The Good Stuff
Recently I had to end one of my grade one classes early to tell them I was disappointed in their behavior. The next day I had to hold 4 students back after a grade two class to tell them that their lack of effort was disrespectful. Doing that in terms that middle school students will understand in a language that isn’t theirs is not easy, but it’s amazing how much they can understand when they’re suddenly put on the spot and scared.
I’ve been frustrated a lot lately with the kids behavior and as a teacher it’s often hard to determine how much of that blame lies at your feet.
Walking into a classroom on a literal fist fight, for example, seems a little bit out of my control.
My school is not an “easy” school. Our kids have a lot going on, both at home and in the classroom, but that’s just how life is. And if you come to teach in Korea with EPIK it’s very possible that you will end up at a school that isn’t “easy.”
But whether or not it’s easy and whether or not it’s worth it have absolutely nothing in common.
It’s not easy. But it is so worth it.
I started writing this post about 4 months ago just because I wanted to write down some of the little meaningful interactions that I’ve had with students. I know that I will remember my experience at this school for the rest of the life, but the little details, their names and our conversations that are so precious to me, those are things I’m worried I will forget.
So here is a small collection of some of the good moments I’ve had at school lately. The ones that despite whatever problem may arise on any given day, makes it all worth it in the end.
It’s worth it when there are fifteen minutes left before the kids can leave and two of my grade two girls appear next to my desk to give me a piece of candy and ask what we’re going to do in class on Thursday. And the idea of them getting to that last piece of candy and thinking to themselves, “we should go downstairs and give this to Devon Teacher” makes me feel all stupidly warm and fuzzy.
It’s worth is when, after being their teacher for almost two years now, we can connect over shared memories. When we play the “pass the pen” game and I have to remind them not to throw it out the window because SOMEONE managed to do that last year. All all eyes turn to one student who puts his hands up in surrender.
It’s worth it everyday after 7th period during cleaning time. Each homeroom class is assigned a different area of the school to clean and one of our grade three boys classes has the job of cleaning the teacher’s office where my desk is located.
The grade three boys are easily my favorite demographic at school. They are sweet, and hilarious, and genuine. Plus now I’ve been their teacher for almost two years now so we’re very comfortable with each other.
The student who sweeps by my desk always comes over and greets me with a very familiar “He-LLO Teacher!” Always in the same cadence. I usually come up with some question to ask him and our little routine starts. We make jokes about him being secretly a native English speaker, about how he never studies and lives at the PC room, and in surprising detail how he’s going to decapitate, fry, and eat the little baby chicken figures I have sitting on top of my desk.
“Mmm yes very delicious.”
“No, you can’t eat them they’re mine!”
“Yes this one will cook in yangnyam sauce and this one just fry.”
“No they’re too cute to eat!”
“I gonna steal them and eat them!”
It’s worth it because I can count on him to make my afternoons a little brighter everyday.
It’s worth it when I’m walking to meet a friend downtown while listening to music but suddenly hear a thundering of footsteps behind me and a, “DEVON TEACHER!!” It’s some of my new little grade one kids and when I have them in class next week the two of them proudly announce to the rest of the students that they talked to me in Dunsan on Saturday.
When my co-teacher our of the blue says to me, “Mermaid princess is correct right?” “I’m sorry?” “In English 인어공주 is mermaid princess, right?” “Oh yes I think so.” “Good because my homeroom students are preparing to tell you that you look like a mermaid princess today because of your hair.” They did in fact inform me of this promptly when we entered the room in 6th period.
When I’m walking home with a friend one night and a group of my grade three boys come rumblings past us on bikes and trailing after on foot and I joking yell at them to be careful. They laugh and try to bow despite flying by too quickly on a bicycles.
The next day one of them appears by my desk after lunch. He’s never been the type come over to talk to me just for fun, but there he is playing with that same little chicken figure I have on my desk. He says hi and I ask him how his day is going. And I keep thinking he’s going to walk away or go find the teacher originally came in here for but he just keep standing there so we just keep talking.
One of his classmates whose waiting on the math teacher look at him and mouths, “What are you doing?” and he reply’s in English, “I’m having a conversation!”
And for some reason from that day forward we’re buddies. Whether it was seeing them outside of school, or that I had said hi to each of them by name, something changed. And now that group of them comes find me before class to carry my books and materials to the classroom and sometimes appear just to say hello and see what I’m working on at my desk.
It’s worth it when I’m losing my patience with an older boys class and I, mostly to myself, very quickly say, “How old are you guys again? You’re 16! I think you can be quite for 2 seconds put together!” and only one student in the front row understands and laughs and in that moment I feel like at least I have one person whose listening closely.
It’s worth it when the kid who’s been saying, “nice to meet you” every single day since I met him finally remember to say, “Nice to see you!” when I pass him in the hallway.
It’s worth it when one of my buddy students tells me something that I know she had to decide to tell me, and I get to say to her, “but you know that I’m always here and you can always ask me for help whenever you need it.” and she smiles and says she knows.
It’s worth it when the only student I’ve ever really yelled at in two years at this school has completely taken a turn a turn and now finds me to help him translate English song lyrics and says, “good afternoon” to me in the hallway and, “excuse me ma’am” to get my attention in class which is both hilarious and precious.
When I’m eating a kimbap alone after volleyball practice at the tiny restaurant by my house and 5 familiar faces appear outside the window waving and yelling, “Teacher hi! See you tomorrow!!”
When I’m doing a lesson on the expression, “do you remember” and I decide to test them, mostly as a joke, on how much they remember of what I told them about me on our first day of class together 2 years ago. A handful of kids remember my last name, some remember what other language I can speak, some my favorite movie.
And then I get to my favorite grade three boys class and they remember EVERYTHING. It’s worth it the moment my co-teacher and I are looking at each other shocked and she says, “They really love you.” Because I really love them too.
Those are just a few of the reasons that all difficult parts of this job are worth it. I say all these things not to be like, “look how much my kids love me” because I know this has much less to do with me and much more to do with them. I’m incredibly lucky in that while we have our fair share of difficult students here, the lovely ones are SO lovely. I love them a lot, more than I could ever properly put on paper.
For anyone dealing with hard stuff at school I feel you. It’s easy to focus on the negative, I know I do that all the time. But if you can just really try to remind yourself to focus on the good stuff, then the bad ones won’t take up so much of your focus. Hang in there, the good stuff is always on the way.
Sorry there hasn’t been much activity on this blog recently, I’ve had a lot of random things going on. Between my mom coming to visit from America, my kids taking their midterms, and an interesting hospital experience I haven’t had a ton of time to write.
But things are settling back down so expect things to get back to normal soon! Thanks for reading as always!