It’s sad to know I’m done. But looking back, I have a lot of great memories. – Bonnie Blair
I am six months into my year of teaching abroad, which means it is time for one semester to end and another to begin. I become teary-eyed when I think about my memories teaching the students I’ve taught the last six-months. These children were truly the highlight of my time here. I have always had a love for children and always feel drawn to them (I mean I can’t help but wave to the little baby sitting nearby at a restaurant). I’ve worked with children many, many times growing up. However, I have never worked with the same children, every day for hours teaching, struggling, laughing and crying together like this before. I knew I would love my students, but I don’t think I quite understood the place they’d have in my life here. So today, I wanted to take a moment to reflect more and tell people more about my time teaching here these past several months, the good and the bad, in honor of them as my time teaching them comes to an end.
My first week in South Korea was spent observing the classes I will be teaching as quick training before I jump into teaching the next week. I knew my job would be hard before coming here, but I’ve handled long hours of work before. I felt I could handle it. And I have. But it was definitely quite hard in the beginning. However, I was still excited despite my fear of teaching and the overwhelming feeling of the intense teaching schedule of my job.
How my school works is there are the foreign teachers who teach English and the Korean teachers who help make connections, focus on social skills, and care for the students. The first part of the day is directed at kindergarten-aged kids, and the second part of the day is on elementary students. Each day we arrive around 9am, and end around 6pm-7pm (or later if you wish to stay around and get some work done). It definitely can be a lot and is very intense, but the work environment is good and the kids are (mostly) sweet. For the elementary students coming to the school later in the day, the school is a secondary school for them where they go purely to study English. The kindergarteners come in order to start their English learning early and are immersed into the language. I am amazed by how smart these kids are. They can start as early as three or four years old in American age, and can already hold a decent conversation with me after having studied at the school for six months. They talk to each other in English, they read in English, and write in English. It is quite intense and impressive.
My schedule this past semester was teaching nine different classes every day, Monday through Friday. For the kindergarteners, I was able to teach art, music, gym, reading, writing, speaking, and phonetics. All of it is in English of course. The elementary students are taught only English, grammar, writing, etc. I was glad to be able to teach such of variety of subjects to the babies, and enjoyed teaching English to the elementary students as well.
Anyways, how the schedule goes at my school is before lunch, you teach one set of students three different classes. Since you are the first teacher they see that day, you are their main teacher and they are your homeroom class. After lunch, you teach another set of students for two more classes. Then we have a break before we teach the elementary students coming after their elementary school to study English. I taught two separate sets of elementary students a day for four different classes. The largest classes were about twelve students, but all my classes were a variety of different sizes from five students to twelve in a class (I cannot imagine handling thirty students at a time).
Anyways, the first week I came to Korea, I was observing all the classes I would be teaching. The first class I observed was a group of five-year-olds by Korean age (three or four in American). I immediately made some “friends” in that class. I found out a few days later that I would be their homeroom teacher. I was ecstatic since I seemed to have more of a connection with them than any other class I observed. I found out quickly that they were technically behind the other five-year-old classes in level and were not as well-behaved according to the school’s standards. Others can call me silly if they want, but I felt I came to Korea to be their teacher. I did not know if I could help them much, but I knew I would love them with every ounce of my being.
Soon after finding out I was going to be their next main teacher, I really soaked in any information their current teachers told me about them. One boy stood out to me because he sulked, had his head down the whole time, didn’t participate, and did not do any of the work the other students did. It seemed nothing any of his two foreign teachers or his Korean teacher did would cause him to participate any more. Both of the foreign teachers told me he was always like this and they couldn’t get him to do anything. Immediately, I had a goal. If I couldn’t do anything else at this school while I was here, I just wanted to help this boy. I prayed right there, right in that classroom as I watched the teachers try without much hope to get him to participate, that God would help me help the boy. Even if I could not do anything else.
It is so crazy to think of that first week. I did not know what would happen. I did not know how much I would love this entire class. I did not know how quickly they would love me back. I did not know how much they would make me feel loved, make me laugh, and make me cry. But I did know in that moment I would try my best for them.
At my school, all the classes are named after trees, such as Oak, Willow, Pine, Acacia, Birch, Cedar, etc. My homeroom class was Jupiter, so we called the students by the name “Jupiter.” As I jumped into my new job teaching nine classes a day, not all my classes were like Jupiter. I did not have an immediate connection with all my classes, although that would have been great. Despite of that, I loved everyone of my students. Yes, there were days they annoyed me. Yes, there were days they frustrated me. But I loved them all. Yes, even the class that drove me crazy and made me cry my first couple weeks there and made me cry of frustration a few Tuesdays ago.
However, as much as I loved teaching the elementary students, I adored teaching my fiver-year-olds. Jupiter and my afternoon class “Orion.” I mean, it’s not quite the same when you compare “I love you, Ms. Kaitlyn” or “You’re a princess, Ms. Kaitlyn” and receiving hugs and cheers daily to the accidental insults of the older students who don’t seem to care that you teach them (they do, but they just don’t show it as easily). Plus, I have always connected better with younger children anyways.
I had to learn to accept that I won’t be every kid’s favorite teacher. Haha!
But even though there were days I would get frustrated because I cared so much but the children did not seem to. Even though there were days I had to deal with the complaints or anger of upset parents (the worst part for me). Even though there were days I had to deal with the fact a class that fell behind was immediately blamed on their teacher, and I had to learn that I can’t put myself down just because one student does not seem to be learning anything and think that means I am a horrible teacher. Despite of all of that, I never for a moment wanted to give up on a student and wanted to keep working hard for them. The one time I wondered if I would have to give up on a student, I cried because I did not want to believe they could not be helped. These kids have truly been a highlight of my time here.
I have so many funny stories, have laughed so hard at things my students have said or done, and have been comforted so much by their hugs; they are truly very precious to me. I love hearing them sing songs, watching them learn, rejoicing with their victories, seeing them dance, and hearing their affection for their friends, families, and teachers. I love hearing about the days outside of classes, whether it be going to a zoo or aquarium or traveling to another country or hanging with their cousins, friends, or grandparents. I love walking into a class and immediately being swarmed by all the stories my students are dying to tell me about.
I will definitely miss those days a lot.
I do not think I can ever fully understand what kind of affect I had on their lives. Some may have been small, but I know some of them are bigger than I can ever understand. But I do understand the affect they have had on me. It makes me sad to think I may never see them again after I leave Korea.
This last week I said goodbye to all of them as their teacher. I am glad I will still see most of them in the hallways, but will miss seeing them every day in class. Especially my Jupiter babies. So, I will spend a few paragraphs talking about them especially.
As I mentioned earlier, Jupiter was already becoming known for not being the best. I really did not like that they were looked down on because of this since they were all such sweet kids. Although I was quite overwhelmed by the amount of work it was going to take to bring them up, I was determined to do my best. Those first few months were not easy. Some of the kids would get up randomly in the middle of class without saying anything to grab a drink of water or to grab their coat. Some sat backwards in their seats. Some kids spit. Some kids hit. I had to crouch near kids to get them to finish their work, while playing a video for the few who had already finished. I was so tired all the time. I had a girl crying every other day, so I was comforting her. I felt bad seeing their little selves trying to get used to writing words and letters. The hardest part of it all was the fact the boy I mentioned earlier who I had prayed about my first week, the one I wanted to help the most, did not seem to be responding as well as I wanted him to. I was disappointed because I didn’t seem to have any more of an effect on him as his previous teachers did.
I spent so much time trying to encourage the boy, whose English name is Brayden. At first, I was quite hopeful, because he always seemed to perk up a bit when I talked to him. If I was patient and waited for him to respond, he usually would. He was doing some of the work, even if slowly, but I did not know if that was progress or how he always was. But then there would be days he would come to class extremely grumpy and would just sit there. Every Friday the kids give mini presentations where I read and they repeat after me in front of the class. Brayden never did it no matter how much we encouraged. I started to think, maybe I am no different than the other teachers. But that did not mean I gave up trying. Every day, I would try to work with him. Every day, I would try to get him to participate. Despite the fact he did not seem to respond much to me and did not ever talk to me during breaks, I just felt he had to open up.
So went my first two months teaching Jupiter.
I felt nothing much seemed to be changing about the class and I felt maybe I was doing a terrible job as their teacher. Then November hit. And I began to notice I no longer had to bug certain students to stay on task to finish their work. I noticed I did not have to repeat the rules quite as often. I realized they were being more organized and asking before getting out of their seats. Their handwriting was getting better. They were writing quicker. They were doing better about not talking at the same time and remembering what I was teaching them. They were responding well when I would add a new rule or a new exercise. Teaching them was becoming less hard and even more enjoyable than before.
And Brayden suddenly changed. He started working more. He stopped having days where he would do nothing. He was listening carefully to my instructions and trying hard to make sure he did it right. He started following me around during breaks and showing his affection a bit differently than the others by repeatedly bumping into me. Then he started doing presentations at the end of the week. He began to talk to me during breaks. And he would actually smile. He started to raise his hand in class to answer questions or making jokes in class. I was so proud of him and so excited to see progress. I finally knew I got through to him.
During field trips, he would always stay by my side. He did not like to smile often for other teachers, but he smiled easily for me and for his friends. Most days when I felt like a terrible teacher because of a student who was struggling, someone would remind me of how much Brayden has grown. He grew so much that other teachers were commenting on it. I found out recently that he cried regularly when he first began to come to the school. For six months he cried. And he stopped crying in August. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but maybe it was not, that he stopped crying after I arrived and started to respond more and more.
I am not saying this as if to say I’m a great teacher or that his progress was all because of me. I am not saying that at all. But I keep thinking of my first week here and how I immediately chose him as my goal of someone I wanted to help while I was here. I felt I did not come to Korea, to this school, to this particular class on accident. Especially considering how easily I bonded with them. I truly felt God wanted me to do something for this class and for this boy.
So, this is why I cried so much this week. I knew it was time for them to move on and time for me to focus on other children. And I knew they will probably one day forget me. So, I cannot help but be sad at the thought of not being their teacher anymore. On our last day, I cried so much. The Jupiter babies kept telling me how they love me and do not want a different teacher. They kept telling me how they don’t like missing people. They told me they loved me. They hugged me so many times that day, and one of the boys teared up. After I handed them their certificates and took some final pictures with them and watched them line up to leave the classroom, I looked back at how much they had grown and was so proud to know they did a great job.
And for a brief moment, I heard a soft voice say, “I’ll miss you, Ms. Kaitlyn.”
I looked over to see Brayden. He smiled at me and waved and said bye as he left the room. I was so surprised that I thought maybe I misheard, because Brayden was never one to say “I love you, Ms. Kaitlyn” or hug me. He showed his affection differently.
So, I was a mess that day. Cried most of the day as I said goodbye to more classes and cried at any letter I received.
All this to say, I will miss all those kids so much. But I am excited to see what kids will come into my life for these next six months. I am ready to love more kids. Starting this Monday, I’ll have new classes, different students and new students, and will be partnering with different teachers. I look forward to making new memories. I look forward to seeing how my new students grow. I look forward to loving new kids. And of course, will often go say hello to my previous students. I’m writing this all because I do not want to forget. I want to remember. I want to remember the tears, the frustration, and the joys.
I’m excited for what these next six months have in store for me!
—The Adversity Rose—
DREAM. PURSUE. EXPERIENCE. GROW.
This blog will cover travel, personal growth, and life in general.