Teaching the 6th Grade Class to play “Word Pong.” To the right, my sass-master student who calls me “Sir.”

I have a sixth grade student who calls me “Sir.” No matter what I tell him or how many times, my name, to him, is “Sir.”

My Sixth Grade Class has been my biggest challenge in Korea. The three female students have more attitude than the women in my sorority had Monday nights after long chapter meetings, and my seven males are all bullies to each other, and like to show off at every chance they get—so pretty much your average pre-teens.

I would like to now apologize to my 5th and 6th grades teacher, Mrs. Schroeder; the staff of East View Middle School; my parents; and every other adult I came into contact with between 2004 and 2008. I admit now that I did not know everything, I was being a brat, and you probably were not being “so unfair, ugh.”

Bonding with the boys of sixth grade has been slow, but productive, as I’ve shown them I can out-sass anything they could possibly say to me. The boy who calls me “Sir,” for example, has told me outright that he hates English Class, hates English, and wants me to go back to America. I responded that if he hates it so much, he shouldn’t come to class, I have smarter students than him anyway.

Harsh, yes. Effective, also yes. (And I am well-aware that it is a very rare student who will positively react to comments like that.) Since I have started teasing him back, his motivation has picked up, and he constantly asks me about new vocabulary words. Mostly so we can trash talk more effectively (whatever works?)

He came into my class with his smart phone at one point to show me a photo of a gorilla to ask me the word in English, and has since called me “Gorilla Teacher” when passing in the halls.

His English has noticeably improved, and yet he still calls me “Sir” constantly. While the rest of the class says “Yes, Teacher,” he screams, “Yes, Sir!” or “Ok, Sir!”

I mock frustration every time, but thinking on it, it actually makes me happy. He’s continuing our teasing interactions while still showing respect. I’m even going to bring rhetoric into the equation and say that in this patriarchal society, maybe, this sixth grade boy is giving me respect he would normally reserve for a man.

Or maybe the curtains are just blue, and he’s just a sassy-confused 13-year-old.