Keeping the cool.

Korea and I are having a great week with body image, let me tell you.

Today, I'm going about my business doing a comics lesson in one of my rarely seen second grade classes, when I see a couple of routine little trouble makers start up out of the corner of my eye. They're not bad kids, as far as I know, although they surely push the limits with teachers they can get reactions out of. I've been chatting off and on with one of them throughout the class, because he doesn't do well unless attention is pretty heavily focused on him, and he's running down a list of questions the boys usually don't have time to ask me, because we're busy getting through the book lessons. He has a little back and forth with the kid beside him, and calls out, "Teacher!" from across the room.

I'm already braced for what's coming because second graders are about as subtle as a hole in the head. I turn around and say, "Yes? Can I help you?" He falters for a moment and another student calls me over to help with a phrase. When I finished there, I waited for him to call me again, but he didn't. So I thought, you know what? I'm in a good mood today. Let's just go ahead and face this head on, shall we?

So I said, "Hey, did you need something?" He shifted his eyes back to his friend, who was doubtlessly the source, or at least a contributing source, of whatever was coming. He indicated the kid beside him: "He said you're fat."

Now, that kind of crap didn't really rock me when I actually was heavy, and it doesn't rock me now that I'm not, given that it's not coming from a place of blatant disrespect. And what I'm about to say will sound odd to anyone who's not a teacher, but I just didn't get the feeling that this was. He was being a bit cheeky, and didn't mean to cause any real harm. He just wanted to get a reaction, and also get the other kid in a bit of trouble. So I looked at him and, with a completely even tone and smile and said, "So?"

He didn't know what to do with that. He shifted in his seat, and glanced over at his friend for help. I said, "He didn't say it, did he?"

"Uh... no... it was... him!" He pointed to a student clean across the room who's never made an ounce of trouble in the year and a half I've been teaching him and furthermore doesn't associate with the group at the back of the class whatsoever.

"I don't think that's that true."

I smiled and turned my attention to his comic, and asked him if he needed any help understanding. 

There's one big reason I decided not to play the tough guy this time around and that is that this student, see.... he's not so small himself. In fact, he's the heaviest kid in his class, and one of the biggest in his entire grade.

A little while later, he called out again. "Teacher! Teacher... okay?"

"Am I okay? Yeah, of course I am. I'm great. There's nothing wrong with being fat."

I didn't completely let him off the hook. When the Korean teacher poked her head in to check on how things were going I said, "Hey, you wanna tell your other teacher what you said?"

No no no. It's okay. Don't want.

"I think you should."

Of course, this had caught my co-teaher's attention, and she already had an idea what was up. They had a short exchange in Korean, and he quickly admitted what he had said. The lack of fear and just a touch of a sheepish smile while he did so told me I was right in suspecting that he hadn't meant any real harm. The Korean teacher tensed up for a moment and asked loudly while looking at me if she needed to talk with him out in the hall, but she's a 눈치 있는 woman and she easily read the smile on my face and the student's body language to realize we'd already sorted it out.

A few minutes before the class ended, he called me over again. "Teacher tattoo? See?" I lifted my sleeve a bit to show him. "우와! 멋있다!" He made a big show of slapping his friends on the arms to get their attention and pointing: "선생님이 멋있네!"

After the bell rang he made a point to stop by the podium while I was packing my things and say goodbye and bow, something he's never done before. 

I like to think I'm starting to get a bit better at this whole hot temper, brute force thing. Sometimes a little bit of sweetness can go a long way.


TLP said...

that's really cute. i'm always impressed by your patience (no, really) and your ability to see past the surface behavior to the underlying tone/motivation/attitude that's driving it.

he must get a lot of flack for being heavier from his classmates. fortunately, he's a guy, so he has a chance at overcoming that through notoriety, humor or sheer charm. but still... looks like he's working on that and fell a little flat. i hope he eventually figures out how to be humorous NOT at your expense. or anyone else's, really. until then, good thing he has a teacher like you! haha.

I'm no Picasso said...

Thank you. My patience has been something I've had to work a lot on, and something I'm still trying to work on. Especially with the younger kids.

I've seen the heavy boys go through these struggles a lot. They get a lot of shit. A LOT of shit. Some of them are absolute outgoing sweethearts, some just end up being stone silent and trying to draw as little attention to themselves as possible, some are the trouble making class clowns, and some are just down right rude and nasty to teachers and other students -- I try to remember in those cases that it's sometimes a matter of kill or be killed, so to speak. But I think this kid, based on his reaction, will probably end up in category no. 3. I hope, anyway.