I sure as hell couldn’t get any worse after the first week, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m getting better. I’ve had several good classes in a row now. I’m still not a good teacher – not by a long shot – but I think I’m no longer in the running for the worst. Here’s what I have learned:
1) Choose Your Rules Wisely – I knew this rule before I began, but still failed to choose good rules. These kids lack discipline. They simply cannot be expected to sit quietly or to speak only in English. I asked a kid today to try and use English, and he responded to me in Korean.
2) Mixed-Level Classes Suck – It is absolutely impossible to maintain control of a mixed-level class. If you try to challenge the strong students, the weak students get bored and go to sleep. If you try to work with the weak students, the strong students get bored and all hell breaks loose. If you let the smart kids get bored, it’s all over.
3) Don’t Use the Student Bathroom – Korean kids have much different boundaries than American kids. They won’t think twice about trying to get a look at your twig ‘n berries while you’re peeing…because they’re curious.
4) The Loud Ones Aren’t Always the Bad Ones – At first I had little patience with the kids who are constantly talking in class. These are the ones who yell answers constantly try to interact with me mid-lecture. I spent the first few classes telling them to be quiet. I regret that now. It took a while for me to learn that they are often the only ones in class willing to speak up. When I let them talk, they get others talking, too. By shutting down the loud ones, I shut down the whole class.
5) First Impressions Really are Everything – We learned this in orientation, but I had to see it to believe it. Just like in tennis, each class remembers me for whatever happened on the first day. I played a game with one class and a hyper kid got rowdy and tried to wrestle me. I picked him up and tossed him back into a group of his friends (all in fun, of course). The high school kids now think I’m the world’s strongest man…never mind the fact that the kid I picked up was 100 lb soaking wet.
6) Use Their Weakness Against Them – They are easily distracted…but that works both ways. When I lose their attention, all I have to do is walk quietly to the board and start writing. They’re so damn ADD that they can be distracted from their side conversations. Their curiosity brings them back on task.
7) Candy is Power – These kids would slit each others’ throats for a piece of candy. It’s absolutely amazing. If I give away two pieces of candy per class, I am almost guaranteed their attention. Even the slow ones will buckle down and try hard, even though they have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting a piece of candy.
8) They Are Competitive – Korean kids love to compete. It doesn’t matter what it is. They’ll spend the entire class playing Rock-Paper-Scissors if I let them. Boys vs Girls. Left vs Right. Young vs Old. It doesn’t matter. They’ll compete.
9) They are Physical – If I don’t see at least two kids get smacked in the face, the class just doesn’t feel complete. I don’t understand how there aren’t more Korean MMA stars. They fight all day…and they love it. As I write this, there are two girls punching each other in the office while they talk to Ms. Shin. It made me nervous at first, but now that I know they’re not really fighting, it’s pure entertainment.
10) Quiet is Scarier Than Loud – Most Koreans, children and adults alike, are emotional and loud people. They aren’t afraid to let you know when they’re pissed off. Korean teachers yell and make LOUD noises with their stick (they all have one). I simply stand quietly in front of the room and look at the troublemaker(s). They usually police themselves. That usually involves four or five students punching and slapping the one that is loud. I don’t know why it works, but does and I love it.
Until next time.