When lesson plans fail, reach for your bag of 4-letter goodiesAfter “teaching” English in Korea for about six months, I realized that none of my students had learned a thing. Zilch. Zero. Their knowledge of English had not improved.
Though I admit I wasn’t the greatest teacher, I wasn’t the worst either. The real problem, I told myself, was that the middle school and elementary school kids I taught just didn’t want to be there. They only showed up at the dismal hagwon I worked at because their mothers made them. So when the opportunity arose for me to teach a small group of young businessmen, I jumped on it.
Finally. I would get to teach people who were eager to learn. My lesson plans would not be done in vain, and what I had to say would actually matter to them.
When I walked in to the first class I was ready to go. But to my disappointment, the response I got from the class was, well, subdued at best. I dismissed it as first-meeting jitters. They were just feeling me out, I figured. After a while, however, it became clear that these guys were just as uninterested in what I had to say as the middle-school kids. They had that not-this-boring-stuff-again look on their faces. I couldn’t understand it. I had prepared a solid lesson, I was energetic, I was animated. How could they not be into this?
I felt like a total failure. I could understand why the kids didn’t like me, but, as far as I knew, these businessmen were here of their own accord.
At this point one of the gentlemen pushed away his book and said in his best English, “Teacher, we not want to learn this.”
“O.K.,” I said. “Then what would you like to learn?”
A mischievous grin crossed his face as he looked around at the other guys. After a long pause he said, “Bad words.”
“What do you mean ‘bad words?’”
He then blurted out a couple of the English language’s better-known four-letter favorites. The other guys’ faces turned bright red as they began to laugh like a bunch of 12-year-olds who had just stuck a “kick me” sign on the back of one of their classmates.
I was stunned. Though my knowledge of swear words is more encyclopedic than I would like to admit, I hadn’t traveled halfway around the world to teach a bunch of overgrown juveniles the fine art of cussing a blue streak. Shocked and disappointed with the situation, I muttered, “Holy crap.”
Just then a hand shot up. “Teacher, what is ‘holy crap?’” the man inquired.
A smile crossed my face. After six long months, a student was finally interested in what I had to say.
The writer, an American, taught in Korea from 1998 to 1999. He lives in Los Angeles.
by Darren Perkins