Sometimes, being a good English teacher is only skin deep

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Sometimes, being a good English teacher is only skin deep

After 10 long weeks, my long ordeal of teaching the meanest group of human beings on earth ― middle school girls ― was ending.
Their generally venomous attitude made this my least favorite class to teach. Trying to get them to respond to the simplest request was about as easy as swimming naked across the Han River in a snowstorm.
By comparison, high school kids and adults were eager to learn, younger kids were usually fun and middle school boys, as rambunctious as they were, always seemed to be in good spirits. I tried all kinds of teaching tactics to try to get these girls interested in English to no avail. Maybe they were just at that age when everything and everyone seems stupid.
As I did with all my classes on the final day, I brought in a bunch of snacks and threw a party. But instead of playing games or having casual conversation as I did with my other classes, I just grabbed my newspaper, kicked back and ignored them. The girls cheerfully chatted away, but after about 20 minutes their giggly gossip had tapered off.
One of the girls then said that she liked my book bag and asked where I had bought it. Believing there was some devious ulterior motive behind her question, I quickly told her and returned to my newspaper. She then asked me who my favorite singer was. And, before I knew it, all the girls were asking questions like, “What’s your favorite movie?” and “Do you have a girlfriend?” And they actually seemed sincere about it.
They all spoke more English in the next 30 minutes than they had in the previous 10 weeks combined. But before I knew it the hour was up and they quickly scurried along to their next class.
I guess I learned that the best antidote for a stubborn class isn’t necessarily to stick to a lesson plan, but sometimes to just relax and let the kids come to you. Maybe I was wrong, I thought, maybe these middle school girls weren’t so bad after all.
A minute later I walked into the hallway and noticed all of them huddled around one of the female Korean teachers. They were obviously talking about me. When I approached, the girls started giggling and walked away.
I asked the other teacher, “So what’d they say?”
A little hesitant, she replied, “They said they don’t want you to be their teacher next term.”
I could live with that. Though we had just spent a pleasant 30 minutes together, I wasn't under the delusion that I was suddenly their favorite person.
“They think I’m nerdy and boring don’t they?”
“No,” my co-worker said. “They didn’t say that. They said it’s because you’re funny looking and have too many pimples.”
Suddenly memories of my own middle school days came rushing back to me ― and any illusion I had about middle school girls not being evil was washed away.

by Darren Perkins

The writer, an American, worked in Korea from 1998 to 1999. He lives in Los Angeles.
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