**Originally posted January 2014** More on teaching in Korea here**
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.
This week in between my hectic packing, cleaning, and organizing of my life (how I though packing up my life in Korea to move home all while planning to embark on a 4 month trip through SE Asia would be easy, is beyond me) I've been busy trying to squeeze in last-minute meetings with students. I don't know any other teacher who chose to spend their last few days in Korea shopping, watching volleyball games, going out to dinner and having pasta parties (at their house) with their students, but I'm having a blast doing so.
Students faces would always light up as they approached me in the hallway, which was usually accompanied by a cheerful "Hello", "Hi", or "Teacher beautiful". Other teachers usually commented that I was 'popular' but really I always thought it was just because I was the foreigner, after all, we do get stared at pretty much everywhere we go. I soon realized though the sincerity behind those smiling eyes, which always helped to brighten my day. It really was my students that caused me to stay in Korea, Buksam specifically, for a second year. They're the reason for me staying, the reason for me crying, and the reason for me knowing that I will be back in Korea. They've made a lasting impression on me and in my heart and I can now say I think I've done the same.
**Update February 2017**This is where it gets good**
Sitting here, 3 year after I initially wrote this post, transferring old posts to new domains, I can't help but smile. This profession I thought was (maybe) coming to an end has continued and blossomed. I went back to Korea for a second round of teaching and while I was in a completely different city with new students, I managed to stay in touch with and visit the old. Once I set foot back in the country, it was old students I was eager to contact, actually I had been in touch with some of them while away, and they were already anticipating my return. I met for lunches and dinners, ran into others randomly on the street, and was even invited into the home of another. Although it had been 2 years since we had met, it felt like little had changed. Even more impressive to me though were some of the words and stories they shared with me.
I have one student who took a break from her studies to backpack Europe for a few months, crediting me as her inspiration; the next step is for us to travel together. Another is pursuing her acting dreams in Seoul and I was lucky enough to go watch her in a small production. The boys were busy completing their required military service, but were willing to spend a portion of their summer vacation with me. I received compliments and they all enquired about my relationship status, which at the time was rocky, and upon hearing so offered to 'find him and yell at him'. I even have a student who really did come to the US and is (amazingly enough) studying at the University in Milwaukee, and has thus been to my home on multiple occasions.
These students will forever be a part of my life, they showed me my purpose in this world, proving to me what teachers are here for. Although I may never have gotten across certain grammar patterns, or how to express themselves past the textbook "I'm fine thank you and you?" I think I've done more. I've opened minds to the world outside the confines of Korea, made friendships, broke down barriers and encouraged growth. This is why I love teaching, and can't wait to get back to it.
I sometimes still wonder how I wound up in this role of teacher. I took the plunge to teach abroad in 2012, and four years later am confident that was one of the smartest decisions I've ever made.