February is a slow month for school in Korea. I've never worked in a public school, so I'm not sure exactly what goes on, but we hardly ever have students in February. So instead of bringing students to the schools, we take the teachers out into the communities. Some of you might recall my posts about teaching at an orphanage last year. This teaching experience was part of the "teaching away" program that English village participates in every year. This year, however, many more schools signed up than ever before, including a facility, or a school for the mentally challenged. I don't speak Korean, which can make my life difficult sometimes living in Korea, where everybody speaks Korean, and only a few speak English. Because of this, I'm not sure of the details of this school in which we attended; such as how it is funded, and who all is admitted it there, but what I do know is that it was an entirely novel and trying experience. I should clarify that I only taught at this school twice. I've been assigned development for the month of February, however, I've only been able to focus precious few minutes on developing because everyday something pressing takes me away from my developing work. Two days this week, I was asked to substitute for teachers who were too weak and lazy to attend their classes. I mean, seriously, like a swollen lung and fever is enough reason to take off work. (this is sarcasm for those who can't read the tone of my voice) So with thirty minutes to prepare, I was piled into a van with all of the other teachers and was shipped off to this special school. The classrooms were well maintained, and honestly better than ours. Because I taught for two different teachers, I taught in four different classrooms, two each day.
I'm a little ashamed to say that I have a fear of the disabled. Not so much a fear, but discomfort. I think its the uncertainty of what they will do. A fear of the unknown. And a fear of the bodily fluids. A lot of people share this discomfort or fear, but I don't know really how to pinpoint the cause. Its the same reason people don't like hospitals or nursing homes.
On that first day, I laid my jacket on the podium, and anxiously awaited the arrival of my class. They streamed in some limping, some looking at the ground, one even holding her arm limp at her chest in the stereotypical way children or insensitive people make fun of the mentally challenged. Some of them were curious about me, some of them didn't notice me, however only one of them made eye contact. A teenage girl with neatly done pigtails, laid her head on the table and began to lightly tap her head with her fist. Another grunted loudly, raising his voice to a shout on occasion. Showing the Korean teacher the color by number pages I brought for our activity, she pointed out the students who would be able to do the activity. It was valentines day, so I had brought a coloring page resembling a stained glass window. Each section had a number, and the students were supposed to color each numbered section a specific color. I passed out the worksheet and colors. Two boys sitting side by side quietly responded to my instructions by picking out the correct color I had said in English and began coloring the correct sections. They even repeated "red, one" in English. I was astounded. Another of the capable students whose face was deformed in such a way that he looked like "Sloth" from "The Goonies" kept giving me the thumbs up. His coloring was focused but he wasn't able to follow the directions fully. The grunting student scribbled getting so far out of the lines he drew on the table as he squealed. I'm not sure if he was squealing out of emotion or if it was just something he did.
When the bell rang, I breathed a sigh of relief. One class over, and it hadn't been so bad. The next class was even more entertaining. An older lady with down syndrom never looked up from the circles she was drawing on her own paper. This teacher asked me to teach them a song. I knew that many of the teachers had been bringing coloring pages. No one knew exactly what to do with special needs, and since only a few of them were capable of even coloring, they were at a loss. One of the teachers decided she was going to make masks with the kids. She passed out the cut out faces with a chopstick all the while, the Korean teacher followed behind, picking up the wooden chopsticks. He mimed the chopstick sticking in their mouth and eye, and all she could do was laugh in desperation. "Just coloring then." she replied.
I sang "twinkle twinkle little star" in English. The teacher sang the Korean version, and some of the students hummed along while others continued to do what they had before, such as the sweet smiling girl at the corner who folded papers the entire class. She had a seemingly never ending supply of papers in her desk. She would take one out, fold it in half, open it, and fold a different crease in it, fold another crease, crumple the paper, put it away and pull out a new, clean paper. She did this until she ran out of paper towards the end of class, and then went to the cabinet to pull out more. A student entered late, a popular student, and the class began repeating his name occasionally yelling out "babo" or foolish. The popular student only laughed. "Kim Eunlee" cried the girl folding papers. "Kim Eunlee" repeated the boy who continually stood up to turn off the CD player and erase the board against the teachers wishes. Kim Eunlee would laugh and it would start again. This game made them dizzingly happy, and I laughed along with them. At one point I asked, "crazy?" after they had yelled out "babo" for the hundredth time, and they all started to yell out "crazy!" When the bell rang, I said goodbye feeling more confident with my abilities to deal with this group. I had walked in unsure of my capabilities and walked out an hour and a half later patting myself on the back, but with a greater appreciation for the teachers who teach these students daily, day after tiring day.
To be continued...day two... more trying than the first.
ps. I didn't bring a camera to either session as I didn't know before hand that I would be teaching at the school.