Intrepid Girl Reporter

Friday, 4/16: in which there’s no such thing as a free lunch
May 16, 2008, 5:54 pm
Filed under: okay seriously Korea, skool, students, teaching

Somehow, I brought all of this upon myself.

So I’m incredibly excited about the diplomacy program, MSYDP. We have a truly stellar group of students going, and without even having met most of them, I actually feel optimistic not only about the future of Korea, but about the world. They’re bright, articulate, engaged, passionate, and way more knowledgeable than anyone I knew during the years I spent at Martha B. King Middle School. (Incidentally, KMS was demolished a few years ago when it was revealed that it was built on top of a giant sinkhole. I’m just saying.)

Soccer and I are, however, taking copious notes for next year, the most significant one being: Get help in advance. I have to admit that I’m really, really proud of both of us not so much for what we’re doing, but for proving that we can do stuff I didn’t necessarily believe we were capable of. As such, we’ve been pulling more late nights than I care to count, including Wednesday night, when Soccer stayed up until 8AM (!!! – fortunately, we had no school on Thursday), and last night, when I was making diplomacy program packets until 5AM (unfortunately, school we did have). If my time management skills were better, of course, this might not be an issue; it would also not be an issue if I had a job, which, again, I feel like I should have gotten myself by now. But the facts remain: lots of work, etc.

This program is, in a lot of ways, reliant on the kindness of strangers. However, what we’re starting to learn is that other people’s tolerance and patience has its limits – which is reasonable, of course, if not a little frustrating. We had ninety-five applicants for twenty spots, which speaks well for the future of Korean diplomacy, but not so much for the time schedule of our judges, all of whom were volunteers and most of whom, I assume, had better things to do than score roughly twenty-two applications apiece. Soccer and I did not anticipate this. As a result, we have some unhappy volunteers. In a way, this feels like we’re hitting our heads against a wall; I mean, it’s not like we’re sleeping, or going to the beach, or doing anything fun, or talking about anything but this. But we did go to Japan last week. So I can see where some ire might arise. Nonetheless, we couldn’t score any applications ourselves; we had students involved, and there’s no possible way that it would have been fair, even if we were saints (and I’m not speaking for Soccer here, but I have a long way to go before the canonization process starts).

I guess what I’m starting to learn is that no matter what you do, it’s not going to go perfectly, and you still might step on some toes. Which one would think I would have learned a long time ago. It’s hard not to just say, you know, I do really wish I wasn’t inconveniencing anyone and maybe I shouldn’t have done this at all. But mostly what’s happening is that I’m realizing that a) I need to learn to take criticism without, like, absorbing it into my bloodstream, and b) next time we should plan things out better.

So, after my 5AM night, after which I mentally cursed myself for putting off writing this diplomacy simulation for so long, I went to class. And the first class went really well. This lesson (one on birthdays, I’ll post it later) isn’t originally mine, and unlike most borrowed lessons, I didn’t bother to restructure it according to the template I usually use, so I’m having a hard time getting a feel for the flow of it. But the first class was fine. In the second class, however, I found myself in a screaming fight with The Smartass, who was a) much bigger than me, and b) incredibly rude and disrespectful. Let me establish here that this is a student with whom I’ve had prior issues, as loyal readers may know. But unlike most of my problem babies, he hasn’t responded to personal attention at ALL, and he also doesn’t seem to have any major outside issues (mother in hospital, orphanage, etc.) that would contribute to his in-class behavior. Rather, he seems to be a smart kid who enjoys manipulating people and seeing what he can get away with. Usually, he gets other kids to do stuff, which is a whole other kind of discipline issue, but today it was him, and I sent him to the back of the room. And he wouldn’t even go. When I finally got him there, he was STILL being disruptive, pretending he didn’t understand me when other kids with far more limited ability knew perfectly well what I was saying (I could hear them discussing), refusing to do what I asked and yelling at me.

So here we get to the more shameful part of the story. A few days ago, I was listening to an old TAL episode where Dan Savage was telling a story about how he swore at a kid one time and lied about it, and how he realized that he’d been worse behaved than the kid himself, and how he actually yelled at his son now because he felt that his son needed to know that however bad kids can be, adults can be much, much worse. And while I certainly didn’t agree with everything he said in the story (it mostly had to deal with threats and yelling as a disciplinary tool, which my family rarely used or needed), that struck me as a good point: there comes a point where children may think they are being as bad as possible, but of course they’re not, which puts them in a risky position. In other words, Savage is right: I do believe that adults can be worse. Because today I was. And that story didn’t make me feel any better about what I did, which was lean in and tell him, “You know, I will not hit you, but the other teachers will.”

I got my comeuppance, however, because it DIDN’T EVEN WORK. He didn’t budge. He kept yelling at me and refusing to do what I said. I had to get another teacher, which made me feel as though I was losing authority over my class – and I don’t exactly run this classroom as a dictatorship. My authority is already pretty loose. But I felt like I was losing control.

After that, things actually went pretty smoothly for a while. One of the kids apologized to me for the Smartass’s behavior. We got through the lesson, I held the raffle, and then some kid groped me.

Aside from the classroom break-ins and vandalism, the time I saw one kid hold a knife to another’s throat, and the frequent profanity I hear, this is the second time I have been sexually harassed by a middle schooler in the past year. REALLY? IS THIS NECESSARY? I do feel to blame on this issue, because if I had asserted my authority better (which, to be honest, is just not my style) maybe some of my boys would see me as an adult and not, I don’t know, some sort of sex object for conquest. But at the same time I also recognize that one aspect of this culture into which I’ve moved is that I don’t know that I’m ever going to command the same respect as a Korean teacher. Because I’m not Korean. I never will be. And part of Korean society – and I’m not saying that this is good or bad – is that you either have that in or you don’t.

I’m still pretty torn up about it. I told ACT that I don’t want to teach that class anymore, because I don’t feel safe. I feel like I’m giving up and that these kids have driven me out, and I never, ever wanted to be that teacher – I wanted to stick around longer. But, under the circumstances, I’m not sure if I have the capacity to command that authority. And it’s a shame, because there are a lot of kids in the class that I love. But I also don’t think I should have to keep a ten foot radius between myself and my students at all times.

My school has been my biggest ally in so many ways – they’ve encouraged me to pursue other avenues after this, they’ve let me out for outside commitments (i.e. Program) and travel, they relentlessly offer me gross rice cakes that I don’t want. So I don’t blame them at all. But I guess there has to be a flaw somewhere. My school’s flaw is that it has some kids I want to punch in the face. All things considered, it doesn’t reflect that badly on the school itself, but I do hope we can work something out where I don’t feel like I have to be so constantly vigilant.
To end this on a somewhat lighter note, one of the teams in the first class today was the Handsome Animals. And, to borrow a line from one Dave Barry, that would make a great name for a band.


1 Comment so far
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Did they seriously demolish KMS?!?!?!

Comment by Cori

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