You never know how the class clown might surprise you

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You never know how the class clown might surprise you

One of the most stressful events for any teacher is an open house, when your students’ parents (typically mothers) sit in on a class to see what a “typical” lesson is like. Of course the lesson is rarely typical; you don’t want to embarrass the students in front of their mothers by asking questions they can’t answer.
But in my experience, kids are resilient; they bounce back quickly from setbacks and move on without a second thought. On the playground or in the classroom, yesterday’s enemy can easily become today’s best buddy.
That isn’t the case with the students’ mothers. Bruise the wrong mother’s ego and you risk making an enemy for life. Korean housewives can be ruthless when it comes to holding grudges, and if a child is seen by the mothers of the other students as being “slow” his mother will likely lose more face with her peer group than her son will with his.
For the teacher, the open house is a balancing act. You don’t want to look like you’re taking it easy on them, but if more than one or two students are unable to answer a question the mothers might start to doubt your skill.
Several years ago I had a 7-year-old boy named Sam in one of my classes. He was a nice kid, but not very motivated.
I was a little worried about how Sam would perform at the open house, but finally decided to leave it up to fate. When the big day came all of the students’ mothers squeezed into the back of the classroom, waiting to see their little darlings speaking English.
Of course most of the pupils were distracted, waving to their moms and asking their friends where their moms were. It was a beginners’ class, so we started with phonics.
About halfway through the class I was starting to feel sorry for Sam’s mother. He had hardly said a word, while the other students were practically falling over each other to show off how much they had learned.
“Who can name some words that start with the letter ‘O?’” I asked. All of a sudden, Sam’s hand shot up. He looked so determined. I was a little surprised, but I was happy, too.
“Okay, Sam. Name some words that start with ‘O,’” I said. After a short silence he blurted out, “Ojum!”
Ojum is Korean for urine, and all of the students and their mothers ― except Sam’s ― cracked up. I couldn’t keep from giggling a little, too. Poor Sam’s mom’s face turned bright red. Luckily, she wasn’t too upset.
Since then, whenever the letter “O” comes up in a phonics lesson, I picture Sam’s serious face and I smile. A year later, he was in my class again. He had grown a lot and so had his English. He was the best pupil in the class. It just goes to show: Yesterday’s class clown can easily become today’s star student.

The writer, a Korean, teaches at a private language institute in Seoul.

by Shim Young Joo
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