Saturday, June 04, 2005

Tony Toni Tonee

Yo Tony, I got'cher number.

I have a kid in one of my classes. Guess his name.

Okay, I'll tell you, it's Tony.

He's a bright kid and he's very funny but he's distracting as hell. He comes to class late every day. He comes without his textbook or a pencil, which is a huge thing to me. Come, and come prepared I say. If that wasn't enough to tick me off, the kid then proceeds to talk or sing, in Korean, non-stop.

I check the kid (5 checks gets you a sticker removed.) Stickers are rewards the other teachers hand out. Kids can redeem them at our quarterly "Market Days" where they can shop for kitchy little goodies or food at our "restaurant." I don't get to hand stickers out. The first foreign teacher at my school favoured the little girls, which made the little boys complain, (I don't blame him, they're by and far better behaved students than their male counterparts) so foreign teacher's sticker-giving-out privledges were revoked.

I also yellow card the kid (3 of these will get you kicked out of class for 5 minutes) which isn't a great big deal. This was a practice I learned while teaching in Japan. There, yellow cards could be given for any infraction, speaking Japanese, not paying attention, bothering your classmates, or being rowdy. Here I use them for anything in class except for speaking Korean. When I first started at my school there was no disciplinary system in place. I was a bit horrified. My classes were more like zoos. Anyhow, my Japanese students were careful to avoid getting kicked out of class, as that meant a sit-down with the dragon-lady owner of the school who would go up one side of you and down the other. Unpleasant.

Here, getting kicked out means 5 minutes reading a Korean comic book in the TV room. I'd rather that the Korean teacher took a chunk out of them, but often they're often busy doing phone teaching, as I mentioned in an earlier post.

Anyways, back to Tony. He doesn't care how many stickers I take. In fact, the kid owes me stickers. I can't take what he hasn't got. I've tried everything with this kid, threatening him, stopping class to yell at him, sitting down and talking one on one to him, praising every tiny bit of good behaviour in order to encourage more. Nothing works. This kid seemed to have been winning the battles and the war.

I ran into him after school the other night at the nearby grocery store and the kid was as sweet as sugar. Polite and a little shy, we had a conversation where he told me how excited he was about his class's upcoming 3-day trip. He smiled so happily and said "bye bye Jenny!" and ran home with the stuff he'd just bought for his mum.

This was not the same little demon who ascended from the fiery depths 10 minutes late everyday to class.

I got to thinking on the way home, and thought about something I'd noticed about Tony shortly after I met him almost a year ago now. The kid has a tic. Not just a slight eye twitch either, this is a full on 'jerk your head back, roll your eyes back, and open your mouth as wide as it will go' kind of thing. Like a lion yawning. Only the lion is sleepy. Very very sleepy, and needs to yawn every couple minutes. And repeatedly, in rapid succession, if the lion is stressed out.

It dawned on me, and I'll bet my ass that it's true, that this clever little fellow has decided if he keeps his yap constantly flapping, it may not be as noticeable he's got this tic thing happening. His constant chatter and singing makes him out to be a funny little class clown instead of Nervous Tic Kid.

For his trying to conceal his vulnerability, I've got to give the kid an A for effort. I've seen kids here dealing with other kids who aren't "normal." They're merciless.

And so, I learned another lesson about not taking my students behaviour personally. Sometimes they're just exhibiting smaller versions of the same coping mechanisms we adults have adapted to protect our fragile egos.

That being said, Tony's still going to have to deal with massive yellow cards and checks. Yes Tony, I got yer number, and I got your stickers too.

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