3.3 Fall 2021

September 24, Third Graders

I often park myself in the hallway between classes where I can get a breeze rather than stifling in the teacher’s lounge. It has the added benefit of siphoning familiar and unfamiliar students into my orbit.

The fourth graders come and stare at me, giggle, or gather like lost puppies in the scant five minutes. A fifth grader or two will come to ask me personal questions like one sweet girl who I just think wants my opinion on a video game…?

Sometimes the first graders part around me like the red see and I love to push their polite buttons by saying 안녕 and watching their helpless, knee jerk reaction to bow and respond 안녕하세요! back.

The third graders, whom I will see next year, have grown the boldest of all hall wanderers. There’s a girl who’s already given me a full introduction and a few others who like shouting hello at me.

As I trailed Jack out of the cafeteria today, one girl stopped me.

“Can you really speak Korean?” She asked in Korean. Aha, a classic test. Word among the third graders must have spread fast.

I ignored the fact that intermediate Korean hardly qualifies as speaking Korean but shouted yes anyway.

There was a moment where she asked more questions and I could not glean what she was getting at. Am I going to visit my parents? Are my parents American?

We eventually landed on what I interpreted to be her main point of interest which was, “can your parents speak Korean?”

Adorable, too adorable!

“They 100% can’t!” I told her. Only me!

The Korean language is a huge part of the national identity. As a language isolate that has existed since the 7th century, Koreans pride themselves on their unique tongue and long history; in essence, the same group of people have inhabited the Korean Peninsula since the Bronze Age.

As a result, when young kids hear a foreigner speaking English, they think of the national identity. Korean is not viewed as a international language, even though more people speak it than French, so their minds jump to putting me at halfway to Korean. It’s cute. Kids have that galaxy brain.

Recently I’ve been very hard on myself about classroom management and worrying every day that I might accidentally do something that traumatizes one of my kiddos.

One of my special fifth graders cried when it was his turn to play a high stakes game at the front of the class. I patted his shoulder and told him not to worry, he could take a seat. He did well with our writing activity later when I walked around the room. It broke my heart— I’ve never wanted to hug a kid so much.

I have a similar special kiddo in fourth grade and both of them are just so sweet and do their best. Ah, I’m gonna make myself cry right now!

This particular game is cutthroat and makes it very apparent who knows the content and who has slipped through the cracks. I put my arm around one girl and walked us through together. I had another boy repeat after me. Two boys on the same turn had no idea how to read and I ping ponged back and forth while they laughed at the silliness.

My last class was cut short when I helped two boys and another two in the back started fist fighting from their desks. The two seemed to calm down quickly but I couldn’t afford to keep my back turned and elected to cut the game short.

The computer had gone to sleep amidst the sliver of chaos and I didn’t know the password in order to throw up a much quieter writing game.

“Wait. I’ll be back.” I said to the class. I knew in their prepubescent minds they thought I had stopped entirely because of the two wrestlers and I felt the fear in their hearts when I left class to get their teacher. It brought me a little maniacal joy that they sat for a minute thinking the roof was about to fall in.

I grabbed the teacher from the lounge. The whole class had bated breath, until it was clear she just came to unlock the computer. The mood had markedly changed, though, and I expected that at least one kid would probably report the misdeed to their teacher.

There are so many split decisions I have to make without knowing the situation, the student, or the relationship. Korean kids are generally much more physical with each other which I have to keep in mind before I jump to touch-repulsed American school ideology. I don’t know who’s special and who’s just having a bad day.

I never want them to fear or dread English class. I want them to know that I make mistakes and that we are a team.

Some classes are tough. But even then, those kids especially like to follow me around or yell at me from down the hall or show me their Pororo pencil case.

I looked out over my fifth graders, even the class that had been stopped, and just felt a swell of affection for my cute and passionate little gremlins. I love them so much and I’m so lucky I get to hang out with kids every day.

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