Thursday, May 19, 2011

This was a triumph.

At the end of a class today I burst into song.  Specifically:

Breaking into song is not unusual for me, especially during a third-grade class.  Third-graders are either unruly discipline-magnets or what an Irish teacher acquaintance calls "manatee children"--they float in their chairs placid as the sea cow, betraying no sign of presence beyond their obeyance to basic physical laws of buoyancy.  The manatee children are immune to a good time so I sing and dance and tell jokes no one laughs at for my own amusement.

I chose "Still Alive" mainly for the first bit.  I intended it ironically because the class wasn't really a triumph.  I was feeling energized though.  I'd just finished some disciplining.  I find discipline invigorating because it's an excuse for creativity.  It's annoying when I have to play stupid dominance games with Korean teens--often the same ones week after week--but it's a welcome break from the bone-crushing monotony of delivering the same 45-minute lesson 10 times.  And it kills time.  Killing time is my #1 priority in the classroom.

I tried some new discipline material on this class.  One new thing was feigned curiosity.  When students started talking amongst themselves in Korean I stopped them and asked for an English translation.  This consistently resulted in that deer in the headlights look, which I followed with something like "I'm sorry, it sounded interesting, but it has to be English or I don't know.  So shhhhh."  After a few incidents this became "English or shhhhh."  One kid I had to interrupt like 3 times, so I started improvising:  "English?  No?  Actually I don't care what you were saying.  I'm just drawing attention to your rudeness.  Shhhhh."

I can say just about anything I want in a class like this because maybe 3 of the 37 non-me people in there can parse such a complex sentence (the other teacher (Rose) is not one of them).  The tone of delivery and intensity of stare matter more than anything.  When the recidivist started babbling his incomprehensible gibberish a fourth time I chewed him out a bit with man-voice, the unblinking stare of stop being rude to me and a pointed index finger (considered rude in Korea).  When I tried to get back to my English-teaching gig (time-wasting power struggles with 15-year olds are only a sideline for me) he had the temerity to laugh.  I don't remember what I did next but it shamed or cowed him sufficiently and he went to sleep, which is fine by me because I prefer the obnoxious ones unconscious, though I did wake him up later to make him do a worksheet.  No rest for the wicked.

Another new thing I tried was punishing the whole class collectively with tedium.  The bulk of this lesson is listening exercises.  Students take dictation, compare text to speech, etc.  When I saw students not working I singled them out.  For example:  "What!  제민 doesn't even have his worksheet out and this guy's sleeping!  [poking sleeping student with marker] Hey, wake up, Sleepy Guy!  We'd better listen to that again.  One more time, for the benefit of 제민 and Sleepy Guy!"  This lets the other students know who is responsible for their having to listen to the same boring 30-second conversation 6 times.  I don't like punishing students with English.  I don't want to make the subject itself a punishment.  But if I can encourage a class to resent its problem constituents and police itself I may get a good long-term return.

I should pause here to mention that though this stuff makes me look sarcastic, mean and alternately passive-aggressive and overly aggressive, in reality it's not like that.  I discipline as needed and return immediately to the dancing, singing, weird stretching exercises and goofiness characteristic of my teaching performances.  I hold no grudges.  All is forgiven with the first turn of the screw.  Everyone gets a second, third, fourth chance.  I enthusiastically praise the shitheads when they behave properly.  The overall tone of my classes is light-hearted.  Some students silently enjoy my antics, only betraying their delight indirectly.  Several of the girls nurse hopeless crushes on me.  One high-level student, amused by my delivery, laughed when I named Sleepy Guy.  I'm not brutally traumatizing children here.

When everyone began filing out and I started in with "This was a triumph..." you can imagine my surprise when 제민 joined me.  Nobody ever wants to sing with me, despite my entreaties.  With after-school classes I've attempted sing-a-longs but they've always ended with me singing alone.  And yet here was 제민 the recently chastised, formerly adjacent to Sleepy Guy, joining his nemesis in an English sing-a-long.  I'll be danged if he didn't know the words, too.  Kid can't express a coherent thought in English and there he was singing it.  I guess he probably has no idea what the words mean.  He didn't want to obey the score but he fell into line when I stopped singing and did a little dance during the instrumental measures.  (He did not dance along.)  After a few lines he started edging away.  I sang louder the further he went until finally I was alone singing full voice into the corridor.  Straight from the diaphragm.

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