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The Art of Making Children NOT Cry. April 23, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Seoul.

I spend almost 4 hours per day with the same group of 5 children. That’s 20 hours per week, 80 hours per month for a grand total of close to 160 hours in my first two months here.

Overall this group of 4-5 year olds is very well behaved, but all kids have their moments and sometimes I have to intervene to resolve disputes or nurse minor injuries. They’re a very active group and can only sit still for so long before they get antsy and start to bounce around.

With a group this young who haven’t quite mastered all of their motor skills and are virtually in constant motion, accidents are bound to happen. And believe me, I’ve already witnessed my fair share of them. But so far, I’ve only had one child breakdown and cry despite a myriad of incidents and injuries. From what I’ve heard from the other teachers, crying in their classrooms is a fairly common occurrence and in some cases can be witnessed almost daily. Most of the other teachers think I’ve been blessed with a good group of kids who all get along and just aren’t accident prone, but that’s not the case. I have a secret.

When I was interviewing for prospective jobs here in Korea, most of the schools were obviously comfortable with Katie’s teaching credentials and spent more time questioning my experience with children. The only real experience I could cite was from my time as a camp counselor for a few summers in Bracebridge, Ontario which I obviously embellished. As it turns out, some of that experience was more invaluable than expected. Back in the day, a few fellow counselors and I created a game called “Dock Day”. The purpose of the game was to incentivize the youngest campers to swim in the frigid water and encourage them to work towards their next swimming badge. The premise of the game was that if the campers went in the water every single day without exception that they would be allowed to push the counselor in the water on the last day of camp. It worked like a charm. Pushing anyone in the water is one of the biggest no-no’s at camp imaginable, so planting the idea of pushing your counselor in the water in a 6-year old’s head is almost inconceivable to them and too good to pass up. What we didn’t tell them was that on the last day when they were granted the right to push us in the water, that we would strap life jackets on them and defend ourselves by launching them into the water in self-defense. To this day it remains as one of my fondest memories of my adolescence. Imagine having a group of 6-year olds crawling all over you, desperately trying to push you into the water and picking them off one by one and disposing them into the lake from all different altitudes and angles. Some of these kids would fly. Some of them would hit the water so hard that for a split second you would worry about them coming back up. But as soon as they broke the surface and looked back at you with a stunned look on their face, we (the counselors) would erupt with praise and enthusiasm. Any pain or discomfort would evaporate and they would hop right back out of the water with even more determination than before, even though they knew that they would likely suffer a similar fate.

My point is, you don’t need to go to teacher’s college to be an effective teacher. And, I really hope the Director from my old camp isn’t reading this blog.

img_59591This is Bob.

As you can probably tell from his sweaty brow and enthusiastic smile, he’s one of the more active members of my class.

I’d say that of all the potential injuries and accidents that have occurred thus far, that he’s likely been involved directly or indirectly in well over 70% of them.

Just yesterday he was practicing cart wheels on the carpet when the other boy in our class, Nathan, decided to try one himself. Let’s just say that Nathan didn’t quite stick the landing and basically drop kicked Bob in the face with an errant left foot. It was hysterical. But before I could sit back and enjoy a good laugh, I knew I had to spring into action as Bob immediately starting grasping his face while trying to decide if the throbbing sensation in his face merited tears. Once he heard the cheers and overwhelming praise from Jordan teacher (that’s what they call me) that he’s come to know and love, he knew he wasn’t hurt. He was a hero. And he was back turning handsprings ready for his next collision.

I actually got the idea for this post as I was sitting peacefully watching my children play after lunch when the skyscraper they built using blocks which was taller than me, started teetering and fell on one of the girls faces. Under normal circumstances, there would have been tears and maybe a visit from a Korean teacher to comfort her, but when I started jumping around as if the Leafs had won the Cup and gushing with pride over the fact that she just happened to catch one of the falling blocks, well let’s just say little Jessica barely flinched and immediately started the rebuilding effort. She was a hero. It was that moment that I realized that this story had to be told.

A few minutes later, I was debating exactly how to share this tale with all of you, when I decided to take some more pictures of my class who I continue to grow more and more fond of, when this happened:

Now keep in mind that video doesn’t capture how hard he hit the ground. He usually nails that handstand 9 times out of 10 but when he saw the camera, he got a little too excited and lost control. He landed right on his tailbone and took a few minutes to get up. But once he did, we was right back at it as if nothing had happened. It’s amazing what you can do to a young mind and how you can mold and train them to react and respond to certain situations.

My only regret is the lone blemish on my record of the one crying incident I was unable to avoid. One of my students approached me on the verge of tears but was unable to communicate what the source of her discomfort what. After a few awkward exchanges lost in translation, she removed her shoe in tears to reveal that she had stepped on a thumb tack and it had completely pierced the sole of her shoes. I tried to put a positive spin on this turn of events and starting cheering for the thumb tack and her act of bravery, but it was too late. I’ll never forget that thumb tack and vow to do everything in my power to make sure these kids never cry on my watch again.



1. Katie - April 23, 2009

Favourite post so far…love it!

2. Corrina - April 23, 2009

It looks and sounds like you are an incredible teacher, Jordan! Amazing commentary….and the best photos yet!

3. Dyson - April 23, 2009

I can’t read this much at once. Send me the executive summary.

4. Suranyi - April 23, 2009

All the mind games you practiced at the hockey pool are now coming to use….I am proud of you. Also big ups on your writing skills. Never knew you could actually write a string of coherent sentences.

5. fink - April 24, 2009

all this practise with kids will do marvels in preparing you. are you and katie telling people yet or is it still too early?

6. Dyson - April 24, 2009

Just watched the video.

Do the parents of these children know that you are using them as your own personal GI Joes?

7. Chelsea - April 24, 2009

I believe you had this sort of approach with injuries when I was a kid and this is the reason why I have such a freak tolerance to pain.. I just don’t even bother to care if I get injured, haha. A look at whats to come for your class 20 years later.

Oh and in my babysitting years I figured out that exact same tactic and it does indeed work amazingly well. Great post.

8. Christine - April 24, 2009

I LOVE it! Looks like you’re having a blast. I would love to be in your class. Look at all the fun you’re having…oh, and the kids too 🙂

9. Dyson - April 24, 2009

Hey Jules when are we going for lunch?

10. Mulqueen - April 25, 2009

Jules I thought WE were meeting for lunch. WTF with this betrayal?

11. Sean - April 28, 2009

Video was great – Bob is a hero. I felt a bit uncomfortable when you wouldn’t stop touching him. Miss you guys

12. Danielle - May 7, 2009

I thought you were there to teach these kids English not gymnastics???
What a great teacher, I am sure the kids are having just as much fun as you are…..

13. Josh - May 12, 2009

Bob’s a good dancer.I’m going to steal some of those moves to broaden my guns repertoire and have some new skills with which to harass katie with on the dancefloor at her next wedding.

14. Big News. « 2009: An Asian Odyssey - May 27, 2009

[…] approached by the Director of my school  and informed that one of my students, the infamous Bob, (yes that Bob) wants to change his name. His reason being that he thinks that Bob sounds too close to the word […]

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