Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Powder Keg

Today marked the second-last class for my low-level after-school English class. I've mentioned this before, but to recap briefly, on Tuesdays from 3:30-5:00, I teach 7-10 low-level grade 8 students. As mentioned in a previous blog, these are mostly students who don't read in English at all, and who still may not be able to differentiate between bread, women, shoes, or boys - taken only form the nouns we've been using in class up to this point.

When all is said and done, I will have "taught" these students for five weeks. Mercifully, the run for this class is being cut well-short of its intended target. The truth is, despite some recent bright spots, we are wasting each other's time. These students (being that they are low-level in all subject areas), need assistance from a Korean-speaking teacher. There's only so far that I could go with students of intermediate level, let-alone the students I see on Tuesdays. To prepare for an engaging class that will try to corral the attention of these kids, it takes valuable preparation time away from my other classes where I feel that I'm actually starting to make some headway with some students.

Thankfully, I've been given notice that I will be making a switch after the mid-terms, and will be teaching a higher level essay class for students who are working to apply to elite high schools. That will certainly be a welcome change, and though that class will give me more marking to do, it's something I'll look forward to as I know that my efforts will likely add to real progress.

Still, there have been some positives to come out of my time with the Tuesday group - not the least notable being Sandy.

I gave a particularly shy and awkward student that name last year as she was having trouble choosing an English name for my class. This is not because this slow and challenged student reminded me of my sister in any way, but because it seemed like she needed someone to care about her. Why not give her a name I can immediately relate to, remember, and approach with built-in care? I had been told that she was silent and awkward in my class as she had a bad experience with a previous foreign teacher. Though Sandy is guilty as charged for likely still thinking that bread is people, I take a great deal of pride in knowing that this girl who used to lope clumsily away from me in the hallway at increased speed, has now taken to opening my classroom door, smiling, and saying "hello" as often as she can. She says this in Korean of course, but it means a lot to me to know that she's comfortable enough to smile in my presence, and even tries to speak English from time to time in the hallway, and in class. It's a little victory, but one that I hope encourages more change for her.

Anyway, even with Sandy (and a few others) making some headway in five weeks, it's time to wrap this thing up.

Today, Jun-Sik, a troubled lad in grade 8, went completely berserk. He had been goofing around before class, and was then leaning back on his chair and fell. Of course, the students laughed, but the laughing student within range (John) got the worst of it. Before I could even react, Jun-Sik took his embarrassment and unleashed some sort of revenge on John - first punching him in the face and then trying to kick him in the face. His foot glanced off John's shoulder. I grabbed Jun-sik in a bear hug and pretty much carried him out of the room.

I asked if he was okay (from the fall) and the tears were already starting to well-up. After a chat with the after-school supervisor, he was back in the classroom and seated beside John. John, who could probably take a punch from a champion MMA fighter and still smile (he is a rather thick young man), immediately offered his hand-shake and apology to Jun-Sik. Jun-Sik refused. Amazing how attitudes can form at the middle-school age.

Jun-Sik did eventually accept the apology, and apologized for his own actions. He's lucky that John is such a teddy-bear of a guy. The word "Gronk" comes to mind when I think about John and though he could have probably killed the much smaller Jun-Sik with on swing, he knew to back-off.

I don't know Jun-Sik well, but there's clearly something wrong. Dude has a chip on his shoulder like I've rarely seen. He can process the information I give in class at a much faster rate than most of the other kids and likely feels embarrassed to be there, but never have I seen such attitude from a student. He exudes defiance, and I get it - I really do, but that particular mix of students needs more than I can give them. Sandy too was crying today over something another student said. I put my hand on her shoulder and led her to the office to chat with a supervisor. A month ago she would have ran-away from me. Again, a small victory - and a part of me wants to stay the course and try to do more with these kids, but the realist in me is beating down the dreamer, and I think it's time to know my limits.

Essays begin in two weeks and I look forward to reading them, but the masochist teacher in me will kind of miss this strange little crew. I do wish them well.

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