It was July in South Korea in a concrete building that was now a school but used to be a factory, and the air conditioner (aka air con) was broken. For those of you who don't know, July is monsoon month in South Korea and it's also over-the-top hot. In that month, I saw and exposed more sweat marks in embarrassing places than I have had in my entire life all together.
I was a relatively new teacher at this after-school academy (aka hagwon), and my young kindergarten/Grade 1 aged kids had never attended a hagwon that was academically focussed. They liked games but, by July, I was determined that they were going to learn something from me...such as the alphabet! But it was truly the wrong time of the year, in the wrong conditions, to get so decisive.
They were limp and half asleep. I was flashing an awesome sweat stain between my breasts and one down my left side, but I kept up the hard-boiled veneer. "A! B! C!" I was grilling them in a loud voice in hopes of waking them. Then I got closer and noticed their smooth little foreheads beading and sweat dripping into their eyes, and kids rested their heads on their desks...in their own pools of sweat.
I thought that was a challenging class until 9 months later, I was in a different academy (the last one closed) that was academically focussed, and its air con worked all summer long. The kids were bright and surprisingly engaged, and I was loving being a teacher with 9 months of acquired teaching knowledge.
Then I decided to teach these smart-as-fedoras, little prodigies how to spell "now." They knew the word and used it often, as often as I used the Korean word in the classroom and out in the world. Yep, we liked "now!" It fit our impatient personalities.
Then one magnanimous (and super observant) pony-tailed girl, who gave herself the English name Sally, pointed out to me that it must be wrong because "snow" sounded different. I knew the Korean word for "sometimes" and tried to explain that sometimes "ow" has an "oh" sound and sometimes it had an "ow" sound.
They were not cool with this, as Korean is a language that is much like math. It has rules. It always works that way. English has rules, too, but it doesn't always follow them. "Learn the rules and memorize the exceptions," I could tell the older kids, but the younger kids would just give me a blank look.
Every kid in that class sided with her, many running to the board to give me my "English" lesson. I was being utterly grilled and put on the spot, and I gave many examples of both sounds, much to their dissatisfaction. My final, and thankfully successful approach, was to use two words that I knew, together. The Korean word for crazy and the word for English. Yep, "Crazy English!"
They loved it! Their own English teacher telling them that English was crazy. They lapped it up every chance they got. They wanted me to come up with examples of crazy English in every class. They learned, they laughed, and they loved that the two—laughing and learning—could go together.
Meet the Editor
I'm Coreen, and I am a copy editor, writer, instructor, digital marketer, and student of PR and Communications for organizations doing positive work in the world.