Watch out for those entertaining little rascalsAfter a year or so of working in Korea, I had all but given up on learning the language. No class seemed to fit my schedule, and no textbook seemed to keep my interest for very long. “Oh well,” I told myself, “a guy can get by in Seoul with minimal understanding of textbook Korean.”
Around this time, I took a job teaching at an English-immersion kindergarten. When I heard “kindergarten” I pictured students who were 5 to 6 years old. What I got were mostly 3 year olds. Few of them had ever spent more than about an hour away from their mothers, and I was expected to teach them for five hours a day ― entirely in English. A daunting task since many of them could not even speak Korean.
Most of the first month was spent teaching the little tykes how to be in school and acclimating them to time spent away from mommy. It was a constant challenge and was made all the more difficult by the fact that, except for the alphabet song, most of them refused to speak English. They would chatter away at me in Korean most of the day, but my limited textbook-Korean prevented me from recognizing what they were saying.
One Wednesday, my class headed downstairs to the library for story time. After getting everybody settled down and in a seat, I offered them two choices: "The Cat in the Hat" or "Big Dog, Little Dog." They picked the latter, and story time was off to a great start. Relatively quiet and attentive, there was almost none of the usual shoving or hair pulling.
Then an entertaining little rascal named Jay raised his hand and, with a concerned look on his face, said, “Teacher, ddong.”
“What, Jay?” I asked.
“Dog? What about the dog, Jay?” I replied.
At this point the poor little guy was wrenching in pain. “Ddong!” he wailed.
Realizing what he was getting at, I grabbed him by the hand and took him down the hall to the restroom. I quickly yanked down his pants and sat him on the throne.
I left him to do his business and returned to the library to corral the rest of the class. The washroom was on the way back to our classrom, and I figured I could keep the kids lined up long enough to collect Jay and head back upstairs.
When we arrived at the restroom I peeked inside and saw the head teacher, whose office was down the hallway, cleaning up Jay's messy backside. “Apparently,” the teacher said, “somebody taught him how to go by himself, but not how to wipe.” I laughed. The head teacher didn’t.
So what's the moral? Don't rely entirely on textbooks to learn the language? Don't leave your mess for other people to clean up?
Nope. The moral is, don’t teach Korean kindergarten!
The writer, an American, teaches high school in Seoul.
by Dylan Alford