It's not the teaching; it's the learning.
I'm a fraud of a teacher. Like many other foreign teachers, I did not come here to launch a career as an educator. And although it is an incredibly honorable profession, it's not giving me the sense of purpose I hear from so many professional teachers.
What keeps me in Korea is not the thrill of teaching. It's not in the pride I feel when a lesson plan I created is a hit. It's not the power of classroom management. It's not even the joy of seeing my students get A's on their English tests. I know my place in their learning process, and sadly my impact has little to do with exam performance.
What keeps me in Korea is the way my students love me.
This weekend, I am taking a mental and physical health break. I am wandering the streets of my neighborhood, remembering the feel of warm air and the sense of insecurity I felt when I first came to Ulsan. So much has changed, and I can definitely say feel at home here now.
But my self-development aside, what really brought some happiness to this otherwise (although seemingly necessary) bland weekend were the encounters I had with my students.
My recently-graduated 6th graders are probably the dearest to my heart, just because they were such difficult students at the end of the year, but being at the bottom of the totem pole in middle school has seemed to soften them up a bit. Plus, their very obvious leap into puberty is hilarious to witness outside the classroom. The girls, shy as ever, break from their obnoxious giggle circle to talk to me.
And the funny thing is, they still call me teacher.
"Laura Teacher! You remember me?
Yaksa [my school's name], I Yaksa. You remember?"Of course I do.
The boys are even more of a riot. I ran into some of my favorites this afternoon on their way to a PC room.
"Teacher, teacher-- you have boyfriend?"This launches a string of Korean, playful hitting and laughter I feel privileged to belong in.
"OHHHHHHH- Teacher, Teacher! He! He! [pointing to their friend] He wants to be your boyfriend! He has 14 girlfriends, many many!"
Tonight I had the opportunity to talk to one of my students and even meet her family. As I turned to leave, I heard the universal sound of astonishment and approval from her family for speaking such great English. A smile instantly broke across my face. I might not be the key component in a classroom, but I definitely see my purpose in these kids' lives.
Maybe it's starting to sink in that I'll only be here for 5 more months-- that over half of my contract is over, and when I leave I won't see these incredible kids anymore. But I'm really enjoying the strolls around my neighborhood, whether it's running into my students at the department store, outside their apartment as their friends depart from a birthday party, or playing badminton with family in the residential streets.
And that will always be something worth seeking, even in my own neighborhood.