[LEARNING CURVE]A tale of two teachers: Cues and karaoke

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[LEARNING CURVE]A tale of two teachers: Cues and karaoke

As far as English is concerned, I will never forget two English teachers from my school days. Even to this day, their memory remains permanently etched on my brain for some reason.
The first is not a happy memory at all. It is of my English teacher in the first year of middle school ― a violent woman in her late 40s ― who came to be known as “the woman Hitler.” She even looked the part with an unwieldy pool cue that she always carrried. “And how did she use it,” you may ask? Well, let’s just say she didn’t use it for playing pool.
She did use it to “help” us remember to do our homework, or to make us memorize words in a textbook, or to show us how to avoid errors in diction. What was particularly heinous was that she would mete out punishment for each incorrectly pronounced syllable ― not word! So with about 10 to 15 words to memorize for each class, the number of syllables ― and raps with a cue stick ― could easily add up, sometimes exceeding 50 if we weren’t careful enough. We had to attend her class three times a week. And at that age, mind you, we weren’t really into English, let alone doing all that extra memorizing.
You may ask, “How effective a teacher was she?” Well, let’s just say that one thing she was successful in teaching us was how to be adept at exacting revenge. Since her name sounded extremely rural ― for example, like Kap-soon-i, a traditional Korean name that appears in an old folk tale ― we made fun of it big time, using her name in many funny ways. I remember we would use her name as an all-purpose suffix for every nasty thing that came out of our mouths. And we swore that we would never give such a name to our future daughters. In fact, one friend even said he would make the teacher’s name illegal if he ever became a politician.
The other story, however, is much more pleasant. This particular teacher was a very interesting man in his mid-30s. I met him when I was in my second year of high school. I know it is unimaginable in a Korean high school classroom, but we sang a song just as if we were doing karaoke. Teachers regularly use microphones in classrooms, as there are typically about 50 students in a class. But we used his microphone to sing.
I will never forget our first class with him. Everyone was so calm and serious. Then, he suddenly said, “Well, who wants to sing to change the mood?” We were trying to fathom what he meant; “Is he trying to find an excuse to give us more homework if there aren’t any volunteers?” It was the teacher who broke the silence. “I will do it if you guys don’t want to.” Then he proceeded to sing an American song that most of us never heard before, and made us memorize one song in English every week thereafter as part of our grade.
It turned out that this kind of homework was quite interesting to do. All of us became quite enthusiastic and amused about having to do such assignments. Actually, it turned out to be a fun and very efficient way to learn English. Some students even used the assignment to practice freestyle rap, replete with dance moves and music. Needless to say, his “song class” became all the rage in school, and we soon felt like we were some kind of entertainers. We feverishly talked about what we were going to “release” in the next class or what new song we were working on.
It was truly one of the happiest moments of my school days. In this manner, we were able to escape ― at least for a while ― the daily grind and specter of exam hell.


by Park Jun-suk

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