Monthly Archives: September 2010

The moral dilemmas i go through everyday at school

I made a student cry today.  She didn’t cry in front of me, but her friend later came to me in the office and told me about it.

I know it’s hard for them to ask me questions and admit that they don’t understand things.  It’s just the culture.  But these girls are so economically disadvantaged already that i feel obligated as their teacher to train them so they can become more responsible.  That way, they’ll at least have a chance at getting a job after they graduate.  There is so little disciplinary action in this school; the students are in very bad shape, both in terms of attitude and work ethic.  I don’t know how they are in other classes, but in my classes, they don’t listen.  For some reason, they think that if they can’t understand what i’m saying, they might as well ignore me and chit chat.  The ones who try ask the high-level students to translate, but most give up.  I don’t have a problem with them giving up.  That’s their right, and i can’t force them to learn if they don’t want to.  But when they talk, other students who want to try can’t hear me, and as a result, most of the class gets things wrong and loses points.  And i don’t give second chances, because they should know my rules already.

This student didn’t know my policy of never accepting late work because she either didn’t listen or didn’t understand but neglected to ask for clarification.  When i refused to accept her late timed writing, she quietly walked away.  It would be unfair for me to accept her work, because i’ve been refusing all late submissions.  When her friend came to plead with me to accept it, i took it and told her i’d correct it but that i’d have to give it a zero.  I later caved and gave the student who submitted her work late a letter explaining that i’ll only take 5 points off and that she shouldn’t take it personally, because i can’t veer from my rules if i’m to be fair to everybody.  I had to mull it over for a good hour, but i eventually decided that i’m not being too unfair because this class is a bit behind, and i did accept late work the first few weeks.

I want these kids to succeed.  I really do.  They want so many things in life—they tell me these things in their journals—and if no one helps them now to become responsible citizens, they’re never gonna get those things.  I don’t understand why the teachers here protect them so much.  These girls don’t need protection; they need training.  I feel like everyone here thinks God is the answer to everything.  ‘These girls might be irresponsible and unmotivated but God will somehow help them in the end, so let’s just pray.’  I wish somebody would cooperate with me.

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If only one older Korean could prove me wrong…

I try to like most people.  I really do.  Because God knows, i have my flaws, and i should be understanding of other people’s.  But there’s one thing that irks me—probably more than it should—and that’s unsolicited advice.

I went to my grandmother’s yesterday for Chuseok, and she had some unexpected guests:  my mother’s cousin, his wife, his son, and the son’s family.  I don’t remember them from my childhood, but i think i remember the cousin and his wife (now in their late 60’s or early 70’s) from when my grandfather died.  Only i couldn’t point it out with my grandmother there, because my grandfather’s death anniversary just passed and she tends to get emotional about these things.

At several moments of the evening, i noticed the cousin (let’s call him Mr. TOK, or Typical Old Korean) surveying me with a judgmental eye, the way older Koreans always do when meeting a younger Korean for the first time, or for the first time in a long time.  Koreans are always trying to get a read on people.  That makes me uncomfortable.

An hour into their visit, Mr. TOK started dishing out random pieces of advice for me.  I didn’t catch a lot of what he said.  I speak a very particular kind of Korean—my parents’ Korean—because i’ve only ever used Korean with my parents since moving to the States.  Not that my parents’ Korean is any different from your typical educated middle-aged Korean’s Korean, but an individual’s speaking style is colored by his or her personality and way of thinking, and my parents’ particular speaking style is what i grew up on and have heard and used for the past 13 years.  This causes a lot of problems when i communicate with any other Koreans, but i’ve gotten better at opening my ears to other speaking styles since coming here to live.  This man, though—Mr. TOK—didn’t only use convoluted expressions i wasn’t used to, but he also rambled in a haughty and self-righteous manner.  And i tend to immediately tune out such people, no matter what they might be saying and how relevant it might be to my life.

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A strange day

I’m gonna write a mid-day diary entry today, because i have all my second graders write journals, and i feel like writing one, too.  I can’t even remember the last time i wrote a diary entry just describing what i did for the day.

Is it possible to black out without having consumed any alcohol?  Because i think i did last night, and it was my first “blackout” ever.  I woke up at 1:30am, with the lights on and the window open.  I couldn’t remember how i ended up in bed, asleep.  I couldn’t remember what i did before i fell asleep.  All i remembered was being on Facebook around 1am.  After taking a minute to re-orient myself, i got out of bed and checked to see if i’d set an alarm, and i hadn’t.  I tried to finish correcting essays, but i was so tired i closed my eyes to rest a little bit.  It was my first time falling asleep in a chair.  I woke up again at 2:30 with the worst stomachache.  I think i ate spoiled yogurt.  You see, my local grocery store started stocking my favorite yogurt, but they don’t refrigerate it; they just stack it in front of the fridge case.  I didn’t think i should buy it, but i took the risk anyway because i really wanted that yogurt.  I’ll have to complain the next time i go.

So anyway, after a half-hour of torture, i took some Pepto Bismol, set my alarm for 4am, and passed out once again.  I slept through the alarm but somehow woke up in a panic at 6:47, with just enough time to get ready for school.  I had time to input Class 6’s journal grades, but there was no way i was going to finish correcting Class 3’s 2nd set of essays (i have Class 3 1st period and Class 6 2nd period on Fridays).  They submitted these essays a week ago, so i really wanted to give them back today.  Luckily, this class is somehow way ahead of the other classes (most classes wrote their 2nd essay in class today), so this doesn’t set them back in any way.  Besides, if i’d returned them today, they would have had to do rewrites over break.  So we had a relaxing lesson today writing and talking about Chuseok.  The girls had a good time, i wasn’t ordering them to shut up like i always am during timed writings, and their faces absolutely lit up when i gave them all letters as a Chuseok present.  My head co-teacher, who teaches that class with me, was pleased with the letter, too.  She later came to me, smiling and thanking me for it.  The letter was an excuse to have students learn my handwriting (i gave them each a handwritten copy and a typed copy), but it contained all the things that i’ve been wanting to tell them since starting teaching here.  I explained why i was so strict, stricter than probably any other teacher in this school, and i really hope they read it, because it was sincere.  Until now, i think my head co-t hated me a little bit for being so hard on them, but she told me today that she understands now why i teach this way.  So i’m glad that’s settled.

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Seoul opened up to me tonight

Tonight, i walked from Seoul Station to my hill barefoot in the pouring rain.  It was the greatest walk of my life.  For the first time since arriving here, i felt one with the city and yet comfortably alone, with only my thoughts and my music and the rain washing over my feet.  There’s something about cities:  no matter where in the world you might be, a city has this way of being welcoming and impenetrable at once, and you have to meet it head-on at its most vulnerable moments—when there are very few people on the streets masking its true qualities—to break open its shell.

That’s what i missed when i left New York.  I missed making love to the city, taking long walks in the rain and at night, ignoring everything around me but the ground below my feet and the vague pulsation of life continuing in my temporary absence.  I loved everything about New York:  the people, the food, the culture, the beat it moved to.  There’s nothing quite like the no bullshit attitude that New York breeds and takes pride in.

I hate most things about Seoul, especially the people, but as long as i can take barefoot, solitary walks in the rain, returning home to my quiet hill of friendly people, i think i’ll be okay.  Navigating the city isn’t a concern; i just need to learn how to navigate the people.

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