I’m picturing a classroom full of friends and family from the States (and London, Sean ☺ ) with fingertips pointed skyward. Therefore, I’ll toss aside this positivistic subterfuge (cant worry Mom and Dad, you know!) for a moment to report on an event happening right here, right now, in Changwon.
The children are mutating.
Yes, the children. They know, and I’m serious, here: they’re mutating. They know it’s the month of Halloween, and they’re turning all ghoulish on me.
One of the little imps threw a book at me today. A book. No Korean talking, I had warned. English only. They Korean talked. Teacha hears Korean talking, minus five cents, I warned, again. (I generously warned! No?) Ben Korean talked. Bring me your bank book, I told Ben. From the back of the room, he held the book at arm’s length. Bring me the book, Ben, I said, my own eyes probably rolling to the back of my head. He threw the book at me. He threw the damn book at me. Devil boy. Vampire child, sucking the blood from my desire to teach. I subtracted five cents and chucked the book back at him like a rock skipping across water. I’d secretly hoped the impact would cause a minor injury, maybe even something requiring a band-aid, but the book simply slid across his desk and slinked to the floor, pages flapping wildly. The class grew calm, and Ben’s eyes grew wide, as if he thought I’d figured out his garlic. I could see the tears forming, the skin around his eyes puffing. Nobody puts baby in a corner, I thought. I mean: nobody throws a book at Kristen Teacha, I re-thought.
I wonder if he went home and cried, because about two weeks ago, we'd had another little episode, Ben and me, and he'd ended up bawling through the next class because he'd felt so guilty about it. And right now, I wish my tit-for-tat retribution made me feel better, like I'd won, like I was the big tough teacha, but it only made me feel like a bad teacher. Like because I could not keep these children corralled, because I could not cease their constant Korean bleating, I was a bad teacher. And maybe I am.
But children do need discipline. And doling it out is the most difficult part of teaching. My first couple weeks, they spoke constantly in Korean (“Korean talking,” we call it) and so I began threatening to take away cents from their bank books. If Kristen Teacha hears Korean talking, I warned, minus cents. I wrote their names on the board. I minused cents. This helped immensely with the Korean talking problem, but in a classroom of pre-adolescent pedants, created a whole new issue. Now, the children are constantly screaming, “Kristen Teacha! Joe Korean talking!” “Kristen Teacha! Gina Korean talking!” Tattle-tales to the core. Always trying to gain the upper-hand on one another, and in Reading Town world, that means having more cents in your bank book. I tried to explain that I don’t want to hear that, either, but they seem to forget by the time the next class rolls around. Not three minutes into class yesterday, before I’d even written their names on the board, one child was hollering: “Kristen Teacha! Harry Korean speaking!” I said to him: “Your mom is Korean speaking.”
Of course, they didn’t understand what exactly Kristen Teacha was speaking, at that point, and this comes in handy sometimes. The language divide, I mean. Today I was so fed up that I told two boys to stop being assholes. They knew not what I meant in the least. Convenient, when one’s patience is drained. Yesterday, two others were bullying. I asked them how old they were. I am twelve, Kristen Teacha. I am eleven, Kristen Teacha. Then stop acting like six-year-old jerks, Kristen Teacha said. Right over their cute little Korean heads.
Ahhh, sigh. The air is just about blown out of the vent. I love this teaching thing, I really do. The kids are usually fabulous. And their misdemeanors are rarely that serious. I think what frustrates me most is that I don’t know all the answers. What do I do when Alan doesn’t do his homework for the fourth class in a row, and then claims that he absolutely can not stay after class to do it? And then fails the midterm? What do I do when Frank cares nothing for his bank book balance, and even when I threaten with dividend docking, continues to mutter God-knows-what in Korean under his breath? What do I do when I hand out homework, to be done at home, and Jack sits there haphazardly circling bubbles and filling in blanks right under my nose? And then just scribbles more quickly when I tell him to put it in his backpack? I'm pleading, here--I'm begging: What do I do?
I know, I know. There’s a long, thick, tiresome book containing the answers to all these and infinite more “What do I do?” questions.
The title is “Live and Learn.” Audio version also available in Korean talking.