Bending Over

Change was in the air today…

Seven Star, the funny older guy with the comb-over, was quite the celebrity today.  People kept coming in and out of the office and then there was always a lot of laughing to the point of tears.

Y tells me that the Vice Principal sent a note to everyone, chastising them for being bad employees because they would leave campus without signing out first.  (I guess these kind of notes/reprimands were traditionally on yellow cardstock, so even though it was an electronic note, it is still called a yellow card)  So Seven Star sent a yellow card back to the V.P., telling him he was a bad employee because he covers up his mistakes and embezzles money.  Only he also sent this to every employee AND the principal!  Seven Star has a lot of cajones, and the teachers are all boueyed up by this act of defiance.  There’s a coups in the air.

In other acts of standing up, I took a taxi to school today so I could get there early enough to catch the home-room teacher of yesterday’s boys class taking attendance.  But damnit, it is Friday and the students have to attend a church service a few blocks away.  I tell Y about why I want to talk to this home room teacher:

Yesterday, almost upon entering classroom 1-3, some boy started saying in falsetto, “be quiet!”  Soon a half dozen boys were all parroting some wrong (I don’t say “be quiet!” I say “shhh.”  or “keep it down”) characterization of me in falsetto.  I figured out who the boy was and glared at him, telling him that wasn’t okay.  But meantime I am trying to conduct a game with the whole class, so it is louder than normal and requires my MC’g, so if I want the game to progress I can’t be babysitting these jerks the whole time.  OK.  So it got better, but then later in the class the falsetto parodies of me started again.  I just ignored it and tried to have something resembling a lesson.

But last night at home, I stewed.  Because I’m freaking so disempowered as a teacher here.  My help is gone, goofing off somewhere, (he is like best friends with the principal) I can’t give the kid a bad grade, I can’t call his parents, I can’t discipline him.  So the only thing I could think of was to make a surprise appearance in his classroom, single him out in front of his beating-stick-weilding homeroom teacher, and let the whole class know it wasn’t acceptable.

Sometimes it’s very frustrating explaining to Y about any problem I have because she doesn’t quite grasp how tied my hands are.  I think she spent a long time trying to talk me out of doing this, giving me a lot of alternatives that, though might have meaning to a Korean teacher (because they CAN call home and they CAN mark down grades and they CAN discipline and they CAN lecture for an hour in a way that means something to the student, and they CAN push all the kid’s shame buttons, etc.) would have zero meaning if executed by me.  But she finally came around and helped me find the home room teacher and figure out when he would be in front of the class and to come down and translate for me.  (this was a compromise on my part, as I didn’t want to tell the teacher ahead of time. I just wanted to bust in during attendance and make a scene to have more impact)  As expected, I don’t think either the home room teacher or Y really got what the boy was doing, as I had a hard time explaining what mocking and ridicule was, so explaining just watered down how really offensive the boys’ actions were.  They mostly focused on my use of the word disrespect and left it at that.  In Kyung came by and I gave her a brief overview of the boy’s behavior, and her suggestion was “You should go to the homeroom and have the home room teacher discipline him.”  So that was validating.  In-Kyung was also the one who told me I should go to the church services, while Y didn’t think I should have to go.  I think if we could merge these two women together, you might have something resembling me.  I go to both of them for the validation I seek, get sympathy from both, almost always walk away feeling understood by only one of them, yet they are both very supportive.  I think it’s actually my co-teacher’s role to provide this kind of support – but I rely on this two smart and caring women instead.

Y, the home-room teacher and I, we all show up at clean-up time.  Surprised there are so many teachers, Assessing one of them is really pissed, and knowing this is serious, they all stop what they are doing.  I go and point out two boys, but then eliminate one of them.  I make the falsetto mocking sounds, and ALL HIS CLASSMATES start pointing in his direction, ratting him out, and he is nodding his head and pointing at himself.  Then I rip into how that is disrespectful, how that is unacceptable, how talking out loud is one thing I don’t like but it is NOTHING like ridiculing and making me a joke of the teacher.  That it is the worst treatment I’ve ever had in my life.  The boy says, in perfect English, “I’m very sorry.  It won’t happen again.”  And then I tell him it better not.  Y chimes in, “you must always respect your teachers” and then I throw in that I didn’t travel 5,000 miles to be treated so poorly.  We leave.  I have no idea if the teacher used his stick or not.

“Did you see him?”


“That boy – he was scared to death!”

Really?  Yes, I suppose he was.

The interesting thing to me is that the boy (large, tall, on the chubby side) is not one of those jaded too-cool types with attitude.  He’s just a nice boy who likes to make jokes and crossed the line, and he was probably drunk on the effect this had and giddy he could influence so many people.  Whether the Korean school system, in the form of his homeroom teacher, beat him afterwards or not, I am not too concerned about.  The only thing I cared about was seeing that look of remorse pass over his face.  I don’t believe this would have happened without the shocking impact of being shamed in front of his peers and his homeroom teacher.  If I had sent him into the hall or sent him to the teacher’s office to sit by my desk for a lecture as Y suggested, this would merely add to his celebrity status and fuel more behavior to impress his classmates.

These are my limits, and I will impress these upon everyone.  I’m not bending over for anyone, even if I am given no power.  I am not / will not be the English show.

On a less chest-beating, fist raised note, my evening class is a joy.  It’s always great to see a light go on in someone’s head, and the light that caught my attention this last class was when a girl thought ending racism was hopeless.  I explained that I was a racist, that we are all racists, that it is natural, and that we must fight that instinct within ourselves and appeal to our higher intellect.  We must recognize the racist within us and others, and through our own awareness we can reduce any negative racist impact we make.  The girl hadn’t thought that she could be a racist before.  Her head was nodding.  I am a teacher!  I love that.

Y has joined my teacher’s class, and I think she approves.  It’s not an easy class for them, as I set the bar pretty high, but I think it’s set up so everyone at any level can improve.  (I think some others will be joining part time as their schedule permits)  I think teaching small groups of adults is really interesting, because you can work more on getting to express what they mean to say, and what they think and how they thing is fascinating.

In two classes yesterday students said my class was their favorite.  And two girls came up to me asking if I knew the name of some actress and told me I looked just like her.  Some of the boys will loudy say, “hello teacher!” in the hall.  This is borderline mocking me, yet also a friendly test.  So I just smile, laugh, and keep walking.

2 thoughts on “Bending Over

  1. way to go Suki! crack that whip :)

    and i loved teaching adults, my classes were around 15 adults from all over the world at my school in L.A. and it was SOO interesting for that precise reason!

    sounds like your students are getting more comfortable with you, it took my students about 2 weeks before they would say hello to me in the hall,i had to keep reminding them it was okay to say hello, but now it’s constant, and hilarious…at least for me anyway in my experience, what might come off as mocking at first is really just them growing balls and being able to loudly say something in english. does that make sense?

  2. yeah, but i don’t think it applies to high school boys. for the ones that say say “hello teacher” very loudly, it is just like me speaking super slow and exaggerated to someone I considered a wetback. these boys already know how to speak english, and they’re not shy.

    to illustrate, during the “what’s my line” game, i set myself as the first example so the kids could know how to play. the same boys that say “hello teacher” in the hallway are the ones that asked questions such as, “are you sexy?”

    no. they’re having a laugh at my expense – i can choose to have good humor or i can choose to crack the whip on them. it’s a balancing act, is what it is.

    gotta run – language exchange guy is coming over and it’s field trip to the market. hope he’s not creepy…

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