Sungbo

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When I was teaching preschool in South Korea, I had this kid named Sungbo. This is the story of how I turned him around, and my serious doubts as to whether or not I had done the right thing.

Yesterday I was watching Molly Rose. Something transpired that, over the past 24 hours, triggered me and brought back a traumatic memory that seems to have cleansed me of some bile. In the ensuing state of reflection, my mind wandered back to South Korea, to one little Korean boy.

Sungbo was big, really big for his age. I was teaching preschool in a private academy in Seoul South Korea, and I had no idea what I was doing. I had a degree in drawing, so in the eyes of the Koreans, that made me qualified to teach. It was an adventure every step of the way, not least of all, in the classroom. The first day (and day after day), big dopey Sungbo would sit and cry (hell… “cry?” he screamed his lungs out), “Mamau…. MAAAAAMAAAAAUUUU!” Fortunately my co-teacher knew how to handle this. Soon enough I realized that the crying was only the beginning, for little Sungbo. With a spiteful face, he colored all over the page, not even trying. It wasn’t that he didn’t have any capacity, he just wanted to be a little turd and scribble. It was obvious that his motive was not innocent. I think I coined the phrase “monkey coloring,” which caught on like wildfire and was soon in use in every classroom. Now, before you judge me too harshly, wait until you see how this little monkey colorer turned out.

I could have put up with all that, but what really got me was that Sungbo not only towered over the other kids, but bullied the hell out of them. He was nasty. This went on week after week after week, and nothing we did seemed to make a dent in it. If it’s one thing I cannot abide, it’s a bully. Sungbo was mean, mean spirited, and he held meanness all over his little face. In honor of his decision to not only color poorly and bully, he was also determinedly dim, so privately I dubbed him “Sungbonehead.”

Finally, saddened, tired of watching the other (sweet and innocent) kids being bullied and terrorized by this little tyrant, I picked him up and started to take him to the next room over, which was full of older kids his size or bigger. Sungbo fought like a demon! He kicked, screamed, flailed, but I kept firm hold, marched him in and set him down in the middle of the classroom, Sungbo wailing away. I then let the big boys know that Sungbo had been picking on all the littler kids and that he needed to learn what it felt like to be little, and I left.

A couple hours later I came back and took him from the room.

My co teacher told me that she didn’t agree with the way I handled that. So be it, I hadn’t agreed with the way no one had handled it at all.

From that day forward, as if that moment were a pivot point, Sungbo turned around, and he never once bullied another child! In fact, he became sweet and helpful, a lovely playmate for the others. And his monkey coloring stopped, and he began doing amazingly creative, expressive and focused coloring, and instead of looking spitefully at me as he colored, he looked at me with pride and smiled as he showed me his hard work. He became a solid student, not too bright, but he really tried and was proud of his accomplishments, and that ugly angry face he always wore became a joyous bright smile.

But I wonder still… had I done the right thing?

4 responses »

  1. As a former teacher, I can say all is well that ends well. Your act changed the boy’s behavior for the better, and that’s great. It could as well have had the opposite effect. Pedagogics has never been an exact science, unfortunately. That’s why I am saying: we are not perfect, do what you feel is right, if your intentions are good, probably it will turn out good. The only real failure is the failure to try.

    • True, but so often we are surrounded by those who have stuffed their trainable heads with the latest theories that state with certainty that this or that is absolutely so when it comes to teaching, and so often I shake my head at these naive and self-righteous politically correct notions… shaking my head or not… it’s difficult on the soul to be regularly outnumbered.

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