What to do When Your Classroom Turns into Junior WWE Smackdown

Jan 19, 2011 by    Posted under: Travel

Today started out way too quietly for it to be a normal day. After my last post about the out of control middle school girls, they were eerily quiet this morning. I should have known something was up with the planetary alignment (or whatever supernatural power) had their mouths glued shut and that it would effect more than just the usual suspects.

It turns out that last night one of the problem girls snuck out yet again and was missing until 1:45 am. The whole sneaking out of the dorms at night drama is a whole other story – one that makes me feel the students are not being properly protected here and another example of how, when there are no consequences for their behavior, it will never change and lead them into potentially dangerous situations.

But I digress. This post is about playing hangman one minute and breaking up a fist fight the next. If I wanted to deal with all these behavioral issues, I could have just taught in the US. This is the second fight on record for my students. The first happened in the dorms between two boys and left some serious bruising on one of their faces. I wasn’t there for that fight so I only saw and heard the after effects of that one.

Today’s fight was between two different students, a boy and a girl. We were having a good time in class playing hangman, winning candy and camp money when I heard a commotion just over my shoulder. I turned around and found two students in an all out brawl with punches being thrown and some major yanking around going on. It was something out of ‘Middle School WWE Smackdown’.

The only kind of physical fights I’ve ever broken up have been between fury, four legged animals, so this was a totally new experience in in my peaceful-mind existence. Fortunately, I’m bigger than them and they weren’t yet going for blood so it didn’t take much more than a shove to each of them in opposite directions to end it.

The hard part actually came next – what to do with them. In the States, I would send them to the principal’s office and let them deal with it but here kids don’t get in trouble for anything. I sent them to separate corners with some very loud words about how fighting is not okay in my classroom. (I also lectured the entire class about respect and manners.)

I had absolutely no idea what the fight was about as they had been speaking in Korean just before it broke out. I am supposed to have a Korean teaching assistant in my room during all my classes but the TAs are constantly called in for meetings with the director of the camp during class time, which is just as frustrating for the TAs as it is for the teachers. Had my TA been there, I could have found out what happened. When my TA returned to class, just as it was ending, I explained to him what happened and he said he would tell the director.

This has been the way the camp has operated since I got here. Teachers tell the TAs and the TAs tell the director. The director tells the TAs to tell the teachers. It’s like playing telephone with twelve extra steps and by the time the information gets to where it’s going, something has changed. It’s so incredibly inefficient and frustrating for teachers and TAs alike. But, I do my best to stay mindful that this isn’t America and follow the way things operate here.

So, when another American teacher came into the classroom and I told him what happened, he said, “This isn’t okay. I’m taking them to the director’s office right now.” As soon as he said that, something in me switched and I realized that I was letting my modus operandi of not wanting to ripple to waters get in the way of some serious problems that needed serious attention. I was acting no better than the camp directors themselves with behavior and consequences.

Even with all the issues with the camp (and there have been some incredibly frustrating ones), I have never made a peep about them. I do my work and I keep my mouth shut to the higher ups. As I said earlier, there was something different about the air today, and I had had enough. I brought the two students to the director’s office right then and there. It takes a lot to get me really worked up and in that moment, I was angry.

Well, if I am honest with myself, it wasn’t actually anger that I felt, but disappointment. I was disappointed in those students and that developed into frustration which manifested itself into anger. Whatever label I put on the emotion, I was feeling fierce. I flew into the office eyes blazing and told the Director what had happened, how it was not, under any circumstance, okay to fight in my classroom. He apologized profusely and said he would deal with it.

My next class was with the little kids so it wasn’t until lunchtime that I found out what happened with the students in the Director’s office. The consequence of them starting an all out brawl in my classroom, during class, was a mandatory apology to me. 

That’s it. No call home to their parents, no clean up duty or homework assignment, no detention or loss of privileges. Nothing.

I appreciate the apologies, I really do. I know they both felt terrible about it but with that being the punishment for that kind of disruption in class and disrespect for each other, what’s stopping them from getting into it again tomorrow?

Drama is duel edged. It’s drama and who wants to deal with that? I certainly don’t. Yet with drama comes the opportunity to grow and develop, to learn things about oneself. Today I was reminded, for the bizillonth time, that not wanting to ripple the water can be a handicap if it causes inaction where action is necessary to make change. As much as the events of today disturbed me, I’m grateful for them. In many ways I wish that this had happened three weeks ago at the beginning of camp. I’m pretty sure I could have saved myself a lot of frustration. I can only hope that the two students involved in the incident are also able to find something from this experience to help them to grow. And that there is no Smackdown in my class tomorrow.

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