Swear Survey 2018: Results

The survey that I started last week was meant to help me understand more about three main ‘research questions:’

  1. What are general attitudes about swearing in a group of random internet strangers?

  2. Was it normal for people to swear at primary school in the past? 

  3. Why do my students swear so damn much? 

I should preface this post with the disclaimer that it is NOT science, nor is it meant to be taken particularly seriously.

INTRODUCTION

I’m a public school ELL (English Language Learning) teacher in Hanoi, Vietnam at the moment. It’s been seven years since I began teaching, and I’ve caught something of the gist of the generation that will come to age after my own Millennial one. This is not yet another chance to wonder what we Millennials will kill next (soap? soda? civilisation?) nor a chance to navel-gaze about the labels we apply to randomly-born humans.

I caught primary school students before the Age of the “Influencer,” when Youtube and its derivatives wandered into the very hands of practically every person who lives in a city in the world. Anecdotally, I noticed in my travels (China, Korea, Iceland, USA, UK, Vietnam) that children seem to have far fouler mouths than I remember from primary school. Since I began teaching in 2011, it seems as if children have started to swear more and more. Especially, it seems, in English.

I should also state that the swearing is not an isolated experience in my work. Every day, in almost every class, students drop phrases on me and others that would have gotten me sent to the Principal’s Office back in the 1990s.

I never swear at school, nor do I even use euphemisms like “fudge it” or “sugar.” They aren’t learning these phrases from me, folks!

The words and phrases are osmosed from the Interwebs, especially Youtube, and around the world from Chilean Patagonia to Vietnam children are turning the air blue.

RESULTS

Total number of Reddit users: approximately 1.2 billion, apparently! 

Posted on 7 March 2018 to r/samplesize

Total Responses: 696

1

There’s an interestingly high proportion of those from ages 12-18. 51.3% from “Generation Z,” roughly defined as those born in the mid 1990s to early 2000s.

Screenshot_20180225-150726

Easy enough.

3

I got some pushback on this question. Originally, the reason I asked for a binary response was to see if the introduction of Youtube in 2005 influenced people. I decided once I had a ton of responses that this might be a little hard to tease out.

The question should have read, “Did you finish primary school before or after 2005?

Oh well, I’ll try again some other time.

4- actual

Major oversight here: I forgot to put Canada as an option. Sorry, Canada. My bad.

Still, mostly from the States. 1% of respondents from Sweden, Germany, and NZ. Most interesting ones were from Poland, Lithuania, Nigeria, Japan, and several people who moved around a lot.

A note for the next few questions; they all had the same list of words to choose from. The list of words was, in order:

  • fuck
  • shit
  • bitch
  • arse/ass
  • damn
  • cunt
  • darn
  • hell
  • None of them.

Because I left it open to add one’s own phrases, it was too hard to see the additional words. I will sample the most funny ones below each image.

4

Broad agreement that saying “damn,” “darn,” or “hell” was okay as long as a teacher didn’t overhear you.

11 people said that “crap” was okay to utter with no adult supervision. Several people said, “heck” was okay. Several mentions slurs, which I distinguish from words I would consider swears along the following lines:

Slur (n.) – an offensive word or phrase that is used to denigrate a group of marginalised people, normally with specific historical reference to slavery, racism, or discrimination

Swear (n.) – an offensive word that is not directed at a specific group 

I count the slurs as swears here, but I won’t re-publish them.

Moving on….

Capture

Broad agreement that “darn” was okay. Under 10% approval in this sample for “fuck, “bitch,” “arse/ass,” and “cunt.” Interestingly, “shit” as an expletive was okay for 12%. That seems high.

 

7

Relative agreement that it was okay to aim “darn” at a fellow pupil, but just as many said that none of those words would have been okay in class.

8

Now, this one made me feel a lot better.

I agree, dear readers! It is NOT okay for my students to say, “Fuck you,” “You’re a fucking bitch,” or “Shut the fuck up!” to a TEACHER. Any teacher.

On a personal note, these responses made me feel much better. In the last couple of weeks, a few people I work with told me that this was not a big deal. I’ve dealt with it since September, and my colleagues seem not to care. I’ve raised the issue a few times, and I always call the students out for this (barring the one kid in a class of mine who suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome and has a genuine diagnosis. He gets a pass, obviously). This was the whole impetus behind this survey. Thank you.

Interesting that the big swears (a la George Carlin) drop here from roughly 10% okay-ness to about 5%. This indicates that most people who responded to the survey agree that there are limits to what one can or should say to a teacher. At least, as far as I’m concerned.

For the next question, the list of phrases was: 

  • Fuck you
  • Son of a Bitch
  • Fuck you, bitch
  • Fuck off
  • God damn it
  • Go to hell
  • Fucking whore
  • CuntyMcCuntface
  • “Give me money or I’ll rape your wife”
  • None of them.

I will preface these results with the statement that I have heard students in grades 1-5 (ages 6-11) this year saying these words at school. Every single phrase has graced my ears at least once (in English), with the exception of the wife-rape one. That was said to my husband.

On Monday, a second-grader asked me, “Teacher, you like fuck?” He then flipped me the bird and wandered off.

THIS IS NOT UNIQUE TO VIETNAM. This is a global phenomenon. You should’ve heard Icelandic kids swear at summer camp.

Also, I do not believe that 56 of respondents said the phrase “CuntyMcCuntFace” at school. You just thought it was funny, fuckers!

9

Additional responses were:

  • “Damn it”
  • “Almost got suspended for calling my friend a twat in 7th grade.”
  • “Fucknugget, dickhead, scrote, wankstain”
  • “I’m an Irishman, every single phrase was screamed at another child”
  • “I hope you burn in heck, you frigging ice hole”

That last one is after my own puritan-environment heart.

Now for the general attitude results. Please note that these have some ‘noise’ in the form of people choosing to say, “fuck you.”

10

11

Haha. The survey itself may have shifted people’s ideas toward “maybe.”

12

Again, thank you, readers. I’m pretty fucking sick of it myself.

13

The last question was hilarious.

It was deliberately left open with a swear directed at the respondent.

322 said simply, “Other.” 327 used the word “fuck” in the response. That’s roughly 47% of respondents who, given the chance to swear at a stranger. said some form of “fuck you.”

14

People kept writing in this section:

  • “Why is this a required question?!” <– See above.
  • “This won’t get you accurate results” <–No shit. It’s for fun.
  • Various poop, middle finger, and dick emojis

Additional responses:

  • “Am a 2nd grade teacher. Definitely more common now than when I was in school!” <– Hey, friend.
  • “I am a teacher and work with kids at a rough school. They definitely swear at each other but they know not to swear at me.”
  • “I found other kids who have sworn a lot to have more problems expressing themselves without using swear words. It’s like their word bank somehow shrank to mainly swear words. From my point of view, teachers should not encourage using swear words, but also shouldn’t perform the ‘drama’ around them. I’m trying to say, that if you don’t do the drama, it won’t be so much fun for the kids to use them. In fact, I’d like to propose an alternative approach: tolerate swear words, but encourage kids to try talking without them. Not because they are offensive, but because others will have issues understanding what they actually want to say.” <– Yes, this is basically my approach in the classroom. I ignore them up to a point (a flagrant swear aimed at me or someone else, say). Then, i just say that they shouldn’t use Internet English.
  • “Some of these are pretty American swear words. The more religious ones – darn, damn, hell – wouldn’t really be considered cursing at all in the UK. By far the most used “swear word” when I was in primary school was crap” <– I’m from the USA but my husband is from England. We’ve talked at length about how swearing attitudes differ in our countries, but I included darn, hell, and damn because they were DEFINITELY swears for me as a kid in the US.
  • “I think that swearing in elementary school is most often just experimentation, I knew few kids who swore every other word and dialed down as they aged. I kinda wish I did so that I felt comfortable with swears now and had a more innate understanding of when it’s appropriate. I find swears everywhere online and so when I say them I have to take a second to consider whether or not it’s a good situation for it. When I went to school in Korea kids swore a whole lot in both English and Korean.” <–Fair enough. I taught in Korea, as well.
  • “I was one of the first kids in school to start swearing. I did it because it shocked the kids who were bullying me into leaving me alone. I swear all the fucking time and have no kids so I am not used to censoring myself outside of work and tend to swear in front of my nieces and nephews.”
  • “None except kids today are disrespectful as fuck. You never said that shit TO A TEACHER in my day.”
  • “Kids repeatedly saying “fuck you” to a teacher sounds more like lack of discipline/ behavioral issues than changing social norms honestly.” <– No shit. Addressed at length above.
  • “Maybe I’m an old lady (34) but I really hope kids aren’t saying give me money or I’ll rape your wife…” <– They don’t really understand what it means, but stuff like this is said.
  • “The nature of these questions has me very alarmed. As if society has allowed this language to be used by children? I only started saying shit and fuck in high school, and still cringed at the word cunt (even in Australia)”
  • “We had more real consequences when we got in trouble compared to the kids now. Teachers tend to get blamed now” <– Several people in the survey said that I must be a bad teacher or that I must have taught the students to swear because of the wording of this survey.

Funny ones:

  • Eat dicks and die, u cock slapping piss bastard <3″ <– This is hilarious.
  • “You’re not funny and neither is your survey” <– Okay, don’t spend time to fill it in, then.
  • “Vape in my pussy and call me your memeslut.” <–I’m too Millennial for this shit.
  • “No, fuck you you twat waffle!”
  • “I’m tremendously disappointed in the lack of genital-related swears besides “cunt.” Seriously – “dick,” “cock,” “pussy…” not even “bollocks?”
  • “Did you just learn how to say fuck?”
  • “Make my tits lactate”
  • “Hey, no swearing on my minecraft server.”
  • “From Utah, btw” <– Couldn’t tell, hahaha.
  • “Screw you with a bouquet of brontosaurus dicks. :D”
  • “Incredible survey, thank you for your time, god bless and fuck you.”
  • “Stop swearing!!!!!!”

cat

CONCLUSIONS

To me, it seems like those who took the survey mostly agree that swearing at teachers is not okay even in 2018. In addition, it’s clear that a lot of the swears that we would have gotten in trouble for in my day are no longer considered so horrible.

It’s also clear that some people truly cannot take a fucking joke.

CALL FOR COMMENT

What do you think of the survey? What minute details could be improved? Are you a teacher who hears swears a lot? Tell me in the comments.

If you feel compelled to help educate these students after reading these results, I’m raising money for free books for them. You can find the GoFundMe page here

 

 

Me No English

“Me no English,” states the girl with enough grammar to ape Tarzan. She does this in spite of speaking full sentences and writing them in her book. I’ve heard her say fluent and complete ones before. She and the others use this as a joke.

“I’m not asking you to speak English,” I growl. “I’m asking you to repeat. I say, you say.”

That’s one of my teaching mantras. I use it in every single class. At least five times a class. Approximately once every seven minutes. All day long. Every weekday since the 17th of September 2017.

“Me no…”

“Nope. I say, you say. May….”

“Me…”

“No. Say. Say. May…” Pointing to my mouth. Counting on my fingers.

This girl is eleven. She’s been in English classes for 2.5 years. Today’s lesson is about future tense. Or was. It is 16:07 and class ends at 16:10. I took her notebook off her at 15:35. It’s taken 32 minutes to get through the bullshit this class has been putting me through. Incessantly talking. Frustrating meanness. A total lack of respect. It’s not that they can’t do what I’m asking them to. I’ve seen it happen.

“Let’s help her out, guys.”

Half the class had to come up and ask me nicely to return their stuff. I took it because at the start of class, I wrote the list of supplies needed for English class. I’ve been writing it on the board for the whole month of December, after a kid tried to get out of taking the English semester test by claiming he didn’t know he needed a pencil. The list reads:

YOU NEED:
– A pencil
-Your English Book (closed)

I added the ‘your,’ the ‘English,’ and the ‘(closed)’ due to students claiming that the instructions were too ambiguous. Given that my students still repeatedly interrupt classes to say, “What’s your name?” after having me in their school every single day for the whole semester, I believe that they might just forget that I exist when I step out of the room and go to my next lesson. After all, they say that six month old babies think you die when you leave the room. Maybe my fifth graders have arrested development.

“What is it that we have to say, in order to get our things back?”

This student is the fifteenth in line. I’ve repeated the line with every last one of them. I’ve sent people to the back of the line to contemplate their sins for being a jerk and/or picking their nose while they politely asked for their book.

I took the books because I waited for five minutes for my students to comply with the instructions that do not change and have always been the instructions. That’s the limit. I watch the clocks and count the seconds. I punctuate the moments with points for those who are doing as I ask (In this class, there was but one. One, out of 35, who was ready for class after five minutes of waiting.). Once it reaches five minutes, I start to take books.

I put them on the teacher’s desk, and there they stay until I call the students up to ask me politely for their things back. In this class, I’ve created a pile of rulers, notebooks, vietnamese language homework, several open English books, pens, leaking fountain pens, and a book about no-bake desserts.

I pointed out that even the first graders don’t normally have this much of a failure-to-comply-with-basic-instructions mountain. The line to receive the stuff stretched all the way to the back of the room, the final ten minutes of a 35-minute class in which we did exactly zero of the work they are supposed to complete filled with repetitive, immediately-forgotten, false politeness. The last notebook sat in my hands for two minutes, with me repeatedly threatening to eat it (no titters, usually gold material for primary students).

Only when I opened my backpack and put the notebook inside did the eleven-year-old girl race forward, shouting in Vietnamese, “HEY! THAT’S MINE!!!!!!!”

In this class two weeks ago, I rapped my own knuckle on the board so hard trying to emphasise that I was not asking them to generate the words from the ether so much as read the things off the board in a zombified tone. My left ring finger cracked open. I bled. My students laughed at that. It was probably the first time they actually laughed at something I did all month. Haha. Look at that idiot bleed.

“Me n…”

“Let’s all help her, yes? May…….” The class joins in, or rather the few who noticed that I’m asking them to help a girl out.

“May…..” She repeats.

Counting on my fingers to indicate the second word. The two best students in the class chime in with, “I…..”

“I….”

Counting three fingers. Third word.

“Have….”

“Have…”

Fourth finger.

“My….”

“Me….”  I let it slide, this minor mistake. Let this girl’s English persona be from England or something. That’s what I tell myself.

I have to prompt about three times with my face contorted and pulling my own finger for comedic effect, emphasizing how much a want them to just god damnit say the fucking next shit-arsed word in this sentence of only six words total. The class has wandered in the 20 seconds since we began chanting “May I have my…” I wonder what they chat about constantly. Probably, “Remember how her knuckle bled? huhuhuhuihuh, Yeah that was the best….”

“Book…” Relief. Thank you, one kid paying attention. Thank you, 2% of the class.

“Pook…”

Close enough. It’s a notebook but close the fuck enough. 16:09.

“Please.”

“Piss.”

I pass it over, feigning relief.

“That was easy, no? See, you can speak English! You can!”

Under my black blazer, my shirt is soaked through with the perspiration of a six-word question.

With that, the giant drum rings out and the students instantly start running out the door.

Things that seems normal after three months in Vietnam but actually aren’t if you stop to think about it for a second

I open the Italy lock on the door to our apartment complex. It’s a clunky dimple lock, the kind that it supposed to be secure. For extra security, we have a small hole through which we must put our hand to unlock it from the outside. Measures against bolt cutters.

I pull my bike outside and lock the door through the tiny hole. Then I’m on my way, one of the bustling ant people on the roads in this city of eight million. My commute mirrors the ant superhighway in our house, except that we’re following roads instead of pheromone trails.

It was hard for me to come up with this list, because the things on it have become so normalised.

I want to emphasise that for the most part, our life here is ridiculously comfortable. I feel very happy indeed living in Hanoi. It’s not always easy, but that’s precisely why we wanted to live here.

IMG_8961

That said, this is definitely not a familiar place when you first arrive. I described Hanoi back in April as:

Bustling, but not stressful. Loud, tempered by silence after curfew. Trust and intense connection with a human community, such as must have once existed in major cities all over the world but which is vanishingly rare in 2017. It’s not always confortable, oh no. It’s real, though. It sweeps you up an makes you think about what you’ve been missing, living in a boxy gray concrete apartment and ignoring your neighbours every time you misfortune to find yourselves in the same hallway. If you’ve become a city person, you can eventually relax into it.

And it still is. Despite the fact that I’m tired a lot of the time from teaching, and that I don’t have the certainty that living in the Western world supposedly grants (but doesn’t actually follow through with), I love my time in Vietnam. For Teacher’s Day we went on a bicycle tour and rode through the banana fields that are about 3km from our apartment. I had no idea they were there.

Hanoi is still surprising me. But much is becoming a new home.

IMG_9290

We thought of many of these sitting at Epoque Furniture/Cafe store (which is basically someone’s rooftop of the house converted to bring in a few people for coffee, tea, and cocktails). These situations  feel totally normal after three months in Vietnam (but actually aren’t).

 

  1. Loose, live chickens scratching happily in the gutter outside your cafe
  2. Piles of burning fake money on the sidewalk every 15th and 30th of the lunar month
  3. The infamous ‘bum gun’ in place of toilet paper in all placesdsc_0168-01-1990794196.jpeg
  4. The hardcore gastrointestinal crossfit workout which Russell terms a ‘Vietnamese Poop Cannon’ once a week (at least)
  5. Clapping one’s hands when entering an alleyway, toilet block, garden, or classroom and saying, “Ho, rat!” to scare them off before you see them
  6. Purposefully squashed rats like so many bloodied pancakes outside of schools22548576_10105628614593133_6958832645589720001_o
  7. Ordering something, setting a time for delivery, and having a company call you after the appointment time to ask, “Did you order XYZ?”
  8. Setting a time for an appointment and having people be shocked and unprepared that you are there at the time you stated
  9. Setting an appointment and being asked to ‘take a seat’ for 10-30 minutes
  10. Setting an appointment and being stood up completely
  11. Setting an appointment, changing it according to a message you receive from the person you make the appointment with, and then having a very angry person on the other end of a phone line wondering where on Earth you are
  12. Setting an appointment, forgetting that naptime is from 11:00-14:00 and getting no message about whether the person is coming or not (because they are napping, of course)
  13. A sense greater than in any other place I’ve lived (yes, even Chile or Italy) that there is not a shared cultural sense of timewp-image-1118353373
  14. Pour over coffee (something I’d never seen until 2017 and now my very favourite. I even did a taste test in May)
  15. Sweating through clothing so rapidly that you take three-four showers per day and have to change at lunchtime
  16. Napping anywhere and everywhere at anytime
  17. The excuse, “She’s just very lazy” being not so much a bad thing as a character description without malice
  18. Near misses  on the roads twice weekly (Your weekly sphincter checks! Hope it’s not Poop Cannon day!)
  19. Headlights that looks like searchlights in the night because of the combined humidity and air quality IMG_8956
  20. A single, non-gender correct person dubbing all the voices on a TV show
  21. 22 C being ‘very cold’
  22. Shoe shiners at every cafe, constantly pointing out the sorry state of your worn out shoes (can’t buy new ones because my feet are huge here)
  23. Wearing suiting to go out and have a coffee with all the others in suits having coffee
  24. Eating at a place that makes you think, “Oh well, if I die tonight from eating this, it was worth it.”
  25. Government speakers on lightpoles to make announcements and wake everyone for morning exercise
  26. The fact that “I never do morning exercise” is one of the most shocking statements I’ve made in front of my studentsIMG_9301
  27. Thinking something that costs $2 US is really quite expensive
  28. Wondering why I can’t seem to find XYZ for our house and realising that labour is so cheap here that everything from hairdrying to vacuming is a job for someone in the city
  29. Merging across all lanes of fast traffic with mopeds flying everywhere, doing a U-turn, and then immediately merging across all lanes of traffic again to make a right turn on the other side of the road22366386_10105602467791533_4775423928414036272_n
  30. Questioning whether any product I pick up is authentic or not (and then deciding whether to care if it isn’t)
  31. Tailored clothing being cheaper than off-the-rack for the same quality
  32. Devastating headaches after enduring 76 decibels as the ‘low volume’ of my classes for 70 minutes, and then walking straight back in to another class again
  33. College students who shout, “Hello!” just like five year olds when we pass them having coffee near their classes for the 50th day in a row
  34. Takeout delivery that is from the whole menu of a restaurant, not just pizza
  35. Dragonfruit (riper than in China)
  36. Wedding pavilions that appear on the sidewalk overnight and disappear about 24 hours laterIMG_8576
  37. Children’s clothing with really inappropriate sayings in English on it (favourite so far = “Mother Fucking Airplane” on a pink sweater)
  38. People saying, “Yes” when they probably mean, “No, not at all.”
  39. Wondering where ‘Shoe Street,’ ‘Plant Street,’ ‘Tea Street,’ ‘LED Street,’ or ‘Golden Monkey Replica Street’ are and being dead serious about it
  40. Christmas of course being an excuse to have sales, but not a day off work
  41. Writing ‘No Youtube English’ on the board as a rule because students continuously use the phrase, ‘Fuck you, bitch’ to disagree mildly
  42. Dressing well above my pay grade wp-image-899568256
  43. 35-50 students per class
  44. A totally unrelated hoarse voice after Monday’s classes
  45. Bad behaviour moving from class to class within a school like a malevolent zeitgeist, infecting each group in turn and making a good day of hard work suspect (Who will fall to the star-decimation next?)
  46. Students fighting with rulers constantly
  47. Wondering if making shivs and shanks is actually an instinctual behaviour for the genus Homo, given how young the stabby classes are and how pervasive the drive to sharpen one’s ruler appears to be

    IMG_9247

    Make sure the small child doesn’t have a shiv before approaching (in any country)

  48. Dodging typhoons for all of autumn (I dodged two on the day I arrived to Vietnam, one near Taipei and the other here in Hanoi)
  49. Wearing my hair in styles that work with a helmet (in other words, only low braids and low ponytails)
  50. Sheer exhaustion come 22:00

It’s been a long time coming, this list. I find myself with lots of hours off, but tons to do during them to be truly ready for my work (or at least, tons of relaxing to do to be mentally calm enough to do the work).

 

Beginning of the Season – DIY Paper Projects

Hello, out there! I’m working on being more connected to this blog again, and have several posts in the works. But today I was off work sick (again, due to the stomach issues that come with living in Vietnam).

I used the time to make some paper DIY projects and get into the holiday season. You can find the Youtube videos that I used to learn to make these projects below.

Teaching

“Can I tell you something?”

I’m outside one of my toughest classes, having just been told that the kids inside are crying due to being (justly) scolded.

“I’m so proud that you did your speech this morning. Remember how when I got here, you couldn’t read very much at all?”

This is a student from the class with the following description: can’t sit in a seat for more than five minutes, little to no grit or resilience, five-six years old, one of whom could not find the pages in the book when I arrived (but now can!!!) and one who likes to climb on the table and kick the others in the face. Not hard, but still.

Of course, I love them still.

“Yes….” says the student. She understands everything I say to her, having spent a long time living in the USA.

“I am so impressed with you. High five! Seriously, though. I cannot believe how much progress you’ve made.”

The bright, humble smile this particular student possesses gleams into existence on her face. Only I can see it, in this passing moment between insane amounts of stress.

“I want you to know,” she turns that sunshine on me, looking up into my face from her standing level, around my knees, “This is the whole reason why I love being a teacher.”


DO I love being a teacher?

I do. I don’t. I bang my head on the door of the toilet at the school, in the briefest of moments I can both sit down for fifteen seconds out of a 9.5 hour day and perform a necessary bodily function. I plead. I beg. I shout. I cry (not normally out where anyone can see). I am entering my sixth year of being a teacher, and I am in a situation that reminds me daily of the first time I was called “Miss Coleen.”

In my first school, in Patagonia, I had access to the copy machine only when it had paper and ink. And when I could convince the janitor to copy something. And when it was connected to power. And when the time permitted. And when it was in service.

Let’s be honest. I had no copy machine.

I remember writing out worksheets by hand for my students with a red magic marker. I remember crying in front of my class and telling them that I was a volunteer, and than meant I wanted to be there. I remember them telling me that they didn’t believe I wasn’t being paid to teach them.

I remember paying out of pocket for the services of a print shop down the road from my homestay, feeling my stomach fall out and land near my shoes to be kicked along the pavement at the sight of a stiff, dead, orange kitten outside. It was maybe 6 July 2011, and I was about to leave Escuela 5 (Juan de Ladriellos) in Puerto Natales.

My very first day, I had to bend the law and my volunteering contract to cover a class for my colleague. It was Septimo A. It was the hardest class in the school. Seventh graders are, to this day, a challenge to me. But that day I walked in with no prep time, no lesson plan, no Spanish, and no prior training to be a teacher (excluding the prefunctory TEFL Certificate I had received an A for on the Internet).

I didn’t die, perhaps surprisingly!

But it was a tone-setter. The school was tough on veteran teachers. I was a newb with idealistic tendencies, who was an outsider and also always the good girl in classes growing up. I realised that I cannot easily anticipate the ways that students will go off the rails or try to hurt one another, or subvert my lessons, because I simply never dared to be naughty.

There was a three-day period where I almost gave up in Chile. I couldn’t find the strength to eat or get out of bed. I half-feigned illness and laid in bed, unable to sleep or even close my eyes for days, with the National Geographic Channel on 24/7. At the time, it seemed a perfectly logical response. Looking back, I was in serious distress. I made it through, decided to keep going, and went back to the school.

On my last day, I was mobbed by students who nearly knocked me over in the assembly called to confer upon me an honourary certificate. I remember tearing up in front of everyone, and people cheering my name. In some slow-motion from a movie, I remember the kids rushing me and shouting in a newly-minted teacher’s voice for them to be careful. Don’t hurt each other. Be nice. No, stop that. Be good. Be good. Be good.


In some Korean hagwons, we live a teacher’s nightmare.

There is no time to prepare your lessons, so they turn out like shit. You try to make them fun, and the kids respond by becoming so competitive that they are liable to start self-harming if they believe that there was some small slight to them.

Taking a bullshit, made-up, inherently arbitrary “point” away induces paroxysms of rage and ear-splitting bellows.

Many students carry a mobile phone around their necks or on their wrists, able to text mummy if teacher is even one second late to class or tells them off for being rude to another student. That way, parents can swoop in to watch the CCTV in real-time of our classes, without speaking to us or asking why their student was put in the Time Out Chair. Heaven forbid they should actually ask me about their child’s seeming inability to control himself or what swearword precisely he used to be sent outside. When you ask about why the moms are all so overbearing, you get the response that they are “very sensitive.” Every. Last. One.

Students are expected to be instantly fluent, and instantly perfectly behaved, and instantly copacetic. I have kindergarten students taking a goddamned TOEFL test! Yes, the one for college entrance! A four-year-old who was born in 2012 and cannot consistently use the toilet without assistance should definitely memorise a three-minute speech about animal defense mechanisms and predation behaviour. Yes, even the oldest have not yet mastered the mystery that is shoelace-tying, but they should analyse and regurgitate university-level news articles.

A familiar strain from Chile comes through….we’re often out of paper, and there was until today but one computer shared between six teachers. For a week in December, we had no paper to print or copy, and no books. I said, “Fuck it (internally, obviously), let’s make snowflakes and chat for two hours.” I buy and hoard my own supplies. I save scraps of paper to a fault. I find myself writing out worksheets by hand once more.


But that smile. That light.

It’s true, what I told that student today. No matter how insane it all gets, or how little time I have to pee, or how few pencils I have. No matter how much I feel the muscle knot I carry with me in my left shoulder, remnant of those three bedbound days in Patagonia. No matter how much I kick myself for shouting at a preschooler.

That light is like a drug. I am a teaching addict, and I chase the dragon every day. One second of that light, and it all seems worth it.