I Even Remember My Teacher’s Name…

To those of you who are teaching here, and given to shooting your mouth off, let this be a lesson…

Something funny happened this semester in one of my classes. A student was complaining about one of her first foreign teachers, who taught her English while she was in middle or high school. (I can’t remember which.) This foreign teacher said some things that, at least as the student recounted them, were pretty ignorant and obviously not wise things for a Western adult to say to a Korean kid.

The funny thing that that the student ended her rant with, “I even remember my teacher’s name. I’ll never forget it!” Then she said the person’s name. The full name.

There was a short silence, during which I giggled a little. Someone asked me why, and I fessed up: “I think I know that person.” The student was shocked to hear that this person was still in Korea, and still teaching, and felt sick at the thought. “_____ shouldn’t be a teacher,” the student said. “Teachers like that shouldn’t be saying those things to students, still, even now.”

And yes, I do know this person. And yes, this person still in Korea. I’ve met the person a few times. So have some of you, my dear readers. The person is a pretty well-known member of the Korean blogosphere, in fact. Amusingly.

It’s not my place to repeat the story, but I will say this: teachers impact people deeply, and sometimes in ways they never imagine. It behooves us to think before we say whatever pops into our heads…

17 thoughts on “I Even Remember My Teacher’s Name…

  1. I’m sort of glad we havent’ met. If you know this person, do you think s/he has improved or become more cautious, less impulsive?

    I definitely have said some stupid things in class, but I hope the frequency has dropped as I’ve gotten older.

  2. I’d echo those sentiments. And to play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, with being young and in a foreign country and all the frustrations of working at hagwons and all, doubtless we’ve ALL said things in class that we’ve later regretted.

  3. hear, hear… i remember that one time i *jokingly* asked a student if he was sure he wasn’t gay… i had a very good relationship with him (more than three years of being my student/friend – he has very good english) but he still took it seriously… and a couple weeks ago (more than a year after said event) he told me that he’s sure he’s not gay… he’s tried the straight way and liked it… hmm… how powerful are words when we don’t realise what we’re saying or how the other person is understanding it??

  4. were pretty ignorant and obviously not wise things for a Western adult to say to a Korean kid.

    Not to unleash my years of accumulated bitterness towards my experiences in Korea or anything, but saying “I’m not fond of kimchi” is enough to make you one of those evil unqualified teachers there.

  5. Not that your point isn’t well taken Gord, and I wouldn’t think to pass judgment on the teacher involved without hearing their version of events, but having piqued our curiosity so, could you please give us some hint as to what the (student claims) the teacher said? It must have been pretty heinous for your student to remember after all this time (point taken about the kimchi though William)!

  6. jeez. I hope it wasn’t me. But you know, I regularly come into class drunk, tell my students dokdo belongs to Korea, and that my students are the reason I don’t want to have kids of my own… I thought that came with the territory.

  7. She could have as easily been offended by the tone he used in the confiscation of her cell phone during class or something else along those lines while trying to enforce classroom discipline.

    I still remember the first two girls (one was the leader, the other the follower) who quit my hagwon in disgust at my teaching style two months after my arrival. I wouldn’t give into their demands that I only play games and buy them pizza every Friday like that last foreign English teacher did. I actually had the notion that I would do some teaching in this position.

    In three years here, I’ve only had to kick out one student because he was such a bully and terror in the classroom, and it worked out better than I could have ever imagined as my Korean counterparts in the school were very grateful for my pull with the bosses. This good for nothing punk cost us nearly 10 quality kids who couldn’t tolerate his abuse, but my boss was taken in by his parents’ money and double-talk concerning their jerk of a son (our CCTV system wasn’t operational yet, but his conduct helped to get installed). Either he cusses me out to this day, or he is, himself, grateful that he no longer has to endure his English version of hagwon hell thanks to my backbone (I told my boss pointblank that it was either him or me).

    Yes, the teacher in question may have gone off the rails one day and said something inappropriate, but if they are still here, they must be doing something right. Then, again, it’s nearly impossible to get rid of their horrible Korean teachers in the educational system here; so many students just endure the situation for the most part and say nothing to those who might be able to do something about it.

  8. I’m sure it could be anyone – even the most respected of teachers has at one time or another slipped up. I know there are things I’ve said/done in the past that I wouldn’t ever say now. It’s also a lot easier to be judgemental when you dont’ know the full story or context.

  9. Everyone,

    No, it’s not you. (So far.) And I’m not going to tell more of the story, because it’s a valuable thing to think about the dumb sh*t you’ve said in classrooms, innit?

    For me, too.

    (I say as I continue trawling through my blog for bitchy posts venting other frustrations by whining or bitching about Korea — posts that I think I wanna unpublish, so I can share my site with people without worrying about how they’ll react when they find that nasty, unfair thing I wrote in 2006 when my father died, or in 2003 when that weird Korean girl I was hanging around with started messing with my mind.)

    And I’m not telling what was said in part because it’s one of those things that foreigners say a LOT — to one another, usually in jest.

    But hearing my student mention it, I could really see how it would bother a young person who is interacting with the first person she’s ever met from another society.

    And I find it interesting the degree of snark that has come up in the comments! Almost… self-defensive? And Westerners call Koreans self-defensive… :)

    Oh, and John: yeah, I’ve had nightmare students too. Everyone has.

    One guy I know almost got punched in the face in class, through no fault of his own, because a student was a nutter. If I remember right, it was a a college-aged jock in Jeonju who didn’t appreciate being graded on the same standard as others.

    But the context of this story I’m on about didn’t involve that. The teacher very obviously had absolutely no idea she’d offended the hell out of the student, and was trying to be nice at the time, actually; and this teacher was new in Korea, and and and…

    I even tried to explain what I imagined the teacher had meant by that comment, since it sounds so much more innocuous to us than it would to a student in that position. But it’s still worth thinking about. I certainly wonder about some of the students I said dumb things to.

    I’ll give one tiny example. Someone told me how to say “so-and-so” for someone’s name. Like Kim so-and-so, Park so-and-so… Kim moshi, Park moshi.

    The thing he neglected to explain was that it was a term used for people who’d been charged with a crime and their name was being omitted for the sake of saving face (and avoiding lawsuits, I imagine). I had no idea of this context, and thought it was a handy way to mention a family name without mentioning the full name, like in a teasing way.

    This was back in my first year in Korea. I’d been here maybe six months. A usually lovely and attentive young kid (3rd grader, I think) was misbehaving a little, chatting with a friend, so I used the term, saying, “Pyeon moshi is talking! Would Pyeon moshi like to stand up?”

    She stared at me with wide eyes, and burst into tears, weeping openly. Here I thought I was just teasing her, and I’d shamed her terribly in front of her classmates. Took her a few weeks before she was back to smiling and joking with me in class and so on. I wonder if she remembers.

    I do.

    But the idea that someone is doing something right if they’re still here 7 years later? Um… no. Unfortunately, the filtration for crappy Western teachers is pretty weak here. I’ve seen people cakewalk from one relatively good job to another without so much as breaking a sweat.

    Lots of people who do stay that long are doing something right. And maybe this person is. (I don’t know the person well enough to say, but the person is very interested in and passionate about Korea.) But some people stay here far longer out of pure inertia.

  10. LOL…

    I’m glad I’ve never worked anywhere but at the Uni level. Everyone who has ever met Gord and worked in middle or high-school is now frantically rewinding all their memories to try to determine if they are the marked person. ;-)

  11. Charles,

    They are indeed. Funny, if I knew this would get people so actively commenting, I’d have mentioned it weeks ago when it happened… But I’ll mention this for the last time: the person in question hasn’t visited this site much as far as I know.

    No more hints, no more clarifications. I didn’t mention this to shame anyone, and I would not lie, if the person did comment. So I’m not going to say who it is.

    Y’all who comment hereafter can contact me personally if you want to set your mind at ease… and if you’re ready to take the hit if it is you.

    But I’m not gonna get more specific about it, even if it is you. Muhahaha. Evil? Well, the student didn’t want to contact the ex-teacher. I offered to set it up. She said no. Anyway, I think the object lesson is more interesting than the specific case.

    (And a lesson that applies to all teachers, even teachers in their homelands, really.)

  12. And I’m not telling what was said in part because it’s one of those things that foreigners say a LOT — to one another, usually in jest.

    “Who gives a crap about stupid Dokdo!?”


  13. Oh, and here’s an update:

    1. The person is still in Korea. Still teaching. Still someone I find kind of abrasive. Doesn’t blog anymore, though, from what I can tell.

    2. The comment was essentially bragging about the awesome white privileges that the person was enjoying in Korea, and implied several ways in which it really sucks to be Korean. In other words, it was something where it’s possible the student remembered worse than what the teacher said, but where it seems likely the teacher’s comments were ill-advised. (Especially to a group of middle schoolers.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *