I’ve officially been a teacher for a week and two days now. When I first arrived at the school last Thursday, I was swarmed by a dozen kiddos screaming, “Teacher! Teacher! ...hello!” to me as I crossed the dirt soccer field towards the front doors of the school. And then they’d just run away. Actually, they’d try to speak to me in Korean first, so I’d say “No Korean. I speak English,” and they’d whine a little and then run away. It was adorable. And this continues to happen each day, which is so awesome (but I’m kind of like, have you not figured out by now that I really don’t speak Korean). In the beginning, when I'd be feeling nervous on the walk to school, the flock of kids would always make me feel better. I feel like I’ve settled in now and am becoming a lot more comfortable with teaching. But it’s still so sweet when I’m eating lunch in the cafeteria and my students come up behind me and proudly say, “Hello, Meri Teacher!”
I like my school a lot. The teachers are all really nice. In fact, I got invited to a teachers’ dinner earlier this week. It was fun and they made me stand up and introduce myself to all the teachers and staff while my mentor teacher translated. Then I went over and poured both my principal and vice principal soju shots, because it’s the polite thing to do in Korea. I wasn’t kidding when I said that drinking is very important here! My mentor teacher (who basically takes care of me here in Korea) is really cool (and so cute!). She took me to Andong, the larger town next to Yecheon, to get my Alien Registration Card and on the way back, I asked her if there were any good flower shops near me so I could buy flowers for my apartment. She just told me, “yes.”
As we were driving back into Yecheon, I thought she was going to drop me off at my apartment; instead she said, “We go…buy…flowers.” So I ended up getting a potted pink flower plant for my kitchen table. She’s so cute because she’ll take me to do something and I always find myself walking behind her at a heated pace, like her baby duckling in tow. And then, without any warning, she’ll freeze in place, take a second to think about something she just passed by, and immediately do a U-turn to go back to it. She speaks nothing about it to me; I just follow. And sometimes she’ll utter something to herself and then suddenly we’re running down the street, her heels clicking the pavement at a steady pace as I hustle along behind. She’s so sweet though. The other day, we were riding to the cell phone store and she told me that her little boy wanted cake, so she invited me to come eat cake at their house. We grabbed Thwani and Patty and the three of us (well, four, including her son Ju Yong) had cake while she cooked us dinner. Then, we devoured dumplings and spicy rice cakes the rest of the evening as we all lounged on the warm floor and talked. It was a good night. Her son – who is maybe 4 and a little comedian – makes me want to adopt Korean children.
So far I’ve taught the first and second graders how to say “Hello! My name is…” and “Nice to meet you.” The third through sixth graders have been learning how to have a basic conversation in English. My third and fourth graders really love to sing, so on Thursday, I had them break into groups and each create a song to help them remember the phrases they had learned. We had the performances on Friday and I awarded the winning group with candy. I learned that songs can work wonders for memorization and teaching. But I also realized that feelings are hurt in elementary school if there's not candy for everyone. So I will have to tweak that that technique a bit in the future, and make sure I have at least a little something for everyone.
I have good kids. They are really smart and well-behaved for the most part... Although, I think as they're getting more comfortable with me, they're getting a little more rowdy -- trying to test my limits I guess. But overall, I love them. Though, they keep talking to me as if I'm fluent in Korean, despite my pleadings for "English only!" And almost every day, a different kid asks me why my nose is big. It's like I'm in junior high all over again, sheesh! I just try to remember that they're kids and that they're just curious, so I turn my insecurity into a lesson: "My nose is BIG, your nose is LITTLE. Big, little, big, little."