Losing My Voice and Making Kids Cry

Silence broke across the classroom, engulfing everyone like a wave and bringing with it a papable tension that pricked into my forehead, making me all too aware of my furrowed brow and menacing gaze. I felt the eyes of 25 children upon me as I relaxed my glare.

Trying to control a class with a foreign language can feel hopeless sometimes.

It was too late, the damage was done.
For those several seconds, which seemed to drag like an age, you could quite literally have heard a pin drop in the room. It was as if somebody had pressed the mute button on life and simply chose to hush the preceding chaos.
Now, in the aftermath, I had a 12-year-old boy with his head buried in his arms, face down on the desk, surrounded by his friends.
He wasn’t a bad kid, nor was he at fault, he just merely felt the focus of my outburst as I bellowed.
A group activity game that was a moderate success, but gave birth to much excitement and in turn, a lot of noise.

It was the final class of an exhausting day, my voice was tired, my mind weary and my attempts to calmly regain control were going unheeded.
Without thinking, I let rip with a “Jo-young hee!” (“Be quiet!”) and it certainly did the trick. Unfortunately my eyes fixed on this poor soul. Perhaps a roaring adult male is an all too familiar and distressing sight in this young lad’s life.
Dejected, I mulled this over after the class had left, not before I had dispensed some candy around, a mere paper over the cracks.
This job is not always easy, that’s for sure. But surely caring about a mistake is a good sign, at least that’s what I’m hoping.

There are many characters throughout each class. Find the clowns and let them know who’s in charge!

Some people in the EPIK program will get the ideal scenario of having a competent, enthusiastic, bilingual co-teacher in the room at all times. Preferably one who the students respect. In the rural schools, such assistance is a rare novelty and many of my “co-teachers” have less English than the kids, therefore limiting their use to me. Others are merely there out of a sense of duty but most have phased themselves out of my classes as time wore on.

Win the battle for control early. Sometimes your co-teacher will be of no use.


When the cats away, the mice tend to play and unfortunately I’ve had to become the shouting angry teacher on more than a few occasions to arrest a revolt in its tracks. For anybody coming to Korea, I’d advise learning some classroom commands in Korean and to be strict from the outset.

Either that or prepare to go hoarse as you terrify the kids into silence!

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