Wednesday, July 31, 2013

(a)Musings: Teaching Overworked Kids

I finally started making videos talking about some of the social issues and random things I've noticed about living here and found worthy of mention, though the only time I'm making them is after I get home at 2 or 3 in the morning after going out and drinking. Good enough I guess, lol.

One of the first ones is about how overworked and underjoyed most of the poor kids here tend to be. I touched on it in the long ranting post about the things that were bogging me down but wanted to make a little video anyway, because honestly, it tugs at your heartstrings sometimes. Even kids who are very well-off often have at least one parent who is almost completely absent or is at least absent emotionally. It's not that this doesn't happen everywhere, but when you combine the extremes of either ignoring or hovering over your kid like an incredibly annoying, overbearing nag-copter 24/7 with the intense cram school culture, behaviour problems begin to explain themselves.



We used to have one really cute, handsome little boy who was around 8 - 9 when he was at our school, and the level of terror he caused approached mythical proportions. To this day, "I am crazy" is still ominously scrawled across the wall of our hospital-themed room. 
I started around Christmastime, and one of the first times I had his old class, I gave them a colouring sheet of Santa flying through the sky in his sleigh. No one really explained anything to me when I started and just told me to do whatever, so I leaned pretty heavily on the holidays. I asked them questions while they coloured, like what colour the deer were, how many there were, et cetera. Pretty standard, right? Well, while this was going on, said kid violently scribbled his entire page black with a marker, and stabbed it until the marker was dead. He found some scissors at the bottom of the crayon box and started cutting it up. Then he proceeded to cut up the crayon box and some other kids' papers before I could get the scissors away from him. Once I had taken them away, he tore the paper to shreds, and ate it. Yeah, he actually ate some of it. He killed Christmas and ate Santa.

Now, the Korean teachers really liked this kid, and none of us could figure out why. I knew he was really bright and probably pretty bored, but he was just so badly-behaved that it didn't really matter. Challenging questions and positive reinforcement helped, but there was only so much that could be done before he'd start rampaging again. Come to find out, his mother would just drop him at our school all the time (as in, for as many classes as possible). She wasn't there to pick him up, didn't ask about how he was doing, help him with his homework, or anything. She didn't act like she cared very much at all. They had plenty of money and the kid was intelligent, but if my parents ignored me and just stuck me in classes from morning until night, I would have probably acted out the same way. So many of these kids are barely home, and when they are, they're mostly just being told to do their mountains of homework. What about watching family movies or playing board games together or talking about books you're reading, or just your day in general? Sacrificing that love and emotional bonding for academic achievement is a mistake.

Another little 10 or 11 year-old girl of whom I'm quite fond is naturally very pretty, has a nice personality, and is very intelligent. She's a winner, basically. But at the same time, she's got this dreary, sulky disposition, and is tired and stressed out all the time. The oppressed rage (honestly, sometimes she'll just turn around and clock one of the boys who's annoying her or knock over a desk) and anxiety are evident in her face. One time, when we were talking about different subjects in school, I asked them to write about what type of museum they'd like to visit and why. For her, the why was much more important. She had trouble explaining in English at first, but basically, she said that she wanted to go and learn extra things so that she could do her homework better and get better grades on tests, so that her mother would stop nagging her for once.

She doesn't have time to play with her friends. She has no games or toys at home. She goes to school, goes to cram schools, does extra-curriculars, and then goes home and gets bitched at. Is she going to have emotional and relationship issues as an adult? You bet.

These are just a couple of examples of specific kids, but once you've had the same kids for about six months, you know them. I'm not saying that every kid's life is a ceaseless cycle of misery and suffering, but even when it's not, chances are that they're quite overworked. I think it would have been nice to have been able to afford to take lots of extra classes as a kid and to have wasted less time and brain power, but there's a happy medium to be found in all things. My point is that you're going to have to deal with all that emotionally if you decide to teach English in Korea, and reconcile your desire to teach well with your desire to give the kids what may be the only free time, fun and games they're allowed to have all day. Bribing them to do the former with the latter is pretty effective, and everybody wins. I hope you have enough freedom at your hagwon to be able to do that. Even if you don't, kindness and individual attention go a long way and work wonders, especially for shy kids. Whatever your methods, be excellent to them.