I realize I wrote mostly about the grieving or hard aspects about being a teacher. Thus, to communicate how meaningful and grateful I am for the last three years I spent as a teacher, I want to share some of the small and big joys of teaching. Because there are too many good things to talk about, I divided my experiences into several categories. This post will focus on the joy a teacher can have in her precious students.
My Angel Student
She was very shy. She was in my Spanish 1 class when I was on my first year of teaching. I know that as a first time teacher, I was bound to make mistakes, and in this particular class, I seemed to have no control over my students and I always felt frustrated. But whenever I looked at her, she would flash this angelic smile and it always strengthened me. Not only this, but when I met her in the hallways, I could tell she was genuinely glad to see me, and so was I.
One time, she was absent for many of my classes. Thus, I offered to help her catch up after school on a weekend on campus (she lived in the school dormitory). We met after lunch, and in the cafeteria, I taught her colors in Spanish. It took her a lot of time to understand because she wasn’t fluent in English or Korean. As I sat with her, explaining different concepts again and again, I was amazed that I wasn’t frustrated at her lack of understanding. It was because she was so genuinely willing to learn and trying her best; it gave me the strength and will to do my best to explain it again and again in a better way. In a sense, she made me want to become a better teacher. And when our session ended, she was all smiles.
As the semester went on, I ended up offering to buy her lunch on campus. We ate, talked, and as I was taking her back to her dormitory, she smilingly held my hand and put our hands in my coat’s pocket. It was such a sweet and innocent act of love that I just melted inside. I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, how come I get to have such a sweet student?”
If you thought this was enough sweetness, it was not. In her music class, they had to compose a song about someone they knew. And yes, she chose me. The song was simple and very touching, and she asked me to play the guitar as she sang this song. I gladly said yes, and we recorded it in the classroom. The lyrics still touch my heart and sometimes I feel undeserving of the lyrics she wrote.
Thanks to her, when times got tough, I had a fond memory to give me reasons to keep trying to be a better person and teacher.
Everyday Joy-Giving Students
There are many students that come and go through a teacher’s teaching career. And I realized that there’s this group of unnamed students who boost up your energy in small ways here and there. Here are some instances:
- The student who gave me a precious piece of candy or shared some kind of snack with me to see me brighten up at their sharing.
- The student who greeted me with a smile or a big wave even when not taking my classes (I was sad to see that many students stopped greeting me cheerfully once they stopped taking my classes, but the ones who did acknowledge my existence afterwards made up for all the heartaches)
- The student who came to just tell me how their day was, asked me how my day was going, or noticed I was feeling sick or bad and made a caring comment about it.
- The student whose eyes and body language told me they were thankful for the activities I prepared and were busy enjoying themselves in the lovely world of learning.
- The student who encouraged and helped his/her peers with a genuine concern for that friend’s welfare.
- The student who helped me sort papers and grade them at a time I was crazy busy.
- The student who gave me hugs.
- The student who wrote me unasked for and heart-felt apology notes.
- The student who complimented me on days I wasn’t feeling pretty at all.
My Trouble Students
I have a few trouble kids (sweet and crazy students) who are all boys. These kids usually don’t have much interest in grades, enjoy having great fun, and have a certain depth in them. They are the students that brought great laughter and great drama into my day-to-day life as a teacher. Without them, my days would have been rather bland. All of these students started out pretty defensively against me. Their body language, their stare, everything about them said “I am planning on doing nothing in your classroom except for causing trouble.” However, time and genuineness brought what I’d like to think of as genuine friendship.
[Thoughts in parentheses about the trouble kids]
(In a sense, I wanted to influence these students in a big way, but I can’t say I have. Most of them kept getting detentions and would still get in trouble after they got close with me. And no matter what atrocities they committed, for some reason, I couldn’t not like them.
I felt like these kids had a lot of unanswered questions in their hearts and minds; which was why they were acting out. What I saw in their fierce eyes was a lot of untold hurt. Thus, I wanted enough wisdom and discernment to be able to provide an environment for them where they could speak out their fears, the things they felt were unfair, to express the desire for hope, or whatever else was in their hearts. However, I don’t think I did this well enough.
I wished there was a way that I could freely speak truth in love into their lives; I wished all of us as teachers got together to pray for them instead of labeling them as impossible kids. I wished their questioning wouldn’t be seen as defying but would be guided into positive curiosity. I wished I could have done more for them than I did because of how busy I was with the curriculum I taught, the activities I had to lead, and the legalities of being a ‘teacher’.)
Even though I feel like I haven’t impacted their lives as positively as I would have liked to, they definitely affected my life positively. Below are some instances where they made my life just a tad bit sweeter:
- On my first year of teaching, there was this student who wouldn’t stop talking in my class. He had a very loud voice and was constantly distracted. I thought he hated all the activities I prepared for class and found them so boring that he was constantly distracted. Then, after the midterm exams, he came to me with a 미안한 표정 (an I-am-sorry-facial-expression) and said, “Profe Eli! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! Next time I will do much better in the exam! I will be really good in class!” and hugged me as he said that. I was surprised at this because I genuinely thought this student was apathetic to my class and its results. I laughed and told him that he’d better behave better in class. From then on, our relationship got better and better.
- There was a one-sentence note that melted my heart; written by a student who was particularly evasive of any positive talk. He wrote ‘3년동안 감사했습니다 (Thank you these past three years)’. And I was thankful he thought and wrote that to me because I was thankful to have met him as well.
- Our school had an annual water balloon fight at the end of Sports Day, and when all the kids were busy throwing water balloons at each other, these two students made it a point to find me and throw these water balloons at me. It was more significant because I knew they were kids who preferred to be ‘cool’ and not mix with school activities.
- Another student, whom I taught for one year only but got to know deeply, called himself my first disciple. I was taken aback by the word ‘disciple’ because I had never thought of being wise enough to be in the position of discipling someone. Even though he said it half-jokingly, it gave me great joy to know that the conversations, corrections, and activities we did together as teacher and student affected him to the degree of wanting to call himself my disciple.
*(I want to write a few more instances, or make them more detailed, but I think it might invade on someone else’s privacy so I will keep it short.)
As much as these students made some days really hard to teach, I felt like once we established a relationship, it was much more genuine and respectful than many of the generic teacher-student relationship I had with many kids who were trying to be good to not get in trouble in my class. In other words, these students eventually saw me past the rule-giving teacher, and saw me as a teacher who loved them and therefore put certain rules and disciplines, and only then were willing to obey or try in a humane way. I guess in a way I prefer the questioning as long as it’s done in a respectful way that is seeking for truth. Isn’t this what God desires of us? That we ask, trust, and obey Him in this manner?
I believe students affect a teacher as much as the teacher affects the students. And I am so grateful to have met such precious students in my short teaching experience. They helped me know my strengths and weaknesses, and I know my life is now richer thanks to their input into my life. I hope and pray that from their interaction with me, what will remain embedded in them is Christ’s love, because I know I have learned much of God’s love through them.