Star Trek podium nightmare and can't win for winning.

Lord have mercy. Since I've become better integrated with the other Korean teachers at work, and since they all know I'm making slow but steady progress with my Korean, I've been suddenly included in all the little meetings we have. Today we had one introducing our new mega super Star Trek podiums with touch screens and all kinds of other doodads and nonsense.

Now. I begged them not to put one of these monstrosities in my classroom. I said, look that piece of crap PC over there in Korean gives me enough trouble as it is, and I've just finally gotten around to understanding how to work it properly during class so that there's not five minutes of giggling about what an old ass idiot the weoneomin is, as I try to get the thing up and running properly. One of the key English phrases my boys are all well-versed in, by now, as a matter of fact (between the computer, the TV and the projector) is, "Somebody come up here and make this thing work!" Please. Please. 제발. Do not put one of those damn things in my classroom.

Of course, there it is.

So I sit in on the meeting and I've got this whole new empathy for my students, which was developed enough after sitting through Korean classes in Korean, but sitting through a long lecture meant for native speakers is just a whole other ballgame. It literally gives me a headache. Nonetheless, I managed to follow most of what was going on, and with the exception of having to control my reaction every time I heard the phrase "cream pile" (그림파일 -- image file), it went pretty smoothly.

My South African student ended up in my new main co-teacher's homeroom class, and so was up in the office when I came back in today -- "Are you in trouble already?" I've got mixed feelings about this kid, and I reckon he's got mixed feelings about me. On the one hand, he was in the homeroom class of the co-teacher who made an absolute wreck of everything with the students ousting her in a malevolent coup last year, so he's seen me at my absolute worst, stick-wielding in front of the classroom in what a few times became an almost-not-cool rage. On the other hand, he's able to shoot the shit with me in a way that no other students can, and has gotten a handle on my personality in a way that's allowed him to come to respect me. I talk to him like an adult, and he likes that.

The real particulars of the situation of our relationship, however, stem from his precarious position of being a fluent English speaker in the Korean classroom, and being not only a fluent speaker, but one who gained his fluency through the assumed spoiled means of studying abroad, rather than the "hard work" of religiously attending hagwon and late hours in his room on his own.

At first, I didn't understand this dynamic at all, was not aware of it -- in fact, it didn't even occur to me. But as his behavior became more complicated and unpredictable, I began to catch on. You see, on the one hand, he's super cool for being able to strike up a conversation with me at will. Sometimes, while we're talking in front of the other students, he'll laugh a little too loudly at my jokes, speak a little quicker than he really needs to. Other times, he'll scowl when I directly address him and make some cool, detached statement in response, as if he doesn't have a care in the world about me or speaking English. He's walking a social tightrope here -- one that's no fun to be on, when you're a cool guy in middle school.

This afternoon, however, he had only one other docile student who's friendly with me as his audience, and he was free and relaxed. The truth is, he's a good student, and guilt is evident on his face every time he addresses me coolly in front of the other students, even as he's doing it. He seems to be pleading with me with his eyes to not blow his cover or take it personally. So when it comes time for him to speak to me genuinely, he always starts out a bit shyly, wondering if I'm going to hold whatever happened last against him. Of course, I never do. Because I'm not a middle school student, but I have been, and I get where the kid is coming from. So my opening line of, "Are you in trouble already?" put him off at first. He decided to take the route of muttering to himself in English about how dirty the office floor was, and how he should be able to wear his shoes. Of course, this was directed at me, even if it wasn't.

We got settled into it soon enough, him talking about how he might go to the US next year for high school, how he despises Korean schools and wants to get out as soon as possible -- how he'd rather die than go to university here. At some point, MJ Oppah came into the office, took a seat and began observing the conversation with confusion. I broke off to make an aside to MJO about the student's background. The student turned to me and said, "Why do you tell him that? It's not that important..."

"Hey. I'm just stating the facts, kid. I'm not bragging for you -- don't worry. Anyway, you know I like your accent." He grinned and all was forgiven.

Man. These kids. Sometimes it seems they can't win for losing. Or, more appropriately, they can't win for winning. I've never seen a society so dead set on pushing everyone as far forward as possible, while also striving to keep everyone reigned in as close together as possible. I live for the day we see the ROK realize that having everyone speak perfect English is impossible, and having everyone speak barely passable English is not practical, whereas having a portion of the population (those who take an interest and naturally excel) speak fluent English is perfectly fine.


Kel said...

cream pile!? omg I would die. wtf...why???? does "cream" mean "image" in Korean???

I'm no Picasso said...

Yeah something like that -- it means something close to "picture", as in a drawing,painting or image, not a photo.

I was having a few moments there with that.