For the last two years people have been telling me what a great teacher I am, "one of the best foreign teachers I've ever worked with", but I often wondered how sincere these words were. Now, as my time in Korea is coming to an all-too-soon end I'm realizing that most of those statements were, in fact, heartfelt and I am a good teacher.
I've always seen my connection and interactions with students from one side of the glass, but over the last few days, I've been able to get a glimpse of the other side. I'm somewhat shocked by the number of students who have reached out to express their feelings towards my departure. I came across this article last week, which discusses the real impact teachers have on students and it really hit home with me. For those of you that don't want to click and read, here is a great excerpt from the article:
Your kindness. Your empathy. Your care and concern. They’ll remember that you took the time to listen. That you stopped to ask them how they were. How they really were. They’ll remember the personal stories you tell about your life: your home, your pets, your kids. They’ll remember your laugh. They’ll remember that you sat and talked with them while they ate their lunch.
I decided to re-post it on my Facebook page, something I rarely do and was surprised by one of the comments it received. A fellow teacher in Korea said "So true, but so hard to develop those relationships in Korea." I understand where she is coming from, but this also made me realize how lucky I am because I have formed these relationships, with not one but many of my students. Some of my friends would probably argue that it's because I have higher level students who can speak good English, but you know what, I call bull$#!t. One of my most memorable students and someone I believe, I too have made a lasting impression on, is one of my 'special ed' students who speaks about 10 words of English.
He's the boy who on the very first day of class refused to even say his name when we did our introductions, but on my final day at school stared at me with an air of confusion wondering why I was leaving but wishing me well in the future. The same boy I ran into later that day who asked me if I would remember him and told me that he would never forget me. (Yeah, that was the day I cried a lot). In fact, this boy left so much of an impression on me that I wrote an entire blog post devoted to just him. The best part is, he's not the only one...
Another of my students told me that he will never forget me and that in fact, I should wait for him so we can marry in the future. He asked me not to forget him and I hope he knows that I really never will. I wonder if he knows that I remember the first time we met when he told me about a Mexican restaurant near his home and the many interactions since that moment.
One of my second-grade boys, whom some label as a 'bad kid' or others see as 'crazy' has told me recently that next year, without me at school he will be alone and it will be like hell. I know he's always been unhappy at our school but I didn't think it was me that made much of an impact on him feeling more comfortable. It's amazing how far a few hello's and how are you's? can go.
I remember last year during our trip to Jeju being approached by one of my new second grade transfer students, who spoke amazing English, but was incredibly shy. Last week she sent me a beautiful facebook message wishing that she had been braver, enabling her to talk to me throughout the year, but that she really appreciated that I treated her so well, even though she was a transfer student. Again, I didn't think I went out of my way with her, in fact, I probably could have reached out to her more knowing that she was shy.
Then, of course, there are my third-grade boys, whom I truly do view as my friends more than my students, which I guess they are, now that they've graduated. I remember when they told me it was me who caused them not to be afraid of foreigners anymore and also that they see me as a friend, not only a teacher.
In the last few days I've had other grade 3 students, whom I haven't had much time with over the past year thanks to their hectic schedule, connect with me on facebook and tell me how much they will miss me. The same students asking me for advice as they go off to University, all while making promises to come see me in the United States one day. Students have been continuously adding me on facebook and although I thought it was just one of those 'oh cool I can be friends with my teacher' sort of things, I've been pleasantly surprised by some of the messages I've received from them.