May 28, Two Sides

Today I was a good teacher and a bad teacher.

On Fridays I have fifth grade and tend to forget about my one lingering fourth grade class. Their behavior is normally not anything to write home about anyway given that they’re a bit more immature than the other 5 fourth grade homeroom classes.

I’m not sure if some of the distracted boys are special students or have some other learning challenge that I don’t know about so I’m always very careful not to over correct in class. However, we got to a writing activity and all but one boy had begun. I noticed as I walked around the room that he hadn’t written anything for the last three sentences and I asked him in Korean:

“썼어요?” Did you write?

I noticed his notebook wasn’t even open so I asked him next “안 썼어요?” You didn’t write?

I opened his notebook and gestured for him to show me the page he’d written on. He took several agonizing seconds to flip through his notebook only to show that he hadn’t started after all. But again, he had still not answered me.

I dropped the polite ending which I tend to use with my students and escalated.

“썼냐고.” I asked if you wrote.

He just grinned abashedly and finally produced a pencil.

As I walked back to the front to continue, another boy said in an exaggerated American accent, “한국 김치 맛있어요.” A phrase that beginner Korean learners study.

I didn’t know if this was a dig at me and my Korean or he just likes rhyming but the kids laughed and I felt my mood sour.

I soldiered on but the kids’ cheers whenever they won a point didn’t quite reach my ears. We had about five minutes left of class so I had pairs do a drawing race. However, the same boys kept making noises and being disruptive. As a result, I immediately sent the two poor girls who had just come up to sit back down so I could address the class.

Since I didn’t really know why he said that, and it didn’t seem to come from malice, I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions. I also don’t know how to explain in Korean that making fun of someone’s attempt to speak their language is rude and disrespectful.

Without raising my voice, I told them in Korean that when they’re really loud and crazy it can put me in a bad mood. I told them that it’s difficult for me when they act like this. I told them to behave better next time.

I didn’t high-five them goodbye.

I felt bad almost immediately because I could feel their little fourth grade hearts drop. Withholding high-fives feels like withholding “I love you” after an argument with your spouse. Unnecessarily petty.

I should’ve addressed it earlier so that they had a chance to redeem themselves. I’m supposed to be the adult and I’m supposed to have patience rather than protecting my feelings upon the students.

When I see my tutor this weekend, I’m going to learn how to say these things in Korean so I can explain to them why it’s not nice to make fun of a non-native speaker.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to recover but I needed to do so quickly to put on a good face for fifth grade. I discovered today fifth grade absolutely loves putting on plays.

It’s really difficult to have students write and practice and present a short play with only 35 minutes of class, however. So I explained the activity with a fast-paced, near frenetic energy that the students matched in class. I’ve never seen them draw so quickly or run around with such determination.

In one heartwarming moment, a shy boy who didn’t find a group was pulled into a girl’s group. She dragged him along by the hand and said in fond exasperation, “come on”.

Given the time limit I decided to have the remaining groups present next week because they were so invested. Without me suggesting so, there were groups that even drew and colored special food items, groups that threw together outfits from the coats they had laying around on desks, groups that made a stage out of chairs.

One group wrote about ordering dinosaur steak. Another asked for a strawberry latte. Their plays about going to a restaurant or cafe spanned a whole range of unique ideas.

Given that I only teach once a week, it’s difficult to have overarching themes or projects. However, this was a taste of truer teacher life and I loved it! And the kids did too!

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