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Terrible, Terrible Children: Teaching in South Korea

7 April 2010 Stories and Appreciations 83,581 views 15 CommentsPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

I have been teaching English in South Korea for the last five years. The following is a recollection of my first year on the peninsula.

Didn’t Bill Cosby once have a show called “Kids Say the Darndest Things?” If I recall, he’d interview kids about world issues or broad-reaching subjects, and we’d all chuckle ourselves silly until we wet ourselves. Their answers were invariably candid, precocious, and utterly lacking in tact or self-editing.

Cosby was right. Kids do say the darndest things. They also say the cruelest and most twisted-est things. And they draw them.

The picture at top is a portrait of me – “Chris,” or “grosoper” (sic). This is one of a series done by Marie, that gifted and malignant student, and also the inventor a game called called “Let’s Kill Chris Teacher.” These depictions mostly feature me as a bloated, hairy pig-man. I’m always wearing some sort of lingerie, usually heart-embroidered panties as displayed above. The artist neglected to include the bra in the portrait above, opting to instead accentuate what she perceived as my copious chest hair.

Teaching in Korea 02

This is the student in question – the creative force behind the masterpiece. Note the look of absolute sadism in her eyes, as well as how she cleverly re-enacts the “Lindy” pose from the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.



Some of the kids began calling me “grasshopper.” This is just a variation of “Christopher,” my real, full first name. They are syllabically similar, so I guess the leap wasn’t so hard to make.

Officially, I was known as “Chris Teacher.” Some of the more respectful students even addressed me as “Mr. Chris.” This led to another nickname:

Miss ‘teol’ Christin

“Miss ‘teol'” is a play on the word “Mister.” The clever little demon who invented this one succeeded in both calling me a girl (“Miss”) and ridiculing my arm hair (teol, which is Korean for “body hair.”) Korean children are obsessed with my arm hair, which is light to moderate at best. They constantly stare at it, pull at it, stroke it, and uncontrollably laugh at it.

“Christin,” of course, is a play on “Chris,” and turns me into a girl TWICE. This was an endless well of glee for the little hellspawn.


The children in one class began calling me “Cow.” This was only after I forbade the use of the word “pig.” “Pig” is a very mean word to use in English, though the children fling it around like a fifty cent Frisbee, both in English and Korean (the Korean word is dwaeji). They even used it to describe a teacher named Brian, who was 6’3″ and nothing but bone and sinew. One time a nefarious little snipe told him that he was “100% fat.” I pity the truly fat in this country. The abuse must be an endless torrent.

Super Dung Man

The same group of children mentioned above used to call me “Super Dung Man,” but only on Fridays. This originated from a white board drawing one of them did of me in which I was composed entirely of feces, complete with ravenous flies circling my poo-ey form. Korean children are entirely obsessed by poo — boys and girls alike — and often kill the time by doodling endless piles of it, always in a neatly-coiled form.


I invented this one on my own. Babo basically means “dummy” or “fool” in Korean. The kids used it all the time. I think babo is a hilarious word. It just sounds like what it is: dumb.

Super Gorilla

Most of the kids already knew me as “Gorilla Teacher,” because, from time to time I would act like a gorilla. “Super Gorilla” grew out of this. I used to sometimes play a card game with the kids called “Crazy Eights.” This game consists of a deck of cards split into categories. One of the categories is “animals,” and one of the cards is “gorilla,” featuring a huge silverback ape. One student began referring to the card as “Super Gorilla.”

The idea of a “Super Gorilla” intrigued me, a gorilla even more savage and stupid than a regular gorilla. This eventually led to me channeling the “Super Gorilla,” which was just a more extreme version of my regular gorilla. From time to time I would burst into a class room shrieking and grunting, pounding my chest and attacking the furniture. It was cathartic, and the kids would totally freak out. It was like giving all of them a giant whap of pure sugar in the jugular.

You know how you can rev up a puppy — how you can just bombard it with frenetic energy until it starts running aimlessly, back and forth through the room, biting at the air and growling at the carpet? Well, you can do the same thing with children. They’re basically just like puppies, only a lot meaner.


About nine months into my first year, I helped some of the kids put up a “spring mural” in their classroom. We made construction paper flowers and grass. One of the kids made a sun and clouds. Another made a bee.

I made a dragonfly.

The next time I came into class, I discovered the following:

Teaching in Korea 03

The kids had attacked my dragonfly with pins, impaling its head and totally destroying one of its eyes. They said that it was “very bad” and that they were “happy it is die.”


The reason I know children are truly terrible beings is from my experience playing the “Baby Game” with them. It started off in one kindergarten class, where a particularly spunky and malicious little girl would point to any given object and shout, “Teacher – baby!” I’d then take whatever it was she pointed to — be it a book, an eraser, a pencil case, or even the clock on the wall — and stuff it under my shirt, as if pregnant. I’d then make a popping sound with my mouth, and the baby would then be born.

And what would happen next? The WHOLE CLASS would ATTACK THE BABY. They would all try to KILL THE BABY.

This game became so popular that I came up with two variations:

In the first, I’d stuff some tissue paper in my shirt and then pop it out. The class would then grab my “baby” out of my hands. They then would all look at me, giggle like evil leprechauns, and proceed to RIP MY BABY APART. I’d scream “Oh, my baby! My baby!” This only served to accelerate the pace and intensity of the laughter, as well as the ripping apart of my progeny.

The second variation was the most simple and most popular among the kindergartners. I’d stuff a ball under my shirt and say, “Look at my baby.” The youngest and cutest girl in the class would then step forward and pound on my stomach with her fists, screaming in ecstasy like some sort of half-formed harpy. This would continue until the baby was aborted or miscarried, and the fetus/ball would then invariably be thrown and kicked around the room.

I loved that first year of teaching in Korea. The students were beings of pure chaos, the very opposite of the obedient Asian student that I had expected to encounter before I came over. It was an open field for imagination, even if I was the butt of most the jokes. Anything could happen, as long as the kids weren’t harmed and their moms didn’t complain. In fact, all of these sick games just made me more popular among the kids and the parents. I had a hard time really believing it, because if it had been America, I would have been fired after two hours.

Chris Tharp

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (39 votes, average: 4.18 out of 5)
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  1. I took away a star because of the maligning of gorillas. Good tales!

  2. Awesome. As a survivor of Japan’s JET Program I can relate to a lot of this!

  3. […] been keeping up with Monkey Goggles, you’ve missed some excellent stuff. Including teaching English to mean kids in South Korea, our favorite movie you’ll probably hate, what we’ve learned form the internet, our […]

  4. This article had me shaking with laughter. I’m Korean American so maybe I should be offended but I can well imagine the little devil spawns and you are right on. Korean children are the most insensitive non p.c. etc. etc. MONSTERS. :]

  5. Chris:

    The things that strikes me the most from this is how weird this makes you seem. I mean, had you ever taught before? You make no mention of materials which makes me wonder if everyday you were just faking it. Did you ever come prepared to class knowing what you were going to teach?

    There are games and ways to control kids as I had to do in the L.A. inner city and many other situations over the years.

    I hear nothing constructive from you on any attempts to really teach.

    I mean, you sound like a lot of American teachers I have known who do little or no preparation and then reap the consequences of your lackluster performance.

    If you give kids free rein, with little structure, then they will certainly take advantage of you.

    Are you telling us that there is no way to discipline South Korean students?

    It is hard for an really educated, professional teacher like myself to make sense of your comments. How should one take them. There is the distinct probability that you are/were not serious in this attempt to teach.

  6. @Mike: Aside from teaching some drama and improv classes back in America, no, I had never taught before. Upon arriving in Korea, they handed me a book and pretty much pushed me into a classroom filled with bloodthirsty children.

    That was six years ago. I have since gained my “classroom legs,” as it were. But I am SO HAPPY that a “really educated, professional teacher” like yourself has taken the time to show me the obvious error of my ways. I will carry your wisdom with from here on out, rest assured.

    That said, whilst you may be at the top of your game when it comes to imparting wisdom to young minds in the USA, I doubt you’d last a year in the Korean ESL racket, where the “teaching” is more about entertainment, and requires, above all, a sense of humor, which seems to be sorely lacking in your case, sir.

  7. Chris,

    First let me say that this is a wonderful piece about teaching children in Asia, so similar are my experiences over the past six years in China to yours that I could have very well written this article word for word except changing the names to things like dahuzi (big beard) dapangzi (big fatty) often in English they would tell me that I am so fat and that I like to kiss pigs. My favorite memories with my children was when we would argue over the spelling of poo poo and pee pee or who was kissing who’s girlfriend and who would get married to whom. Or sometimes a simple game of fangpi monster (fart monster). As for the baby balloon thing what I liked best was to take a balloon and stuff it under my shirt and let the kids attack it until it popped then I would weep and cry, calling out for my lost baby. The kids would role on the floor in tears, they loved it, they loved me and for good reason, I was great with kids and I loved them and they loved me, and despite the fact that I was a crappy teacher for the first 6 months I turned into the best teacher they had and am still great with the kids. Now I look back over my years of teaching and the students who have grown up under my direction and sure I taught them some English some learned better than others (but you can’t expect much with 3 hours of study a week) most importantly though I taught them about my country and they about their’s, I taught them respect and proper manners and how to interact with people in a group or on an individual basis. I let them be kids, I gave them a friend and a teacher one that they respected, loved and enjoyed and they gave me all the charm, wonder and love that only children can give. And I am so sad now to be leaving China and leaving them after all these years.

    What this Mike guy doesn’t understand is what teaching is like over here or how obviously to teach. Here we are aloud to hug the kids and show affection making connections and bonds with these kids. The kids parents encouraging us to be members of the family. Teaching here has been a great experience and I hope was a meaningful for my students as it was for me.

    I have been a teacher a manager and a business owner here in China and as such I hired teachers. And time after time I found out that you should not hire “professional teachers” from back home too often they lacked a sense of humour and could not handle the difference of this education system and structure as opposed to ours. Often they were the least capable of teaching the students what needed to be taught and for some reason had the greatest amount of disrespect and dislike for the students they were teaching. Going so far as to call them retards or stupid. Unwilling or unable to put forth the effort to help a student struggling with learning problems or disabilities, instead complaining more than any other employee and not getting the job done. I’m sorry but besides the material we stuff into little kids heads and the things they have to know for this or that test our main jobs as educators is to provide a fun, interactive learning environment for our kids, to challenge them and prepare them for life and other people from other cultures. I may not be a professional teacher but I am an educator and as such my first priority is my students.

    Mike, do us all a favour and go overseas to asia to teach and put aside what you think teaching is, forget about the differences between the two systems and be a real teacher to children and maybe it will make you a better teacher to your students at home. And your scorn for Chris as a less than prepared teacher… you know nothing about working or teaching here. He taught for 6 years (as have I) you don’t survive as a teacher here for that long if you aren’t good at what you do, the jokes and the play is just a way to get the kids passionate about learning. If that’s all he did maybe the students would like him but the parents would complain that he wasn’t teaching and out he would go. I joke with my kids and I get on their level, I relate to them and it seems Chris has done the same but I bet a buffalo nickel that he was a great educator to those kids as well. And believe me when I say that most professional teachers leave before the year is out because the can’t handle the fact that there is little or no organization from many of these schools and the materials (if there are any aren’t that great) but it takes a true professional to get over themselves and make a difference not only in the quality of what is being taught but in the standards for these children. A real teacher can teach students with or without aids and materials if he is passionate and cares.

    go teach in a poor rural area of Asia where they have crates for desks and no heat or AC. where they have to spread water on the floor in the summer time to keep the heat down, teach children who’s families are poor and can’t afford to feed them but once a day. Go teach in a village where you have 40 kids in your class and no blackboard or assistance. Go teach in a crazy after school program where the boss only cares about the profit and make a difference.

    And Mike last but not least stop being a stuck up prick and worry about what kind of teacher you are instead of what kind of teacher others are.

  8. […] a big responsibility! Am I up to it? I think I’m up to it. I hope I’m up to it. This makes me […]

  9. I wish to teach in S. Korea or China & I loved this article. I too find many “so called seasoned” teachers do not utilize humor nearly enough or at all in today’s classrooms. The kids are bored out of their minds by (Most teachers) they learn much better by the teachers they like and who are light hearted, utilize humor, and are engaging the students. Please let me know of any reputable sites or places I can explore & learn of opportunities teaching in Asia!

    Thank you!


  10. Hadn’t visited this site in a while but it was good, I guess, that I didn’t. Just to set the record straight about my teaching experience. I have taught overseas in the Peace Corps in an island society, in private schools, four years in the inner city of L.A., a year in a very poor city in northern california, five years at a high school in San Diego County, one in a continuation high school and years of substitute teaching,

    Not to sound vain, but I do know my craft as I am passionate about teaching and strive to do the best at anything I endeavor.

    Chris, humor allows us all to survive. And, yes indeedy, I use humor a lot in my teaching. In fact, i am a bit of a stand-up comic.

    As for Owsley, Dude, I suggest you drop some acid and relax. You sound very fucking uptight. I admire the guy for his honesty. And maybe now he is a great teacher. But the original post seemed a bit odd, like maybe at the time, he just was going to have some fun, not a serious piece at all. But I get it. You, apparently, don’t.

  11. Ah, your story cracked me up! I’m an undergrad student about to graduate this summer and I’m hoping to teach abroad so I was wondering if you had any advice on certifications or experience I should get, when to apply, where to apply, etc. Also, I’ve heard from a lot of people that they don’t have language requirements but I’d imagine it’d be helpful. Did you take any courses in Korean before going or did you just pick up on it when you got there? Anyway, sorry for all the questions!!

  12. Great read. I’m currently looking at doing a one year stint abroad teaching English. How long does typically does it take to get a teaching job?

  13. This was hilarious! I really laughed!

    Makes me worry though as I am 6 foot 2, 220 pounds and hairy lol… yikes

    But I did my TESOL course but have yet to go, perhaps you have some other tips. I fear teaching and not knowing what to expect.

    Thanks for the read!!

  14. While I’m a little bit shocked about some of your classroom tactics, I get it.

    I just got back two weeks ago from a stint teaching English in Chilean Patagonia, and I’ll be honest…my students absolutely ripped me apart. They made fun of my appearance, threw spitballs at me, swore at me, fought each other, tried to touch me inappropriately, and generally refused to do any work. Like you, I had no training or orientation in Chile, and even though I went through a government program my school did not have the resources to support me. The teacher I was supposedly working with stopping talking to me.

    It was enough to push me to tears, and I wish that I had known how hard it would be when I was signing up for the program. Now that I’m a little more experienced, I’m thinking of teaching somewhere else. One thing I will definitely strive for…a little detachment from how mean my students can be.

  15. I recently started teaching in Korea, I because very disappointed a while ago. I thought Asia’s students were very disciplined and respectful towards their elders. Some children in the class call me Pig, or they say I need a diet.
    I think I am a normal weight…

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