4.22.2010

기분, moods and Minwoo.

To quote one of my favorite circa 2000 awful teen movies, "the shit hath hitteth the fanneth". Meaning, shit has come to a head with the private school teacher. Meaning, my main co has had e-fucking-nough. And I am caught sweetly right in the damn middle of it all.

Why? Well. First of all, because I'm the only one who has seen the private school teacher with the students, and my co is relying on my observation of things to assess an all-out war that has broken out between her and the students. And secondly, because of my closer relationship with Minwoo, who just so happens to be leading on the front lines of said war.

I mentioned before briefly that the private school teacher has a habit of complaining ceaselessly about Co's homeroom class (the class Minwoo is in), and how I've been confused by that all along, because those students never give me an ounce of trouble. Co started complaining to me in private last week about the private school teacher's nagging, and I did my best to just keep my fucking mouth shut and stay neutral. Even if I think someone is completely in the wrong on something, I've learned the hard way in life thus far that it's usually best, in these situations, to allow other people to come to their own conclusions. If you open your mouth too wide too soon, even if you know exactly what you're talking about (which you rarely do, exactly), you just end up in the midst of a world of he said/she said nonsense. I'm doubly dutiful about watching my rapid-fire mouth in work situations. Because I just don't dig being dans la merde at work.

I answered only that, I could not speak for the private school teacher's classes with these students when I am not there, obviously, but in my classes, her students did not cause any problems. Even Minwoo. In fact, you could say, especially Minwoo. Minwoo is part of the 's crew (quite high ranking) and nobody, among the other students, has the balls to stand up to him. In my class, Minwoo sits right up front and center -- directly in front of where I stand and speak. And if the other students start to mutter behind him, he turns and quickly sets them straight. I didn't mention this to Co. I said only that I had not had any problems with her class, including Minwoo.

She quickly responded that she thinks students misbehave when they don't like a teacher. I paused for a long time and responded that, obviously there is some truth to that, but there can be many reasons why students don't like a teacher, some more valid than others.

Today Co was extremely late to lunch. When she sat down, she made quick intense eye contact with me before launching into a rant in English. The private school teacher was seated directly to my right. Looking me (and me only) dead in the eye, Co started in:

"I'm late for lunch today because I had to have a talk with some of my students. You know, they have been making trouble during English class, so I had to talk to them and punish them. But they said that the reason why they misbehave in that class is because the Korean teacher uses bad language to them and hits them. So now I don't know what to do. Because if they are misbehaving, then I need to punish them. So what do you think about my class? Do you have any problems with them?"

I smiled into my soh-galbi-tang. Christ. Here we go. She's calling me up to the plate, huh?

"No. I've told you before, I never have any problems from your students."

"What about Minwoo? He is a known troublemaker, you know? It would not be surprising to hear that he makes problems in your class...."

"No. I've never had a single problem out of Minwoo. Ever. In my class, he corrects the other students."

The private school teacher jumped in: "The students will make any excuses! They have bad behavior and then they will make any excuse for that! Minwoo is disrespectful student!"

Co, still looking at me: "But you say that Minwoo is respectful in your class?"

"Minwoo has never been disrespectful to me. Not from the time he was a first grader."

PST: "Minwoo is close to you! Minwoo likes you!"

Co: "Does Minwoo participate in your class?"

Me: "Yes. Minwoo sits right up front in my class and always participates."

Co: "Minwoo must find your class interesting. Today he told me that he hates English. He said it ten times. Just, 'I hate English.' But even though his level is quite low, and he hates English, he participates in your class?"

Me: "Yes. He does."

Co: "You know, this is causing some problems between me and my homeroom students. Because they don't like if I do not trust them. Today, Minwoo and I had a fight, because he took too much food, and I made him put it back. And now he is not eating at all. His mood has been quite bad all day. When Minwoo has a problem, his whole mood goes bad. And then he causes many other problems. He is quite good at influencing other students. So if there is a problem with Minwoo, then my job is very hard. And now there is a problem with Minwoo."

I looked down at my plate.

PST: "He is just making excuses! He is very close with her, so he does not cause problems for her! He causes many problems in my class! I cannot teach with him there. Can't you move him out of my class?"

Co: "I know teaching C level students is not easy. But we are teachers. We must work with all students, not just good students...."

PST: "But the C level students are very lazy! And they cause any problems they can. I cannot teach with them making problems."

Wow. Talk about 나쁜 기분. They sat there and steamed at each other across the table for a few moments.

Me: "I know teaching C level students is a very hard job. I teach all levels, so I know how different it is. But I think.... I just think that saying that all C level students are bad students is not right. There are bad students in A level classes, too. It's just that C level students are different. They are a different kind of student. They don't learn the same as the other students. They can be really hard to teach because of that, but I think it can be done."

PST: "But how can you teach when material is too high and they have no interest in listening to the teacher?! They do not care about anything!"

Me: "I know it's hard. They are middle school boys. Of coure, they don't care about learning English. And I know their level is low and it's hard for them to understand. Trust me, I know. I can only speak to them in English. I have no choice but to make them understand me in English. But I think you can do it. They can't sit and listen to the teacher for a long time. That's not their nature. My A level students can sit and listen to a lecture for a half a class -- they have the patience. That's their style. But C level students need to be active. They need to spend most of the time doing something where they can move and talk. That's how they are. They are never going to be able to sit still and listen for 45 minutes. You can't fight that. They just can't do it. It's not their nature. It doesn't mean that they're bad -- it's just not how they are."

Co (bizarelly, still in English): "I heard you are only on chapter 2 in the books? The homeroom teachers are very worried, because the exams are in less than two weeks but the students have not studied the material...."

PST: "How can I cover all the material when the students are having bad behavior all the time!? I cannot finish the material when I spend the whole class trying to control! Always, there are students making problems and I cannot teach!"

This went on for quite a while. It's the first truly heated conversation I've observed between teachers at my work. Generally, this kind of direct confrontation is just not done. And I know it may not seem direct, but believe you me, in Korea, this is very fucking direct. And very confrontational. Eventually, the private school teacher ran off saying she had to speak to the principal. Co talked to me for a long time in the office afterward. I came clean about my feelings on the situation, albeit quite modestly and quite carefully, and said that I particularly hoped that Minwoo and Co's relationship was not harmed by it, because, as far as I can see, Minwoo is trying hard to keep his act together.

She said, "Minwoo is.... Minwoo.... his nature is..."

"Pride." I finished for her. "Minwoo has pride. And he doesn't like being cussed at and hit because it hurts his pride. And then he feels like he has to make up for it by causing problems with the other students."

"Exactly!"

"I know that. I knew that the first time I ever saw Minwoo. You can't let Minwoo think you are being unfair to him, or you hurt his pride, and then it all just goes.... wrong."

"That's right. And I can't understand how you can teach the students in English and... and..."

"They are hard students. And it would be really hard to only ever teach them. I'm lucky because they like me. Because the truth is, my brother was a lot like Minwoo when he was in school. So I understand Minwoo and I understand the other students like Minwoo. So teaching the C level students is not that hard for me. I've had more trouble with the A level students, honestly. But it is a hard job."

After school, the private school teacher and I were left alone in the office together.

"You know... I have a lot of stress these days because of the students.... I don't know what to do... why do the students like you?"

I stopped what I was doing and leaned over the cubicle wall. "Look... don't let the students get you down. They are hard students to understand. Just.... I don't know. The only thing I know is that they are not like the other students. But they are not bad. They just have.... moods."

"Moods?"

"Yeah. They have moods. You have to learn how to read the mood when you walk into the classroom. Some days, they will have a crazy mood and that day, no matter what you have planned, you have to find a way to let them work in groups and talk and play a little bit. Some days, they'll be in a tired, awful mood. And on those days, you can't expect too much. You have to do something quite simple that doesn't require too much participation, or else they will just sit there. Sometimes I have to change my plan when I walk into the room and the mood is not right. It's like .... well, it's like animals, right?"

"Animals?"

"Yeah. It's exactly like training animals. You can't reason with an animal. You have to follow the animal's mood. You can't explain to an animal why it should do something. You have to find a way to make the animal want to do something."

"Haha! Teaching C students is like teaching animals!"

Well. That's not exactly the point I was getting at. But it seemed to make her feel better, for the moment.

I caught Minwoo down in the hall, chatting with another of the crew, another student I've been close with since he was in first grade, this one an A level student. I took advantage of the opportunity for translation.

"Minwooya... are you in a bad mood today?"

The a level student translated, but missed it a bit -- he translated it as the Korean 기분, which has a slightly different connotation. 기분 is a kind of collective experience. It does mean mood, but it also means something akin to "atmosphere". Minwoo answered that the 기분 was really bad, that his homeroom teacher was angry with him.

"No. I don't mean everyone's 기분. I mean Minwoo's feeling. 민우의 기분이 어때요?"

Ah! They got my meaning. Not good, Minwoo answered. His mood is not good.

"Minooya.... cheer up!"

A level student, sounding for all intents and purposes like a drill sergeant in the army: "힘내!"

Minwoo: "예 선생님!"

After all the classes had ended, and the private school teacher had gone home, Co caught me in the office. "Do you know what is very strange?"

"I could give you a list, today..."

"Minwoo.... suddenly. After all that trouble at lunch time, again he is smiling at me. I cannot understand. He is all ups and downs!"

I smiled. "Good. I'm very happy to hear that."

8 comments:

asadalthought said...

Ah, tough times at the school. PST does sound a bit useless but...

Then again, something I have noticed among Korean teachers and in the Korean education system in general is that everything possible is done for the brightest, hardest working students, while the less able, less motivated ones tend to be ignored.

The forms this takes can vary, but generally it seems like good students only get rewards, bad students only get punished. I know of schools where the highest achieving students are the only ones offered places at the small dormitory to allow them more time to study, and other cases where high achieving students get extra tuition and so on. Take number 14 on this Grand Narrative post, for example: http://thegrandnarrative.com/2010/04/19/korean-gender-issues/

I think this is an educational cultural difference, because in "the west" - wherever that is - it's more likely to be the other way round. Yes, good students will be praised and eventually rewarded, but more focus will be placed on doing the same for the lower achieving students to try and raise them up a bit.

Even back in the UK, my Korean Korean language teacher clearly spends more time with the brightest, hardest working students, and some of the students in younger years have to me (final year) complaining that they feel ostracised by the teacher. I guess it's this sort of thing that makes PST less able to cope with the lower level students.

I'm no Picasso said...

You're absolutely right about that. And me and Co have been having a lot of conversations about that recently. Luckily, at least from my perspective of working with some really amazing, really progressive Korean teachers at my school, it is in the process of changing. Or at least some of the younger teachers have noticed it and are bothered by it.

Co and I have had endless conversations about how there are half a dozen extra programs and classes for high level students, and no one is doing a fucking thing for the boys who still can't even read. She's really frustrated at the moment, in fact, because she just had her English "club" changed to a training course for students who want to enter international high schools. She was looking forward to the chance to just, for once, give the students an opportunity to enjoy English in a lot of really diverse, relaxed, realistic (conversational) ways, and now she's ended up with yet another taught-mainly-in-Korean grammar course.

My old main co teacher, who is also amazing, asked me over the summer vacation if I would be willing to set aside the terms of my contract and, after I finished my normal camps in the morning, allow third grade students who couldn't read come in and work on phonics. Of course, I fell out of my seat agreeing, because I've been bugging everyone for ages, saying that I don't even care about overtime -- if they'll just give me the chance, I'd like to do something to help the lower level students. Finally, someone listened to me. It's not surprising that it was her.

But I think what the issue comes down to with PST is classroom management. My classes with her recently have turned into total shit-storms, because she's literally busy talking over me in Korean when I'm trying to teach. I'll be calling the class to attention to listen to instructions or to have a group give an answer, and every last one of these awful students she just can't cope with will be staring right at my eyes intently listening, except the entire back table, who will be turned around talking to her in Korean, because she won't fucking shut up when she hears me saying, "Hey guys! Give me your eyes!" It's unbelievable.

The students don't know what to expect out of her. She has no system for discipline and no sense of order or routine. And they are teenage boys. They need structure. They need to know what's expected of them. They don't need someone being totally relaxed and telling them just to go to sleep if they don't want to study, and then suddenly turning around and smacking the shit out of them when she decides the exact same behavior is suddenly disrespectful. They're confused. In fact, what got Minwoo all kicked off today was that she told his best friend in another class to just go to sleep if he doesn't care about English. Minwoo wanted to know why he couldn't just go to sleep as well.

It's a total mess and I don't know how much longer she's going to last. People are closing in on her left and fucking right. And I'm struggling to keep my classes with her in order -- not because the students are bad, but because, quite literally, of her distracting them.

Anonymous said...

I would be pretty pissed at being played by your coteacher for the purpose of chastising the private school teacher. She seemed to not care about your working relationship with the private school teacher.

le lapin gris said...

You're a great teacher!

Tiffani said...

Wow...Liz, you seem like you are so good at your job, and your students really respect you. That says something important about your character!!

Anonymous @ 00:15 - it sounds like Liz is doing the best she can to maintain her relationship with the PST. If anything, the CT just completely destroyed the PST's face which could cause huge problems for the PST in the future - in many cases, once someone completely loses face they cannot return to the situation it happened in. Maybe the CT is pushing the PST to quit - without saying something *directly* to her, which could potentially put her own job on the line.

I'm no Picasso said...

Anon -- I understand your feelings there, but I wasn't really that worried about it. The thing is, the PST is older than both me and Co. Which makes it really difficult for either of us to call her out on anything. Co was just looking for a little back up in the situation, and a way to address it slightly indirectly. I was more than happy to give that to her. Although I feel bad about kind of teaming up on the PST, I've been aching for a chance to kind of get at her to be honest. Because I don't like the way she talks about or to the students. And I have a soft spot the size of Texas for Minwoo, so I didn't mind being given the opportunity to defend him either.

As for my working relationship with the PST, I'm not really worried because, first of all, I'm pretty good at smoothing things over with people (and she's already forgiven me for it), and also... to be frank, I just don't think she's going to be around that much longer. Plus, she's already literally zero help in class, so it's not like I'm losing a valuable partner there...

As for the students respecting me or whatever, I still have my struggles with a few. Just not *these* students. I get these students. They are the ones that are easy for me. I have my hard students too, just like everyone else, and I endure my fair share of disrespect. Little bastards.

Anonymous said...

That was some fine reading. It really is a wonder for non-teachers to read detailed, personal narratives of the day-to-day activity of teaching and the interpersonal challenges it creates. Temples be damned, there is more culture in this post than in many travel guides.

Thanks for the story. It is wonderful to walk away from the dating column you've been running of late :P :D

-- .38

I'm no Picasso said...

Wonderful for me as well, Spesh, considering I'm not even dating anyone at the moment.

I do worry that my long ass teaching stories are boring as hell. But they are just what interest me most. So they'll keep being all over the place, I suppose....