Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Evil Mode

I have been having trouble, as some of you may remember, with an afterschool class that is made up of mostly boys. Every day, I spend large amounts of time just thinking about how horrible that class will be. It never makes me feel better to get closer to the end of the day because that means I’m closer to the frustrating trying-to-dig-to-China-with-my-forehead feeling I get every time I’m in that class.

I mentioned this to my co-teachers and they suggest I get creative with the punishments. William, who is feared and loved by all his students, suggested I start giving the kids physical consequences for their actions. Things like push-ups, squats and invisible chairs. This would definitely go under the heading of ‘cruel and unusual’ punishments.

I’ve done this sort of thing before – in camp we were always looking for creative ways to punish the kids. I gave out pushups and jumping jacks and other forms of weird punishment. If two girls were fighting, instead of making them sit out of activities and waste resources coming up with things for them to do, we would just duct tape them together and make them work a whole day having to cooperate or be left behind. But this is different, somehow. This is not the easy-going atmosphere of summer camp. This is where the pressure to succeed makes kids act out in crazy ways.

But in a way, William was right. These boys were used to this system and here I come – not only am I a girl – but I don’t even make them do anything when they do something wrong. No wonder they’ve been walking all over me.

So I turned to Evil Mode. I punished every single infraction of the rules as harshly as possible. I spent more time watching kids sit in invisible chairs against the wall than actually teaching. But the effect was instantaneous. This non-smiling, no-nonsense version of Emily-Teacher unsettled the boys so much that they snapped into shape. No one spoke Korean in my class, no one threw paper or screamed at the top of their lungs for the hell of it. It was like a different class.

Though I wasn’t sure I was morally okay with this method in the beginning, its effectiveness and the fact that it’s so embedded in Korean culture have almost changed my mind.

Discipline in Korea is serious business. It ties into the hierarchical system that they have. Though it’s not as strict as the Japanese system, there are still certain ways you phrase things to people you are one the same level with that you wouldn’t say to people who are higher than you on the totem pole. To break this system – to show disrespect in so gross as way as to talk back to a teacher – is a serious violation of a social norm. One that is not tolerated on any level. Each culture has ways of letting their young learn how to act and how to avoid anti-social behavior, and this is how they do it in Korea. At Leslie’s school they even go so far as to use a cane on the students when they misbehave. Here, we just have Debbie. Which is enough.

The other day, William was having a problem with a student. Now, if a student has the gall to cause problems with William Teacher, then he must be some sort of trouble maker. Apparently, the kid refused to leave the class when Will threw him out. Throwing kids out of class is a very useful tool when you just don’t want to deal with a kid anymore. They will stand in the hallway quietly until a roving member of the administration sees them and yells at them.

But this kid refused to go. So Will, being Will, got the kid in a half-nelson and started dragging him out of the class kicking and screaming. When he opened the door to throw the kid out, there was Debbie and her Death Glare. She took one look at the situation, drew back, and slapped the kid so hard I heard it all the way in the faculty lounge.

One thing I know for sure: after this, I will never be able to teach in America.

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