Thursday, 15 March, 2012
Ulsan, South Korea
I’m now a teacher, apparently. So, let me offer a bit more insight on the new gig.
The age range I teach is 10-16, which weirdly makes the kids 11-17 under Korean rule – here, you are pronounced a one-year-old at birth. I can only assume that such a logical decision was decided over whiskey shots at four in the morning. I mean, at the most you’re nine months old, but surely you can’t just add three months of existence to make your age a round number? Forget English teachers, the country needs an abundance of maths teachers and pronto.
If that wasn’t dumb enough, the whole country gains a year on 1st January – the one day a year that keeps the candlestick maker afloat. So technically, if you were born on the 31st December you would be considered a two-year-old only a day after leaving the womb. Yeah, ok then, Korea, you big silly billy.
Anyway, back on track. I’m suddenly a teacher, and therefore, have had a major epiphany. Everything I previously thought about teachers is just simply not true – destroying my life was never a priority, and in actuality, the pub was a much more interesting prospect. It took a flight to Korea, but I finally get it, I was basically just embarrassingly self-indulgent as a teenager. Well, I’m sorry teachers of the past, forgive me as I’m now one of you!
The first class I taught were a group of seventeen year olds, and I won’t lie, I was a little bit petrified in the build up to that hour. Firstly, let’s be honest, it’s harder to bluff it with kids of that age, but furthermore, look at me! I only look seventeen myself. Back home I was still showing I.D at the bar to prove I was an adult, so as far as bouncers or the really picky bloke from Sainsbury’s (a lottery ticket, honestly) were concerned, I may be the age I teach. I bet they thought the exchange student had lost his head when I picked up the marker pen.
As it turns out, the older kids seem very quiet and timid – making that carefully prepared thirty minute PowerPoint presentation on the 1972 FA Cup Final more lacklustre than one would have hoped. It is the younger classes where the chaos begins, for now I draw stars on the whiteboard to reward and control them. Unfortunately, they seem pretty bright, so it is only a matter of time before they realise that these stars equate to absolutely nothing. Then what? My early verdict is that this is definitely going to be a trial and error kind of year.
These kids have already left me stumbling over my words and I’m still yet to fully unpack my suitcase. In one particular class we were discussing our hobbies. That conversation went as follows:
“I like killing.”
“Wait, sorry?! You like what?!”
I automatically convinced myself that he had simply just mispronounced the word ‘climbing’. Deluded? Clutching at straws? Whatever. Would you want to believe that you are teaching the next Osama Bin Laden English? My thoughts remained in a safe place with ‘climbing’. However, I still apparently needed more reassurance, thus, asked him to repeat his answer. “I like killing!” Was once again the gleeful response, only this time it was accompanied with a two fingered gun impression and sound effects. What a nutter!
It’s highly likely that I’m going to be that bloke on the news in twenty years’ time that has to say, “Oh yeah, I taught killer Korean kid when he was younger. He was mischievous, sure, but I didn’t think he’d go on to assassinate so many Jews, communists, gypsies and homosexuals.” Clearly my originality on a modern murderer’s perspective is lacking, but you get my concern.
Well, if nothing else he certainly killed my lesson plan. We moved far away from hobbies and jumped straight into topic number two, pets. Unfortunately, the psychopath, or class clown, decided to once again share an unorthodox answer:
“I have three cats.”
“I have a hamster.”
“I have four fish.”
“I have thirty-two pet dogs at home.”
“Well, of course you do.”
I don’t know how loosely his parents use the term pets, but in South Korea, that’s a restaurant. It does explain his unhealthy lust for murder though.
“Dad, where has digger gone?”
“Heaven, son. Now tuck into your noodle, poodle stew before it gets cold.”
Still, his response didn’t quite have the dramatic impact of his previous carefree confession, allowing this topic of discussion to continue for a little bit longer. A girl asked me about my pets, and while I don’t have any, I opted to claim my mum’s cats as my own. I am lying to children, sure, but I felt this would be more beneficial in a class based around vocal interaction.
The curious little girl then asked for the names of the cats – this was great, we were going beyond the lesson objective. If only my parents’ cats’ names weren’t Biscuit and Tanqueray (named after a British gin). I led with Biscuit, obviously, to which the whole class burst into fits of laughter – strange name for a cat in Korea, apparently.
Once the laughter had died down, the same little girl asked for the name of cat number two. Well, I wasn’t going to say Tanqueray, was I? Not after the reception Biscuit got, but what exactly should I reply? I was short of time and ideas. I took a deep breath and announced my mum’s pet’s name as, “David.” Please do not ask me to explain why, apparently I don’t cope well under cat name pressure.
What is even more stupid about this whole episode, is that I was a second away from replying to that little girl with, ‘Dave’, but didn’t because my tiny little mind quickly determined ‘Dave’ to be far too casual for a cat’s name. Again, I can’t explain the logic. What I will say though, is that David was not considered half as funny as Biscuit, so I did pretty well on hindsight.
Mum, you are fully aware that I am now going to refer to your cat as ‘David’ every time I visit, right?
I have quickly been alerted to the fact that many of the children I teach seem to be severely lacking in creativity – perhaps that is a reflection on Korean society as a whole, I’m yet to establish. Their studying hours are very demanding, crazily so in fact, I teach until ten o’clock at night, and naturally, this has an impact on the kids’ social skills. They seem to live a somewhat robotic lifestyle.
I was discussing dream careers with a group of fourteen-year-old students and the three most common responses were politician, engineer and diplomat. I had no idea what a diplomat was at fourteen, never mind fantasised about becoming one. I was desperate to hear just one child reply with musician, writer or artist. You know, something that required a little creative imagination, but it never came.
I just believe that education should be more to young learners than simply studying textbooks, but, what do I know, I’m just the guy that re-names cats to save face amongst ten year olds.
Edit: definitely going to be a diplomat, my student has just explained what one is and it sounds fantastic.