Before I went to Korea I knew I had liked children. I found them entertaining, interesting and I could remember my own childhood when I spent time with munchkins. Then I became a teacher and discovered that I not only like children, I love the little monsters. It took less than a week before I started worrying about them. In a month I knew who had the crazy, demanding mothers, who didn’t sleep enough and who the others picked on. By the end of the year I could tell when one of the students did well on his or her tests even before they told me. Not to say my friendships with the students were entirely positive experiences. For example, while getting hugged by a 6 year old is cute, getting a high speed, running hug from a student whose forehead is exactly testicle level hurts like hell.
Another surprise was learning what amazingly good senses of humor Korean 6 to 11 year olds have. I learned this after the two class, “teacher is new, be careful” grace period expired and my kids started acting like children. I started taking on nicknames like Benjamonkey and bumjae-sunsangneem, which roughly translates into professor of crime. Several students were kind enough to introduce me to ddong-chim, which involves making a “handgun,” sneaking up behind the teacher and doing your best to sodomize him with your fingers. The first time that happened I could do nothing more than turn, face the little boy and look amazed. “Did you really just do that?”
Not that I did a whole lot to discourage such behavior. If a boy called me Benjamonkey I would ask the class if they wanted to see his “girlfriend.” Invariably the victim would yell “no no no no” while the rest of the class clapped and encouraged me. A portrait of Dennis Rodman in drag got reliable laughs, as did pictures of female bodybuilders. If a girl said “teacher is crazy” I would play the MadTV parody of Shakira wherein the dancer smears herself with mud, slaps herself on the butt repeatedly and makes raspberries with her lips. “This is her favorite dance” I would say. And I would also like to take credit here and now for introducing the wedgie to Korea.
This goofy approach to class seemed to work smoothly because the kids I taught were different from American children in two key ways. They work much harder than even I or my goody-two shoes, annoying geek friends ever did in elementary school. It’s normal for a Korean 8 year old to have 12 hours of class and homework every day and go to school six days a week. The other thing is that many of their teachers are massively boring parishioners at the church of memorization. Make the kids laugh and ask them to think creatively then watch as your class changes from place-to-study-foreign-language to educational-happyland- of-amazingness.
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