Two Weeks of Crazy

We were in some kind-of horrible purgatory (hell, really) between academics and vacation. The 3.5 week vacation starts this week (not for us – we have camp for 2 weeks). And the students took their final tests 2 weeks ago. So we had 2 weeks of … nothing.  The logic is that 5 weeks vacation would be too long.

But two weeks of random time means nothing.  The students didn’t care about learning -if we taught anything, they a) wouldn’t have cared or listened and b) they wouldn’t remember when midterms come up in October.

Sooo … what did we do? I played a spelling game for 20 minutes and then watched a movie for the rest of the 25 minutes. Chris watched a movie the full time, but with a worksheet.

A brief interlude: We hate movies

We just want to say, real fast, that we understand why we never watched movies much in middle or high school. It’s because that teacher has to watch that movie in EVERY. CLASS. Chris absolutely hates Tangled. Chris has seen Tangled so much he can tell you all the dialogue and write a thesis about every detail. I absolutely hate Frozen mostly because the damn songs are already over played here. I’ve watched the beginning and all the songs of it at least 20 times. I spontaneously woke up at 2am last week with a song from Frozen stuck in my head.

My school has been absolutely insane during these past 2 weeks. Completely. This is what happens to kids when they are done with academics but have to keep showing up at school. They’re restless, bored, hot, and stress is high regarding grades on the finals. It was mess.


Tuesday morning I came in and everyone was “CCTV this” and “CCTV that.” All in Korean, of course. Then a huge booming announcement over the intercom “mo mo mo CCTV mo mo mo” I finally have to ask “What’s going on with CCTV?”

“Oh, uh, I guess some kid broke a CCTV camera.” Andrew says, almost bored. “They broke the ceiling, too.”

They broke the ceiling. 

“So they’re looking for the boy who did it?” (I said boy but I guess it could have been a girl)

“Yeah, sure, I guess.”

“Where did it get broken?”

“In front of your classroom.”

Sure enough, theres a chunk of ceiling missing outside of my door.

Missing Students

Last Tuesday morning the whole office was really distracted by a coworker who was on her phone. Actually everyone seemed pretty worried by what she was saying.

It wasn’t until a crying woman was in our office that someone explained what was going on. Apparently two students went missing the day before, after school. One is a “trouble maker” while the other is “normal” (not my words).  Classmates were being brought into our staff room to be interrogated – where are they going? what did they say to you? Etc.

Initially this was really concerning. We live in a country with the highest suicide rate of any other developed nation. Suicide is the leading cause of death in teenagers here (usually traffic incidents are the highest for most countries). So it was hard not to automatically fear for the worst.

Fortunately, by the end of the day we at least knew their last known location – the Daejeon bus stop. So they could, in theory, be anywhere in Korea. Not a relief but better than other scenarios. (Thats a scary thought for parents – America is so huge that if your kid runs away from home they’re probably not even the next town over. Korea is so small, you could lose your kid somewhere in the whole country within a few hours).

I never found out if they were caught or came back on their own. I never get all the details. All I know is they were both safe at school the next morning. One had shaved off most of his hair (!??) and they were both in huge trouble.


Chris was alone in his room (aka no coteacher) and had to intervene with bullying. Bullying, usually called “school violence” here can get pretty intense and will often lead to suicide. There’s even a thing called “wangtta” where the whole class (40 kids) will oust one student and pick on them for the whole year. The wangtta is usually a kid who is a little off but they’re almost always the sweetest to the foreign teachers (they sympathize with us maybe? That we’re outsiders too?)

This really sweet kid who always wants to talk to Chris about history was being bullied. He’s a little off so he’s easy pickings. Especially without a Korean teacher to stop it. The bully – a student from Canada and another were stealing his things and rubbing their hands in his face.

Chris is really unsure of what to do – is it bullying? Are they friends messing around? Which is the eternal struggle for us – we can never be proactive. We both see this kind of stuff all the time and never know how to respond until it’s usually too late.

He tells them to stop over and over. Even standing right behind them didn’t stop it at first. He had to stand up against their desk before they finally would leave the poor kid alone.

Bullying happens year round but to blatantly be doing it right in front of Chris when he’s standing 3 feet away is too much.

Teacher… Pightu

I was sitting at my computer, waiting for the 10 minute passing period to be over. 1-6 (my all time worst class) is slowly trickling in. I had about 8 kids in my room – so I was finishing up some work on my camp booklet. They can entertain themselves with posters I put up or whatever. I don’t care – just don’t break anything.

I look up from doing work on my computer and see some kid just crying. I let it go -which is a mistake. There’s also a crowd of boys over by the air conditioning. Nothing new- my boys crowd around it constantly. Until one kid has the common sense – and bravery to tell me in English “Paightu. Teacher. Pight.” Fs are often “P”s and “uhs” are added to anything with a consonant ending. So pightu = fight.

Sure enough, there’s some boy who’s been punched in the eye and is crying (a different kid than the one already crying).

It’s a long, stupid story but to reduce it, I have to get help from real live Korean teachers and my coteacher was missing for 15 minutes of the class. Leading to an uncomfortable “put your heads on the desk and shut up game” that we “played” while we waited for her to return and restore order.

And yes, Grammie, I did yell at them.

A Cry For Help

The least fun story of them all. On Tuesday I had a class that I actually had to teach. Second grade students are already “behind” for next semester (someone explain that) so we have to do bookwork rather than fun games and movies. Some boys arrived early and apparently got in an argument. There wasn’t really shouting or anything that I remember. Then one boy left the classroom very upset – I don’t remember seeing this. All of this was before the bell even rang.

Class starts and there is an unusual amount of empty chairs so I ask for an explanation. For every empty seat the class of boys confirm with a story “oh he’s vacationing in America” “he’s in Hong Kong” “he moved to Canada.” So we start and go through any other class like normal.

Meanwhile the boy who was bullied/got in a fight with his friend is roaming the halls getting more and more upset. Whatever his friend said was upsetting. But he’s getting more and more upset about the fact no one is coming to find him. To him, the whole world doesn’t care about him (later what he said) and this just proves it – teachers aren’t even mad at him for skipping class. No one’s chasing after him to say “come back to class, where have you been!? So, somehow, he finds himself on the fourth (top) story of the building considering jumping.

Two teachers see him and… don’t say anything. Which really edges him on. Finally. FINALLY someone sees a student out of class and gets pissed “yah! get out of that window! What are you doing?” Teachers get him out of the window where he admits to feeling ignored, left out, (probably bullied) and that no one cares about him.

My coteacher told me this story and kind of laughed “he was going to do it for a stupid reason” which implies there is a good reason to do it? I sympathize completely. The stress is high enough but everyone has to have the same hair cut, same uniform, same shoes. The only thing these kids can customize are their socks.

You put them in a same-ness environment where half the teachers (me included) don’t learn their names. And you put them with 40 other students who are a class unit. I won’t lie – sometimes I see my classes as a unit, not as a group of 40 individual people. It can be hard not to. So when he says no one cares about him – he’s half right. Half the teachers probably don’t know his name. We don’t know what kind of family problems he could be going through or the very real possibility he is an orphan. My coteacher and I asked where the missing students were and all 40 students lied – which pisses us off – but makes me wonder if he’s wanktta.

When it’s all said and done…

and it is.

We have property damage, runaways, bullying, fights and a near-suicide. Thus proving these purgatory weeks are too much to ask for from anyone. Maybe the kids are acting out a little more because the teachers are also worn down. They could be ignoring behaviors or ignoring students more than usual.



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