The Good, The Bad, The Impossible All Have Something to Teach Us

Hey, teachers, both ESL and good old fashioned first language educators: do kids annoy the shit out of you sometimes? Oh, absolutely! Children are unpredictable as hell. One day, the little angel can turn into a little asshole. Heck, they can do that in the span of one class. Then there are the ones who are never nice, the little sociopaths seem to want to stop at nothing to turn your psyche into a puddle of sad goo, waiting to be dumped into the nearest drain, flushed away with your self-esteem, hopes and dreams.

But not all experiences are like the bleak picture described above. If they were, I am not sure anyone would have the fortitude to withstand a day in a classroom, let alone a year. For those that could, you get my eternal gratitude, and any drugs I could find for you.

Even the assholes usually have a reason why they are assholes. And, like their swing toward terror from angel, terrors do occasionally swing back to angel, often unexpectedly.

One of my younger students, “Evan,” used to be a royal pain in the ass. I would never label him a terror, but whenever I saw a class list for the day including him, I may sigh and say to myself, “let’s just get through this.” I wonder if that was reflected in my attitude, as well. Because one day, several months ago, he asked out of the blue, “do you like me?”

It caught me a little off-guard. “Of course,” I said, mostly true but with the silent wish, “if only you would shut the hell up and pay attention sometimes.” From that point forward, this kid who never before paid attention has done just that, and has even confided in me his love of drawing, most recently showing a pretty impressive drawing of something called “Tobot.” He also said he is in the middle of drawing the KTX Korean bullet train, which he said is really hard.

“Ella,” this tiny, bug-eyed little girl, started out sweet and then went all batshit crazy for a while. Lately, she has mellowed considerably. She has gone back to sincerely sweet, while her English skills have just not been able to catch up. It’s as if she matured enough to recognize she was stuck in the hagwon and she could make the best of it or the worst of it. Who knows? She’s a kid! That’s the point. Kids are unpredictable. I was. Sometimes, we can’t rationalize something, we have to just accept what’s happened so far and do what we can to guide the present situation in as positive a direction as possible. Of course, easier said than done, but it’s definitely a worthwhile investment of our time.

Some students just work better with others than others. “Lee” has liked to draw pictures of me and some of the other female Korean teachers on the back of our school’s “coupons (rewards)” with hearts around us. “Alex” often gives me a snack if he has an extra one on hand. “Sally” calls me “Cute Bear,” which I absolutely adore.

“Steve” left about a month ago. He was one of my favorites and never stopped being one of my favorites. Slightly chubby, this 12-year-old always asked me and Michael, the other foreign teacher, “do you have a hamburger?” and would say, “welcome to Genius Class” whenever we walked into his classroom. Unfortunately, that “genius” moniker stuck, and he was shipped off to a smart middle school in another part of the city.

“Cole” is at an age, 12, where it seems like he is trying to assert himself as a dominant figure. When he first arrived at the school, he was quiet and did his work. Once he gained an audience, he became a terror, so much so that after several months, one of the Korean teachers who had him since the beginning washed her hands of him and he was put with another Korean teacher, because he had become impossible. No matter what, he has not wanted to listen. If he is not talking or shouting or generally being a jerk, he’s shutting down completely, without an audience, without a reason to care.

There are those who are obviously going to be your favorites and those you might need to put some extra effort into winning them over. And, yes, there are going to be a few you’re just not going to get. It really is “win some, lose some” sometimes. It doesn’t mean you never try, but recognizing when the rest of your students in a class are suffering because you’re trying so, so hard on one student, and then reluctantly letting them go, also is important.

But, just because you let go now doesn’t mean you have to forever. Like “Ella,” they may just come back on their own. I did not set out here to become a lifelong teacher. I possibly still won’t whenever my time in Korea is done, but these kids have had a profound impact on me in just these past nine months. And that includes not just the easy ones, but the ones you have to work for and the ones you’re probably never going to get. All of them have something to teach us.

Hat tip to Tom Gates over at The Red Dragon Diaries for inspiring this post with a great one of his own on how to speak English to your students (and teachers)!

“Harry.” Unpredictable at times, but has always been a great kid.Image
“Kevin” left in late May. He popped back for our school’s Halloween fun day, and holy crap, has he grown in just a few months.

We have fun.
I grew out my hair for Halloween. “Lily,” “Misha” and their visiting friends approved for some reason.
Lucy” is a great example of putting a student in a situation where they will need to extend themselves a little more than they had before. She was moved recently to one of the smarter classes, mainly because they are in her age group of sixth grade. But, it also has had the effect of helping her English skills and confidence improve. I mean, she had enough confidence to stand next to this guy.

Having fun with the kids for summer camp.
teve. Aw, I miss that little hamburger.


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