So, here it is. Tomorrow starts my last month in the job that I blindly stumbled into way back in 2009. I couldn’t have guessed what a difference it would make to my life; couldn’t have known how much it was to challenge me, test me, and change me. Over the past 40 months, I have taught upwards of 400 children. I’ve known all of their names, how many brothers and sisters they had, what made them laugh, what they were afraid of, and which Angry Bird was their favourite.
Leaving will be a painful wrench.
I do know it’s time to go, though. My heart hasn’t been in it for a while now – I’m frequently bored, my patience is running low, and I’ve been teaching the same material for so long that my job brings me almost no satisfaction any more. I need to go somewhere new and shake things up. It’s time for a new challenge. And besides, much as I will find the goodbyes extremely difficult at the end of this month, there are a lot of things I really, really will not miss.
- Working 9-6, Monday to Friday, with Saturdays regularly thrown in for good measure. I. Am. Tired.
- Teaching art. I was all enthusiastic at the start, but let me tell you, being trapped in a room all day with a bunch of over-excited 5-year-olds and a load of paint, glitter, and glue is not actually all that much fun, most of the time. Nor is cleaning the classroom afterwards.
- Being overworked. More classes, more hours, more paperwork, more marking, more planning, more reports, more rules, more presentations, more events, more, more, more. When it comes to work, Korea is all about More.
- Eraser! Teacher! Pinisheee! Hot! Cold! Me is no! Teacher! Help-uh me! I’m done! Teacher! Aw-awwww-awwww-aww-awwwww! This is whaaaaaaat? Teacherrrrrrrrrr! Bathroom! I’m thirsty! He not share! She is me hit! Teacher!
- Compulsory staff dinners and bonding nonsense with colleagues I already see all day, every day.
- That feckin’ photocopier.
- Members of staff yelling into the tannoy system and scaring the crap out of me or disrupting my classes.
- Stay in your seat. Don’t speak Korean. Listen to the teacher. Push in your chairs. Line up. Close the door. Don’t shout. Sit down. Don’t touch my desk. Speak English. Do you understand? Wait. This is your last warning. “What… is… this?”!
- My colleagues. Once upon a time, we had a lovely group of teachers who all got along very well, making work a fun place to be. Now… not so much. I am one of only two teachers from the original staff when I started at the school, and the only remaining English teacher. I like one of my new colleagues. That’s not enough.
But of course, I wouldn’t have stayed where I am for so long if I didn’t love my job the majority of the time. These are the things that I will miss.
- Success. Those little moments that make it all worthwhile. When a previously tongue-tied child suddenly starts speaking in full sentences. When a 7-year-old spontaneously explains global warming in near-perfect English. When the class as one finally understands something after my near-certainty that they were just never going to get it. When I come up with a particularly popular game or activity that has them all laughing and not even realising that they’re learning at the same time. When I look back over a child’s work from the past year and see real progress. When I realise that I can speak at a fairly normal speed and be understood. When I pause to listen outside my classroom door because I can hear my 6-year-olds talking to each other in English only, even though I haven’t come into the room yet. It has been a rewarding job in spite of the frustrations. Or perhaps even more so because of them.
- My director. We’ve had our moments, but I was really, really fortunate to get a job in a school with a director like her. She has made every effort to mediate, be fair, understand, and assist. She has taken me to doctors, banks, hospitals, dentists, and the immigration office when I needed her assistance, and never once made me feel like a burden.
- Cuddles. I can’t imagine any job can be as filled with affection as this one. I am a fan of hugs. (The other day, while discussing a relatively unpopular character from a TV show, I said “Aww, I just want to cuddle him!”. “You would cuddle a werewolf” came the unimpressed response.) Working in a kindergarten is like spending your day in a big room filled with cute little cuddly teddy bears. My youngest class this year has been the sweetest, best-behaved group of babies I have ever encountered. They sit quietly and attentively through each class, they enthusiastically answer questions and tell me all about their day, and then at the end of the class, instead of lining up, they run to me and shower me with cuddles and kisses and I love yous, then cling to my hands and my clothes as we walk up the stairs to our classrooms together. It melts my heart every time.
- Singing children’s songs every day. You can’t not smile at least a little bit when you’re doing “If you’re happy and you know it” with a group of happy, enthusiastic kids.
- The cooking lady and the school lunches. School lunches used to mean sandwiches and Dairylea Triangles and bags of crisps. Now, they’re all about spicy soups and rice and barbecued meat and delicious sauces and copious vegetables and side dishes. All served with a smile and a “chalmeogaeseumnida!” (“eat well!”).
But more than any of those things, more than all of them put together, possibly more than anything I have ever missed in my entire 31 years of life… I will miss my students. “My” kids. I don’t care that they’ve been responsible for my headaches, graying hair, screaming into a pillow, or bouts of potential alcoholism. Some of them are total brats, yes, but most of them are “my” babies.
I love them. I love Andy, a 5-year-old who showers me with hugs and kisses every day. I love Marina, who clung to me on her last day as we both cried. I love Jennifer, who made me a Valentine with a poem she wrote all by herself. I love Justin, who is now 13 but is still as enthusiastic, polite, and funny as ever, showing no sign of turning into a sulky teenager. I love Benjamin, who recites “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock” with a big grin on his face. I love Daisy, who I’ve watched transform from a nervous, chubby-cheeked 8-year-old into a sweet, kind, friendly 12-year-old. I love John, who likes the Beatles, and I love Suji, who wanted to marry Kevin and Leo, and I love Paul, who cried if he didn’t get the pink scissors, and I love Kate, who is 5 going on 80, and I love Julie, who uses words like “gusto”, and I love Thomas, who still wants to sit on my knee even though he’s 8 and at “big school” now, and I love Kara, who likes playing Apples to Apples, and I love Amy, whose handwriting is better than mine, and I love Charley, who once asked me if I was from Neptune, and I love Daniel, who thinks I sleep in my classroom every night, and I love Elvin, who went from being something of a ‘special’ case to the brightest, most talented student in the school, and I love Alex, the Busan boy who always got teased for his accent, and I love Kelly, the little girl who wrote me a letter during my first week, and I love Kevin, who started speaking with a cute lisp when he lost his front teeth and never got the ‘s’ back when the new teeth grew, and I love Crystal, who genuinely thought until yesterday that I fly back to Ireland every day after school. I love my students. I never thought I would be capable of loving a child this much, never mind a few hundred of them. I will miss them so much it hurts to think about it.
And so, despite my dwindling patience and increasing frustration of late, I hereby resolve to enjoy this final month with the infuriating yet incredible little human beings who have – without a shadow of a doubt – made me a better person.