Wednesday is the only day of the week where I force myself to perform a few chores before I dive for cover behind my desk and medicate myself against Morningitus with the maximum recommended dosage of coffee. On the other days of the week, it’s as much as I can do to grunt acknowledgement in the direction of all the cheery hellos (I am surrounded by morning people. Oh, and a hundred infants.) before I shut myself in my classroom to ease into consciousness, but on Wednesday I need to set up the media room for Movie Day.

Yes, one day a week of my job involves watching my choice of Disney (etc.) movies in a miniature cinema, and I’m obviously pretty happy with how my life has turned out when I think about little details like this. Unfortunately, this year my classes have their movie time first, which means that it falls to me to set out the chairs and check that the computer hasn’t died yet (it’s that sort of computer), and cue up the movie. Only takes ten minutes, but I much preferred it when Someone Else did it last year, as it’s all a bit too much for me first thing in the morning, when I have the energy of an aged tabby cat.

Which is why I sat down in the media room today to contemplate life for a while before I dared to venture back outside and be mobbed by a gang of 4-year-olds screaming my name. A book on the shelf caught my eye, and I picked it up. The title was: The little mole who knew that it was none of his business. I thought this sounded like a very good story to read to the children who constantly poke around my desk going “What is this? What is this? What is this?” despite my refrain of “This is MY desk. This is MY desk. This is MY desk.”, and who so far have managed to break my Starbucks thermal cup from Kyoto (deep grief), send gibberish text messages to random people on my phone, eat some instant coffee granules, spill a bottle of water all over a pile of worksheets, and shut fingers in a drawer – with much howling.

So anyway, I opened the book and was somewhat surprised to find that the story opened with an unknown animal shitting on the head of a bewildered mole.

This was not the sort of business I’d anticipated, and I must say I was a little disturbed. More so as I proceeded through the book and found that the little mole was going from one animal to the next, inspecting their pooh and comparing it with the turd on his head.

When he eventually found the culprit, thanks to some helpful flies who were able to identify the shit for him, he went to the guilty dog while it was sleeping, and did a reciprocal pooh on his head.

This was not the sort of book available when I was at school, let me tell you. Even Winnie the Pooh never went to the toilet. I am quite shocked, actually, and also a little envious that I didn’t have the idea first. Given how fascinated my students seem to be with pooh-related things (seriously. Is that unique to Korea, or are children in general interested in this subject?!), it seems like a winning idea for a children’s book.

I, however, shall not be reading it to them. There are just some things I prefer not to have illustrated in glorious detail.

The noise saga part 953

Against my wishes (for my fear of confrontation is great), my boss phoned my landlord on Friday to complain about the fact that my neighbours’ volume problem at night is rendering me unfit for work.

It fell to the little old lady (the one who brought me soup when I was ill) to resolve the issue, and she was waiting for me on Friday evening to grill me about the noise issue as I arrived home from work. She was taking it all very seriously, with the excited interest that a lot of old women seem to take in other people’s affairs. You could almost see the “Finally! A bit of drama around here!” banner flying over her head.

So anyway, I naturally expected the noise issue to be at an end. You don’t mess with the ajummas, after all. But I woke up at 1.30am to the sound of Yer One “talking” on the phone. When I say talking, I mean shouting, and when I say shouting, I mean whining at a ridiculously high volume. It’s like she’s in my room, sitting on the edge of my bed, and whining into my ear.

Around 2am, I lost patience and yelled at her to shut up, but she didn’t seem to hear.

Around 2.30, I gave up on pleading and instead turned the TV on and cranked the volume up to 50. I sat with my hands over my ears for as long as I could bear, and then turned it off to discover that she was still talking as if she hadn’t even noticed. What is WRONG with this girl?! Does she think this is normal behaviour?!!

So I banged on the wall and howled something about the time, and still she gave no acknowledgement. Eventually I got up and watched a TV show and ate breakfast, because sleep was impossible. She stopped talking at 4.30am and I finally got to sleep.

It was only at 9am that I realised she hadn’t yet had her warning. I was awakened by the old woman going to her door and talking to her. I heard their voices. I heard the door close. And then the old woman knocked on MY door! Oh, dear lord. I didn’t answer, mortified at the thought that the girl obviously knew it was me who’d complained, and that she would probably hear our conversation, and that I would never be able to step outside again for fear of meeting her.

But the old lady kept knocking. And then – here it comes – she slid up my keypad lock and tried to open my door!!!

She has my number because I gave it to her to let a repairman in last week and never got around to changing it. I never expected her to just let herself in when I wouldn’t answer the door! Fortunately I tend to slide the snib across when I’m home, out of a lifetime of habit, protection against burglars, etc. You just never think that the intruder you’re preventing is actually an 80-year-old ajumma who thinks you’re lying in bed too late on a Saturday morning. I honestly believe that had the door not been locked, she would’ve marched in, whipped the blankets off me, flung the windows open, and shouted “What time do you call THIS?! I’ve all the cleaning done, and been to the market, and prepared all the meals for the week ahead. And you’re not even UP YET?! Get out of that bed you lazy brat!” .

As it was, the door beeped and refused to let her in, and I cowered under the blankets, exhausted and sleep-deprived, willing her to go away, which she eventually did. Not for long, mind you, for she returned with her banging and thumping and attempted door-opening not 30 minutes later. Sighing, I dragged myself out of bed and to the door, where she poured forth a torrent of rapid Korean at me, the gist of which seemed to be that she’d put Yer One in her place, but that Yer One apparently had some issues of her own with me.

I had a ridiculous conversation, unable to understand most of it, but assuring the old lady that I had not, in fact, had a guest the previous night. It was only when she left that I realised the girl next door had, after all, heard my angry yells and bangs on the wall, but hadn’t had the gumption to put two and two together and work out that they were connected to her own noisefest. She assumed that I was cheerfully being noisy in my room, rather than thinking “Hmm,  I’m making an awful lot of noise for after 2 in the morning, maybe the neighbour’s pissed off and trying to tell me to shut up!”. And then had the SHEER NERVE to complain about ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Communication continues to fail. I may be losing it.

Will you remember me?

I will remember you.
Will you remember me?
Don’t let your life pass you by.
Weep not for the memories.

What do you remember most clearly about your first few years of formal education?

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading up on child behaviour/psychology and education (I’ve discovered that you can study pretty much any subject under the sun – and beyond – for free, thanks to the internet, as long as you don’t care about getting the qualifications to prove you’ve studied it), and am becoming increasingly aware of the huge impact that a seemingly insignificant event can have on a child. It’s quite scary. I can’t dwell on it too much, because the fear that I might accidentally set a child up for a lifetime of deep-rooted insecurities would paralyse me completely, and I wouldn’t be able to teach at all. But at the same time, I want to be as aware as possible of the effect of my daily attitude towards ‘my’ children.

I was mulling it over last night as I lay sleeplessly trying to pretend that my next door neighbour’s impassioned shrieks and howls and whines were simply her last cries as a pack of starving Alsatians ripped the flesh from her body.

In my primary school, the ‘infants’ were from P1-P3: about 4/5 years old to 7/8. That’s about the age range that I teach. Here are the only specific memories I have from school during those three years.

1. Being smacked by my P2 teacher for messy handwriting, and crying inconsolably afterwards. She didn’t hurt me. It was just a ‘skelp’, as they called it, and she cheerfully dealt them out all the time. They were received with smirks and laughter by the more mischievous members of the class. She wasn’t a child abuser or anything – in fact, I loved this teacher, who had never been angry with me until that moment. I remember how I felt when she smacked me: first, deeply embarrassed because all my classmates had seen me, the ‘good girl’, publicly humiliated. Second, confused because I knew I really had done my best with the piece of work I’d shown my teacher. It wasn’t my fault that it was untidy – I was 6, and to be honest, my handwriting has never really improved much! I was always careful with my work , and couldn’t understand why I was being punished. I thought the teacher no longer liked me, and I was devastated.

2. Richard Gordon stealing my colourful paper chain during art class in P3, and replacing it with his grubby, plain white one. I asked for it back and he just grinned idiotically at me, so I went to the teacher to demand that my property be returned. Yes, OK, that’s a fancy way to say I told tales. Now, I think a large part of the reason that I remember this incident is the fact that I accidentally called my teacher “Mummy” at this point. Always embarrassing. I then clumsily attempted to cover up my faux pas by hurriedly adding “…told me to tell you if anything was wrong…”, and to her credit, she didn’t laugh. I explained the situation, and she told me not to worry, that the chains were all going to be joined together anyway to stretch all around the classroom, so it didn’t matter whose was whose. Richard Gordon had won, and I returned, defeated, to work on the crappy white chain while he got to destroy my carefully-made work of art, covering it in glue and his messy paw-prints. I knew that ultimately it didn’t matter, but it still wasn’t fair. I felt that justice had not been served, and that small incident has stuck in my head for over 20 years.

3. The same P3 teacher being absolutely bowled over by a short story I wrote when we had to do the obligatory What I did on my holidays… thing. I even remember whole sentences from the story – the style heavily influenced by Enid Blyton – and the fact that I had painstakingly practiced slanting my writing to mimic italics for emphasis on a few words, just like in the Famous Five books I enjoyed so much. The teacher was delighted, gave me lots of praise, read it out to the less-than-impressed class (I was that girl!), and raved to my Mum about it when she saw her. I tended not to be very noticeable at school, being quiet, shy, and bookish, so having a teacher make a big fuss over me was a lovely (and apparently very memorable) experience.

That’s actually about it. Three years in school, and only three brief memories remain. I don’t remember a single lesson, or conversations with friends, or the structure of the day. I barely even remember what the classrooms looked like. But I can still feel the overwhelming embarrassment of being punished by my teacher, the confusion and hurt when I believed it meant she didn’t like me, the anger and sense of loss and injustice in the Paper Chain Incident, the pride I took in all my work, and the pure, undiluted joy and pleasure at having my writing praised and making the teacher so happy.

So it makes me nervous when I enter my classroom and look at the little individuals scampering around, and wonder what they’re going to recall when they think of me in 20 years from now. Which harsh, thoughtless words will they take to heart and carry with them without my knowing? Who is sitting there, quietly average, trying day after day to get some praise and recognition but being overlooked because she sits next to someone louder/cuter/smarter? Is that little boy with the illegible writing really not trying, or is he just going to be artistically messy like his teacher?! How did that girl feel yesterday when another child took her finished starfish craft home by mistake and I told her “Don’t worry, they’re all the same – you can just take hers”?

The chances are that when you spend all day with these children, you’re going to somehow damage them, however slightly… and that scares me. I suppose all I can do is be aware of it, and try to always be more positive than negative.

And go get that starfish back into the hands of the little girl who made it.