Thursday, November 03, 2005

Have Mercy

Yep, I've got a cold. My lungs, throat, muscles, and head hurts. Seriously, on the best of days working at my school is a challenge. Days like this past one, I wish my kids would give me a break, but they're just not having it.

Truth be told, I worry about these kids. Perhaps all kids are worth worrying about, but it's been quite a long while since I hung out with any school aged children back home. I wonder if they're as merciless as some of the kids here. Probably. I can remember back to my own experience in elementary and high school, and I really don't remember all the HITTING going on. Teasing, sure. Taunting and threatening, definitely. But I know when I was in sixth grade I was for more interested in kissing the boys than I was in hitting them, and I didn't even go for that 'I'm hitting you because I like you' sort of thing.

Tomorrow we'll have "Speech Contest Day," which happens once a month, I've mentioned it before. All the kids from the classes going on during their hour assemble in the lobby to read out the speeches we've been practicing in class. The kids who aren't reading, should be listening quietly, but that never happens. To discourage their chatter and horsing around, the K-teachers walk around rapping the kids on the head with a stick. Sometimes I laugh, and I shouldn't, but I found it exhausting to be continually shocked and a little outraged. Daily, I see the K-teachers slapping the kids a good one on the back, or grabbing the kids by the ears, or one teacher grabs the kids' cheek between her fingers, and chops it with her other hand. It's a genuine losing battle for me to try to have a "no hitting" policy in the classroom, when they're learning from all the adults around them that hitting is an appropriate response for whatever it is that's annoying you.

I think what gets under my skin even more than all the physical battery is the emotional crap. I have one class that I barely made it out of in tears today. Like I said, I'm sick, and PMS has been kicking my ass lately, but I was overwhelmed by my students lack of compassion, for me or for one little girl who is the target of their nastiness.

This girl, Leila, is really affectionate and sweet with me, and she generally seems fairly well adjusted most days, despite the fact that everyone picks on her everytime she opens her mouth. I, on the other hand, can't even handle it.

The kids aren't supposed to be speaking Korean in class, but they get away with it quite a bit when I'm teaching. If I "checked" them for every time they spoke Korean, and sent them out of class after 5 checks, as is the rule, I'd have no students in class in some cases, at least not any boys. Leila can barely THINK a word in Korean, before all the boys are flipping out, pointing at her and screaming at me "Teacha! Leila Korean speaking!" Then they freak out when I don't give her a check, because she really just uttered a single word or expression. (For example, today she stubbed her toe and said the Korean equivalent of "ouch.") Meanwhile, they've been carrying on secretly in Korean with each other, and I've been pretending not to notice, for the past 10 minutes.

Korean kids have mastered what I call "angry eyes." You have to experience them to get what I'm talking about, but they're unnerving. Even the other girls in class, who are good well behaved students (like the majority of my girls) will break out the angry eyes for Leila if she does anything, meaning speak, look at them, or crack a smile. If I'm passing glue around for the kids to affix a paper inside their texts, the kids using it after Leila has won't touch it. Classic cooties. Leila's gotten wise and brings her own glue now, but sheeeesh.

I remember walking home from elementary school a long time ago with Ivy DeLaCruz. She lived in the apartment building next to mine and we were pals. One day, for whatever reason, I decided to bully her. I told her she had a chicken in her nose. Then I danced around her chanting "bok bok, there's a chicken up your nose." I'd scooch down in front of her to catch a look up her nostril to confirm the presence of poultry up there, and yep, "Bok bok, chicken up your nose!!"

When Ivy finally started to cry, I accomplished that I had set out to do, yet I felt like a real jerk. I recall thinking that making her cry didn't make me feel good. In fact, it made me feel horrible. So I half-decided to never pick on anyone for sport. (I say half decided, because it wasn't really a conscious rule I'd outlined, just more of a general learning experience.) It would take a few more years before I would even begin to wonder what joy my father got out of making me feel worthless. I suppose that's perhaps a topic for future discussion, but definitely some insight as to why the bullying of Leila is such an issue for me.

And hey, it's not like I gained some great insight at 8 years of age on my way home with Ivy and put it into everlasting practice. I can still make people feel bad. Ask my university roommate Gino. Guilt is not always as immediately prevalent as it was with Ivy. Sometimes it's slow coming, and stalking. I still feel like an asshole, even though I apologized a couple years after when I happened to run into him. With my car.

I'm joking.

He said he forgave me, and I believed him. However, he also gripped my arm and shouted into my ear (over the DJ) "I used to love you SO MUCH!"

I believed that too, because I had felt it. Probably part of the reason I was so horrible to him was because of that fact. I suppose that's a topic for future psychoanalysis. I have issues. I do.

But today my issue was with the bullying of a little girl. I don't really know what I can do. I praise her for her effort and let her know I like her. Maybe that's not even helping her out with the other kids who now think she's a teacher's pet. Whatever. After Leila and I had a laugh about something in class today, she got up out of her chair, walked around the table, and hugged me from behind. That got all the other kids started in on her again. I punish her tormenters and let them know they're behaviour isn't cool with me. If I could, I'd spend five minutes of every class talking to the kids about compassion. I can't, because lectures from me sound like Charlie Brown's teacher to them. I would talk to them about their worth and the worth of those around them. I'd tell them life is short, and time is precious and all they have is their choices right here and now.

If for nothing else, so that maybe they will understand when one day Leila comes looking for them with a shotgun.


Joel said...

I hate bullies I will generally go off on the kids. Sometimes in loud angry English or sometimes in condescending treat you like trash Korean to get my point across or most often until they cry. Of course then they blame their victims for my behavior and the cycle continues. Life's a bitch that way. Good luck with whatever you decide to do.

Jelly said...

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