How To Move Mountains Without Getting a Hernia

Jan 18, 2011 by    Posted under: Travel

I’m beginning to think that the parents of my female middle school students either misread the description of the camp or were secretly hoping this was an English/Boot Camp. One of the Korean teaching assistants even commented on how he has never in his life seen Korean teenagers so out of control. I feel like I’m in America only I don’t know what they’re: singing, yelling, shouting, complaining, screaming, throwing tantrums, pounding the tables, whining, whispering or just plain being obnoxious about.

I can’t decided whether it’s better to not know what all their noise is about or if understanding them would help me bring their levels down even a fraction of a decibel.

Let me say before I go any further, that I love my students. I absolutely adore them. They are great kids at the heart of it, it’s just some of their behaviors that I have a hard time with.

I get that they’re teenage girls and there is going to be a certain level of immaturity and obnoxiousness present. I was once their age and remember what that loud, pack mentality was like. They are actually pretty good in my classroom as long as I stay on top of them, but as soon as they are out, they are wild animals, and only a fierce, direct stare into their eyes can capture their attention long enough to communicate anything to them.

It is absolutely exhausting and it’s as if their minds are sieves. As soon as they are told to be quiet, line up, stand up, sit down, etc, the directions seem to just fall right out of their heads and they start all over again. There is a lot of information that doesn’t get passed on to the teachers so I don’t know if this next statement is true or if it just seems this way from the outside, but there does not seem to be any major repercussions for their seriously rude and inappropriate behavior. Some of them have been sent to the director’s office, I know that some of their parents have been called, but there is no obvious direct and immediate discipline.

I’m no expert on children, but I know animals and it’s Animal Training 101 that discipline must take place when the bad behavior occurs for any consistent change to take place. It’s not rocket science. Children are animals. As human beings, we are all animals, no matter how much we like to forget it.

At the camp, when the behavior occurs, it does not seem to be dealt with on the spot, or at all for most of it. For example, every morning, afternoon and evening before class, all the students and teachers have to line up in a designated area for roll count. Without fail, every single time – 3 times a day – the same middle school girls are disruptive, noisy and outwardly rude to the teachers and director yet they are only told over and over again to line up and be quite. It’s the very definition of insanity. There is no reason for them to change their behavior if they know there will be no consequences for acting out.

This lack of repercussions is all very difficult for me to understand. I have to keep reminding myself that this is not America and actions I think should be taken may not be appropriate or work here in Korea. There is also the possibility that action is being taken behind the scenes that I have no idea about. But if so, it still has not modified the girls’ behavior.

I can say, without a doubt, that I ask a lot of my students. I expect them to listen when I, or any other teacher, is speaking, I expect them to stop talking when asked, to sit when asked, to not be rude to anyone and to follow the rules of the classroom. In return for their good behavior, I am a generous teacher. I spend a few hours a night making lesson plans as fun as I can, I bring in treats and let them talk if they are working at the same time, I listen to what each and everyone of them has to say, no matter how long it takes to communicate it, I praise them ten times more than I censure them, and when they are censured, it always comes with an explanation, not a, “because I told you so.”

This being said, some of these girls need some serious disciplining and if I spoke the same language as them, I would do it. There is a very necessary place for direct confrontation and order-snapping, but in my opinion, the purpose of discipline is not about controlling another person’s actions but is to work with them to modify it. Disciplining without discussion about why the behavior is reoccurring, what is really going on around the student, what they are really feeling, is just a power struggle.

I don’t play any games with people, including power tug-o-war. It’s through connection and understanding that respect is built and it is through respect that people open up and when one person opens up to another based on mutual respect and understanding, mountains can be moved and lives can change direction, all without pushing and pulling and depleting oneself of energy, patience and love for one another.

This all sounds great in theory, but since I don’t speak the same language as these girls, I feel very limited in how I can reach them. I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of building mutual respect with them. I don’t respect 99% of their actions, but I realize that their bad behavior is being fueled by things going on in and around them that may feel confusing, upsetting, hurtful, embarrassing, or any other host of teenage emotions.

So then, how do I, or can I even help them without completely exhausting myself or letting myself get so frustrated that it just becomes easier to push against them until something inside me pops and it becomes about taking their power to strengthen mine rather than any kind of mindful discipline? The fact that camp is over in a few days makes it possible for me to not answer this question right now but it feels like a good meditation to sit with anyway: How do I move mountains, whatever the mountains might be, without getting an energetic, spiritual or emotional hernia?

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2 Comments + Add Comment

  • Hi Basha!

    Remember one thing about teenagers – their brains are not fully formed until they are 25. The part of their brain that has yet to develop is logical and abstract thought. Hence, all teenagers are partly mentally handicapped – for real.

    I have found that sometimes a discussion about their inappropriate behavior is just not worth the time or energy because they simply don’t care, don’t get it, or somehow have it worked out in their brain that they are actually the victim. Personally, I think middle school is the worst and it just a waiting game. One just has to wait for them to grow out of this less that desirable time of life.

    Likely the parents probably hope the girls get some English from the camp, but in reality view it as some piece of mind because it is time they spend away from their teenager. Time they don’t have to deal with the venom that teenagers often spew in one’s direction. Speaking as a parent of teenagers – there are days when I am grateful for time away from them! By the same token, the repeat offenders are clearly not receiving any consequences that are meaningful. Otherwise they would not be acting this way all the time.

    In short, I love my teenagers, but they are the BEST form of birth control! Hope you have been enjoying your time in Korea!


  • I’m relieved to hear that their brains are not fully formed yet. It explains A LOT 🙂

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