4.1 Spring 2022

March 11, Pigtails and ponyfails

Fridays are good. I don’t have to draw a single frowny face in my daily planner.

I entered 6-4 and with exaggerated surprise and noted the boy in the middle of the class with at least four little pigtails sprouting from his short hair. It looked like the girl students had gleefully groomed him.

“Good morning! And wow, look at this fashion boy. So beautiful.” The kids laughed.

We got started without a hitch and later during the production section of class, I approached fashion boy, with his several pigtails, to play.

“Choose two cards. Now tell me, what grade are you in?”

“I’m in the… third grade,” he said, flipping over the extra large playing card.

“And how do you spell your name?” He flipped over the other card.

“S-P-I-D-E-R-M-A-N.” He answered with some encouragement from kids around him.

“Good,” I said, turning around only to have the class burst into giggles.

Behind my back, the girl in the front row had used her white silk scrunchie to tie up the hair of the boy next to her in what I could only call a unicorn horn.

“Wow.” I said amidst a sea of prepubescent laughter.

Some teachers might get angry at students for this. I am not one of them. I mean, one it’s funny and two it keeps them engaged.

When I was a lot younger, a male cousin dumped a cup full of salt into his coke at dinner as some sort of misguided prank. Instead of getting angry, my aunt told him “you can drink that or you can tell the waiter what you did and get a new one”. His joke turned quickly into an unpleasant lesson.

This unicorn hair boy is the somewhat surly boy who only participates if I stare at him, and has gotten into at least one fist fight that I myself have witnessed.

To see him glumly accept the stylings of his female classmate, and sit while everyone laughed at his ridiculous style, marked a sort of emotional humbling.

“You are so beautiful. Your hair. It’s amazing.” I said, embarrassing him further. The class giggles turned into full on laughter. I reached out to mime touching his hair and he flinched hard. That brought up… a lot of questions which I didn’t have time to parse through.

Every time he tried to remove the scrunchie that he himself had allowed, the styling girl slapped his hands away.

“Now we have TWO fashion boys.”

The first fashion boy was crouched behind his desk, laughing so hard at his new comrade he couldn’t stand up. Second fashion boy slunk lower in his chair. I gestured at the two boys with protruding pigtails and motioned at them to come forward.

“Come on, come on, help me pass out these papers. You should both walk like a model while you’re doing it.”

They passed out the papers but refused to strut. The class booed them for their lack of fun.

To quote G for the thousandth time, relationships are important. To quote my alternative teaching certification course, making connections with our students is part of the engagement ladder. Or something, it’s been awhile.

When I passed by their class later during break, kids from down the hall were peeking in through the open door and bursting into hysterics. Second fashion boy sat on the floor, head buried in his hands. Two mini pigtails had replaced his unicorn ponytail.

6-6 was once again a delight, the sparkling eyed boy from last week further cinching his spot as my favorite. His name is Seongbin.

My other reluctant favorite, the one who spammed the online class once with random Arabic even as his classmates told him he was annoying and to stop, is named Seungbin. That one has grown taller and we’re almost at eye height. He’ll probably surpass me by the end of the year. My little class clown, all grown up!

The 6-6 teacher told me as I was packing up that my Korean pronunciation was perfect.

“No,” I said immediately but as politely as I could manage. She looked confused.

It’s nice to hear but hard to believe!

After lunch, Wendy and I worked through another classic Korean internet security issue, which as usual involved downloading a thousand security certificates that only work on internet explorer. Among the other issues these past few weeks, the Korean Labor Board also released new mandates for foreign workers which will limit our vacation time.

From five weeks to two.

A labor board that makes life worse for workers??

She sorted through her paper booklet about the foreign teacher contract and noted that the change had already been written: new public school teachers coming in this September, and any current public school teachers that change provinces, have a mere 11 days of vacation.

I have luckily managed to avoid this fate given I’m a renewal, but the mandate still sucks.

“Sucks?” She asked.

“It’s really bad.”

“Oh. Yeah. I agree.” She said.

The new mandate comes from a court case that I attempted to read through. Contracted teachers, Korean or foreign, already have less vacation time than full time teachers. And with this new policy, foreign contracted teachers will be sitting in a mostly empty school for an extra three weeks.

Every time I’ve had to work during one of the holidays, people forget I’m here. Any teachers passing by to pick something up or submit tax documents are shocked to see me. “Why are you here? It’s break!” They say. Tell that to the labor board!

Wendy swiveled around in her office chair to face me. “You are smart and good at Korean. You shouldn’t stay at this school too long because you can get a really good job if you’re bilingual.”

Wendy! She’s only known me for two weeks and already thinks this. What a compliment.

She told me about a man that is bilingual and works on base. I’m not sure of the details but I think she was illustrating that there are good things out there, and that I’m good enough for them.

Given that I don’t get much (or any) feedback about my job and that I live an independent expat life, I usually have to pat myself on the back. You successfully argued with the parking lot man, good work! You went to immigration and did not get deported, nice job! You learned the Korean words for “agonist muscle” and “synergist muscle” which made your PT literally clutch your hands in relief, great adaptation!

Tina Fey Self High Five GIF - Tina Fey Self High Five - Discover & Share  GIFs

I’m pretty sure half the reason I enjoy personal training so much is that I get immediate correction, honest observations, and praise when deserved. And sure muscle, health etc etc. Maybe it is its own form of therapy.

Wendy, MJ, my Korean teachers, the trio of sixth graders that shout “I love you, teacher!”– thanks to all the cheerleaders around me!

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