brass knuckles


DON’T TOUCH ME! boy came into class late today and said, “teacher!  My face is very happy today!”  And he was, (for him) pretty angelic all day and fully participated.  I’m guessing the passive teacher had some kind of talk with him or something…These things do get worked out in sometimes mysterious ways.  Last year, I could swear a couple problem students just disappeared. It was early on, so I don’t know if they were just soccer players that I ended up testing without knowing later, or if they transferred to another school, or what.  Though I am curious, sometimes its better to just not know…’cause if it was accomplished with candy I’ll just shoot myself!

I have taken to supporting the Korean teachers in a reversal of roles at times in order to teach the students respectful behavior.  If a student is talking during the co-teacher’s instruction or translations, I put a halt on everything and then yell, “EXCUSE ME.  But YOUR TEACHER was just SPEAKING.”  None of them know what to make of this.  Previously, in passive teacher’s class when I did that, she had nervously giggled and said, “it’s okay.”  To which I am smacking myself in the head no no no it’s not okay…and you’re welcome.  But I persist.  And yesterday.  Yesterday?  Yesterday she sent the kids I yelled at for disrespecting her out in the hall. I’m noticing a little more support lately.  I think the co-teachers are realizing that this kind of behavior just won’t be tolerated by me any longer.  No matter what their own methods are:  drill sergeant or cajoling/pleading buddy, it just doesn’t matter.  Woneomin (native language teacher) has some basic standards…No more waiting for the co-teachers to manage these classes.  Not that it’s been that bad, and even at its worse it’s a thousand times better than at Baekyoung.  But still.  It’s MY CLASSROOM.

Anyway, I think it’s working.  It’s working because It’s balanced with some awesome teaching materials I’ve found and because I’ve decided I’m a good teacher and because when I’m not scowling I’m very compassionate.  I’ve also lowered the bar a little, since these students don’t aspire to pass corporate interviews in English like my past students.  Plus I’m feeling better, so I’m less worn out so I’m less likely to get ground down.  The whole thing about kids is, even if you’re not on your game some days, is just being unrelenting.  The rings drumming on the desk next to your ear while the whole class is suspended until your head is erect is a guarantee.  That you want to avoid.  And the hallway is cold, lonely, and boring.  And a guarantee.  That you want to avoid.

Clarity.  Consistency.  It’s sorely missing from the Korean education system.  Because education with its home-room system is based on surrogate parenting and is a replacement for family structure in the vacuum created by the over-emphasis on time served in school.  The same person who is in charge of academic rigor can be found at their desk between classes, surrounded by students, complaining, whining, fawning, being cracked on the head with knuckles, or whacked on the back, or massaged, or lectured until they crack and start to cry.  And so, discipline – or lack thereof  – and its effects on learning – or lack thereof – all hinge on the level of family function – or dysfunction – generated by the home room teacher.   Teachers are to manipulate.  And that home-room teacher relationship is license to kill.  Whatever rules or lack of rules or respect or lack of respect that particular home-room teacher institutes gets imprinted there. And so the subject-specific teachers who travel from class to class must enter into a new country run by new rules and its own culture every time they enter a classroom.  It’s no wonder so many have resorted to carrying sticks in the past…

Consistency.  Last year, male students were stopped and forced to remove their earrings.  This year, I’m noticing a lot of earrings.  This year I’m noticing a lot of skirts shortened to Japanese school girl heights.  Half a dozen were in the office today and my co-teacher made them hold up a sign which read, 하의실종.  I’m not sure what it says.  Online translation says it means hidden under but whatever that refers to, it made some male teachers bust out laughing…Last year, I saw late students having to do the duck walk around the school, but this year they’re just standing in the office?  Last year the anti-smoking crack-downs would appear and then peter out.  This year I saw a teacher spraying cologne on a student who smelled like smoke…and then there’s the occasional times when students who answer questions rush to the co-teachers desk to line up for candy.  (grrr) and then there’s all those other times when there’s no candy.  The other day, as filler due to technical difficulties, we played hangman and somewhere out of nowhere my co-teacher produced a bag of candy and was rewarding the students — FOR WHAT?  I mean, where was that candy when they weren’t playing a game and were doing something HARD?  There’s so many more things like this that all seem to vary depending on which teacher is doing the discipline/bribing.  It’s a rules are meant to be broken kind of place and the consequences are not that big a deal kind of a place, that is if you have any idea what the consequences are…Since I’ve never taught in an American High School, I can’t compare current practices.  But it does seem clear to me that this home-room system isn’t much of a system.

Well anyway, things I’ve tried in the past – Korean discipline methods, group self-regulation by forcing everyone to pay for the rebellion of a few, appealing to their sympathy for my handicaps as a foreigner, humor, slap-stick, just being nice, etc. – don’t work without co-teacher support and are tiresome to sustain.  But my rings, which are decidedly un-Korean because they’re big, cool, handmade and tough (which Koreans view as gangland weapons) are my best friends.  Plus, they are an extension of myself, ever ready, and don’t impart the visible impotence of having to carry a stick. Who knew?

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