Thursday, July 2, 2015

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow...

After 4 years at KISQ, tomorrow will be my final day teaching there. Or teaching anywhere, because I'm seeking employment opportunities that focus on writing as I go into my future in America. I certainly don't regret this little hiatus to teach. I'm stronger for having done this. But teaching was never an official, permanent career change. It just was a way to be useful in the world. I got so much more out of it than that too.

I began teaching in Seoul as a means to an end. It was just easy pay. If you're good with grammar and spelling, it's an absolute cakewalk. Honestly though, I've seen people with lousy English skills teaching while I've been in Asia. I think many schools are just happy to have a native English speaker to stand in front of classrooms and look the part.

For me, it was more than looking the part. Sure, I went into it for a paycheck. But as I come out of it, I realize how much I've gained from this experience.

I taught children how to read, which is probably one of the things I will always treasure the most deeply about teaching. I remember a few years ago, I had a boy named Tony in my class. He was struggling to read when I first met him. I worked with him, patiently teaching him to sound out each word. And suddenly, like a bird taking flight, off he went. He went on to become one of my strongest readers. I had many like him who suddenly blossomed into fluency. Watching my kids get it was one of the best feelings I ever had while teaching.

I taught children how to remember the often randomly insane rules of phonics in my native English. I made them laugh while I did so, hoping that it would help them crack the code with every new word they'd learn. And when they'd read new words I'd never taught them without missing a beat, I knew I'd gotten through to them and it made me feel proud.

I gave these kids my all, every day. And as I get ready to leave, I realize they gave me so much too. They showed me that I could really be kind and patient. That I could really cut my own finger with the scissors and NOT shout out a profanity (I am still amazed by that one).  That I should always find the opportunity to smile and laugh. That sharing is love. That we should always make time to play. That teachers make fun monsters on the playground. That the stuff we learn in the books isn't all they learn from me - it's my speech patterns and my informal lingo that they love to mimic the most (beware: there are a bunch of Korean kids who now happily go about using "dude" and "bro" and "you must chill!" in daily conversation).

I've had 4 different classes over these last 4 years. The first group of children is now in  4th grade. Because living abroad is a transient experience as families will come and go like the changing tides, many of the children I had in my first year at KISQ are gone. Five of them are still there though. One of them, Wendy, said hello to me today in the cafeteria, as she often does. I looked at her and nearly cried. She was so tall now, and even more beautiful than she was as a kindergarten child. I couldn't believe that she was getting close to being my height! Her English was fairly good when she was small. Now it's excellent. I wish her well and tell her how lovely it's been to watch her grow up, and then I tell her I'm moving away. She looks sad too and I realize I must keep a smile on my face and not cry. God. I'm going to cry. No, not here. I can't. Somehow, I get away before my tears betray me.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, I did find out more of who I am by teaching these children. I found a reason to be proud of myself. Sure, I survived in advertising but could any of those people be strong enough to suddenly uproot their lives and move to two different countries to do a completely different job from what they'd ever done before? I learned I could adapt. I learned I could work with people from different backgrounds who didn't even speak the same first language as me. I learned what it was like to be responsible for something so much more important than words on papers designed to motivate people to buy something.

Through all my classes, this year has been my favorite. I started with 9 children. Two of them left within the first 3 weeks due to an issue with the school's bus pickup times. Then I was left with 7. I've always had at least 15 children each semester. Having so few was really a nice way to end my time teaching here. In a smaller group like this, I had more opportunity to work with each of my students to help them improve where they needed strengthening. And we all got to know each other better overall. So maybe that's why it's so hard to say goodbye to this bunch.

Last week, Jinny parted with us as her family moved back to Korea. Today, we said goodbye to Chris, who will be moving down to Shanghai. And now tomorrow, I will say goodbye to Ann, Jaeseo, Rachael, Jason and Joy. I've known Ann, Rachael and Jason since they were only 4 years old, when they were in the baby class.

I'm so excited for our move to the US in just a few days. It's something I've wanted for so long but of course, parting is such sweet sorrow for the wonderful relationships I've created over here from my friendships with other teachers, the few friends I've got out here still (and the ones who are already back in their home countries who I still stay connected to and my darling students who kept me feeling young and in turn, will stay forever young in my heart.