The study room was good tonight. It's been a rough few weeks, as the head teacher changed and the kids have copped a predictable fucking attitude. Basically, she's a newb, and they got confused for a minute and thought I was as well. Not so. They were pulling shit like not arriving on time, not getting sat down to their dinner, even after they'd arrived, and I was generally having to do all kinds of shit I didn't sign up for, like chase them down all over the neighborhood and force them to hurry up and eat so we could start class. They are supposed to be there and finished eating for us to start class at 6 when I arrive. As you can imagine, for a minute there, we were starting class closer to 7. Which is just not fucking funny, when I've already taught seven classes and commuted for nearly an hour to be there.
I really had a moment, a couple of weeks ago, of thinking, "You know what? I'm out." It was the Monday after I had spent the entire weekend dying in bed from the flu, and had worked the whole day and trouped out to the study room afterward. I was in the middle of trying to get them to hurry up and finish eating, and explaining that I was really sick, so it would be nice if they would just do what they needed to do so I could go home to bed, when one of the oldest students, Jeongyoon, waved his hand and said, "그럼 가세요."
He's not a bad kid, but I really could have slapped the smug right off his face at that moment. And I think he knew it.
I didn't even get angry or try to discipline him. There was no point. I was shocked, he had shocked himself, and we both knew he'd crossed a line. I said, fine. And went in sat in the other room. Jeongyoon took it upon himself to gather the other kids up and get them all in and sat down for their lesson within minutes. I just looked at them and said, you know what? I like coming here and I like teaching you and I like making lessons for you, but I spend time to make these lessons, and I spend time to come here and teach you, and even when I'm really sick, I still come. Because you are important to me. If I'm not important to you, that's fine. But I wish you would at least show me the respect not to treat my lessons and my effort like nothing.
Since then, things have been running a lot more smoothly. And last week, before I left, Jeongyoon shocked me by asking if he could have the time for the next lesson to teach us all a game. These kids, their English is just basically nonexistent. So for him to volunteer to do something like that was pretty major. I said, will you do it in English? He said, I'll try. And I said, okay then.
When I came in today, the main head teacher who only stops in once every couple of months or so was there. We chatted for a bit and caught up while the students were finishing their dinner, and she quizzed me on one of the articles I've been reading as part of my Korean homework. In Korean. Which was something Old Head Teacher tried to do with me about a year ago, and I completely failed at. This time, I held my own, and even answered in Korean, rather than trying to worm my way out and reply in English.
Then Jeongyoon came in and somehow seemed to expect that I wouldn't have remembered the things he asked me to prepare for his game. When I pulled them out, he genuinely grinned from ear to ear. The students sat down, and I told them Jeongyoon was our teacher for the day.
The students worked together to explain the game to me in English, with Jeongyoon getting a nice taste of what it's like to be a teacher in the process, I have to say, and I think it was probably the most productive time I've ever spent with them. I think they felt really proud of themselves afterward, as well. I know Jeongyoon did.
Towards the end of the lesson, the new head teacher wandered in to get something, and Jeongyoon said, "나가세요!" I shot him a look and told him that just because he says something in 존댓말 doesn't make it polite, and he knows it. He looked down and apologized, but not without a bit of a smile.
Overall, I've got renewed motivation to try to come up with more active lessons for them, even though they barely understand a word I say. I can make good usage of a few Korean words here and there, but don't like to rely too heavily on that -- it's not instruction that's the problem. I know how to give directions to kids who don't understand English in English. It's just that their level severely limits the activities they can do. But I'm going to work harder to make it more interesting for them. Which is probably a lot better than just throwing up my hands and quitting, which was the place I was at a few weeks ago. I hope they continue to work harder, as well.
By the way, I know I'm woefully behind on answering emails and asks, and I've got a number about how I got my gig at the study room. The answer is unfortunately not very helpful, in that a coworker of mine used to live in the area, and knew I was looking for volunteer work, and happened to see a sign posted that they were looking for teachers. They never expected a foreign teacher to reply, but were very happy to have me. So, I guess my only answer would be that it wouldn't hurt to put in a word with your co-teachers and see what they can come up with. Most areas have at least one of these kinds of places, and there are also community centers which could, I'm sure, use an English teacher/speaker for various things. Just know that English speakers are probably not very common in these places -- no one at the study room speaks more than the odd word here or there, so being able to communicate at least base things in Korean is really useful. On the upside, it's been a great way to improve my Korean.