It's been a see-saw, a wave, a roller coaster. Some days I love what I'm doing. The kids are smart, funny, productive, and seem to really enjoy what we're doing. In these classes, I feel like a teacher. Other days, I want to pull a runner and ditch this shit. Some of my classes just do not care, do not listen, and are not afraid of the consequences. In these classes, I feel like an underpaid baby-sitter just trying to survive the three hour block. For six hours everyday I waffle, waver, scrape rock bottom, plan my escape, hit new highs, plan my weekend, and when I'm done, I walk out the door and leave it all in the classroom. No papers to grade, no tests to double check, no curriculum to create, I don't even carry anything home with me. I love that part of the job.
It's only been two weeks, but I'm having a hard time thinking about doing this over and over and over for an entire year. The classes I teach are incredibly structured, everyday I do the exact same thing. It kind of reminds me of the pizza places I used to work at, in that I can still remember 16 ounces of cheese on a large, 14 on a medium, 12 on a small, and now I don't think I'll ever forget Day 1 starts with a review test followed by words in context, vocabulary, vocabulary chunks, so on and so on every single day, exactly the same structure, slightly different material. I mean, the structure is absolutely identical every single class period. I think about it and it scares me that they seem to be preparing the students to be taught by robots who can follow the timing to a T.
Some days are bad, some days are good. I count myself extremely lucky when a 3 hour block finishes without any major problems, me threatening to send one of my students to the principal, or having to repeatedly tell one or two kids to be quiet. Last night, I was really lucky.
Everyday I come into the school log on to my computer and am greeted with an attendance page of my next class. The page contains pictures and an update on whether or not students will be attending class. Lately, because of Swine Flu* it's been a fun game seeing how many of my students, and which one's, will be out. Up until last night the sick ones had all been my really good, quiet students who got sick, leaving me with the monsters. Plus, when it's just the monster's they seem to realize that no one in the class cares, and they tuck away whatever bit of respect they normally have for the good quiet kids who want to learn and just go totally ape-shit.
But last night in my class of 9, three of my kids were gone, including two of the most obnoxious students I have. One of these students is an instigator and a bully. He's actually pretty smart and good at the classwork, but he stands about a foot taller than everybody else and seems to like threatening these young kids every chance he gets. I've never worked with kids before, and I'm working with a strange age. I have this odd mix where about one-third have hit puberty and are growing like crazy, starting to get a little fuzz of facial hair, are obviously wildly hormonal, and two-thirds who haven't hit puberty and our just these tiny angels who still enjoy school and life in general.
So with the kids gone with SI, my 7 p.m. Friday night class was actually a good time, and one of those moments where I felt like a teacher and not a babysitter. Also, this class goes until 10 on Friday night. I feel bad for these kids. If I'd have been going to school until 10 on Friday, I never would have seen an episode of Boy Meets World or Family Matters. What kind of a childhood would that have been? Not one I would have cared to live.
Anyway, every class I do a critical thinking project. It's a 30 minute project where the students try to be creative and answer some topic. Some of them are really simple, like come up with a wish, something you want, and give the reasons. It sounds easy and in an American classroom, maybe it would be. But here, it's like I'm asking them to decide between their mother and father. One will live, one will die. As soon as they have to think entirely on their own, they clam up and shut down, switch into Korean and kind of check out. I generally end up giving them most of the answers. “Ok, you want infinite money, what would you buy with it?” “Ummm.... Nintendo DS!” “Ok, good what else” “PSP!” And this goes on in every single group of students. Always Nintendo DS and PSP.
But last night's CTP was different. Last night's CTP was ridiculous. These kids are 7,8,9, maybe 10. The unit was on detective's and forensic science. Everyone knows forensic science is the study of dead people – everyone except 7, 8, and 9 year olds. Most people I know, know who Ted Bundy is. Now my students do too! Also they know he left bite marks on his victims. They now know about Helen and Olga, two women who murdered homeless people for life insurance policies. They also know that Scott Peterson murdered his wife and unborn child. What a fun Friday night for my 7 year old! But the CTP really takes the creepy cake. My students get to play detective's. Sounds fun. Find the missing treasure or something. But of course, no. This curriculum seems designed to teach the students English and at the same time introduce them to the real world, well the real world of America, where everyone is constantly doing drugs and killing each other, considering all the serial killers and murderers we discussed were American. So the CTP is not about finding stolen goods, it's about solving a murder.
The students are given information on three people. Heather, Lauren and Julian are all suspected of killing their friend Melanie. Melanie had cocaine in her blood. “Teacher what's...coke-ine?” “Um...it's a drug.” And this is a culture whose money is not covered in cocaine, drugs are highly illegal, and most of these kids won't ever see a joint let alone “coke-ine.” Next up “Teacher, what's anti-depressants?” It appears one of our suspects was on anti-depressants. Great. I'm not really sure what the policy on anti-depressants is here, maybe there as easy to get in the states, but I doubt it. If you break a bone, they give you Tylenol, regular Tylenol. No pain killers, and I bet very few anti-depressants.
So great, I've introduced my students to murder and drugs. The best part was that I got to sit through 3 presentations of the CTP in which they outlined why they think Heather killed Melanie and how she did it, and most of them say the word “Coke-ine” like ten times, including my tiny 7 year old and it's all I can do from rolling on the floor and laughing until I puke. Last night was a good night for me, I've dealt with being afraid of serial killers and murderers, and I slept last night knowing I'd done a decent job for the day. But my bet is that at least one of my students went home, Googled Ted Bundy, and won't sleep for weeks.
Side note: Swine flu is running rampant through all the schools here, something like 5 billion cases of school children. That might be exaggerated, but I've seen the way all the kids take their paper masks off and swing them around, leave them on desks, let other kids touch them, and then put them right back onto their little faces, breathing all those wonderful germs. And it's not just the kids, no one here seems to have any concept of germs and how they are transferred from one human being to another. For example, hacking a huge lugee in the middle of the street – totally acceptable. I'll never forget the time Sara and I were walking to get some food and heard this person behind us hacking, I mean really digging deep, scraping the snot off the brain pan type snorting, and of course the spitting and the eventual thud against the pavement. And I'm thinking, oh, there's like a dying homeless man suffering from emphysema and he's got to get that shit out of his lungs. Meanwhile Sara looks like she's going to vomit. The person's footsteps get closer behind us and we kind of move over to one side expecting this emphysemic homeless man, but no, a little old Korean woman in a tracksuit with a huge perm and an even larger visor. But, that's Korea. Totally acceptable to hack up your lungs on the street, no paper towels in the bathroom, no natural impulse to cover your mouth when you sneeze, incredible paranoia about swine flu.