Friday, October 28, 2005

Discipline is the foreign teacher's greatest challenge. Different cultures and language barriers, on top of the mysterious ways of children, make knowing what to do foggy, but as anyone who has ever taught, even for a very short time, knows, discipline is essential if you are to get anything done.

In general, for the sake of my sanity, I rule my classes with an iron fist. I have found (through intimate experience) that leniency resulting from the desire to "be a friend" and "make learning fun" is the gaff of a beginner, especially in Confucian Asia, where education is serious business and social lines are quite clear. And I know, that even at my strictest, I am nowhere near the level of fascist at which most Asian (especially Chinese) teachers rule. I have never hit a kid, and I don't think I could (although I understand now why someone would), but some of the Korean teachers I work with keep long sticks on their desks.

My least favorite class is my third and fourth grade "B" class (the classes are graded "A" through "D," "D" being the near equivalent of "gifted and talented" in the States, and "A" being "you are here because you are too young for prison"). As kids, the kids in this class are alright. They're pretty cute and pretty social, but as students, but for a few exceptions, they suck. They play, draw, talk too much, or not at all, sleep and take frequent trips to the toilet and clinic. We actually get very little done in this class, as they are slow to catch on to new ideas (go ahead, blame the teacher) and I spend much of my time telling them to stop throwing, eating, sleeping, drawing, hitting, kicking and talking.

Ron sits in the back of the class. He wears glasses, is always quiet and, except for when I stand directly behind to monitor his activity, he is endlessy drawing pictures of tanks, guns and people shooting each other.

I usually get to class a few minutes early and on Monday, Ron came up to my desk as if tell me something. But, instead of saying anything, he sticks his tongue out at me then walks away with a very slight smirk. I held back the laughter. To be fair, he caught me off guard, and it was pretty funny. I was going to let it slide until Eric, another student, yells across the class "Teacher! He --points to his tongue and then to me-- you?!" The little punk me the butt of the joke (and let's face it, I have a hard enough time preventing myself from making me the butt of many jokes)and because of that, just to maintain some semblance of authority, Ron had to be punished.

The bell rang and I called Ron up to the front of the class. I pointed for him to stand just next to me and he knew exactly why as he instantly got down on his knees (as Asian thing). The whole kow-tow routine makes me a bit uncomfortable, so I told him "Just stand there and don't move until I tell you." And he did. For about 43 seconds. I turned back, "Ron, stand still. Put your hands down. Look forward!" He did. For a bit. And then I corrected him again, and this carried on for about five minutes until he finally gave up and just stood there.

Class continued and Ron stood there. It was my intention to keep him there the duration of the class, or until he started looking genuinely sorry, but when the class got into their readers, the kid started wiggling. "Ron, stand still," I ordered and then, for no reason apparent, Ron started back for his desk. "Ron...!" I started when, after two feeble steps the kid's legs went out from under him. He fell off the step (my desk is on a riser), and went down head first smacking his face, hard, against the corner of another student's desk. He hit the floor with a thud then rolled onto his back, tangling up his feet in the legs of student's desk across the aisle. I dropped the book and ran. "Ron!" I yelled. By this point all of the kids were out of their seats and hovering.

"Teacher! Teacher! You --drags his finger across his neck-- him!" one kid yelled! "He's not dead! I said, allowing the notion to cross my mind, "Go get another teacher!" I told one of the girls.

Ron lay there and but for tears welling up under his glasses, he didn't move. The corner of his right nostril was clearly torn and started bleeding. And then gushing. "Go to the toilet and get paper!" I told another kid. I moved the desk he had his legs caught in out of the way and I put my sweater under his head.

Kids are really tricky. It's hard to know what they're up to sometimes. A stomachache might be a stomachache, but 70 percent of the time, it's scam to get out of class, and teachers bear the burden of having to act on what we perceive to be the truth. Having relatively little experience with kids, I tend to err on the side of caution, but this can often be the wrong thing to do, too, as the kids can and will take advantage of it. So with Ron, I was caught. He was clearly hurt, but the nagging voice of reason was telling me he was camping it up for effect ever so slightly.

Fortunately, two teachers from the next door classes came to my rescue and the kids rattled away recounting the tale in Korean. "Did he hit his head?" they asked. "Really hard!" I explained. I showed them what happened. The Korean teachers fussed over Ron and I ran out for more tissue as his nose was really going. He was up off the floor when I got back and the teachers hauled him off. I apologized profusely, but they didn't seem to think anything was too serious.

Needless to say, class was difficult to resume, but I got the kids back into their chairs and we finished our reading. Class ended without further incident and I went straight to my boss to tell him what happened. Ron was in there in the teacher's room, waiting for his parents, his nose held shut with a giant strip of tape, when I came in. He refused to look at me.

"These things happen," my boss said, much to my amazement and relief, "kids are kids." My Korean co-teacher (we teach the same classes alternately), Wendy, tended to Ron. I explained the whole story to her. Apparently, they all thought he just fell - the part where he was punished for sticking out his tongue at me was neglected somehow. "I see..." she said, which made me feel worse, like I was ratting the kid out.

After school, Ron's parents came. They were an exceptionally well-groomed Korean couple and instead of being pissed and litigious, as I feared (as any American parents would be), they were very polite and grateful for our care. Wendy explained the story and on the way out, much to my astonishment, Ron's mother smacked him upside the back of his head.

I was in the clear.

So from this ordeal, lessons have been learned: Korean parents are reasonable, kids are kids and the next time someone is naughty, I'm sticking them in a chair.


Ron missed class the next day, but came back the day after with huge swathes of gauze taped to the middle of his face. I caught him drawing again, and took away his sketch books, WITH RESISTANCE.

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