If I could go back to last August for a conversation with me as a skeptic, but as myself with what I know now, the pep talk would go something like this:
Skeptic: “What if I hate it? Do I even like kids?”
Present: “Maybe you will, and maybe you don’t. But you want to find out, don’t you? It’ll be rough at first. In the beginning, you will often wonder what the hell you were thinking. In the beginning, your thoughts will drift longingly to the work life you left behind in a New York City cubicle over one year ago. But one day, without warning, the classroom will feel cohesive. You will learn to navigate each of their personalities, and they’ll learn yours. At this point, things will start to get fun. After a short while, you will come to adore each of them. So don’t worry so much. Be patient. Go.”
Tomorrow nearly marks my six month anniversary of moving to Seoul. It’s also the day my students graduate from kindergarten. We met the day after I arrived. I was in a jet-lagged fog. They were suspicious of me, their third teacher in less than a year. When I try to remember how it felt, two thoughts comes to mind. I remember hoping that they’d like me. I hoped I’d like them, too.
It took me about a month. It may have taken them longer. The last time I had been around kids in this capacity was when the kids were my peers. For many, many years, I avoided humans under a certain age. They frightened me. It felt as if I’d lost the natural ability to relate to children, an ability with which we’re all born. I guess a part of me wanted to get that back. I knew that if I thought about it before I got to Korea, I might talk myself out of it. Most people who come to teach seem to be super enthusiastic about it, knowing they are viscerally meant to work with kids. I didn’t know this yet, so I avoided thinking about the details until someone asked the questions. Still, I was curious about certain things. I wondered how I’d get through the day without swearing. Or how I’d react when one of the kids lost a tooth or got a bloody nose.
It is remarkable to see the progress that these children have made, and it feels priceless to be a part of the gelling of a classroom. Teaching is exhausting. And unequivocally rewarding. I have always respected teachers and the gigantic task they undertake in choosing this profession. Since last September, that respect has grown tenfold.
To be able to teach without experience in a classroom sounds crazy to a lot of people. And it is, unless you treat it as a privilege. Then it can be really, really fun. I’m lucky to have known these young people. They’ve taught me, too.