Friday, February 8, 2013

The Thirty-First Tale: Welcome to the Claassrroommm...(AKA Dance, Monkey, Dance, or "The Life of Anna Teacher": you choose)!

Oh my, it has been a very long time since I've written here--sorry all!

I guess I shouldn't start every entry that way; my blog posting is sporadic as it has always been.  Is there any surprise there?  No. Will it change in the future? Maybe, but probably not.  So, I suppose there's no need to be apologetic about it--it is what it is, like me, an ever-changing entity :D.

SO, let me revise my opening line: HEEEELLLLLOOOOOO EVVEEERYYYBODDDDYY!!!!!!!!!

This is generally how I greet my children when I'm teaching a kindergarten class.  In response, they will say, "HEEELLLLOOOOOOOO ANNA TEACHER!!!!!!!!!!!" Then I force them to do this about three more times by repeating the question until they become so obnoxiously loud that even I can't stand it.  Is it narcissism?  Possibly.  But c'mon, everyone knows it's fun to hear your name shouted a few times over (get your mind out of the gutter--we're talking about children here).

These days, I am still teaching on the hagwon (private academy) circuit.  These are short-term (one year) contracted gigs which offer attractive benefits to foreigners in order to come and be made into show monkeys for the Korean parents.  Other than this, one really doesn't have to have any special skills (you do have to have a university degree, also to show the parents in case they ask).  If you can do the "Dance, Monkey, Dance!" routine, then you are a shoe-in.

The particular one I'm working at is located in Northwest Seoul, close to Ahyeon Station.  I am not saying there are not challenges that come with my job; trust me, there are many, many challenges.  In fact, there are students such as those my boyfriend has, who are...let's just be PC about it and say, 'special'.  He has one particular boy who, when angered, finds joy in biting things furiously.  Not people, but objects.  Give him a fork or a spoon or any toy in sight and he's happy, well...angry, as a clam.  Though nobody has ever proven that clams are truly happy or angry yet, to my knowledge.  I'd like to see some data.

As far as my students go, I also have some very interesting ones.  Victor (I insist on calling him Victor Victorious in a mock superhero voice), a student who is about 12 years old in my afternoon classes, likes to keep the whole class entertained, literally the whole class time, by singing renditions of your and my favorite classic American songs from the 1950s+, as well as any song from a musical you can name.  The kid actually has a very nice voice, so most of the time I don't mind.  However, coupled with the actions and competing mousy voice of Jay, a nervous, nine year-old twitchy kid who cannot stop blinking and constantly asks, "Teacher, what?" strategically after I have explained the directions directly to him as slowly and clearly as humanly possible, five or six times, this proves to be too often overwhelming for even one American English monkey teacher.

The whole class goes something like this:

Victor: Hello, teacher.
Jay: Teacher, teacher, you bring hamburger?? I want beef. I can eat whole cow.
Me: No Jay, I did not bring beef. Or a cow.
Jay: Teacher gimme doughnut.
Me: Why? You think you should get a doughnut? What makes you think you should have a doughnut?

(I use simplified language, because Jay does not know the word "deserve" yet)

Victor is poring over his book calmly.

Victor (without looking up): Jay, be quiet.

Jay proceeds to stand up and open his mouth like he will possibly bite Victor, sticking his face in his face, then decides to make a pucker like a kiss at the last minute.  Victor pushes his face violently away.

Victor: WHAT ARE YOU DOING?? TEACHER,  HE IS GAY!!! GAY!!!!! (Giggling)
Jay: Hee hee hee...hee hee.  I not gay.  You are LESBIAN!!!!!!!

I am just watching the scene unfold, because these kinds of things happen so often in this class.

Me: Okay, okay.  Jay, sit down.  Victor, who cares if he's gay.  Gay people are people, too.  Jay, who cares if Victor is a lesbian.  Lesbians are cool, too.  Take out your book.

Victor starts in with his rendition of "Take my Breath Away", which becomes a mash up with "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from Les Miserables.  Jay is still standing up, with his coat still on, backpack untouched.

Alice (third student) quietly observes this, book out, pencil ready, smirking to herself.

Alice: Teacher, I think they are both crazy!!!!!!!!!

I nod and sigh.  Welcome to my class.

One of the larger and lesser acknowledged challenges of teaching English is not that of classroom discipline, but miscommunication with one's students (particularly when they are trying to explain something to you).  These days, I have been teaching using books that contain stories from some Asian culture (usually Chinese or Korean).  As I have little control over the curriculum, I did not choose these books and the stories, I find, are hit or miss; most often they are inane.

For example, one story is about a mean Mother-in-Law who is constantly screaming at her Daughter-in-Law, and her Daughter-in-Law is deathly afraid of her.  She is so afraid that she doesn't eat anything, and she is always forced to do the housework and cook for the family.  So, on New Year's Day, the Daughter-in-Law is making Tteokguk (rice cake soup) for them, and she cannot resist the smell of the dumplings in the soup.  As she puts one in her mouth, the Mother-In-Law comes in and screams, "You GREEDY GIRL!!!!!!"  As a result, the Daughter-in-Law chokes on the dumpling and dies.  At her burial, the family hears a cuckoo bird as it flies over her grave saying, "Tteok-guk! Tteok-guk!" So they believe that the girl has turned into a cuckoo.  Period.  The end.  Story's over.  What lesson did you learn??  Enter please: _______________________________________________.

Anyway, I digress.  Before we read these stories in class, there are discussion questions coupled with a picture in the book.  As my students all hate the book and the stories (they think it's very boring, and I quite agree with them) we often distract ourselves by stretching these conversation questions out as long as humanly possible.  On one particular occasion such as this, we were discussing the question, "Do you have a pet?", and my students quickly told me about another student in the class, Amy's, pet.  They explained that she had two crawfish.  Amy herself went on and on about how cute they were, etc.  Then one of the other students, Emma, suddenly got a sad look on her face.

"But, teacher!", she said, "One pet is die!"

I figured this meant that one of the crawfish died, and I asked Amy to confirm. Amy smiled a little bit sadly, and she said, "Yes, yes teacher.  One is die, but we had no food! There is no food in the house!"

I took this to mean that her family had gotten so desperate for food, or maybe she was in the house alone with no snack, that she killed and ate her beloved crawfish.  I looked at her, incredulously.

"Amy, you ATE your pet crawfish? What?! How could you!!!"  It felt bad being so accusatory, but I was truly slightly horrified at the heart of it all.

Amy said, "TEACHER, NO!!!!!!!!!!!!  The crawfish is starve."

Again, I shook my head. "Wait, wait, ate your crawfish after it starved to death?!"

"TEACHER, NOOOOOOOOOO!!! The crawfish is starve, it had no food.  But we did not eat!"

The whole class burst into giggles together, which lasted about 5 minutes.  I came to find out that Amy's pet crawfish had starved because apparently they eat a special kind of red worm that is only attainable at a fish store in some faraway land.  Or at least, that's what they explained to me. I'm still not really sure.  Still and all, Amy assures me that (even though this is Korea where they eat silk worm larvae) they did not eat her pet crawfish (affectionately named Alexander).

That's enough for today's tale...I will get back to you soon (or maybe not) with more from the life of Anna Teacher.

Me :)


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