Thursday, March 03, 2011

Teaching the mentally challenged part 2

The second day, I walked into the facility with a little more hop in my swagger.  I had done this once before, it wasn't a cinch, but it hadn't killed me either.  In my bag of goodies, I brought with me two sets of cards, one regular set and one alphabet goldfish, plus Jinga.  We were going to have fun today, I was determined. My first class looked simple enough- it only had 4 students.  One of the four students however was in a wheelchair and was, as far as I could tell, nearly a vegetable. She had drool coming down her mouth and her hands were both curled against her chest.  Another student had the close set eyes of a boy with down syndrom, and he smiled brightly at me. The other two students, a young boy and a 12 year old girl looked "pretty normal" on the outside at least. I smiled inwardly.  This was going to go well, I thought to myself.  I couldn't have been more wrong.

I started with numbers. I wrote out 1 through 10 on the board, and pointed to the numbers and had the students repeat.  The Korean teacher, who hadn't been able to speak English left the room.  The students had been behaving up until this point repeating each number as I said it.  The young boy, who appeared normal from the onset, bounded from his seat grabbed the eraser and began to erase the numbers I was trying to teach them. Once I had wrangled the eraser from his grasp however, he used his palm as an eraser.  He then grabbed a marker and began writing his own message of scribbles on the board.  Once I had effectively taken away all of the markers and both sweetly and firmly requested that he return to his seat, in a language he couldn't understand, he began to run around the room, pulling open cabinets, and pulling things out of their place.

Meanwhile I'm chasing him like a mother hen trying to round up her distraught chick, except that this chick is mentally unstable, can't understand a thing I'm saying  and is enjoying this game of 'make the teacher run around like a crazed chicken.'

Another teacher walked into the room, one this time who can speak some English, and he immediately sits. And I, near hysterics, grasped onto the table for support and attempted to continue the lesson.  I lay cards out onto the table 2 through 10.  I demonstrate putting them in order.  We don't have a 'one' card, so it starts with two, and "what comes next?"  They look at me blankly. I choose three and place it next to the two.  Once we're at six, they get the hang of it, I think.  They at least understand that I'm asking them to choose cards.  The boy who nearly threw me over the edge at the beginning of class removes his slobbery hand from his mouth and touches card 10. "Ten" I say, "good try, but not that one." I move the cards further from him so that he doesn't get his slober on school cards.  After we went through the game twice, I determined that not one of them actually can count.  However, during this game and throughout the duration of my time in the class, the girl in the wheelchair cries.  She doesn't just cry really but wail.  She wails like a newborn baby who has just woken up from her nap and wants her mom.  Big fat tear drops stream down her face.  The Korean teachers wipes the tears from her face and simply says, "she cries everyday." He walks her around the room, but it doesn't really console her.  The other students are plainly not even phased by this, and ignore the piercing sound.
Next we play Jinga.  However, we have more success building the jinga tower than actually playing the game, because although the girl is totally engrossed in jinga, and would actually like the play, both boys, when it comes to their turns just knock it down purposefully.  The girl looked grief-stricken with each blow, and yelled at each boy in turn to behave in front of the foreigner.

After 35 minutes, I move to the next class. I walk in, with my nerve endings a little seared, and see a 40 something year old, deaf, mentally retarded woman, and a lady whose age is unknown to me since I never saw her face throughout the entire class. She had her face flat on the table, and by the end of the lesson, I actually forgot that she was a person in the class.  She just felt like a piece of furniture.  The deaf woman was very interactive and in fact she was a bit simpler to communicate with than other students as she doesn't speak Korean, she only signs simple signs. She was smart, in that she picked up on things quickly, but not smart as what one would consider for an adult.

Her name for me was the sign for beautiful, the hand moving around the face and the sign for the teacher I was subbing for was the finger going down the nose of the bridge and following the tip to the mouth to indicate that he had a large nose.  She loved learning the alphabet and tracing the letters in the air.  The girl from my previous class came to join us, and we played a lovely game of "go fish," a game that Koreans don't play typically.  The Korean teacher in the room, didn't know the rules of the game so I had to explain them to her as well. By the end of the game, everyone had laid their cards on the table so that everyone around the table could see their cards, but it didn't occur to either student that we could cheat since we could plainly see their cards.  I didn't cheat, well, in a way I did, because I cheated so that they would win hands, but in the end, I still won.  We actually had a very lovely time in that class, which balanced my class from earlier thankfully.

After wards, because it was the last day the principal of the school invited us to have a cup of tea- barley tea- I find it's flavor appalling.  I lifted the cup to my lips and pretended to drink out of politeness.  He spoke for a while in Korean, I don't know what he said, most of it wasn't translated, but what was translated was that he wanted to know if we had any suggestions for his school.  I wanted to ask why such capable students were placed in classes with completely incapable students, but in asking us for suggestions, he wasn't really asking for advice, it was just a polite Korean thing to do, one that I don't understand.  I'm not sure if we were supposed to give him a compliment at that time or what the polite appropriate response should have been, but no one really responded.  It was actually an awkward moment, at least for the foreigners, but maybe not for the Korean staff.  I asked them about it after wards, but I didn't get a clear answer as to what it was all about. Sometimes cultural behaviors are difficult to translate into words.

I wouldn't go so far to say that the experience was life changing, but it certainly wasn't an experience I will not easily forget.  My appreciation, and reverence of those who care for these people has certainly increased ten fold.

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