Getting a little crazy can sometimes keep students in tune

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Getting a little crazy can sometimes keep students in tune

I remember it like it was yesterday. Music blaring, walls shaking, people standing on their seats, floors vibrating and high pitched screams piercing my ear drums.
No, it wasn’t the first rock concert that I attended (that was Motley Crue more than a decade ago). It was my second-grade class at a hakwon in Seoul. Every day, at exactly 3:50 p.m., we could be found bouncing off the walls and screaming at the top of our lungs to the tune of the children’s classic “The Bear Went Over the Mountain.”
I was at the head of the class orchestrating the insanity, playing air guitar like I was the second coming of Jimi Hendrix. And believe me, in my mind I was.
You may be wondering, Why all this insanity at 3:50 p.m. every day?
Well, I’ve always believed that in order to maintain your sanity, sometimes you have to get a little crazy. I learned early in my teaching experience that in order to keep my students under control I had to use positive reinforcement. I’d set a goal for them, and if they achieved it, they were rewarded. Something simple like a piece of gum, a sticker, whatever.
But these little second-grade devils were completely out of control. I was pulling my hair out and wanted to strangle them. None of the rewards I tried worked, and I dreaded seeing them everyday.
Other teachers had told me how much fun it is to teach little kids, but fun I wasn’t having.
So in a last ditch effort to grab their attention, I grabbed the first compact disk I could get my hands on, threw it in the stereo, and cranked it up as loud as I could. Sure enough, it was “The Bear Went Over the Mountain.” I loved the song as a kid, until I realized that when the bear made it over the mountain all he got to see was the other side. That must have been disappointing for the bear, who I believe really wanted to see something new and exciting, not just the same old, same old.
I channeled those frustrations into dancing around and belting out the lyrics at the top of my lungs. After their initial surprise, the kids all started laughing at me. I was the silliest thing they had ever seen. So silly, in fact, that they wanted to join in the singing and dancing.
After the fourth or fifth time through “The Bear,” some of the magic wore off for me. But the kids still wanted more. So I used this against them and stuck a deal. If they studied hard for the first 50 minutes of class, then we would all dance around and scream our heads off like idiots for the final 10 minutes.
It worked like a charm.
When I played that song for those kids I got to see a side of them that I had missed ― the side that likes to cut loose and have fun.
Of course the biggest kid was the one up front, playing the air guitar.

by Darren Perkins

Mr. Perkins worked in Korea from 1998 to 1999. He now lives in Los Angeles.
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