I had a class last year that was off-the-walls crazy and wild, but they somehow managed to be crazy in the most adorable and endearing way. They were my secret faves. Sadly, I only taught them for half a semester, and I don’t think they will ever be topped.
But this year I have Class 106.
They’re active and outgoing collectively, but they’re also unique in the mix of extremely strong personalities. They’re all pretty sharp kids for 13-year-olds, but they tend to yell at each other a lot and get worked up over small things. Every lesson plan takes at least 10% longer to get through with 106 because of the yelling, the enthusiasm, and the sidetracking.
With this class, I get experiences like the following (these are from the last several consecutive weeks):
It’s early in the semester and I’m still getting to know these kids. I tell them to sit according to their homeroom seating chart (this makes it easier for me since the homeroom teacher has already gone through the work of making sure they’re paired off in the least-trouble-making way possible). A girl asks if she can change her seat, and I say no, that’s not fair to the other kids. She goes to her seat and promptly starts crying.
I’ve never seen this kind of petulant behavior from a Korean middle schooler (my only frame of reference being the spoiled fake-cry tantrum that a Western kid might throw), so I go over to her, shocked, and ask what’s wrong.
With the help of a few friends, I understand that the reason she’s crying (and these were genuine tears) is because the boy she sits next to says things like “Maddy teacher is not pretty” under his breath while I’m teaching. LOL. While her loyalty is touching, I assure her not to worry about his opinion and to just do her best. She sucks it up and we carry on smoothly.
As the weeks pass by, I realize that this previously mentioned boy is the definite troublemaker of the bunch. I make it my mission to befriend him. Each week I call on him to answer simple questions and praise him generously. Although the other kids seem disgruntled, this boy starts actually paying attention and doing his work. Today, he takes the initiative to tell me, “Teacher, I interest in beatboxing.” [My teacher’s heart leaps with joy at his attempt to use “interested in”] I ask him to demonstrate for me, and he does. He’s actually pretty good. “Wow, you’re really good!” I say. “Oh, thank you!” I can tell he’s pleased.
I’m teaching them “How about ~ing?” We practice and then I tell to write their own sentence.
One boy writes, “How about going to 천국?”
Me: “What is 천국?”
Him: “Hell. How about going to hell?”
I know he doesn’t realize the impact of the sentence in English, but I’m still taken aback that he would want to visit that particular place. Seeing my expression, his partner quickly corrects, “Heaven, Teacher! 천국 is heaven! He mistake.”
I confirm this to be true via Google translate afterwards. (I’m still not sure, though, whether he’s merely saying, “Hey, let’s go to heaven sometime,” or whether he’s implying the death of the person he’s asking.)
Several weeks in a row, the name-calling gets out of hand. “Teacher, he is stupid. She is crazy. He is ugly.” While 99.9% of the time, they’re just teasing their friends (not angry), I worry that some kids are taking it to heart. One week I call a time-out and make them say our class rules together, stopping to heavily underline #2: Be friendly, be kind. “Don’t say ‘he is stupid.’ Be kind. Say ‘he is smart.'” We’re still working on it, but it’s getting a lot better. (As an aside, I had noticed this was becoming a trend with all my classes, and besides asking the kids to be kind to each other, it spurred me to start telling them that they are smart more often.)
I’m trying to go through a practice round of the game we’re about to play, and I struggle to keep a straight face as the troublemaker boy (who has been sent to the very back of the room by my CT for pouring half his water bottle all over his desk) makes a ridiculously contorted face (not AT me, but more just… putting it out there in the world) and then starts blowing spit bubbles with intense concentration.
It’s 30 seconds to the bell for the start of our class but one of the girls insists that I look up the definition of something-something “결절” (which turned out to be “vocal nodes”) just so that I would most definitely understand that her sore throat was not just a sore throat, but due to speaking too much and too loudly. (Believe me, honey, I know.)
They’re supposed to be drawing things on a map – in this instance, a tree. One of the girls waves me down. “Teacher, do you know 어린 왕자?” Other students help out. “Little prince. Ah, little princess. No no, little prince! Little prince.” “Ah, yes, The Little Prince. The story. Yes, I know.” The girl points to her drawing of a little boy standing next to a tree. “This is little prince.”
We’re reviewing giving directions (go straight, turn left/right, etc) and a boy in the front row is muttering fervently (but not maliciously), “Son of a betch. Son of a betch.” One of the sharper girls catches it and looks at me with shock and amusement, but I shake my head at her and carry on until the boy suddenly says, “Son of a BETCH!” and everyone hears it, and then I say “Hey!” and my co-teacher has to yell at him in the back.
Such is Class 106. What a bunch of punks. But they’re cute punks, and they tend to be the highlight of not just my Wednesday, but my whole week. The cute and the crazy.