with CJ E&M producer Na Youngsuk for people in their twenties and thirties. What do you think history’s greatest influence in life and social development is?
I am constantly trying to answer the question: How do you live your one life? This question is very close to my heart, and since I have yet to answer it, I am still thinking about the answer. However, without a personal answer to the question or pondering of the question, I am sure people will never sense happiness from a capitalized society where makes people continue to compete against others and compare themselves to others. I think history can help people answer the question. In history, there is a massive amount of stories about people who lived their lives fiercely challenging their limits in order to achieve their dreams. Reading and talking about those stories, one can find direction in life and how to live. Therefore, I believe history can make one’s life healthy and develop a healthy civil consciousness.
Some students view History only as an examination subject. What would you like to say to these students?
Please keep these two key words when studying history: Communication and Dream. Actually, people in the past had similar thoughts and faced similar worries as people today. History is a collection of stories that detail how people lived and reasons for the choices they made at that time. Try to communicate with people in history. People of the past have relevant stories that can provide meaningful insight into the questions of today. People from all kinds of societies and backgrounds dream of helping society to become better place. I think, the people and their dreams make history. Since history is collection of stories, history provides people with messages that can aid them on their way to achieving their today. Therefore, once you start communicating with the past and feeling the dreams of those before us, you will find your path in life and may stumble upon the answer to: How do you live for? Finally, please remember the reason we study history is to become happy.
• History Teacher in Daegwang High School
• EBS History Lecturer from 2001
• A Consultant of EBS History Education from 2011 to 2012
• A Consultant of National Insititute of Korean History in 2013