Every afternoon for months, the same ten boys have been coming into my office after school to sit and try to learn the same twenty vocabulary words in English. They're the absolute lowest level students in our third grade -- they're here because they failed the standardized exam. Miserably. In the beginning, they couldn't so much as read. And some of them are still struggling, and having more luck memorizing phonetically. Among them, of course, is our jjang, Kyeongwon, who shares his name with one of my original favorites from two years ago -- another from the old jjang crew who was a boxer and reminded me a hell of a lot of my little brother.
Anyway, their homeroom teacher (my co) is getting fed up with them. It's been months, and they've been working on it for hours, and they still can barely get through half of the sentences they're meant to know by heart when just reading them off the page. Yesterday, when they came in, the majority of them just sat on the floor staring into space, to the extent that she grabbed a notebook and started whacking them about the heads for not even trying.
I kind of don't blame them. This English thing, it's not likely to ever happen for them, and what the fuck does it really matter if it doesn't? I'm not one of those people who thinks that everyone needs to be a fucking CEO to be happy, productive and live a worthwhile life. Some kids are just not ever going to get there, and there's nothing to be ashamed of about that. When they're not working to their full potential, that's where the shame comes in. But when they're really giving it their all, and it's just not happening.... I don't really see the point in chastising them for it. This isn't the Hallmark Channel. Not everyone is going to make a miraculous recovery and become the fucking president. But Co's frustrated because she doesn't understand how they could have been at this for months and made as little progress as they have. And if my job were on the line the way that hers is, I might feel the same way.
Anyway. Kyeongwon is the only one in the whole group who has the balls to look me in the eye most of the time. The others will grin and bow when I say hello or goodbye, but other than that, they'd really like to pretend that I, and the English plague on their lives that I represent, don't really exist. But yesterday I felt bad. Co's been on edge in general lately, and has given more than a few pretty brutal tongue lashings to the A ban students in our office over the last few days. Exams are coming and the pressure is on to get the students through the rest of the material to a sufficient proficiency, and they've run out of gas and stopped giving a shit entirely, just in time. I think part of her frustration may have been misplaced. She changed from B ban to A ban earlier this year, and when you do that, your expectations shift as well. I know because I teach both at the same time. B ban takes a different mindset. Especially the lowest among them. You have to be pleased with them simply being engaged, whether they're actually succeeding at all or not. Just having them pay attention and try is what really matters, even if they still get every answer wrong.
She reamed them out and then told them they were staying for an extra hour and they weren't leaving until they could recite at least ten of the words by memory. Then she left to take care of her after school class.
You know what? I figured, what the hell. Their vocabulary lists are obviously in both Korean and English, and although I already knew most of the words on the list, my spelling could always use a bit of practice, as could my handwriting. So I sat and copied the words with them, in Korean instead of English. They got a kick out of that, and even progressed to timidly leaning over and occasionally pointing to a word in English for me to pronounce, so they could repeat it. Which eventually turned into them pointing to words in Korean for me to pronounce. Which was, admittedly, slightly less productive. But still funny. Then Taehoon, not realizing I would understand it, announced to the room that he was tired and annoyed and really just wanted to go home and take a shit. I obviously had a very visible reaction to that, which caused the other boys to lose their shit, and Taehoon to turn bright red.
After I'd been writing for a while, Kyeongwon got a bit cheeky and decided to quiz me. At first he would say the word in Korean, and I would answer with its English equivalent, but then he decided that was too easy. So he started quizzing me in English, forcing me to recall (and speak) the word in Korean. Which is obviously much more difficult. And which also meant that Kyeongwon was speaking English. And the others were listening.
They think they're so clever. But they should know that teachers are almost always cleverer.