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The Antihero Teacher

Like I mentioned in my last post, as part of my teaching duties here, I’m in charge of two weeks of English immersion camp during each vacation. There are other camps happening at the school at the same time, so students have to choose between those camps and mine. This results in lower attendance than the principal would like; I think he’d be happy if I had regular class sizes, about 30 students a session. Not that the school would consider giving me a bigger budget for a bigger class size, naturally. I also found out, from chatting with a non-camp student today, that my camp is the only one that lasts a full five days instead of the standard three. No wonder my camp enrollments are lower! I think I will point out this obvious factor the next time my co-teacher frets about me not having 30 students in my camp.

Last week my attendance was quite abysmal due to the freakish floods and the competing library camp. This week, attendance is steady, with a core group of about 13 students who reliably show up on time, most of whom are boys, and a few who’ve missed days due to illness or scheduling conflicts. Yesterday, I even had a 3rd grader (a 9th grader in American terms) join in the activities! The camps are supposed to be for 1st and 2nd grades only, but I let him join anyways. He proved to be a good sport during the Daedalus and Icarus game.

Here’s how it worked: after teaching them about Daedalus and Icarus, I added on a physical activity to make up for all the writing I’d made them do. The rules were quite complicated, but here’s the general procedure:
– I drew two students’ names randomly from a bucket. Those two students were Daedalus and Icarus, and could therefore be eligible to win Hero Points (part of my camp rewards system).
– Then I drew four more students’ names. These four students were the sun, and had to stand with their backs to each other with their arms linked to form a circle. It can be quite difficult to move this way.
– Everybody else who was not chosen was to be a star.

Here’s the game map:

Starting positions for the Daedalus and Icarus game I played with my English camp students.

– Daedalus’ goal is to run through the gauntlet of stars, past the sun, and grab the golden ball without being tagged. He then has to run back through the gauntlet and give the ball to Icarus. If he’s touched, he “falls from the sky” and it’s game over for him. Another student gets a chance to play his part.
– Icarus’ goal is, when he gets the ball from Daedalus, to run through the gauntlet, put the ball back, and get back home safely – again without being tagged.
– The sun can move anywhere it wants, as long as the students who make up the sun remain linked. If you play this game, a cruel tactic is to position the sun in front of some sort of bottleneck. The sun’s goal is to “burn” Daedalus and Icarus by tagging them.
– The stars can only move back and forth across the path in a fixed line. They are also trying to “burn” Daedalus and Icarus.

Though slightly complicated in explanation, the game turned out to be fun and amusing to watch. I spent part of the camp budget on wings for Daedalus and Icarus, so the students who were selected endured some ribbing from their peers: “teacha! He gay!” (Whatever, dudes – so it’s apparently not gay to sit on your best buddy’s lap all the time and wrestle with him during class?) Daedalus and Icarus had a really tough time getting through the gauntlet, although the 3rd grade mercenary who joined was the only student who successfully managed to manuever the whole thing without getting tagged. Maybe he pulled rank or seniority on the stars, or something. I went through two iterations of Daedalus and Icarus before the second Icarus slipped on a mossy patch of bricks and rolled his ankle. Thus fell Icarus. Game over!

The mythology theme was working pretty well, until today, when I suddenly realized that I’d made the material way too hard for the kids. Even the brighter kids in the class were having trouble following the lecture this morning. Totally my fault – I’d expected they would all be familiar with the story of the Trojan War from movies and such, just like they seemed to at least recognize everything else. I forced them to do two hours worth of boring and horrible material. I even made them write down the inscription upon the golden apple, and told them that I’d later quiz them over the spelling! What was I thinking? (Especially since I had just gone by the spelling that was on Wikipedia, and after searching Google Images, I now realize that’s not particularly standard. D’oh.)

The Apple of Discord. Shiny and cruel.

The students were quite restless by the time we got to Achilles and Hector, which is when I had a type of “duel” activity planned. Two students would be randomly chosen, one as “Achilles” and one as “Hector,” and I had placed pictures of the various gods, goddesses, heroes and monsters we’d studied on tables around the room. I gave both Achilles and Hector a plastic toy hammer, and asked them questions. The first student to hit the correct answer got a point, and the student who got best out of three won the match.

Now this activity is all well and fine, involving plastic weaponry as it does, but it only really occupies two students. When you have a bunch of other students who aren’t fighting, they’re not going to sit there and wait patiently, reading their notes while the two selected students go about the activity. No, they’re going to pull out their cell phones and ipods, or play that game where you smack each other really loudly on the arms. (I’m told this is an actual “game” with rules, but to me it just looks like “battery and assault”). I saw this coming, but how to avoid it…

…luckily, Past Me had spotted a box of fake paper money at the stationery store for the equivalent of less than a buck, and had purchased it for as of yet unspecified use. Bingo! I would involve the other students by having them place bets, and wager on the “hero” they thought would win. This. worked. like. a. dream. Well, a noisy, chaotic dream. The students, who were getting antsy and starting to mumble the dreaded “jaemi opda” (Korean for “not fun!”), hooted and hollered as soon as they saw the money and realized I was going to let them gamble. A twinge of guilt passed through my limbic system as I handed out the fake money. Would the parents complain about this later? That I am corrupting the nascent, barely formed moral compasses of these innocent, naive youths? Then I looked over at the spectators’ table and saw that they had already organized a well-structured system of betting, without any prompting from myself. Phew! (Let’s just say I’m glad I am neither their ethics nor their mathematics teacher).

With that simple and possibly morally questionable addition, this activity went over like gangbusters! Heroes dueling for Hero Points and winning, gamblers gambling (and losing to their more shrewd classmates), and all students at once occupied and having fun, when suddenly, in strolled the principal. The King Teacher. No doubt wanting to check up on Englishee Camp, and also see why it was so noisy. I froze, and hoped the students would follow suit. Unfortunately…they were SO caught up in the betting, that some of them probably didn’t even realize the principal was there, and continued arguing about who got what return from the last wager, which student would be likelier to eff up the questions, and so forth. I took a mental step back and surveyed what the scene must look like, through the principal’s eyes: a bunch of boys sitting around and on a table, throwing fake money around and arguing, in Korean. Two boys standing at the front of the classroom with plastic hammers, listlessly waiting for betting to conclude so that I could start the questioning. A heated dispute between a few students who accused another student of stealing the money. Papers strewn everywhere, chairs knocked over. Good GOD(s). I must look like such a shit teacher.

He eventually wandered out, and of course then the students had settled their disputes and quieted down. Why couldn’t he have come in when I was having them do the boring, difficult mythology lecture for two hours?! Last winter, he’d always pop for a few seconds whenever I was showing the students a movie clip, and then he’d complain to my co-teacher that I showed too many movies. I can’t wait to find out what he says to my co-teacher when she comes in tomorrow.

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