Friday, August 7, 2009

Funny How That Works

Vincent: ...[D]o you consider a dog to be a filthy animal?
Jules: I wouldn't go so far as to call a dog filthy but they're definitely dirty. But, a dog's got personality. Personality goes a long way.
Vincent: Ah, so by that rationale, if a pig had a better personality, he would cease to be a filthy animal. Is that true?
Jules: Well we'd have to be talkin' about one charming motherfuckin' pig. I mean he'd have to be ten times more charmin' than that Arnold on Green Acres, you know what I'm sayin'?

—Pulp Fiction

Growing up, I always assumed that teachers picked their favorite students on the basis of how smart they were, and also how well they behaved in class. Imagine my surprise when, the roles being reversed, I found out that wasn't the case.

My number one favorite class (5K), for example, speaks pretty tolerable English, but they're by no means my smartest kids. A few of them are kind of smart, a few of them are kind of dumb, most of them are okay. So then—why do I like them so much?

And the answer is—personality. They all have curious little personalities and preferences that not even a language barrier can mute. One of my favorite kids in the class, John, for example, is a pretty crappy English student and has a tendency towards being hyperactive. But he tries and it's obvious that he doesn't mean to irritate me when he acts up.

Luke is another one in that class, probably a bit smarter than John and not as hyperactive, though equally enthusiastic about class and games. The look on his face at either flawless victory or humiliating defeat is just priceless. According to Mina, he also likes cooking and occasionally will bring in his own food to class, but that has yet to happen on my watch. At first he seemed rather unsure about having a foreign teacher (5K is at the very basic introductory level of English, so this is the first time these kids have had a proper English class with a native speaker), but by now he seems to have warmed up to me.

The girls in 5K are at the point where they've turned really timid and sort of passive around boys, but sometimes they still show some sass. Some days they don't get into the games at all, other days they're very much out for blood.

Or earlier in the year, I mentioned a student nicknamed PM, a likely candidate for ADHD. At first he drove me bonkers, but things have progressed where I mostly just find him adorable. He's still just as crazy as he was before—I will grant I've figured out how to deal with it a bit better, but not all that much—but again, it's mostly well-intentioned craziness. PM is also a pretty smart kid, when he buckles down. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I miss him when he's absent (class is still noticeably quieter without him) but I certainly don't mind having him around. Like John, he tries, and he doesn't really seem to act out of malice.

This isn't to say that I don't also have favorites who are quiet, well-behaved, and good at English. I do.

Ian is probably the oldest boy in 5K, or at least the tallest, and definitely the smartest. He's soft-spoken and rather sedate, though whenever I play games with them, he can get just as intense as any of the other students. Never too much, though—and he's mature enough to actually help stop altercations in class instead of encouraging them. And when I see him outside of class, he's one of the handful of students who greet me with the Korean half-bow.

Rose, a girl in the same class as PM, always erases the board for me before class and shares her snacks with me or shows me pictures on her cellphone (usually of her dog, tiny as all Korean pets are). She also doesn't take any guff from the boys in the class and doesn't hesitate to beat the hell out of them when they bother her (though sometimes she isn't as tough and just starts crying, which is awkward).

And there's Jessica, who always sits right next to me in class and who I often see during my lunch break. She always wants to help, either by writing things on the board or handing out tape or letting me borrow her vocabulary book for games. She also comes down to get me from the teacher's lounge before every class, and we spend a few minutes playing gawi bawi bo before the bell rings. Sometimes Jessica is a bit sassy (she calls me ajumma as a sort of joke, since I have gray hairs), but it's never really and truly disrespectful.

I could go on. There's no shortage of students who fit my pre-existing conception of what teachers thought an ideal student was. But would I have predicted that by August, I would list PM among one of my favorite students? Definitely not. Teaching works in mysterious ways.


  1. I'm glad to see that you started your essay with a quote....

  2. Hahah because anyone who's read my writing knows that's EXACTLY what I like to do.