The coercion of love.

Yesterday I went with my first and second graders to watch our school's handball team absolutely destroy another in a tournament. It was my first time to see a handball match, and I'm happy to report that it is not a boring sport at all. The real joy of the day for me was watching the girl teams play.

Busan's always on my ass to change schools a. so that I can get out of Incheon, b. so that I can get away from my hoodrat students and c. so that I can experience a "variety" of Korean students. Well. I've definitely got the variety covered, although possibly not in the way he means. And my hoodrat students are fucking brilliant. Our school may have a bad reputation when it comes to the boys' choices of extracurricular activity (fighting, drinking, kissing girls, stealing things) but they are actually remarkably respectful to the teachers. One of ours who just moved over from a much "better" school in Bucheon said she was shocked to see how the students knock on office doors before entering and maintain a respectful distance from teachers. I mean, they even bow to the foreign teacher on the street -- that really says something.

Anyway, I sent him a message while watching the girls' match yesterday saying I'd gotten the sudden urge to move to a girls' school. That shit was insane and those girls were not joking. They definitely went harder than the boys did, resulting in a ridiculous number of yellow and red cards and a few scuffles that went on well beyond the point when the whistle was blown.

Our boys, as I said, kicked ass. The last half of the game was pretty boring because it was so obvious who was going to win. What wasn't boring was watching the PE teachers skulk about threatening to beat the students if they didn't cheer right. Obviously, they were joking. But these were our first graders, and they're still not really sure where the line is. As a result, the cheering kind of followed the PE teachers as they walked along the front, like a wave of coerced enthusiasm. The Handsome PE Teacher, who sat near me for a time, would suddenly lean over our section from above with that business look on his face and shout, "야! 안해?? 안해??" The boys would then look nervously back over their shoulders, raising their arms in the air to clap and shout along with the chants, all the while with a slight look of fear on their faces. The PE teacher would then giggle to himself and lean, satisfied, back in his seat.

One of my old co-teachers had a major run-in with one of the more serious PE teachers during her first months at our school. She pointed out something about some work he had delegated, and after that, he always stomped past her in the hallways ignoring her greetings. I told her not to take it personally, that from what I knew of his personality, he was probably just assuming that she had a problem with him and responding accordingly. Eventually, they sorted it out as a result of both sitting at the same table as me at 회식. He always gets extremely jovial when he drinks and then suddenly wants to speak English. It was during this time that she recounted what I had told her of him, and he, red-faced, sadly nodded and said, "그래 맞아요~~." But she's always still held a bit of a grudge toward him, though you'd never know it.

He's one of the main coaches of the handball team, and was standing down next to the seats on the court. She took one look at him, leaned over toward me and whispered, "Now he finally looks like a coach, when you put him on a court, instead of a gangster like when he walks around the school. Now I can see it. I'll watch him to see if he is a coach or a gangster." Haha.

During the game, I heard some giggling coming from off to the side, and that phrase again: foreign worker. Now. I have not heard this fucking thing throughout my entire working career here except for one time, which I wrote about previously, in my after school class. I turned my head to see what was going on, and sure enough, there was Seokhyeon. I don't like this fucking kid, okay? And I don't think much of anyone else does either. He picks. Constantly. He's a little dorkface who has decided it's his mission in life to pick on other students for no apparent reason just so he isn't the main target. During my classes with him, he constantly called out Mingi (the only other student in the class weaker than him) for anything negative he could. Talking about animals? Mingi is an elephant. Mingi is a monkey. Mingi is a pig. Talking about the word "kill"? Mingi is die! Talking about something completely irrelevant? Just Minigi hahahahaha! The kid's a dick, and now that I have his regular class with him, he's already started up with the other weak kid in that class.

Now, Seokhyeon wasn't involved in the original foreign worker incident, which was largely a misunderstanding on the students' part, because they didn't realize that word might even apply to me. But he was there for it, to see my reaction. Now, he had leaned over to the students around him and whispered to them about how the foreign teacher was a foreign worker.

I heard the word before I saw Seokhyeon and asked the kid to repeat it. He immediately turned around and pointed a finger at Seokhyeon.

"Seokhyeon. Do you have something to say?"

Seokhyeon immediately tried to claim that it was the kid next to him who had started it. The kid started to panic, not even having taken part in the conversation at all, but I told him not to worry about it. It's obvious where it came from. I asked Seokhyeon to repeat it a few more times, but of course he wouldn't. So I turned to the other students who had been giggling. They were now insisting that, of course, I was not a foreign worker.

"I am actually a foreign worker. You're right. But why is that funny? What's funny about foreign worker? Huh? Why is that funny? Huh? Tell me. Why is foreign worker funny?"

Finally, the smart kid on the end got it: "It's not funny, Teacher. Foreign worker not funny."

"That's right. It's not funny." I leaned back in my seat.

There is some dickish behavior amongst the first graders of this kind, and I'm not sure if I just didn't notice it as much before, because I wasn't able to overhear and understand as much in Korean, or if I've just forgotten about it since the older students have gotten used to me and gotten over the fact that I'm foreign, or if it's just gotten worse with the new students. But, at any rate, it's clear that some of them don't really respect me, based on my foreignness alone. Which is too bad. They're just going to have to learn.


Turner said...

And you honestly think they will? I can't imagine the day will come when any of my students respect me the way they respect the Korean teachers.

I'm no Picasso said...

Yeah of course they learn! At the very least, they learn to keep their thoughts to themselves. My second and third graders, who know me as their teacher, would never dream of saying anything like that. I'm not a Korean teacher, but I'm still a teacher.