YeonHwa Middle School is directly across the street from YeonHwa Elementary. This means that on a daily basis, I pass by probably a dozen of my former students either entering or leaving their school. I have about the same relationship with them now that I did back when I regularly taught them, in that we breeze past one another and shout “Hello!” very loudly in one another’s faces, as is customary between English teachers and Korean children.
Many of these students liked me, I thought, but not in any realistic way. They liked me in the way they liked recess, or a pleasant-looking water fountain. I was an interesting diversion, rather than a real teacher. Most of them met me partway into their last semester at elementary school, long after they had been taking anything seriously, and thus I tried to make them enjoy the classes rather than asserting my dominance as alpha or drilling grammar into their brains.
The deep, nestled yearnings I have of being a beloved teacher, of being That One That Kids Remember, run pretty strong. I assumed, of course, that if this was going to be true of any of my kids, it would at least be the ones I will teach for a little longer, and thus have more time to come off awesomely towards.
One day, I heard my class doors swing open gently. A ruffling of dense North Face jackets sounded, and a middle-schooler’s head poked around the corner before darting back. There was some discussion, and a lot of muffled 어덯게?ing (“HOW?!”), before I rose and saw them. Two of my former students.
Generally when kids invade the class in the off time it’s for one of the Korean teachers, so I gestured to the office, before one of the girls burrowed into her backpack and produced a large map of the world. “I got this. And I thought… you could use it. For good teaching.” I was so stunned I couldn’t properly inundate the poor kids with thanks, but I talked to them a little bit in Korean before they bustled away.
There are times when I forget that children, especially middle-schoolers (!) are capable of genuine kindness and humanity. Whod’ve thunk.