I started, at the end of June, writing little notes when the kids did something, or something struck me as particularly interesting or cute. It’s helped me to keep a writer’s mind as I drift through things, ignoring the teachings of the Buddha and not being present in time. Now I’ve finished that notebook, so I ripped them out and I thought I’d share a few with you.
6.22.10 / Before classes started
The mean, frustrating make-my-life-hell counter teacher grabs my hand and grabs me to the back closet to show me where the on/off switch for the air conditioner is. It took be 6 months to even get this woman to say hello to me when I walked in. Usually she would just glance up to make sure that I wasn’t the post man. Now she trusts me enough to show me the holy grail of energy costs for the hagwon–the air con. [We’ve recently purchased fans so that we don’t actually have to use it to its full potential, an idea put into practice, I believe, by the husband at the second center. It seems like something he would be concerned about.]
6.22.10 / “Mashita” Class
This class is now down to 3 boys–all ridiculously difficult, but of a very warm heart. The last thing they want to do is be in class in the evening, and they make it ABUNDANTLY clear. Today they are watching Heidi–a rather pitiful, flash version where the characters don’t quite move right. The same boys who made fun of Helen Keller when we studied her are 100% enthralled. Captain Gregory screams “NO!” when Peter kicks Clara’s wheelchair down the mountain.
6.23.10 / During Class
They cleaned out my cubby. Apparently it was too dirty. They make my books the public books. I get really, really frustrated–but I only barely make it clear. I don’t say anything. The next day I buy a book stand for my own classroom and take my books back and keep them in my room.
6.24.10 / Mashita
They tease the fat one until he breaks. He’s about to hit them, or throw a desk, or both, but I ask him to leave and he DOES. I howl at them–telling them that they are so much better than their behavior and it works. They listen. They don’t laugh in my face–suddenly these boys are taking me seriously, trusting me and respecting me because I love them to death, and they know it–but I am making it clear that I hate this behavior. I go outside to talk to John (the fat one), and he listens too. I control the situation. The others are watching at the desk. I am still annoyed and still want to beat them senseless, but I am so proud of them. The simple ability to control these boys, and the respect it takes to get them to take care of themselves is so gratifying. They couldn’t have done it nine months ago.
6.25.10 / Kindergarten class
I notice that the really squirrely new one has half a hand. I suddenly like her just because she’s different. She likes to talk in big, scary voices, and her absurdly large eyes roll around in her head and she giggles like mad. This whole class drives me over the precipice of cute-attack. Half of them don’t have both of their front teeth, and their laughs are just electrifying. They are really intelligent too. The Korean teacher is great.
6.26.10 / Saturday / Out at a Bar
Nicole drops a glass and I accidentally step on a rather large curly piece–it slits my foot open, and I don’t notice at first, until suddenly my shoe is slipping around on my foot. I go into the bathroom, stick my foot in the sink, and run water over it until it runs clear. Some drunk Korean girl comes in, sees me engaging in this odd act, and becomes my own personal bar mom–she runs to get tissue and dabs lovingly at my foot, whispering sweet nothings in Korean, until the bleeding stops. I don’t care what anyone says–the things that happen in the girls bathrooms at bars are probably the most universal thing in the world. (Besides Coca Cola and beer.)
One of my favorite students, a ridiculously intelligent girl who feels a lot of pressure from the outside world, but is slowly starting to manage it, is having a good day. I tell her about my two favorite Little Fox stories–the two stories that happen in obviously Muslim countries. The first is about a character named Ali. She tells me “Teacher, my name is Ali.” But I explain to her that that is a boy’s name. [Most Korean names can go both ways.] So she asks me to tell her some female ones. As I list off names, she tells me, “Teacher, I am Aisha.” And it is SO PERFECT. She is 100%, from head-to-toe an Aisha. Little spitfire with a desire to know everything, do everything well, and possess people’s hearts. Nobody really understands how much joy I get from discussing Muslim names with this little girl, but I think for some reason she CAN see it. She is so alive that she can see the little changes that happen to me when I talk about the old life I had–and I think she knows how much it means to me that she cares.
This class has been playing all day. We didn’t really have anything to do. There’s only two of them today and I’m just ragging on them, teasing them and they’re teasing me back, and we’re just having a grand old time. Jijun has taken to answering questions that he doesn’t understand with: “Question number 11, what is the meaning of life?” So finally I stop and make him answer the question. He replies “Getting money.” We don’t really settle down, and suddenly in the middle of our laughter, Jijun cries: “Kim-to-the-Jin-to-the-JU!” [My Korean name: KimJinJu”] and continues to rap our names for the rest of the hour.
I traded classes with my boss for convenience purposes–she wants to give them a test and knows I won’t be able to deal with them [this is the special needs class.] But I traded it for another class with special needs–one boy in particular who left the hagwon after having two violent episodes. He’s back now–I don’t know why–but on the day when I’m not supposed to be there, he goes off his handle. He tried to stab the kids with his umbrella, waving it menacingly in the air with this half-grin, squinty “this is the only way I know how to get attention” look on his face. I think he’s drugged most of the time to prevent these outbursts, but he still knows that this is how he threatens others. He knows I’m afraid of him, and he knows that all the other teachers are afraid of him too. I use more Korean with this child than I do with a taxi driver. I take him out of class three times. First because he won’t give up the umbrella. Second because he falls of his chair in the middle of speaking practice, and starts to cry. Third when he comes back in, and the kids tease him for the crying and the chair. He tries to attack them, and I hold him back. I can’t let him hit a student. It’s just a disaster. It’s a huge disaster and I feel like a terrible teacher, because I can’t control this child. I can’t do right by him. For the next week I am just too emotionally exhausted to love any of the kids, because through him I feel like I’ve failed them all.
7.12.10 Monday, first class, my babies
They are so cute. They use English to ask questions. One of them has huge eyes, huge cheeks, huge pigtails, and the biggest smile ever–we’ll call her Emmie. It could make you giggle uncontrollably too–and best of all, they’re excited about English, and speaking English, to the point where they actually speak to each other in English. Emmie has this joyful disposition that fixes everything for me. She bounces everywhere, shares her glasses with the girl sitting next to her.
7.13.10 Tuesday, before class
One of my students, my baby student who I named (Coby), always comes to class an hour early and waits around in the hagwon. His parents work, and so this is his daycare center. I come in and decide that it is high time I wash my desks, so I go to the counter teacher and she produces some cleaning stuff and a rag. Coby decides that he is going to help me–so he delicately sprays the mixture on the penciled parts of the desks. He takes his job VERY seriously. I speak to him in English that I know he doesn’t understand, but I use big hand gestures and he gets it. I really enjoy these moments with the little ones. A few minutes later, the toothless one with the electrifying laugh comes in and I try to take pictures of them with my cell phone. The toothless one is afraid of the camera, but Coby isn’t.
7.15.10 Thursday, first class
One of my little 2nd graders sees a spider on the back wall while we’re doing book work. They all say “Teacher, SPIDER!” And I say “Well that’s nice. Don’t touch it.” Then, as they’re semi-quietly working, this little boy with a big grin and confident English, turns around to that spider and starts talking to it. “Hello Spider! How are you? I’m fine. What’s your name? I like pizza! Do you like pizza?” I start laughing hysterically and I carry that thought through the rest of the day.
7.20.10 Tuesday, third class
One of my little girls is just a weird handful–I love her, but she has this really “I’m completely insane” look in her eyes most of the time. That’s why I like her. I know for sure that she’ll grow up to be somebody’s crazy aunt. She’s been teasing and poking at this boy behind her all day through class. He’s awkward and shy, like her but without the confidence of really enjoying his quirkiness. The other girls were teasing her for liking him–but I can see it too. Suddenly she lashes out at him with her hand–kind of like a cat–in an attempt to slap him across the face, but she knocks his glasses off instead and makes him cry. I have to be harsh with her, but I can see what happened. “I love you! Look how strong I am!”
Outside it’s like an ocean. Suddenly the whole world has turned into water and I was just lucky enough to have started work before the roads turned to rivers. The students, on the other hand, were not so lucky and so they are furious–really testy. The little ones are screaming at each other. I’m tired and annoyed. During my 15 minute break, I go into the bathroom to brush my teeth, and I hear a crash and one boy cry “TEACHER!” in Korean. I look into the boys bathroom in the mirror of the girl’s bathroom–they face each other–and I see two of my Monday students try to kill each other. Without even thinking, I go in–toothbrush still in my mouth–and grab one off of the other. After a Korean teacher arrives to figure out what happened, and I finish brushing my teeth, I realize what I just did. Mousy little Maggie ran into the bathroom of the opposite sex to break up a fight.
Anyway, those have been the most important parts of my life as a teacher lately. There’s a fair amount more to say, but lately I’ve just been doing my thing. Going to see Inception tonight, which I’m pretty excited about.