Children in Peril

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Many of my children never realize just how close to their own demise they come as they test my patience and faith in humanity in the classroom.  Having survived a dozen years in the classroom, most of the time I can let their behavior roll off my back–after all, they are just kids–but some days the urge to kill threatens to break my composure.  Yesterday was one of those days. 

Here, presented for your amusement, are my pedagogical frustrations in blog form. No children were harmed in the creation of this posting….yet.

If another child thrusts another paper into my face, I swear to God I  will rip it into tiny pieces and force him or her to EAT every last bit of it.  Is it too much to ask a child to calm down long enough to turn in work in a civilized manner?  

Unfortunately, yesterday was one of those days where even this tiny amount of decorum was impossible in the hagwon classroom.  No matter how many times I try to convince them otherwise, my kids have all decided that there is some kind of prize for being the first kid to hand in a paper.  Even though this “prize” generally consists of having to go back and correct all their careless errors, to them finishing first is more precious than Olympic gold.  For those of you who think teaching is not comprised mostly of suppressing the urge to maim and destroy, here are four behaviors I experienced YESTERDAY ALONE that nearly cost unsuspecting children their lives.

1) I like to call this the “mad dash”.  It entails two or more students finishing at the same time and engaging in everything short of a UFC title fight to get to me first.  No matter how many times I tell them to stop or make them sit back down, they pop up like whack-a-moles ready to duel  to the death for my attention.  It’s not so much their killing each other I mind, it’s the fact that they frequently shove or trip other students and step on my toes or crash into me in order to get their paper graded first. And sometimes it’s a paper that’s not even complete!  

2)  Those with the subtlety of , say, an ATOM BOMB employ the next and possibly my least favorite maneuver– the “thrust and wave”.  This is where a student literally thrusts a paper into my line of vision–for example, in between my pen and the attendance roster I’m trying to mark–and wiggles it around expecting me to literally drop whatever I’m doing and immediately acknowledge them.  This behavior is generally accompanied by a repeated chanting of the words, “Teacher, finished!” (as if I hadn’t noticed your paper wriggling like a fish on a hook perilously close to my nose).  The arrogance inherent in this gesture makes me want to choke one of them, flay him or her alive, and hang the carcass from my whiteboard as a warning to future potential offenders.

3)  A close second to the “thrust and wave” is the student whose need to have his paper checked is so pressing that he actually interrupts me while I’m working with another student, assuming that I will stop checking their paper so that I can gaze upon the wonder that is his scholastic endeavor.  This is usually the kid who was in such a hurry to make corrections to his work that he didn’t actually bother to erase any of the wrong  answers.  He just scribbled through him and expects my immediate review of his wrinkled, chicken-scratch covered assignment.  Yesterday, I had several children interrupt their classmates’ speaking tests expecting me to answer their questions or grade their assignments.  

4) Most of the behaviors above I have observed in younger students, but this last one occurs regardless of age.  It’s what I’m going to call the “mean girl”.  This is when two students talk about you, literally inches from your face.  They think because they’re speaking Korean that you will be unable to decipher signals such as your name being repeated, pointing in your direction, or any of the other myriad ways body language indicates someone is talking about you.  Plus, words like “phone”, while not pronounced in strictly the same manner as in English, are in fact cognates.  So, after two years in the country, while my Korean may not be conversational (it’s one of the world’s most difficult languages to learn), I usually know when I’m being talked about and can figure out at least a general picture of what’s being said.  The frustration with this behavior is compounded by the fact that most of our co-workers also engage in the “mean girl” in our teacher’s workroom, sometimes talking about us with students.  Since I’m from the South, I understand the necessity of gossip. But, please, have the courtesy to talk smack about me when I’m not in the room instead of assuming your use of Korean protects you totally from my ability to comprehend. 

As I said before, most days, one or two of these behaviors are something I can let slide or even laugh at. Yesterday was NOT one of those days.  Also, I find these behaviors (which exist in multiple classrooms in my school and in friends’ schools) kind of fascinating from a sociological standpoint.  Since my experience with American elementary education is limited, I’m not sure if the behaviors are age-specific or culturally endemic.  Are these symptoms of a digital generation so used to instant gratification that they are unable to exercise even the slightest impulse control?  Are they the result of an upbringing that is too child-centric and indulgent?  Or does their parents’ busy Korean work week leave them starved for any kind of adult attention?  Are these behaviors the first vestiges of the cutthroat academic competition for which Korea and Japan are famous?  And, if I actually should kill a child, where do I hide the body?  

Dear readers, this inquiring mind wants to know. 

Filed under: Uncategorized Tagged: Busan, frustrations, Korea, Teaching


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