Which Teacher am I?

Which Teacher am I?.

At some point in my life I said I wanted to be a teacher. This was probably inspired by some of the wonderful teachers I had growing up. And then not too long later I said I would never be a teacher. This may have been inspired by teachers I had later in life. It could have been because I saw how horrible kids can be, as I got older. It may also have had to do with the low pay. At any rate, I said ‘Screw you’ to teaching and became a massage therapist. Over many years I took aptitude tests and they often stated my ‘ideal’ occupation is … teacher. Of course. Well, I wanted to leave the US and the easiest way to do that is with a job as a TEFL teacher. And here I am.

I spent April 2012-2013 teaching at a private bilingual school and an after-school academy in southern Thailand. The private school had me teaching eighteen 5thgraders and nineteen 3rd graders. In the after school program I was teaching mixed ages based on their English abilities. The younger class was between ages 4-7. The older class consisted of 8-12 year olds. The third graders in the bilingual school were great. We had fun. We got all of the work finished. AND they were able to learn songs by Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and other fun artists. My managers praised me for having amazing classroom management. My students did their homework. We could joke around a little bit. They even Skyped with my friends from back home. But I yelled occasionally. I’m short and often a pushover. But I can get loud (thank you theater teacher). I can get scary loud. If I have to raise my voice, I don’t get attention – I COMMAND attention. And the point is made that someone has done something wrong or made me upset somehow. Then I talk in my normal voice and everything continues as expected.

My older students weren’t as great as the younger students. These little darlings didn’t do homework, refused to speak in English, fought each other, tore my homework and test papers, said explicit words, and were generally naughty. The director of the school had to talk to them on several occasions. Parents came in because their students were getting bad reports and they wanted to know why. Of course the camera in the back of the class captured the horrible behavior of the students. Parents came in apologizing on behalf of their kids. So I wasn’t a mean teacher? Oh thank goodness. However, after the first semester, I was switched from teaching 18 5th graders to 32 2nd graders. And I had never wanted to drink more after a class. I won’t even go there.

My biggest criticism from my management that year was that I didn’t smile enough in class. I was strict and they liked that but I needed to have more fun with the students. I responded that when the students did their work and were not ‘little darlings’ then we had fun. We played games and I taught them how to sing and moonwalk. I left feeling a bit more confident as a teacher.

Now I teach in South Korea. The land where students have better English speaking abilities than some native speakers I know. I don’t teach a few different classes: I teach 7 different classes. The youngest I teach are 3rd or 4th grade and the oldest are in 7th or 8that a private academy. These kids are in school until 10pm. I teach elementary and middle school students. The elementary students are brilliant. Yes, they have a long way to go grammatically but they are creative and attentive and are always doing their work. It’s a pleasure to teach them. Yes, I do get loud still. I have strict classroom rules and I stick to them. I let them see the fun side of me though. I make funny voices or draw silly pictures. But the work is done and the classroom is always in order.

The middle school students have been a totally different story. They have the same rules.

1. English only please. No Korean unless you ask for permission/if communication is so difficult you HAVE to translate

2. Finish homework before class starts. Come prepared.

3. No writing on the desks.

4. No cell phones in class

5. Smile

Those are basic rules that every classroom (anywhere in the world) has. The difference is that I apply the rules in my class. The other teachers are way more lax about it. The middle school students are at THAT age. The age of rebellion. The age of snide comments. The age where ‘asshole’ is a new personality trait they MUST explore. I get it. I’ve been there. But I’m an adult and I know better now. And I don’t accept the bullshit like the other teachers do. I have replaced a few teachers who were the ‘let’s watch videos’ type. I make my students do their work…especially after they missed a month of class due to exams. Have I raised my voice in class? Yes. Of course I have. When they talk in Korean and cheat on tests and don’t turn in homework, I get annoyed. I approach the class nicely to start and when they continue to steamroll over that, I break out the scary loud voice.

Recently, a couple of teachers have come to me asking if everything was okay. I stated yes, other than the few students who were disruptive or unprepared in class. Apparently parents are calling complaining that their students want to quit because the loud foreign teacher is mean. MEAN? Me? Yes I can be mean but never to a student and never in a school setting. Strict? Absolutely. “And that is why I hired you,” said my director, “I have your back. I am on your side. But the students must not quit.” Oh I get it. Well, why haven’t the parents come in to see me if their child is complaining? I’ll put 20,000won down that they didn’t realize their child never comes to class with homework done. Or that their child writes bad words on the desk in Korean with my name next to it. Or that their child does not even answer a simple yes or no question when called upon.

I have sat down with the middle school students and had a ‘heart to heart’ with them. I have explained my methods and my reasoning for my frustration. They even offered why I have yelled. They know they’re in the wrong. I know I could be ‘easier’ on them. Am I a mean teacher I asked? “No” they said. Except the one student who wants to watch soccer videos instead of answering the one question I assigned for homework.

I’m a strict teacher. I’m not an evil teacher. Maybe I am the scary teacher. But I’m one of the best teachers. When I asked the many teacher forums if I am a mean teacher, their response was yes: MEAN –  Making Excellence a Necessity.

I’m cool with that.

An artists's rendering of a strict teacher: Bane the Lumberjack

“You merely became a mean teacher. I was born into it.” – Bane, gym teacher


The Table is In!!

Hip hop hooray!

After many weeks of struggling to order a massage table, my goal has been accomplished. And this morning, the sun shone through my window and woke me with good spirits. A foreign number appeared on my phone, followed by a voice speaking Korean. Which I know nothing of. After much babbling on both of our parts, he said ‘ahhh. no english.’ and i said ‘ahhh no korean. err, hangul, or whatever’ and then he continued to babble and I hung up because it was useless. My manager called on my behalf and informed me a large package was awaiting me downstairs. There it was. A giant box with my soul’s purpose within it. It was waayyyy too heavy to lift so i had to slide it to the elevator and across the entire building to my apartment. Then, with the ferocity of child on a Christmas present, I tore that bitch open. Out came my beautiful new massage table. It was quite heavy. I opened it up and it came with more little gifts!! It’s like Hanukkah early! Not one gift, but many gifts!! I had a headrest, arm sling, arm rests for the side of the table, and the gift I least expected… a carrying case. OH JOY!!!! Only thing missing is a car to get me from here to there with it. 

But it’s here. And I am going to start my side-business again. Regaining my peace of mind in this country of Khaos. I welcome back my massage abilities.

Massage Your Imagination for a Moment

I attended massage school when I was 20 because it was something I loved to do. Since high school I had been giving friends and classmates massages during class or rehearsals in theater. It was something I was good at. People would sit in front of me with hopes that I would get the urge to touch them. And I did. And sometimes I still do. Many people choose professions that suit them, but it’s not necessarily what they love. I love to give massages. People love to get massages. The feeling of settling awkwardly on a massage table semi- (or sometimes completely) nude disappears when the therapist makes that first move. Slowly gliding their warm hands along the sides of your spine. Within minutes, you can get lost in the session. Muscles are being manipulated and blood circulation increasing. Yes, a good massage can do wonders for a person.

            But there’s something amazing on the other side of that story. The hands that do the manipulating guide a peaceful journey away from the world that envelopes us. As a therapist, there is a sense of magic when the client’s breathing slows down and the inhalations and exhalations lengthen. With the right music, a simple muscle manipulation is transformed into an art form. It’s not quite dancing to a smooth flow; it’s not quite conducting a ballad. It’s a rarely observed art with which neither word nor pictures can describe. It’s a kinesthetic art form that can only be truly appreciated by being in the moment.

            Like the edge of the water lapping the sand, thoughts fill my mind and then disappear with each breath. The flow of the massage begins to sync with the music. The flute holds a sweet note as I lengthen the muscles beneath my hands. The comfort and warmth of the room soothe both my own and my client’s energies. I can feel my own eyes droop as my client dozes. I never fall asleep, but the rhythm of the massage seems to sync with the slowed exhales. For a client to feel complete relaxation, a therapist must send out the same energies.

I nearly fell asleep writing this. I look forward to my next massage 🙂            

The Battle Of Teaching Hill

Some say it began in the spring of 2012. Others say it wasn’t until late fall of 2013. In my opinion, The Battle of Teaching Hill began in May 2012. It was a year of struggling through the local children of Surat Thani, Thailand. Like any battle, there were bad days and worse days. It wasn’t always peaches and cream… oh wait, there were no peaches or cream in Thailand. But the battle wasn’t always Teacher vs Student. It was often just Teacher vs Teacher. The students are kids. They want to have fun, they want to play, and they definitely don’t want to learn English. They want hugs and smiles. But I’m not that kind of person. I don’t give in to their germs and tears. I may have been affectionate once, but since I started teaching (and probably long before that) I lost it.

Fast forward to 2015. I’m on year 3 of teaching (year 1 – Thailand, year 2 – Korea, year 2 – Korea). . and I have still very little affection for these kids. I have so little patience. I thought that by becoming a teacher, I would learn the valuable skill and art of patience. But alas, I have not. My patience excels in some areas, but when it comes to children learning English – – for some reason, it flees.

The Battle of Teaching Hill is an internal struggle. Unfortunately for the students, it occasionally ends up involving them. I know better. I truly do. I know I need to smile more and laugh. I know I need to breathe and just continue the lesson. But I lose it sometimes. Yesterday I got so mad at a student who didn’t do his homework because he had 15 minutes before and during class to do it and he just sat there. And it was easy homework. REALLY REALLY easy. Literally – it was a maze. I threw my red pen down and kicked it until it came apart. Obviously there are some anger issues. Perhaps I was just really tired from a week of cooking non-stop. Maybe it’s also my built up frustration of this student behaving like this several times a month.

Whatever it is, it’s not meant to be in a classroom. I need to get over it. But I’m not doing a great job of that. Am I good teacher? I don’t know. The students learn a lot from me because I don’t sit here playing Bingo every day.. but does it matter? Will it make a difference? I don’t know. I don’t think so. This is my last year teaching kids. If I decide to teach again, it will have to be adults and I will need to leave Asia. This is my Declaration of InterPatience.

I have 7 more months of fighting this Battle. Let’s hope I don’t wave the white flag or get shot.

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