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None of us realized just how hard teaching could be until we started teaching first and second graders.

The First Verse

The four of us tasked with teaching second graders had a particularly memorable first day. The moment we stepped into the classroom, there was chaos. One student flipped off James and proceeded to exclaim, “F*** you,” repeatedly. About five minutes later, the homeroom teacher pulled out a BB gun out from the same student’s desk. It was safe to say that we were a little scared.

The remaining four DESKers teaching first graders had a less vulgar encounter, but were greeted with nine vibrating balls of energy. All of our kids felt the need to get up from their seats at any point in time, so once you got one to sit down, two more would stand up. Having a 3 minute period of focus amidst the chaos just to explain directions was a miraculous occurrence. Needless to say, we all had an exhausting first day of class.

The Chorus

For the older grades, we didn’t really find the need to use teaching aides like videos or songs. The students would listen attentively to our lessons and actively engage in the games and activities we planned for them. We thought the same would work for our classes this week, but boy were we wrong.

Almost every game we tried with the students seemed to devolve into mass hysteria as they either didn’t or were unwilling to understand the concept of the games. Simple games like Simon Says and Four Corners worked well, but more complicated ones like Pictionary and Charades were a disaster. The kids would ignore what we told them to act or draw and go on their own tangents to impress the other kids. Needless to say, we quickly realized that we had to change the way we approached this class.

We found out early on that educational videos featuring catchy songs were a great way to keep a normally rowdy and chaotic class calm and engaged. For every new topic we introduced, we found a cool educational music video to play along with it. Ryan (the same kid with the questionable language and BB gun) was really into the songs we showed the class, and even drew a fantastic picture of Youlim. Jake clearly has a promising future as a singer because he would always sing along enthusiastically with the songs we played. By the final period each day, the kids would grow bored of us and demand that we play Ylvis’ “What Does the Fox Say?” by yelling poor imitations of “fox sounds” from the song. For some reason the kids liked that song, like really liked that song. We don’t get it either.

The seasons song still haunts our nightmares, but the kids loved it.

The students were also all really into drawing. They were always drawing characters from Minecraft and Clash of Clans, especially Jake who made a whole mini booklet of Minecraft creeper drawings. We made a point to incorporate drawing into a lot of our lessons, something the kids really appreciated. Though sometimes James would distract them by drawing some cool looking Pokemon that the kids really liked. The other DESKers were clearly jealous of his art skills.

Ryan drew this low-key terrifying picture of Youlim, but Youlim greatly appreciated the sentiment.

The Second Verse

Good moments were fantastic. However, bad moments were nasty. Something we encountered that was particularly unique to the second grade class was violence.

Yes, violence among second graders.

“Personal space” was not a phrase in their vocabularies in any language. One student in particular (Jack) would proceed to slap other students in the face for fun, and then wonder why he would be hit by other kids in return. Mark, one of the taller students, at one point threatened to stab Jack with a pair of scissors. Those scissors kept making a reappearance throughout the week. Jacob, the smallest student in our class, was particularly scary to the teachers as he would threaten to stab us with pencils or punch us with his fists. He was also prone to severe mood swings, and while there were moments when he was a joy to have in class, his bad moments were especially scary.

Before we started teaching at Jiguchon, the principal of the school told us that about half of the kids come from unconventional households (single parent, no parent, abusive, etc.). This piece of information stuck in our minds while we taught these students. Some of these kids tended to act out when they weren’t being praised enough or when they felt slightly left out, and as a result, we would be less inclined to interact with them because of their unruly behavior. It’s a vicious cycle. Some of us wondered how much attention (if any) they receive in their home.

As the week went on, we continued to use stickers to reward students and offered praise for even the slightest successes. The kids seemed to warm up to us (evidenced by hitting us less and waving to us in the hallways), and they started to get less scary. They would ask us to play soccer and “Charlie Charlie” (what is up with ghosts at this school) with them, and they were more receptive to our activities in class. In the end, we made it out alive, and the students appeared to enjoy our stay.

The Tag

All the DESKers agreed this week was a particularly challenging one, not only because the students were so young, but also because there were a lot more behavior issues. But to label these students as “good” or “bad” without considering where they come from and what they have been through was insincere and definitely not an effective teaching method. We had to stop looking at the kids’ behavior as the problem, and instead examine our own lesson plans to make sure they were more engaging and exciting for the kids. We were not there to focus on how to control or discipline them. This is what ultimately allowed us to connect with the students. With this in mind, we all ended the week on a high note and we will surely miss these kids.