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


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Linda
    Apr 24, 2014 @ 08:18:01

    Ah, I remembered reading this and being a bit surprised at the time about what you were saying about some of the previous teachers but I get it. When you teach you wanna do a good job – you want the kids to learn as well as have fun.
    So glad I remembered as I had to go back and read this! For the first time in aages I had a difficult class at the start of this term. They started off trying their luck, as a lot of kids their age do, with a new teacher but it hasn’t been fun ever since. Granted, I think the book is too hard for them and they have a lot of homework related to it. They don’t do their homework,I caught them out trying to fail their vocab tests on purpose and sometimes its a struggle to get the work done due to so many distractions. I think I am also a strict teacher sometimes and definitely have been with this class. They have terrible manners too, which is like a pet peave for me, lol. They have been complaining about me…just when we seemed to have reached a compromise and were getting more shit done , and I was noticing improvements. I also got the ‘they are at that age’ – my other class at that age are awesome! The answer from the school – give them some chicken and tell them I bought it for them. Coz that’s gonna work. Arg the hagwon business vs education matrix is frustrating at times.


  2. wittylmt
    Apr 24, 2014 @ 09:35:06

    It’s amazing how some of the classes differ in personality. I’m pretty sure it has to do with the classes being paired the way they are. Some students just SHOULDN’T be in the same class. I can’t believe they TRIED to fail their vocab though. Some of the teachers have stated that their students’ behaviors are absolutely abhorring. Classroom management is my number one.


    • Linda
      Apr 24, 2014 @ 10:35:11

      Yeah, they all handed their tests to me with smiles on their faces and were all applauding each other at their bad scores. When I handed them back.to them and said try again, they got passing scores. Indeed, I suggested maybe mixing up the students with another class at that level as I know they want to be with friends but it just doesn’t always work.


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