she seems cool


Today, one of the boys started the class by saying, “what’s up?” and I opened up my sweater to reveal my “what’s up?” t-shirt…he, he, he…

After my first week at school, the co-teacher let me know that the students told her, “she seems really cool!”

Thank God.

At the last school, after taking much abuse and rudeness, I was constantly in this mind-set of, “hey! I’m cool! why are you treating me like this? You little f**king brats…” I was always trying to show them how awesome I could be, but they weren’t having any part of it: I was the foreign enemy and part of their English oppression. Their mission was to make my lessons as ineffective as possible.

But here, none of the kids are brats. What a difference a year and a new location makes…even the worst discipline problem kids treat me well.

Part of this is due in no small part to the co-teachers. They are sometimes like gestapo, their control of the class is so eagle-eyed and rigid. Frankly, it makes me uncomfortable at times, and I get embarrassed and it’s awkward as the teacher is reaming someone for not paying attention to the foreign teacher.

But mostly, it’s because the kids are so great. They’ve got these great personalities…one kid is just a riot. He’s so funny, me and the co-teacher have a hard time keeping a straight face. And his bending of English and saying it beyond wrong takes a lot of intellect and requires both his understanding and it helps the other kids understand better, too, so who cares if they go through life saying it funny?

Plus, I get interpretation all the time now, so I am able to impart why I do things and therefore I can show the kids more empathy than I could when I was speaking Arabic to them while wasting half my time trying to put down twenty brush fires with no water. The interpretation can be a little maddening at times, though. The classes are repeated maybe up to four times, and by the third time, the co-teachers think they know everything I am going to say, and they anticipate what will be interpreted, often stealing my lines before I say them, so I’m left with nothing to say but to repeat what has already been relayed. So that’s a little irritating, as sometimes I want to change things. Also with interpretation, it’s really unnerving when you’ve said four sentences and only get about six words as the interpretation. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, (especially during the morning broadcast) you say a sentence and are poised to say the next, and the interpreter goes on and on and on and on and you’re about to turn blue because you’d taken in air to speak again…and there have been a couple of times where I wanted to explain something sensitive about multi-culturalism, or nationalism, or observations about Korean culture, and I was quite obviously censored. BUT, most of it gets through, and I guess it’s a small price to pay if I still end up being thought of as cool. But mostly I take my hat off to my co-teacher’s facility with the English language, and their ability to interpret so well. Try defining a foreign word to someone, and then imagine having to impart what a foreigner is saying when their message is peppered with a dozen words that need definition. Yeah, my co-teachers are very skilled and awesome.

I’ve also relaxed a little on the students sleeping. The Korean teachers seem to have a measure on who is not worth their effort rousting and who should not be allowed to tune out the lessons, and it’s beginning to have a logic to it. The incorrigible are truly incorrigible. There’s really no point in fighting them if they’ve totally shut their ears and closed their minds. In America, foreign language is an elective, but here the kids are forced to sit through this torture. Most of them play along, and most are interested in little cultural biscuits, but only a small minority are truly interested in becoming conversant. To see a student totally not care AT ALL is shocking to us westerners, but then again, we would never be in the position those kids are in with this kind of educational system.

I’m also getting less pissed off when I see children bribed with candy. I’m still not going to do it, because it still reminds me of training dogs to do pet tricks, but it’s also this weird kind of compensation for all the other crap the kids have to put up with. Fortunately, my co-teachers don’t do it much, and it more resembles a reward than a bribe when they do it. It’s part of the whole coddling thing and currying favors thing and also a genuine demonstration of affection. Maybe a better way to describe it would be that it’s a peace offering. I’m getting quite a lot of candy from the students, and it’s an, “I think you’re cool. remember me.” message. I’ll probably reward the students who’ve completed their journal assignments with something. Maybe I can find something more meaningful than candy to give them.

And, doing wonders for my ego is I hear I’m beautiful often. So part of me wonders if it’s in the eye of the beholder, or if I actually rate well on the superficial Korean beauty meter: because I definitely don’t look like the cookie cutter image you see on t.v., print, or serving you drinks on the airlines. But really, who does? Another reason I like this school is because the girls aren’t primping all the time. There’s only about four who wear make-up, and a few are outright tomboys.

Behind my desk is the office giant roll of toilet paper. In Korean public schools, the schools don’t provide tp for the students. Or paper towels. Or hot water to wash with. So students often forget to bring some with them, or run out, and try and sneak some from the teacher’s office. The other teachers keep an eye out on their precious toilet paper, but I just turn a blind eye. I mean, when you need tp, you need tp, right?

I was also given a bag of paper cups when I arrived. Four boys came and asked me for a paper cup today, and I told them to help themselves. They were totally amazed and said, “you are so cool. you’re the cool teacher.”

It’s so easy to be cool here!

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