I have new students this semester and the world is so different with every generation.
I wondered sometimes what it would be like to run into old friends who you just pass in the hallways of the school. I mean, a teacher– what kind of job is that really, one where you forge such close relations with your students? I told myself that if I ever got a job, I’d take one where I could constantly be moving forward. I didn’t like the idea of being an “upkeep” kind of person. That’s why sales aren’t for me– because I’d be doing the same old thing everyday. Day 1 and day 100 would be the same routine against a background of perhaps a slightly rearranged store, and with a template of client profiles with problems no so unlike someone else on your list of experiences.
I noticed when I first started working in public services that people are different enough that it’s not a question of position, it’s more a question of the whole field where you could have something different every day. To be honest– I didn’t like the idea of teaching a few years ago because I thought that’s exactly what I would be. A cog in the big machine– just another gear to pass on the force, just passing it on from wherever small or big it came from. I didn’t like the idea of teaching because I wondered if it would bore me eventually to just be teaching the same subjects, the same books, the same ideas. I wondered what it was like for teachers to see their former students walking in the halls– all that they had taught or accomplished, just sort of set free. How often does a teacher keep in touch with students after the course is over?
And in that way it’s like someone dies when they leave your classroom on the last day of school.
Yet yet the end of a month if Intensives, it’s impossible for me to frown. It really is. Over the month of January, I’ve spent 15 hours per week witch each of my 50 or so kids. I know their favorite hobbies. I know how many people they have in their family. I know where they want to go when they’re old enough to have a transit card of their own, and I know who they want to be when they grow up to be ‘old like teacher.’
It is never boring. It is, without a doubt, a hint of what parentig may be like. Like what people tell me about parenting, a lot of it has to do with fear– fear for the worst things that can happen to your kids and fear of the world that can do these things to them. And so your job exists– to educate, and not just to tie their laces but to strap on their armor and shield. You tell them things like how to repell the harsh words of people whose opinions they care about. Some of them already come with the armor. Some of them are naked. You put a pen in their hand and tell them that they shouldn’t be afraid of swords.
And sometimes I yell at them, sometimes I take an aside and give them a lesson on life or something which I know, I really do understand now because I was the same, that they won’t understand or they won’t agree with me until they’ve collected as many scars as us old folks. But education isn’t about stocking up on “I told you so,” and I think that this is the mistake that I used to make when I was younger. Whenever I had something good, I mean, something that could help someone, it was all about me. It wasn’t about helping others– it was about my ego. How many of you people do that? I mean, squander your expertise, and use it as social crutches?
Being in my position makes for an interesting discussion on the subject of pride. I will let students hit me– I’m strong enough to take it– and I will feign terror when someone raises their hand against me. But when someone picks up another student’s stuffed toy and throws it across the room, I will march there and lay down the law. You can playfight in my class and I expect that you’ll get hurt every now and then– but the second I small malice or ill intent, genuinely (and I can) then I will pick you up and throw you out my class. There are not idle threats, and my students know me for it.
I have a whole new group of students as of yesterday. It’s the new semester, and I’ll have these students for 6 months for 6 hours per week each. They came in, and I could see that they’d heard about me– The R4 Teacher, so named because of the Nintendo DS Lite R4 chip, partly because I play (and often beat) any student who challenges me and because it’s Room 4, the unlucky number of death and misfortune in Korean.
I remember going to university and looking up websites and discussing with some of my peers what we knew about a professor beforehand from rumors or testimonials. “This guy’s a real hardass” or “she’s a real easy grader” or “We’re fucked: I wish there were more other classes open.”
And so I walk into the room, wearing my Merrel semi-casual hiking shoes, my Taiwanese jeans and my Korean glasses, sporting my beige blazer over my Shoryuken shirt. It’s mismatched, but I carry it with a comfort that nobody questions.
Every class starts out the same: every time it’s the first time you teach a kid, it takes them a while to trust you. Your job is that, actually: to earn trust. Trust makes all the difference.
As I walk through halls, a day after the last day of the last semester, I run into kids and they shout at me. Some of them punch me in the back as they pass, then they run like animals knowing what I’ll do to them if I catch them. It’s all in good fun. Some of them want to take a picture with me. Some of them come and swear at me in Korean, and I swear back at them– in Korean, filling in the blanks with body language.
Will it get old? Does it ever?
I don’t know if I will teach for a second year, but no– I don’t think it will ever get old. Every one of those heads on those small shoulders is a completely different puzzle– some, treasure chests, others, booby trapped with ‘issues’ that they won’t even understand about themselves until they are ten or twenty years older. You get in there, you dig in.
I have never been more thankful for all the things I’ve experienced in my life. All the good things and bad things that happened to me, and, lets not forget, all the good things and bad things I got good at– they’ve all helped me to see the world a bit. And, while I can’t just transfer this to them, it is nice to see the patterns to just point them at sites of interest along the yellow brick road.
I think of all the things that have happened over the years. All the friendships, all the enemies– all the joy and all the hurt. It goes a long way. And what do we learn from it? Some people gather that we’re bags of meat, specialized in absorbing pain, racing for oblivion. Some don’t know and don’t care to figure it out. Some live for someone or something. Some wander and live in search of something to live for.
What does it all add up to for me?
Who knows. But part of it is a whole lot of empathy, and at least the realization that nothing is ever simple or to be generalized, least of all the simple things. Stories abound. Everyone wants to tell one, but everyone’s afraid the audience will laugh.
Random pictures from last day at school
Children often think they’re invincible. And when you think of all the people that they draw to them, and those peoples’ natural need to protect them, maybe they’re right.
What would it be like to be a kid again! Now we can look back at it with different eyes, because we’re older. And yet, a lot of the things are still the same. We still have dreams, we still have wants and needs. We still seek camraderie. The only difference is that a child hasn’t yet learned to deny himself. So when someone offends, the fists fly out– there’s none of the sweettalking. When someone is happy, they’re not afraid to let it be known.
And what is the price of being young? Perhaps it’s the pressure of playing the whole ‘game’ of being a child– bullies, parents, teachers, education, being popular, not standing out, standing out…