Thursday, 13 May 2010

I wish I could go back to middle school...

... just so that I could kick some 'mean girl' butt!

This entry's going to be long... but please read on, as I'd love to hear your comments.

I am steaming right now. I haven't been this angry in ages, and go figure, all it took were a bunch of ignorant little tweens and their twisted realities, to send me flying over the edge.

I teach the equivalent of grades 7, 8 and 9 at my middle school in Korea. The ages in the classes range anywhere from 13 - 16. This particular incident involved my third graders... the supposed leaders of the school, by Korean standards.

One of my classes (that I see twice a week) has a special needs student in it. She's absolutely brilliant in terms of speaking, reading and writing English. I've been told she has 'autistic tendencies' by the teachers here, but they do nothing to help her, and force her to socialize and deal with the wrath of her peers in regular classes.

A couple of weeks ago, this student - let's call her J - was playing with a blue plastic mirror case. It had the design of a pig on it, and it seemed to amuse her to a great deal. With a few minutes left for class to begin, I approached J and asked her what she was so happy about. She pointed to the blue pig case and said, "This is a gift from my friend. I am very happy!"

I asked her if I could see it, and proceeded to open the case... only to be shocked when I found a broken and fragmented mirror inside it.

"Who gave this to you, J?" I asked. I was absolutely concerned about her safety at this point.

She simply smiled at me and said it was a secret. "I am told to keep a secret. I can't tell you!"

This made me angry, and I started to look around the class to see who would deliberately give someone a broken mirror, and call it a gift! This person clearly wasn't a friend.

A few minutes later a girl walked in, sending J into a fit of giggles. I looked at the front of the class, and saw a thinner, more petite girl, giving J the sternest look a middle schooler could muster.

"It had to be her," I though.

Following my instincts, I approached the girl and asked her why she'd give someone a broken mirror as a gift. The girl looked at the case, then at the broken mirror, and let her jaw drop to the ground.

"Teacher!!! What happened? This is dangerous! Oh, what about J? Is she OK?" she asked, in a breath.

"Yes, she's fine," I said. "What I want to know is why you'd do something like this? What's wrong with you?"

The girl proceeded to feign ignorance and said she had no idea the mirror was broken. She then walked up to J and exchanged some seemingly sweet choice words with her. Although, now that I think about it, it must have upset J a great deal, as she was quiet for the rest of the class.


J walked into our class after lunch and told me right off the bat that she hated coming to school.

"What's wrong? Why are you upset?" I asked her.

She said she couldn't tell me (again) but that her homeroom teacher knew.

I figured the bullying had something to do with it, but I let the topic drop after she insisted on talking to me about the weather. Still, I decided to keep an eye out for the student who'd given her the mirror in our last class.

Within minutes, this student walked into the classroom, seemingly angry about something. she took a seat in the row ahead of J and shot her a vicious look that I'm sure everyone caught. Yet no one said a word... including my co-teacher.

I proceeded to start the class as usual, working on the date and weather for the day, when I saw this student pull out a plastic mirror from her pocket and hold it back to J. The frame stood on it's own, with the missing mirror replaced by the photo of a pig.

I lost my restrain!

I called the girl out on it in front of the class, while taking the mirror and shoving it into a drawer in my desk. Once again, the girl - and her friend, who just so happened to be one of the smartest students in my class - feigned ignorance and said she was clumsy and broke the mirror before class.

J's face gave the situation away. I knew these girls had something to do with J's sadness, and I looked at my co-teacher in desperate hope that he'd intervene and do something about it.

He, as expected, did absolutely nothing, choosing to ignore what was happening right under his nose.

This is the third time I've encountered the same experience with the same students. What I can't wrap my mind around is how twisted these girls are, that they can think of bullying in such a way.

From what I gather, this is how it goes down:

They approach J and make her see her reflection in the mirror. They then proceed to taunt her, telling her she's ugly and that she looks like a pig. Next, they smash the mirror in front of her, telling her that it broke because of her face. So she should never look into a mirror, because the only thing she'll see in it, is a pig.

I hate this. I absolutely hate it! There's NO reason that anyone should be treated this way. It's also sad to say that the girls who are doing this have admitted to undergoing plastic surgery on their faces... in middle school!! Why on EARTH would a young teenager have access to cosmetic surgery at such a young age? Is their view of beauty and what's considered 'normal' in this world, so twisted??

I've done what I can to fix this situation, from confiscating mirrors, to yelling at the girls, to punishing them in class. But because neither their homeroom teachers nor my co-teachers think this situation is severe enough to need more attention, there's nothing else I can do but wait and watch as this time-bomb ticks.

It's moments like these when I'm reminded how limited my resources and means to make a difference are in this country. I can only go as far as they want me to go, as long as they're watching. It's only when they're not watching, that I'm able to take small leaps ahead.



  1. Simi, I think you are doing a fabulous job. For some reason I wanted to tear up at this--not even just the pain that poor girl felt but how it is a symbol of how apathetic others around us can be towards it.

    Have faith, things will work out. That young girl will do fabulous things and always remember your example for defending her and as for the others---well I needn't even say, but they will not have the charmed existence they feel or think they do now. They may always be mean, they may have it "easy" for a while but life has a way of catching up to you. And who knows, one day they may too recall what you said to them. You never know.

    God bless. And keep up the good work love. x

  2. Thank you for your understanding, Alex. I do hope that someday they'll realize how wrong they are.

  3. My reaction when I read this was literally, "Jeeeeesus!"

    That's just wrong. But I'm with Alex -- letting her know that there are always people who are on her side is good. I remember doing the same in elementary school when a student was bullied like that. I finally got sick of it and told off the bullies regardless of how much it would hurt my reputation or turn me into a target.

    Sometimes I do wonder what teachers in Korea generally do about bullying. "Nothing" seems to be a normal answer to that, which is unfortunate.

  4. I have no idea how I would have dealt with that situation. I would have been so angry!

    Maybe you should teach a class about respect. Without pointing out a specific person.

  5. I used to encounter things like that in China ALL the time...and I taught University-level, where students are supposed to be "mature".

    I have a feeling your co-teacher isn't saying anything is because you're a foreigner and he doesn't want to lose "face" in front of you.

    Also, most teachers in Asia aren't trained (or paid) like North American teachers. They're job is to "teach" and not " guide". Guidance is what they get from their parents at home.

    To be perfectly blunt about it, they just don't get paid enough to become emotionally involved with their students.

    You're very compassionate though but don't let it get to you. I think by shaming the girls by letting them know that YOU know, and by comforting poor J, you did all you could.


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