When I taught English as a second language in Korea, I loved showing my personality, wisdom, culture and knack for making some things easy to understand. I also loved being around my students.
Except for Monday and Friday nights.
I taught at an after-school program while I lived in Seoul. I taught all ages and levels of students, but there’s one child I’ll never forget. Grandmothers would stop this moppet to pinch her cute, little cheeks. When she picked her English name, this preteen cherub chose Dooly after the cartoon dinosaur she loved. If you saw Dooly, you’d assume she was just an adorable 12-year-old girl who loved K-Pop music, bubble gum ice cream and spending time giggling with her friends.
Dooly loved a lot of things. Except for me.
Being an after-school teacher in Korea means your school might be the reason these kids miss their favorite TV show or their chance to see the new blockbuster. You’re taking time away from the rest of their studies — which can be about 12-hour days. Sometimes kids must skip birthday parties, vacations or get-togethers just to sit in your boring class to learn grammar.
Or maybe these kids just want to act like normal kids. It’s not uncommon for a child to start crying randomly. When you ask what’s wrong, they tell you, “I’m hungry and tired. I woke up at 5 a.m. to take the bus to school. It’s 8:30 p.m. now and I just want to go to sleep or play with my friends.”
Sometimes you feel like a child abuser, so your students start treating you like one. Dooly ranked as the absolute worst in my career.
I’ve worked as a bouncer, reporter and telemarketer, but none of these loveless gigs prepared me for the insults this little Hello Kitty fanatic hurled at me.
“Casey Teacher, how did you get so fat?”
“How many meals do you eat every day to get this fat?”
“Do you have a girlfriend, Casey? Is she fat, too? Or are you too fat to have a girlfriend?”
“Are your parents fat, too, or is it just you?”
“Where do fat people like you buy clothes?”
“Do you go to special restaurants to find food for people as fat and ugly as you?”
When I told Dooly she was hurting my feelings, she snapped off a perfect comeback in near-perfect English.
“Teacher, are you sad because you’re fat, or are you fat because you’re sad?”
After classes with her, I’d dismiss coworkers’ invitations for beers and burgers. I’d take my depressed and fat ass to the gym. My weight loss would prove to this little monster that I’m not fat.
Wait! I’m not fat or even husky. I’m muscular. After sweating, I’d feel better. However, as I worked out, one of the personal trainers would show off his six-pack abs and I’d sink into another hole of despair, which made me slink home to fill my sorrow with pizza, beer and cookies.
Eventually, Dooly graduated from our programs, and she gave me very high teacher ratings. I didn’t exactly lie when I said she was a good student. She was smart but certainly not nice.
I don’t know what happened to Dooly, but I hope she’s grown kinder in her high school days. Otherwise, nuclear weapons are the least of our worries on the Korean Peninsula.