I'm meeting my firsties for the first time this week. They've seen me around for half a year, but this is our first time meeting together in class. The weirdest new thing this round are doing are small face comments -- I've gotten that loads from Korean adults, everywhere I go, but the students have never said it to me before. But so far, there's been at least one round of it in nearly every new class. Who knows.
What is standard and expected behavior is the introduction to the foreign teacher of all of the student nicknames. Which, it has to be said, are hardly ever nice. Squid Nose (compliments of "Spongebob's friend"). King Kong. Skin Dust (???). And at least half a dozen Aliens. I do my best to play these moments off perfectly. It's a rough balancing act -- you have to let them know that being rude to their friends is not going to be funny in your class, but you also can't just crack down on them about it, or else it's damaging to the victim's pride. It's like having Mommy defend you -- it just makes the situation worse. Usually, when nothing else comes to mind, my standard response is just to say, "And what are you?" The culprit then usually laughs, but shrinks a bit into himself and glances around cautiously, hoping no one else decides to pipe up and answer the question. Point made.
But with the Aliens, it's also a chance to head off another common problem that tends to crop up as the year goes on, which is "E.T." jokes -- E.T. obviously meaning alien, and also English teacher. And also foreigner, by way of alien. The students are still new to me, and still pretty nervous about the idea of cracking any jokes at my expense, or the perception of bad behavior. No one wants to get pigeonholed as the asshole by the foreign teacher right off the bat. In fact, I have to be a little careful not to call anyone out for talking or goofing around too strongly in the first couple of weeks, because they will get way too upset about it. At this point, before I've become just another teacher who they are comfortable with, it can really hurt their feelings and cause a grudge that may not be dropped for the next three years.
So. Every time I've had an Alien this week, this is how it has gone down:
"Teacher he alien! Face alien! Big head!"
"I'm an alien."
"아니-- no no! Not Teacher! He! Alien!"
"I'm an alien."
"No no not Teacher saying! He!"
"No, I am. I'm an alien in Korea."
"No no not saying Teacher! HE! HE! HE ALIEN! TEACHER NOT ALIEN SAYING!"
".... I'm an alien."
Haha. They think that I'm misunderstanding them as calling me an alien and they get pretty upset about it. But it just goes to show.... if it's not nice to say it to one person, it's not nice to say it to another, either, boys.