July 3, Reflections

One of the fourth graders who has a surprisingly deep and gravelly voice for an 10 year-old spotted me through the open class window, said hello in Korean, and bowed. It was really cute and I appreciate it too because many students greet me in English with a wave instead of a bow which is okay… but also leaves me in a weird gray area of wondering if they respect me as a teacher.

C laughed at my side and exclaimed, he didn’t even greet me!

I told her it’s because I’m tall and easy to spot.

He has always been a slow writer but his attitude has improved a lot— he may struggle but he always tries. Last week I helped him one on one with a worksheet, told him not to worry and that he was doing a good job, so I suppose that stuck in his mind when he made a special effort to say hello.

It’s strange. I spend less time with my students then ever before and feel weirdly more connected to them. Maybe it’s because we have so little time together during the week. Or maybe it’s because, at least for fourth and fifth grade, C often has them come to our empty classroom after school to do homework if they didn’t finish. Today was no different and twenty or so students were told to come to our room after lunch.

In the cafeteria, some outgoing daycare girls greeted me loudly and then after I passed apparently told each other I speak Korean well. I told C they must say this because the bar is so low.

Last week I noted that the 4-2 homeroom teacher always seem to be yelling at his students but his students don’t seem upset, so I could only surmise that he just talks in a very aggressive and loud way. Today C told me “I thought about what you said and observed him more and I think you’re right.”.

I also noted that class 4-3 is the quietest; their teacher is also a very calm and quiet man so they’re well matched. She laughed at that. It felt like we passed another milestone in our relationship which was further secured by an event during the catch class up.

Our empty classroom was filled to the brim with fourth graders who were rewriting wrong answers on their test and homework. Nick Jr and other familiar faces poured in.

I walked around to help out, correcting spelling and handwriting. One trio of boys was dominated by their loudest member periodically and dramatically calling out names of family members. “Grandfather! Sister!”

When he excitedly packed up after finishing his worksheet and headed for the door, I called out “Goodbye, grandfather!” And the students absolutely lost it. It was just one of those magical moments where we were all on the same comedic page.

He had to dash in a few minutes later since he forgot half his things and C, said “Grandfather! Grandfather!” in an attempt to slow him down and give back his papers.

C acknowledging and using our inside joke? Next level, friends, next level.

The class was in titters after he finally left so she told them to quiet down lest they have to write ten times which calmed them down quickly. It wasn’t mean and I appreciate her solid classroom management.

She told me later that she feels the fourth graders don’t notice her, the underlying implication being they feel more connected to me. I told her not to worry about it; I’ve just known them for a long time.

We have been through a lot, considering the revolving door of teachers they had last semester (H, toupe sub, G, H again). And maybe as they’ve gotten a little older, and as C has them do more formal English writing, they’ve matured.

The routine is a killer but I love my students so much. I looked out over their faces today and thought, “I get it. I get how I can make a difference.”

After this teaching course and talking with my good friend who is a thoughtful (and award winning) teacher, I think a lot about, in her words, how to make students global citizens. Like G said, “being a good person is more important than being good at English”.

So I looked at their sweet open faces today and thought, “This is my purpose.”

I watched another TED talk today about happiness and the speaker discussed four pillars to a complete life: belonging, purpose, transcendence, and the story we tell ourselves about ourselves.

There were no trumpets, no dramatic rays of light. Just a warm feeling settling in my heart as I looked at my students.

To be a teacher, in every sense of the word—not to just teach English but to connect my students to the world, to train them in empathy and critical thinking, to inspire them to think a bit differently, that’s my purpose.

How exactly this will manifest over the next five years, ten years, is still a mystery to me, but it’s a mystery I welcome.

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