Like anyone who’s spent time in teacher training, I have been conditioned to reflect upon my experiences compulsively, to consider my thoughts, and my own goals and progress an inordinate number of times. Though we occasionally joked it into hyperbole, there were entire days in Teacher’s College spent talking about ourselves, our feelings, our feelings about our feelings, others’ feelings about our feelings, and so on and so forth ad infinitum until you generate a giant gravity well of introspection. I’m also just an obsessive cataloguer of my own experiences by nature. It is thus that my first impulse at the close of one year, particularly one where I finished said degree, is to look back at the things I’ve done and consider how wicked a year it’s been.
What Michael did in his 2010:
- Completed Teacher’s College, became a certified teacher, and completed my own university education for, at least, a good while. For a brief period before Korea became a distinct possibility in my mind, I was struck with a particular type of terror: that I had no idea what I would do with my life. I would soon gain a teacher degree, sure, but the market in southern Ontario was absurdly competitive, and I was a tiny fish in an enormous pond otherwise populated by pedagogical sharks with Master’s degrees and real qualifications (if you follow the mixed metaphor). While teacher’s college, and all of university, was certainly difficult, life-changing, thought-provoking and inspiring and all that, it was, in its way, sheltered. I hopped from one degree to the next to keep myself in school, and thus had a large collection of Educational and Professional Acronyms following my name by age 22, but a creeping fear about the expectation that I would soon actually become a part of the world and have to, like, do things.
- Hiked some damn mountains.
- Taught 750 students in various contexts. This includes teaching at three separate schools in Toronto, multiple summer camps, and the absurdly high number of children I teach at my current Korean elementary school. Will all of them remember me? Probably not. The Kindergarteners I taught in Toronto could barely distinguish between myself and the other student teacher they acquired months later (shout-out to Mr. Wood), and the two of us congealed into some hazy mega-teacher, a conglomerate male when it became too strenuous to conceive of two separate teachers they would see. All the same, it’s both exhilarating and daunting to think I’ve had an impact on even a fraction of that number. I remember a 4-year-old in October, unable to utter a single word in English, slowly grasping the language. I saw him getting new words, trying new sentences, and absorbing everything around him like a sponge. During a visit in June, he bounded up to me and squealed, “Mr. Milne, you are here to see us again?” I nearly fell down with pride. I remember playing badminton with fourth graders, and arguing with one student over which of us had defeated the other. Quoth her, “Sometimes in life, you just get beat by a 10-year-old.” I remember co-writing the school play and watching my students perform in front of a giant audience. I remember journal prompts, swimming class, ski trips, glitter and glue caking into my clothing, scouring the recycling bins, papier-mache, learning to always carry Kleenex in your pockets, circles, glockenspiels, a Forest of Reading. I remember abandoning the hyper-vigilance when it became clear the 5-year-old would stop crying if I gave her a hug. I remember having various iterations of a Serious Talk with kids for various and sundry indiscretions. I remember being simultaneously more exhausted and more proud of myself and others people than I have ever been before.
- Learned some Korean. It’s difficult.
- Moved halfway around the world. Add to this moving out from home for the first time and you get a fairly significant, “Oh shit, what have I done?” Things are certainly smoother now, but I had a sort of mental shell-shock when I first set down in Korea, as though my brain could not conceive of what I had committed myself to (the lack of sleep certainly didn’t improve my mental status). Hadn’t I made up Korea in my mind? Wasn’t it more of a theoretical place, a sort of geographical joke that map-makers included for their own amusement, not one that could be actually landed in and set up as a place of residence? How was it even physically possible for me to have achieved this? While I’ve gotten over that hurdle, occasionally my brain stops and wonders how I’m not dead: that I’ve continued to maintain my biological functions and not curled up somewhere in a ditch, starving, unlaundered, and penniless, seems a momentous feat.
- Drank a shot for my birthday (shared with friend Gwen), consisting of strawberry soju, Paris Baguette cake, and crushed peanuts
- Drank this in one go. In video form, it actually goes on for ten seconds after, wherein my teammates cringe and flutter their hands about in drinking-regret by proxy.
- Made enormous amounts of great friends. Teacher’s College and being a foreigner in Korea share a few similarities, the main one being that you begin to cling to those around you. Stress, every day dealing with dozens of people who do not comprehend you but at the same time need your attention for their own well-being, and the alienness of everything drives strangers to one another, to forego the usual early-friendship fumblings and seek out faster platonic intimacy. Suddenly, you are drowning in quality people. Somehow in teacher’s college I became moderately popular, and was the one left with the critical responsibility of planning the pubnights (and our dive-bar prom, Assprints).
- Said goodbyes. A lot of them. It sucked.
- Felt at times incredibly out of my depth, and then at others shocked by how prepared and ready I was. I signed on for a career that contains annual first-day jitters, and for me the occasional suspicion that I am a giant fraud, and that at any moment the College of Teachers will surely recognize their mistake. And then the kids walk in, or I walk up the side of a mountain, or I walk through the airport gate, and just do whatever the hell it is like I know what I’m doing. Do people ever get good at adulthood, or is it just a really carefully sculpted artifice?
- Wrote 1000s of words, many of them showing up here. My verbiage cannot be contained.
- Still did not read Anna Karenina. That book is my fucking white whale (also another book I still cannot compel myself to read, but that one at least hides behind the Tolstoy)
- Travelled across Canada (or, more accurately, was driven across Canada by others with unexpired licenses). It was very pretty. Occasionally precarious and with the odd electrical fire, but pretty. There may have been familial bonding.
- Felt like a grown-up. Not all the time, certainly, but it occasionally sneaks up on me. Usually when I’m doing my own laundry.
- Saved Christmas from Kim Jong-Il, while rescuing limbless orphans. This one may or may not be true, but I wanted to end the bullets on a funny.
New Year’s is about looking back, and looking forward, hoping the New Year will bring joy, progress, good fortune and good health. I want all of those things, and I want to grow and all that boring self-realization business, but when 2010 was kind of wicked, is it wrong to also kind of want a repeat?