As I’ve just completed my last week of classes, I’ve been trying to reflect on this year. My family keeps nagging me to journal and really think about my time here, which is sound advice but I rarely get around to it. Plus when you live it everyday, dictating your adventures doesn’t seem as important. While everything seems so fresh and unforgettable now, give it a few years and all the details will start to get fuzzy.
I think this is the year I really found out who I am as a teacher. Last year was one in which I struggled to find my space. I often felt ignored or useless as a teacher. Working with a coteacher made me feel unnecessary, or rather that the classes weren’t formatted in a way for me to be a vital element of class. Since class was largely taught in Korean and I was just providing pronunciation through drills and leading games, I felt my job could have been done by my coteachers if they simply learned more English.
This year I have a lot of control over my classes. My coteachers are forced to come to my classes by my principal but they often do their own thing in the back or kind of slip out if they sense they aren’t needed. I really like having control over my class. I like that I can plan whatever activities I want and that I can lead the class however I choose. I’ve come to realize I am just not a strict teacher, I can be, but naturally I am more relaxed. Because I rarely yell, when I do, I think it has more of an impact. When I have to yell at my students for their behavior, they are often largely apologetic. Last year I had a coteacher that yelled all the time and students often repeated the behavior. I don’t think yelling at students really teaches them anything. Many of their teachers yell at them or use public humiliation, such as scolding them in front of the whole class, to make them behave. While younger students may fold and behave because they are intimidated, I believe yelling at older students breeds a bit of resentment. They are more self conscious and yelling at them embarrasses them in front of their classmates. I’ve had homeroom teachers tell me that after yelling at a student, they’ve had to go back and have a conversation with them because they could see that it created distance. That’s not to say never yell at students. It happens. We’re human and sometimes we get frustrated to the point we feel the need to yell.
That being said, I need to get better at controlling students and class atmosphere. Because my students were so well behaved at the start, I was not very strict with them. But during the rough moments of the school year (before large exams and right before breaks) students’ priorities shifted. They would often bring their work for other classes to my class, or sleep. Some classes would outright say the class wasn’t fun, while other classes that were paying attention the whole time really enjoyed it. I had one class that just became a chore. They never wanted to listen, they always wanted to work on other things and they never really participated. Crazy enough, it was one of my classes that had so many of my friendliest students in it. Out of class, they loved me. In class, they couldn’t be bothered.
As I prepare to go to my next school, I realize I need to be more firm. I need to have a set of rules and make students abide by them. I need to create a productive and warm class atmosphere. I also want to build closer relationships with students so that I can learn their interests and center lessons more around the things they want to talk about. I also need to find more ways to make the class more student centered. While I try to keep my talk time down to a minimum, when I give students free reign, I often have to go around and police them because they switch back to Korean. In addition, I want to be more daring with my lessons. Sometimes I’m so worried about a lesson entirely bombing that I don’t try it. Next year, I want to push myself and my students to really jump into the whole experience and try new things.
Honestly, this year has been one of the most conflicting emotionally. Losing Papa was hard. There’s no other way to say it. I still cry. I still have days that I want to scream. I have days I wake up from a dream where he’s alive, and reality feels cruel and heartbreaking. There are days that everything at home feels really far away and I feel really lonely.
But on the other side of that, this year has been amazing because my students have honestly given me so much. When they run up to me excited, my whole heart is warm and fluttering. When they latch on to me, walk next to me, or sit as close as they can to me, I realize how loved I am and all I can do is give it back. When my boys are being dorks, it makes me laugh until my whole heart is open and fluttering. My students have saved me so many times this year. One of the strongest examples of this…
April 11 is a rough day for me. It’s the day my dad died. It sparked five years of depression and a shaky sense of home and security. This year, I was sitting in my classroom when I got a series of messages from a friend that made me really anxious for their safety. This anxiety definitely triggered a severe emotional reaction. I could only think about my father passing. In my mind, my friend was dying. I couldn’t stop my thoughts from going in that direction. I was unable to control myself. I had a panic attack. But I had class the following period so I washed my face, reapplied my makeup and waited for them to come in. I was sitting on a desk when one of my students came in. I had my arms open, motioning to another student who was following her and at that moment, she slid in and gave me hug. This student has always been very affectionate but it was such a well timed hug that it pushed everything in my mind aside and I realized I needed to be present for my students.
In addition to having amazing students, I have made some really great friends here. I have been able to travel and see them in their placements. I’ve been able to see them as both friends and teachers. I’ve seen ways I can improve as a teacher through them. I have enjoyed spending time really getting to know people from all over the US. They have been an amazing support system and I’ve become a better person by knowing them. While in Korea, I’ve made many friends but I’ve gotten especially close to the black cohort of my year. Growing up in a suburb where black people were the majority and there was little other diversity, I felt a bit ostracized. Many students in my school didn’t know I was black or didn’t consider me black enough. I often heard myself referred to as “the white chick”. As a child, my family often made comments about how light my siblings and I were. Coming to Korea and being so immediately accepted by black people has really helped me in the way I view my own racial identity. I’ve always heard the saying, “You are not half black and half white, you are wholly both,” but when real life doesn’t reflect that, it just sounds like something people say to make you feel better. Here, I have really come to see myself as a black woman.
As far as goals for next year, I want to push myself to make Korean friends and speak more Korean. I’ve been taking Korean classes and I realize I am at the level that I can now explain Korean grammar in Korean and while that is interesting in itself, it also proves I should be having more in depth conversations in Korean more regularly. I am capable of doing so but if I don’t practice, I’m not going to get any better. I also want to make more friends outside of my program. There are so many other people in Korea for amazing reasons and I should diversify my friend group. In addition, I would love to find/start a book club or some sort of writer’s workshop.