3.3 Fall 2021

September 30, Mr. Taxi Driver

Honest to god, this was a wholly real conversation I had with the fourth graders today, entirely in Korean, in which the whole class was invested in its outcome.

Student: Teacher, in America do people sit shotgun in taxis?

Me: Hm.. well honestly, I’ve only taken a taxi once in the US but usually people sit in the backseat.

Student: But what if there are four people?

Me: Then three sit in the back and one sits shotgun. It’s weird to sit next to the taxi driver if you’re by yourself. Why do you ask?

Student: Uh…

Me: You were just curious?

Student: Yeah, just because.

I’ve rounded some other corner in Korean now that I can communicate better with my kids but the question becomes… do I truly want to know all their thoughts? A fourth grader’s mind is a terrifying playground.

One boy came up to me after class and asked in Korean if I could stop using the word “crazy” because it has a bad meaning. I use it in the context when kids are being silly and out of control, and since the equivalent word in Korean has a much stronger and more negative meaning, the kids usually think its funny.

But this little guy, with all the seriousness he could muster, asked me to refrain from using it in the future. I told him the English meaning is different from the Korean meaning, but promised to stop using it.

At first I felt a little offended, here on my isolated English island, where communication every day is a battle, that a student would ask the teacher not to use a word from her native language.

It came after a strange conversation where one girl, the taxi girl in fact, asked what my childhood dream was. “A heart surgeon,” I told her, only for her to ask loudly in front of the entire class, “why are you here then?”

Damn. K.O. Final kill. Double shot.

And great, now the whole class thinks I’m a washed up failure. Kids really know how to twist the knife!

So my other little guy coming up to solemnly command me to refrain from using my own language freely really felt like salt in the open wound.

But after a full day, mulling it over and trying to make a learning moment from it, rather than just feeling annoyed and that I should leave elementary teaching forever, I changed my perspective.

He felt comfortable enough to approach me after class to tell me in Korean that my language made him uncomfortable. He said a lot of other things I didn’t understand, “homeroom” and whatnot, so if the teacher herself thinks I’ve been bad, I wish she’d have told me.

So props to my kiddo for expressing himself and also making me think about how I need to be thoughtful in my language use. “Crazy” is funny to me because it’s funny to them and in one context it’s not serious. But in English it also carries a host of other, less well-intentioned meanings: to gaslight someone, to dismiss mental health, or to ridicule those who are struggling. These are certainly not concepts I have the bandwidth to explain in Korean, and like my little Totoro-loving kiddo suggested, its best to find new language.

Don’t be… sloppy? Silly? Ridiculous?

The suggestion box is open!

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