So a boy, Tae Young, joined my evening conversation and discussion class. I began this class with the name game, where each of us has to add an adjective in front of our names that describes us, and we have to repeat everyone preceeding’s names before we add our own. Pretty easy, right? Not for Tae Young, who struggled. Then I let him go last, so he would have more time. We still don’t have his adjective
The conversation got pretty deep. I prefaced the discussion with the assurance that everyone can have their own opinion and this is merely to learn other people’s perspectives. We talked about things like, when would you like to leave home and why, is marriage necessary, should married women work or raise families or both, if you marry would you want separate bank accounts, how does money effect relationships, what do we do about unequal incomes, etc. Tae Young would answer when it was his turn, but was painfully slow and tested everyone’s patience, but when it was other people’s turns, he wasn’t really listening. Shockingly, he told me, “this discussion is boring.”
I was totally dumb-founded. I let him know that wasn’t a nice thing to say, that I put a lot of effort into leading discussions, and that even though I’m a teacher I have feelings too. And so we continued, but I cut the discussion short and pulled out a conversational board came to engage him a little more. During the game, Tae Young wanted to know if the winner got candy. I explained that this was just for fun, just to get to know about one another, and he was irritated that there was no prize for the winner. Moving the tables back into position at the end of class, a 500 won coin was revealed, which I picked up and put in my pocket. Tae Young said, “I want that.” and I was about to give it to him, when I noticed he wasn’t joking or good-natured about it. What the?
Still feeling a little upset over being criticized to my face by this weird kid, in a class which eats up half my work week evenings and for which I get paid only slightly more than the price of a meal, I went back to the office to read my email and go home. When four girls from class burst in together and they all tell me, “your class is very interesting, teacher! don’t mind him – he’s crazy.” This makes me feel a little better. Then I wonder what to do about the boy.
Half an hour later, as I’m really packing it in for the evening, in comes Tae Young. He tells me how great his mind is, and how it was too hard to pick only one adjective of the thousand he knows to describe himself. He starts to talk about how he must have a class where it is enjoyable if he is going to talk. He talks about how playing games like go fish would be more enjoyable. He talks about how it is more enjoyable if there is candy afterwards. He reprimands me for not inquiring about his day, or about his life. He talks on and on about this hagwon teacher who sat down and talked to him personally for five or ten minutes every day and who played games with him and gave him candy all the time. We get into a philosophical debate about the nature of education FOR THE NEXT HOUR.
I am so upset with this Hagwon teacher, who coddled this boy in a way that made him think coddling was his entitlement. I tell him that in no way was I going to play any game that was not educational. I tell him that in no way am I going to reward him like a dog for behavior, and that my students or children or whatever should learn because the world opens up to them, and that learning itself should be its own reward. I tell him that we ONLY JUST MET so we can’t have personal conversations right away, and that maybe we will grow to be good friends. (and honestly, I was beginning to get a little creeped out by now) I tell him I respect that he showed up to such a difficult class, and I ask him to compare how much he spoke in just this one evening to how much he was forced to speak all week or all month before. I finally had to tell him that I was the teacher and this was how I ran my class. I welcomed his participation, but he would have to come knowing my job was to challenge him and not entertain him. So if he valued that, he should come. It was up to him.
The following morning, walking to school, it dawned on me that the kid probably had Aspberger’s syndrome. (which is possibly a form of autism in which a person does not have empathy for others and is lacking in communication skills) I ask Y about school counseling or special needs education and there is none. Only talking with the minister. If there is a bad case, they refer the parents to some independent counselors. One of Y’s friends is a school counselor, and that is a new field in Korea and not many schools have them. And most schools do not have school psychologists or special needs teachers either. I believe they handle special needs children by appointing someone, probably another student, to watch out for them during the day. So I don’t know what to do about Tae Young. He will probably continue through life thinking he is really special and resenting everyone that doesn’t respond to him. He will go on talking about himself and not listening or caring about anyone else. The people around him will continue to think he is weird. I will go talk to his home room teacher and let him know I think he has Aspberger’s. But Y hadn’t heard of it before, and I imagine the other teachers haven’t either.
I know to be socially learning disabled is not life-threatening or anything, but it is hard to witness when I know with some professional coaching, he could be more engaged with the world around him. If he returns to class on Thursday, what do I do with him? Can I teach a child with Aspbergers to have real dialogues with people when he doesn’t care what other people think and feel?