The Sass Attack

Sometimes, kids can be pretty funny. Today was one of those days.

During my first class of the afternoon, two of my students had arrived earlier than the rest of the class. One little boy had folded a paper airplane and was throwing it around the classroom. At one point, he threw it and it hit my other student, a precocious little girl whom I thoroughly enjoy teaching, in the arm. Without skipping a beat, she picked up the paper airplane and slowly turned around to face him while crushing it in her hand. Then, she threw it back at him, shouted something in Korean, and sat down at her desk, arms folded across her chest. Stunned, the little boy sat down and I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically.

Minutes after, the rest of my class began to come in. One of my other female students skipped through a door carrying (and eating) a family size bag of potato sticks. She filled my hands with them, saying “teacher! teacher! is good!” I ate them. They were good.

I really like that class.

We also had a student bring in a box of sticky rice buns for the office; I’m assuming for the upcoming holiday of Chuseok. It was really sweet. The buns were filled with red bean paste, so they were literally quite sweet, as well.

Today’s pretty good so far!

Just Another Manic Monday

I haven’t worn makeup for the past two days because something has been irritating the skin around my eyes. Anyway, I walked into one of my younger classes only to hear “Who are you? What happened to your face?” This was repeated over and over until I realized that my students were referring to the fact that I wasn’t wearing any makeup. How sweet. I simply had to move on and get my lesson started.

It is generally acknowledged that beauty is highly valued in Korean culture. There are numerous makeup counters in the department stores and beauty shops are to Korea as Starbucks is to the United States. Since coming here, I myself have purchased several skin care treatments due to the fact that there are advertisements everywhere and everyone I see has absolutely flawless skin. They’ve got to be doing something right, right?

(Side note: I have actually fallen in love with everything I’ve purchased for my face so the answer is yes, Korea is absolutely doing something very right.)

I have also been making a serious effort to look like an actual human being when I leave my apartment in the morning (read as wear makeup and put on something other than yoga pants). So far, so good. I legitimately couldn’t bring myself to do it today, though, due to a weekend filled with itchy red eyes. Although, feeling better after today.

Then, during one of my evening classes, one of my female students kept on calling out “teacher!” and frantically slapping at her shoulder. I eventually noticed that my shirt was askew, and my bra strap was showing slightly.

Thank you, students, for your concern about my makeup-less face and messed up clothes. Aren’t Mondays grand?

Snips, and Snails, and Puppy Dog Tails

And back talking. And disobedience. And general rudeness.

This is what little boys are made of!

Yesterday was, needless to say, a rough one.

I have two troublemakers in two of my elementary classes: a Mikey* and a Vinny*. Now, I don’t know about you, but those are generally some pretty shit-head names in my book. Everyone knows a Vinny who’s gotten thrown out of the bar. And I can just hear Mikey’s mother screaming his name, loud and shrill, out the window as he races on his bike down the street after leaving a frog in the bathtub.

Mikey and Vinny in South Korea are no different.

Here, Mikey is the clown. He takes my pens. He wants to play games. And shoot rubber bands. And point lasers at his classmates. Nothing horrible, just mildly annoying and expected from an eight year old boy.

Vinny is willfully disobedient. In class, he refuses to participate. When giving directions, there are a lot of “why’s” followed by “because I said so’s.” He will talk to anyone in class, especially when someone else is reading aloud. I usually end up shouting his name and asking if he’s listening. It works for approximately .06 seconds. However, on Monday I promised the class we would play Bingo if they did all their work on Wednesday. After slowly getting through our fill-in-the-blanks and successfully explaining subjects and verbs, the kids were excited to play. Especially knowing that they would be rewarded with a Minion sticker for getting BINGO! Vinny was good. He didn’t fight with me. He listened. It was magical. When he got a sticker, he even said “thank you, teacher” and looked genuinely happy. Progress.

In one of my other classes, we read about Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat who helped Jews escape Lithuania during World War II. After we finished the story, I asked my students if they had any questions. “What is Jewish,” they asked. I couldn’t believe it. I literally had to explain Judaism to these kids because it was a foreign concept. To make it worse, the next question was “What is Holocaust?” This one really stunned me. They knew nothing of Hitler, or concentration camps, or genocide, or anything. I stood at the board, speechless, for a while. First I thought, “How is this possible?” Then, I gave them a condensed history lesson because I wasn’t sure what else to do. They looked at me like I was trying to explain astrophysics. It was a very difficult lesson.

Finally, I had another class of four middle schoolers. When I walked into class, everyone was attentive except one kid who always has his head on the desk. I honestly don’t even know his name yet. “Are you tired,” I asked. “Yes,” he replied without picking his head up. “Well, how is everyone doing today,” I asked the rest of the class. The same student said “bad.” I asked him why. “Because you’re here,” he said.


I told him to get up and open his book. Everyone else began reading out loud. When it came time to answer questions, the same student said “teacher, game.” I told him no. He sighed. He rolled his eyes. I told him to stand. Reluctantly, he did. I told him to push in his chair. He listened. Then, I told him to stand in the center of the room and read the passage to the rest of the class. Such struggle. When he finished, I said if he didn’t want to sit in class, he could sit in the director’s office downstairs and he could deal with him.

Do no harm, but take no shit. That was my motto of the day.

Has anyone else had some difficult personalities? How have you dealt with them?

*names of students changed for privacy

Tia Teacher!

They call me Tia Teacher. My students, that is.

It was only my third full day, but I’m slowly getting a little more comfortable and a little more familiar with my students. Names will take some time, although there is a small handful of kids with big personalities who I already remember. At the beginning of each class, I have them go around the room and tell me their name as well as one fact about themselves. Today the topic was “favorite foods.” Spaghetti ranked very high on the list among all my students.

At some point during the day, the skies opened up and we had a massive rainstorm. All my kids were walking into class soaking wet, wringing out their hair, and taking their shoes and socks off. It was terrible; I felt so bad because they were damp and unhappy.

On a brighter note, before work I found a new place for lunch called Kimseongsaeng, just a few blocks away from the school. It was predominantly a kimbap place, but I got the bulgogi pork with rice and oyster mushrooms. It wasn’t very crowded and I sat at a nice table in the back. They served me some delicious iced tea, with a familiar flavor that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. One of the waitresses also came by to offer me a fork, but when she saw me using chopsticks she smiled and got really happy.


Bulgogi with broth, banchan, and tea..

I think I will go to Busan on Saturday to see a Studio Ghibli exhibit. REALLY looking forward to that!

On My Own

Today was my first day teaching classes on my own. Kind of crazy since I received no actual training and have no prior experience. I was given a class schedule as well as a list of which books to use for each class. That was pretty much it. I guess this is the way of the hagwon.

The previous teacher did write me a detailed list of each class, told me a bit about the students, and what he usually did for lesson planning. That was really nice of him, although some direction from the management would have been nice. As soon as I sat down at my desk, the head teacher plopped a stack of journals in front of me without so much as a word. The assumption was to grade them, which I did.

Today, I had seven classes and one one hour tutoring session with two students. I’ll have the same schedule again on Thursday. The books are relatively self-explanatory. For my first classes, I also brought some post cards which had pictures of the Jersey Shore to show the kids. I asked them to introduce themselves and tell me something they like to do during the summer. Then, I introduced myself, told them that I love going to the beach, and passed around the post cards. I then told them a little about the Jersey Shore. They really seemed to like the pictures.

I had one class of elementary students that I really, really enjoyed. They were eager to talk, but didn’t get rowdy. They also listened to me. I had them work in pairs and do dialogues. Before I left, one little girl shouted “teacher! teacher!” I turned and she said “this is for you” and handed me a rice bun from her snack bag. It was quite possibly the most adorable thing I’ve ever experienced and it melted my heart. The rice bun was also delicious!

I only had one class that was difficult to deal with. There were four students and two didn’t have the book, so I had to make photo copies. One boy who sat in the front threw my post cards at the other students as well as the board eraser. He refused to listen and participate during the lesson. It was really frustrating.

I finally got home and I’m absolutely exhausted. Bed soon!

Have you ever worked at or are currently working at a hagwon? Share your experiences with me!