A statement made at the end of a sentence declaring the actions you are doing are causing you to live your greatest life possible.
It’s a popular phrase used on young women’s social media especially those who consider themselves hip and trendy.
So the New Year certainly marked the beginning of a new me. No, I don’t mean that I joined the gym, filled the fridge with fresh veggies and threw away the wine. Rather, I began the transition from Afternoon teacher to Morning teacher. What did this entail? Well, being an ‘Afternoon’ teacher meant I taught predominantly Elementary students, whereas, being a ‘Morning’ teacher would mean that I’d teach predominantly Kindergarten students. You chose to do this? I hear you ask. Well, yes. By switching to teaching Kindergarten I would finish at 6pm rather than 9pm meaning only most of my day would be devoted to teaching English as opposed to all of it. However, there was a small catch in this transitional phase, that it would last for 2 months and for those 2 months I would work both shifts back to back. Yay, children! Children x2, double yay!
Thank God (or whoever) for small miracles because the only good thing about this week was that the pain lasted a mere 4 days instead of 5.
I was pretty much clueless on Tuesday and I just made it up as I went along. My class consisted of 5 girls and 3 boys. There were a considerable number of tears on the first day and some students cried well into the second week. I had no idea how I was meant to teach kids who knew no English but somehow through lots of gesticulating, visual aids and the help of the Korean ‘helper’ teacher I managed it.
By Friday, my students had learned how to say Teacher but every time I entered the classroom to help them put on their coats and backpacks ready to get the bus at the end of each day they’d all scream in hysterical unison: “O-MA, O-MA, O-MA (엄마 translation: Mummy).” Just what I always wanted: to be a single Mother to eight 5-year-olds at the age of 26.
TOP TIP: Apparently every Korean kid in the world knows the words and actions to ‘Baby Shark’. I must have sung this at least 10 times during those 4 days.
The highlight of Week 2 was Wednesday when Hillary finally stopped crying. I felt so proud and so pleased when she entered the classroom for the first time without tears streaming down her face. I asked her:
“How are you today, Hillary?” She replied: “I happy Teacher.”
We spent this week learning about various emotions, we also learned about body parts. My students particularly enjoyed ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ the speeding up edition courtesy of Super Simple Songs.
I endeavoured to incorporate more exciting games into our lessons and this seemed to cause more problems than I’d anticipated. Of course, they did not understand the rules however once we began to play various games they quickly caught on. The first problem was that when students had to wait their turn, they didn’t. In fact, they couldn’t. And they’d start running around the classroom or running out of the classroom. The second and more pressing issue was that two boys weren’t getting along. I was unsure who was at fault because I couldn’t watch their every action 24/7 and I didn’t understand what they were saying to one another. As it transpired by Week 3, one boy was bullying the other at every available opportunity and for no apparent reason. Who knew kids could be so mean at such a young age?
I did not sleep well this week. Some days I was running on 4 hours of broken sleep. Why couldn’t I sleep? I was genuinely worried about how to best teach my students, how to avoid arguments and bullying, how to ensure I gave each child the exact same amount of attention (in Week 2 I was informed that I didn’t give 1 student enough attention *eye roll*), the list went on. I would lie in bed at night and all I could hear was “Baby Shark do-do-do-do-do-do…or….Do you like Broccoli? YES I DO! YES I DO!” I even woke up in the early hours one morning with the idea to make a Lion mask, that’s right, a Lion mask.
I was losing my mind.
On the upside, my kids had finally settled in and were really coming out of their shells. It appeared that their shells were very quiet places whereas outside of said shells was a noisy place, a very noisy place. In another life, before I wore mid-length skirts and beige T. shirt bras, I worked at a nightclub. Some nights, guys would climb over the bar and endeavour to pour themselves a beer. Other nights, customers would shout drunken abuse at me for whatever reason they deemed fit. And every night, when the lights were turned on and the music was turned off, I’d be left with this ringing in my ears which would last until the following morning. This, it turned out, was the sound of heavenly angels singing lullabies to me in comparison to the sound of eight Korean 5-year-olds‘ learning’ English.
Would you rather?
Would you rather have a drunken uni ‘lad’ pick you up over his shoulder as you endeavour to make your way to the bathroom during one of your nightclub shifts? OR Would you rather have nine kids climbing on you as though you a human climbing frame, pulling your hair, poking you in the bum, pretending to eat you (real biting including) and spitting in your face?
Would you rather separate a fight between two drunken, incoherent university students OR would you rather diffuse an argument (in Korean) between 2 hysterical 5-year-olds?
Would you rather clear up glasses from the bathroom of the aforementioned nightclub whilst simultaneously avoiding puke OR would you rather clear up poo (that’s right, one of my kids pooped on the floor) from the school bathroom?
Ah, decisions, decisions…
Week 3 saw a farewell to ‘O-MA’ and hello to their new favourite game ‘Hide under the Desks’. So, not only was I meant to monitor eight students but, I was also supposed to see through objects too.
The most traumatic part of this week was a temper tantrum to end all temper tantrums. Now, I am no stranger to tantrums. Growing up my older Brother would regularly throw a fit and for the most part, there was nothing my Mother or I could do to calm him. Now, one boy, let’s call him Damien, was given a colouring worksheet by his doting English Teacher. Damien did not like said colouring worksheet as such a task was beneath him. So, as my other fallen angels coloured into their heart’s content, Damien decided to write on his worksheet. I noticed that he has written ‘Brachiosaurus’ and so I congratulated him on his achievement: “Great job Damien!” and rewarded him with a stamp before swiftly going to the aid of another student who was screaming: “seonsaengnim (선생님 translation: teacher)” at the top of her voice. And then it happened. It was as though a volcano had erupted without warning. Damien began hysterically shouting the same sentence over and over again. I had no idea what he was saying and try as I may I could not comprehend him nor calm him down. Finally, the Korean helper teacher asked him what was wrong and he replied that he wanted to know how to spell Brachiosaurus.
Barmaid disguised as a Teacher: “Here, look, you’ve already spelt it here. You’ve spelt it perfectly. You did such a good job!”
Damien: *continues to have a meltdown until forcibly removed from the classroom by 3 Korean Teachers.*
Barmaid disguised as a Teacher: *Looks up at the ceiling* “What did I do to deserve this life?”
So yeah, Week 3 was fairly horrific and included the tantrum to end all tantrums, one girl peeing in class because, well, she’s 5, and one child managed to poo on the floor in the bathroom…next to the toilet.
Are we nearly there yet?
If you’ve made it this far into the blog then props to you because I don’t even know I made it this far writing it (reliving the nightmare has been traumatic).
This week was by far the best and worst week. I was no longer anxious about teaching these delightful children and there was a remote (I stress remote) amount of compliance on their behalf. I admit, I was a little bit over it by this point and so I became the ‘bad cop’. When my kids did something naughty I gave them a warning, if they did it again I removed a star. NOT A STAR! Each day they accumulated stars based on good behaviour and academic success (colouring in the lines). However, a Teacher’s gotta do what a Teacher’s gotta do to and this week I pulled out the big guns. And boy it was, kind of, worth it. Yes, they were more obedient and I didn’t have to shout as much but, I also felt as though I’d told them all Father Christmas wasn’t real (don’t worry kids, he is). There was sadness in their eyes as they crossed their arms and shouted in unison: “I’M SITTING NICELY.” Their days of running in the hallway, climbing on their teacher and speaking Korean were numbered. They were now part of the machine, the big well-oiled machine known as: ‘Hagwon’.
Fortunately for them, there were still a few days of mayhem to be had. By the end of play on Wednesday I entered Ability classroom to help ready my students for their imminent departure. Mostly, this consisted of putting small arms into arm holes in coats, zipping up said coats and loading my students up with their enormous book bags (think Buckaroo). This task was usually a difficult one with students running around everywhere but this day was eerily calm. It wasn’t until I’d sent the last student on her way to Bus Line 7 when I noticed a pair of shoes under the desks (Hide under the Desks game). Damien had vanished and only his shoes remained. I scoured the hallway and I checked the boy’s bathroom but there was no sign of him. I began to worry. I walked to the opposite end of the school where I found Damien wandering aimlessly in his socks singing: “Monday, Choosday, Wednesday, Thursday Friday, FRIDAY, Satingday.” PHEW!
“Come here Damien, it’s time to go home, tomorrow it Satingday.”
So, this is me putting a looooong month behind me and eagerly awaiting another looooong month ahead. I can’t help but think, as I devour an entire box of Oreos and wash it down with a large glass of vino (that’s the same as avo on toast and yoga right?), am I living my best life?
Am I really living my best life?
In the words of Karen Carpenter:
“We’ve only just begun…”