Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Friends Are Bigger Than Yours (6 January)

Disliking a student is exhausting! It’s also disheartening and generally not a great experience.  Malicious Boy, as he’s now known, is my own personal challenge it seems and he seems to be approaching this task in true Korean spirit – by giving it 100% of his effort. 

While my other two classes seem to have warmed up to me over the course of the three lessons we’ve had so far, 104 is definitely not following this pattern.  I thought Korea was supposed to be homogenous?  I can tell the class to conform but that will probably only worsen the situation in the long run or I can try to win over the students one at a time.  Unfortunately, Malicious Boy seems to have had the same idea as me and has had a head-start implementing his strategy.  He’s started to win over the boys who sit around him.  Hyunju tries to appease the situation by telling the students that this is their English class and I am their English teacher so they need to direct their questions to me and speak English.  She’s extremely supportive and only speaks English herself during the lesson which helps to show the students that I have some authority in the classroom and the support of the Korean teacher.

You Missed the Point!

As the lesson progresses, I realise that Malicious Boy seems to have successfully converted the boy next to him to the ‘dark side’.  Unfortunately, I realise this when, during the exercise the class is doing in pairs, I ask them why they’re not discussing the work.  They respond that neither of them can speak English – in almost flawless English and with an almost flawless accent!  The lesson continues in this manner and I eventually decide to address the entire class on this matter: All I ask is that they try to speak English just as I try to speak Korean outside of the classroom.  Malicious Boy’s latest convert mutters something in Korean that makes the rest of the class laugh so I calmly respond, in Korean, that I don’t speak Korean very well and then ask them, in English, to please speak English.  Malicious Boy takes this opportunity to correct my Korean pronunciation much to the classes delight and the annoyance of Hyunju who is currently standing behind him with her head raised high and ready to wallop him.  I can’t help but laugh which eases some of the tension. 

Revenge is Sweet...

I then approach Hyunju to find out if she knows who the homeroom teacher is for this particular class.  She doesn’t but she quickly manipulates the class into giving her this information – in Korean.  As soon as she has the information, she turns to me from across the room and says, “Homeroom teacher is Mr Baek.  When you talk to him later like you normally do, you can discuss the behaviour problems in this class.”  With one ingenious comment, Hyunju silences the class and manages to convey that not only do I, a mere waegook, know their homeroom teacher but I seem to know him well enough that we chat, informally, regularly – which is actually true!  In addition, I clearly have the support of more than one Korean teacher at the school which is probably something that they’re not used to seeing with foreign teachers.  In all honesty, they’re probably also not used to foreign teachers who actually care enough to object to a negative attitude towards English.  Mercifully, the bell rings not long after that and I’m not sure who is more relieved that the lesson is over: Me or my students. 

I send Mr Baek a message after lunch, via our internal messenger system, asking if I can come and talk to him about 104 this afternoon.  He responds by coming down to my office to see me in person and I feel somewhat guilty when he opens with, “You have a problem with my class?” with a rather distraught look on his face.  I’m quick to reassure him that I don’t have a problem with the entire class and that I would simply like to ask if he could shuffle the class so that the boys and girls are mixed since the boys seem to be having a slightly negative influence on one another.  Fortunately, Hyunju walks into my office just at that moment and comes over to confirm, with a sigh and a roll of her eyes, that it is indeed just one boy – Malicious Boy.  Mr Baek promises me he’ll look into the situation and rushes off to his next lesson leaving me to wonder how, exactly, he’ll deal with the problem at hand.

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