Sweet mother of god. How's this for a weoneomin first?

I'm sitting in the office this afternoon, actually in the middle of writing a bitchy post for this blog about how awful having lunch with the private school teacher is, when she comes bursting through the office door. Her face is bright red and she's absolutely raving. Behind her, craning their necks through the doorway stand 8 students from the class she's been having trouble with, looking altogether unconcerned with the fact that she's so angry she looks as though her head is literally about to separate from her shoulders.

She waves them all in and explains to me that they're all being horrible and she can't continue class with them there, so could I please handle them?

Uh.... sure?

Now. Just for the record, as will become necessary to know later on, I asked her... do you want me just to watch them, or do you want me to punish them? Punish them! I don't know what to do with them anymore! Punish them!

Okay. You got it.

Here's the thing, though. These weren't the incredibly mean little fuckers from that class -- they were a few so-so students mixed in with some really, really good students. Plus Insoo, of course. Who the others all immediately pegged as the source of all the trouble, once the door slammed shut behind the other teacher.

I was really disappointed to see one student in particular, Seongyoo, who is just about the most mature student I have. And I don't mean just in C level -- I mean at all, in any level. He was the first one last Friday who, from the very back corner of the classroom, started to shout out answers to my questions, with a tone that was completely defiant toward the nonsense that was going on in the front of the room. I had asked him later in broken Korean, "You want to study, right? But you can't study because of those students, right?" A big handsome grin appeared on his face, and he nodded.

Now I looked them all over, giving him particular attention: "실망하다," I muttered under my breath.

They spent about ten minutes telling me in Korean that nothing was their fault, they had had no warning and the situation was unfair, thinking that I wasn't understanding because they were speaking in Korean, before they realized that fair/unfair really mattered very little at this point. I put paper in front of all of them and told them to write apologies. They dicked around for another five minutes or so, until I explained that if they didn't want to write, that was fine, but they had fifteen minutes until the end of the period, and if they hadn't finished by then, they'd be coming back after school to finish. Suddenly their pens were moving.

In the course of all of this, I was wondering around muttering to myself in English, as I'm prone to doing, when I suddenly realized one student, Chanseung, was quietly (and correctly) translating what I was saying into Korean for the other students. My head snapped up.

"You. Kim Chanseung." He looked up at me. "You understand me. Why are you in C ban? Huh? You listen to me. Next exam, you study hard, you go to B ban. Understand me? You are not C." He smiled and nodded.

When the bell rang, I sent them all with their apologies to be signed by their homeroom teachers. I told them next time, it would be homeroom teacher and mom. They were to return to the office after 6 class with the papers.

They're gone two minutes and the private school teacher walks through the door holding the apologies in her hands. "What... why do you have these? I told them to get these signed by their homeroom teachers."

"But I think they are kind of still rude!"

"That's the point. Obviously, I couldn't check their apologies to see what they said, but if they put anything rude, then getting them signed by their homeroom teachers... you know?"

"Oh. Maybe they don't understand."

No, lady, they understood me perfectly well. You're the one who's having some trouble. I took the apologies out of her hand and took off down the hallway to their homeroom. You're not going to dump your students off on me, tell me to discipline them, and then completely undermine my authority when I have. I have a feeling, at this rate, I'm going to be at this school a hell of a lot longer than you are. These are my students, too, despite the fact that you continue to insist that I am not a "real" teacher, because I am not Korean. I'm real enough to handle your problem students for you.

I walked into their homeroom, and immediately my B and A students in that class swarmed around. I called out for the boys who caused a problem to come over and talk to me. They were quite embarrassed, to have this be seen by the stronger students in the class, who I am obviously on good terms with. I told them they were to have the papers signed and bring them back after six class, as I had said before. The A level students translated, just in case there was some confusion.

I turned and left, stopping by the bathroom and to chat with some first graders on my way back to the office. I get back in the office, and the private school teacher has got three of the 8 students sitting at the table, including the one I had handed the apologies back to. I assumed they had come to argue about the signature, but it turns out the private school teacher had summoned them from their classroom and taken the apologies back AGAIN. She decided she wanted to scream at them a little more in person first. And screaming was exactly what she was doing. At first, the students sat there nodding in submission, as they should be. But the teacher just kept going, somehow taking confidence from the fact that there were only three of them now and not enough to outnumber or overpower her. She got louder and louder and more and more angry, although the boys were doing nothing but sitting there nodding. Somang finally made the mistake of raising up his eyes and letting a small retort escape from his lips.

I'm not sure what he said, or what she said in response, but even though he had definitely popped off, she suddenly seemed really eager to just get rid of him. She shouted him out the door. He muttered something as he went, and she chased him out into the hallway. I could hear her screaming and slapping him. I quickly went over to Chanseung and the other student and told them, "Hey. Look at me. '예 예 예' and then go, understand?" Chanseung nodded that he had, just as the teacher came back through the door, shoving and slapping Somang, who had completely lost his cool at this point. She was screaming louder and louder, slapping the shit out of him and calling him a son of a bitch, as his tone also began to rise. She told him to pick up the phone and dial his mother. He just screamed back at her that he wouldn't. She continued slapping him.

I couldn't take it anymore. I leaned over and said, "May I please speak with him just a moment?" Her eyes snapped over to me. She seemed grateful for the chance to somehow get out of this situation that was escalating. She agreed.

"Somang. Look at me. Hey. Look at me. Listen. I understand you. I understand your feeling now. But it is time to finish. Just finish." I put one hand over the other. "It's like this: higher, higher, higher. No more, okay? I understand you, but no more. Just finish. Finish now. You know?"

He stood there for a few seconds silent, trying to control his breathing. The private school teacher started prodding him to pick up the phone and dial his mother again. He didn't move or look at her, just stood there breathing. He started to tear up and looked at me again. "Somang, it's okay. Just finish it." He dialed his mom, on the condition that he had a chance to explain his side of the story on the phone as well. Which the private school teacher granted him.

After he went, she sat down and started in with Chanseung. Chanseung did exactly as I had said and merely answered everything with, "yes ma'am, yes ma'am, yes ma'am", and their conversation eventually ended up in a kind of amicable place. She was lecturing him, in a somewhat motherly manner absent of anger that he was in a C level English class, and he needed to take English more seriously than that, because it is an important subject. At which point Chanseung, ever so discreetly, shot his eyes over to mine. Of course, I was already watching his. I gave the most indiscernible wink of all time and quickly looked away, as he grinned.

I don't know what the hell happened. I know that good students can have bad days, just as I know that bad students can have good days. But I also know that there wasn't a mean-spirited student among this bunch. And there were some mixed in there who really make me question what was actually going on.

But my biggest concern at the moment is this: thanks to the private school teacher's interference, the students have not had their homeroom teachers sign those damn apologies, which I told them to do not once, but twice. Basically, now, I look like a chump who says things I don't mean. Which is going to be a real fucking problem when it comes to my time dealing with this class, considering this lady is obviously not going to be any fucking help at all. At the same time, I wasn't in the class and I don't know what actually happened. So I feel like kind of a bitch pressing the issue. Whereas if she had just let the students walk out, get the papers signed and bring them back without kicking up such a goddamn fuss and making the whole thing into a huge ordeal, it would've been nothing more than a simple disciplinary measure that would show them that it was pretty much time to stop dicking around, no matter what actually happened.

So what do I do, kiddos? I'm thinking I have no choice but to gather up those apologies from wherever they've ended up and insist that the students go ahead and get them signed, although I hate to press the issue past this point, and generally have faith that this whole situation was quite enough to subdue these students. Still, I hate to fall back on the reliability of student behavior, when it comes to the fact that I'm going to be handling this class (with other far meaner students included) on my own for the rest of the year. What do you think? Give ol' Liz a little advice....


Anonymous said...

Make them sign the papers, I say.

Look at the lows the korean teachers have to stoop to to protect their authority. Your punishment was nowhere near that severe.

If you let go of it, the kids will probably just disregard your role in the conflict. If you persist, I think you'll be respected more in the long run.

It's comparable to a parenting thing. When one parent enforces all the rules, and the other parent is completely undermined.

Gomushin Girl said...

Get the papers signed, because you told the kids to do it. Tell them you understand that it's not their fault it didn't happen at first, but then get them signed.
And then, while I don't generally recommend this, it is time to rat out the other teacher. Don't go to the top . . .go to another teacher of about the same seniority (preferably a homeroom teacher for the kids), and tell them you have a "private question" about how to handle the breakdown of discipline. They'll give you some advice, probably to ignore it, but it'll get handled, very quietly, behind the scenes. If this were a one time situation with any ol' teacher, I'd say let it slide, but this woman is a repeated hazzard, and I don't think you need to worry about "maintaining a good relationship" with her.

Anonymous said...

I agree, you do have to get them signed by the homeroom teacher for exactly the reasons #1 outlined.

And I also agree with Gomushin Girl: you need to involve other teachers in this. That woman should not be around students at all, and although that can't be helped (at least not for this semester), the others can rein her in.

I'm no Picasso said...

You're all right and I know it, but I'm going to overlook the obvious on this one and just let it go. Mostly because I feel like what happened in this office afternoon changed the relationship entirely. I may end up living to regret it. I guess we'll see.

About getting other teachers involved, my main co shares an office with me and this lady. She came in after Somang was already on the phone sobbing yesterday afternoon. She got to hear everything Somang said.

She's also the homeroom teacher of one of the C classes this teacher claims is the worst (which I haven't seen at all -- they are literally zero trouble in my class), and so my main co was asking me about her class, because she said she didn't really understand how those students could be so bad, but she needed to know if it was true so she could correct them. I told her flat out I had no idea what the lady was talking about, that her class was absolutely fine in my class.

There have been a lot of looks exchanged and a lot of "conversations" had back and forth between us in front of this teacher. For example. we had quite a lengthy conversation last week about how we think corporal punishment loses its effectiveness when it's used too often or on a whim, without a practical system of implementation. We had this conversation for about 20 minutes, even though neither one of us uses corporal punishment at all. Elbow elbow.

I'm not the only one who's watching her, and while my co is careful in how she words her questions to me about this teacher, she has definitely started to ask them. And I answer them straight out, without hesitation.