So, yes. A bit of a proper update I suppose.
The high school boys. It all started when I took my camera out for a walk sometime late last week, and there were five or six of them outside the shop across the street from the beginning of the road leading up to my apartment. Every day I've walked past since, there have been more. Today when I walked past heaving an enormous bag of groceries and other various assorted crap from Homeplus-uh that proves I'm getting closer and closer to becoming a bonafied honorary Korean, the whole group moved out into the middle of the road, semi-blocking my path. They seem to still be a bit shy, and turned back to one (who was not visible, as he was ducking into a side alley) to beckon enthusiastically and tell him to bali and say something to me. There are now about thirty of them. Some of them were wearing street clothes, which is an unusual thing for students at that early of an hour in the afternoon. Somehow, I find it unsettling. And may need to plan a new route home.
That being said, I was slightly tempted to stop and make one of them carry my groceries up the massive hill. It's the least they could do after scaring the living shit out of me by suddenly tumbling out into my path from the alley like spilled marbles. After all, they are still haksaeng, and I am seonsaengnim.
I blame it on the third graders and my after school classes that my shyness about Confucian attitudes in this regard is slowly receding. The second graders, who have one English teacher who is young and a total pushover, and another who is a totally moronic old bat, don't like it very much. But the third graders treat me with just as much respect these days as any Korean teacher. All of their awkwardness with how to properly address the foreigner has completely disappeared -- and it is evident that it was awkwardness before that stopped them from bowing and greeting me in the hallway, etc. Now that we're familiar, it's just routine. And I've also quickly adapted the Korean habit of lecturing the students when they get out of hand.
Another foreign teacher, quite new, was asking how I control classes while we were in the car with both my main co-teacher and hers. I said, firstly, that I didn't really control the students -- mostly my co-teachers did. But Coteacher quickly jumped in and asserted that it was absolutely me who controlled my classes, and that she's seen me do an excellent job of it. But I still think it's mostly just that the third graders are a really good group, to begin with. Anyway, I said that I had noticed instantly upon arrival the Korean method of lecturing at length, and that, even though the students can't understand me, that's not the important part -- what you're really doing is giving them time to chill the fuck out and calm down when they've worked themselves into a fervor. Coteacher said I had hit the nail precisely on the head. It's the equivalent of mid-class meditation -- taking a deep breath and counting to ten.
At the weekend, Coteacher's sister said she had seen a foreign teacher at her daughters hagwon with a stick, and it had really shocked her. Sister had all kinds of strange, backassed ideas about foreigners and wasn't really shy about expressing them to me, but I won't get into that. Anyway, she had said that training horses requires one of two things -- a carrot or a whip. The West is full of carrots, but Korean students are used to whips. And when these two systems collide, it can be disastrous.
I agree. But myself, I've never really believed in either carrots or whips. Especially carrots, I guess. I was raised to believe that accomplishment was its own reward, as was honorable and respectful behavior. I was never handed twenty bucks for A's on my report card, nor do I believe I would have been punished for bad grades, had I received any.
I told Sister that I think the foreigner was probably using the stick as a symbol -- a symbol for something that can never really be achieved, and that is being fully recognized as the equivalent (not the equal) of a Korean teacher. I also told her that I thought we foreign teachers could get a lot closer by actually learning Korean, and being able to properly discipline in Korean. That, I believe, is really the biggest hope we have.
Of course, Sister doesn't really believe foreigners can learn Korean (they can't eat Korean food or sit on the floor either), so that idea was quickly dismissed.
Back to my second graders, I had one of my favorite classes today, but as the semester wears on, their behavior is getting more and more atrocious. And my standards for behavior are getting higher and higher. And that is seeing some serious clashes. The shy co-teacher looked as though she might cry as I called her class's attention for a short lecture (one after the bell had rang, the period just before lunch -- the most painful kind). One student decided to continue his conversation in Korean during my lecture, so I called him up to the front of the class to share with all of us. You like to talk, right? You have something to say? Well, I am a very kind teacher, as you know, so I don't want to interrupt. Here. You take the stage. Stand here, behind the podium. Okay. Share with us. Go on. What? Nothing to say, suddenly? Hm. Okay. Well don't say I didn't give you the chance.
Teacher so funny.
Meh. I know I'm expecting a lot out of both myself and my students. They aren't used to taking me seriously, and I'm not used to taking myself seriously. I think I have come a long way from stammering and stuttering in front of my first classes, nervous to be addressing more than four people at a time. It's going to take some time to work all of this out. As Coteacher explained to me, middle school is the time when being a Korean student stops being about just academics, and starts being about building character. It's part of the family vibe Korean schools have got going on here, which I quite like and admire. I'm not a homeroom teacher, and I'm not Korean, but I'm still going to have to learn to participate in the character building part of this whole scheme. If the Korean teachers aren't going to step up to the bat with the second graders, then that task is going to fall on me. Because one terribly behaved class is enough to drive me mad already, and the year isn't even half over. I'm not about to see this all go to pieces as the situation out in that crackerjack building mounts.
Hm. Lots of other, more personal things going on. But I don't feel like talking about any of that. That's my stuff. You'll have to settle for this, for now.