Some days, you get your super-sweet, adorable, Let It Be moments. A child has her hand up and says something like Teacher is very beautiful! when you say her name. A student brings you a handmade card or a gift of fruit or chocolate for no apparent reason. A group of them will clamour for your attention, simply to get a hug or a kiss. It’s all very warm and fuzzy.
But then you have your Hot Cold Eraser classes, as I privately call them. I had one of those yesterday. I don’t know whether it’s boredom, mischief-making, genuine childish distress, the language barrier, or yet another purely Korean thing that I will never understand, but it drives me nuts. The children will become utterly obsessed with one specific issue, which almost certainly will not be their work. Some popular examples include:
- not having an eraser
- having a blunt pencil
- being hot
- being cold
- feeling sick
- the student beside them kicking their desk or chair
- being tired
Teacher! Teacher! Teacher! the cry will begin. Then they’ll list their complaint, usually with one word and an action. Eraser! (arms crossed in a ‘no’ X). Pencil! (miming sharpening pencil). Hot! (fanning). Cold! (arms wrapped around self, shivering). Etc, etc.
I try to address the problem, by donating an eraser, opening a window, asking if they want to go to their homeroom teacher in the case of the tired and the sick… whatever I can do, I do. That would be fine, if it ended there. But no. Then it becomes some kind of Issue. I don’t understand it. If the child feels sick, and there’s nothing I can do, why don’t they just go to their own teacher when I tell them they can? If they don’t have an eraser, why can’t they share the one belonging to the person next to them? If I give them an eraser, why must they keep informing me that they don’t have their own? If I give them a new pencil, why do they have to keep waving the blunt one in my face and yelling “pencil!”? I really don’t get it, and it’s enough to drive a person stark raving mad.
Yesterday, there was an eraser incident involving Jamie and Clare. I gave Jamie an eraser following his initial cry. Then for some reason Clare got upset about this. Dear knows what was going on in Korean. There was some commotion. Meanwhile, I was trying to teach, stopping occasionally to shush them. Jamie kept getting up and going to Clare’s seat, where they argued about something, and Clare ended up in possession of the eraser I’d given to Jamie. After about 15 minutes of this, when I was, in total exasperation, still trying to explain the next part of the workbook, I was interrupted yet again by Jamie jumping up and yelling “eraser, eraser!”. There is no concept of sharing with children this young, and I suppose I’m used to that. But this particular incident went on for so long, and caused so much disruption, that I lost my temper. Jamie is a particularly brattish child, and won’t listen at the best of times. His constant whining about erasers was disrupting the entire class, holding everyone back, and pushing me over the edge.
Will you STOP SHOUTING?!! I exploded mid-sentence. He looked startled, but continued babbling in Korean and shouting “eraser”. I admit that it must be just as frustrating for them not to be able to communicate with me as vice versa, but after being at the school for over a year, most of the children are at least capable of expressing what they mean by using a few basic words coupled with actions. Jamie just doesn’t try. Doesn’t care, doesn’t have any interest. And when he carries on like this, I can’t take it.
I said STOP IT! I repeated. He didn’t.
What? What do you want? WHAT? I gave you an eraser. There are erasers all around you!! Why do you need another one? What is your problem?
I kind of lost control. The rest of the class had finally fallen silent and were gaping at me in a mixture of fear and amusement. Crazy foreign woman loses plot and starts shrieking in weird gibberish language. Even Jamie eventually stopped smirking when he saw the anger on my face. We stared at each other in angry silence for a moment. Then he broke the silence.
Eraser, he said stubbornly.
That did it. I practically hopped up and down with steam pouring from my ears. I gave you an eraser! You had an eraser! There are at least FIVE erasers at this table! But here, what, you want an eraser? Fine. Have an eraser. Here is a whole box full of erasers. Have as many erasers as you want, but STOP. SAYING. ERASER!!!
This was accompanied by me grabbing erasers from my desk, and a whole box of the damn things that I keep on a shelf for kids to use. I also took a handful of them from said box and slammed them down on his desk. The boy was sitting there with about 8 erasers and a box containing a dozen more. No one dared breathe.
Jamie opened his mouth, and I gazed furiously at him, almost stupified by the realisation that he was actually about to say eraser.
He closed his mouth.
But I swear, it took about three hours for the steam to stop billowing from my ears. Honestly, some days you’d just kill for an adult conversation with a native English speaker about anything other than school.
And all you get is another Hot Cold Eraser class.