In Korea, the school year starts in March, not September. That’s why if you’d stopped by my school today, you would’ve seen dozens of little people in graduation gowns and hats. Yep, a kindergarten graduation ceremony – really.
The pupils are split into two main groups – 6 year olds and 7 year olds (that’s about 4/5 and 5/6 in Western age) – and today it was time to bid farewell to the 7s as they prepare to start elementary school next week. Now, maybe it’s the nicotine withdrawal messing with my emotions, but I was surprised by the strength of my own feelings as I watched the children leave for the last time. When I first got here, they were a mob of faces and a roar of noise. I couldn’t tell them apart, much less remember names. And now, just 5 months on, I know each little personality as well as I know any of my friends. Saying goodbye was awful.
They sang the national anthem and were presented with their certificates and beautiful ‘memory books’, and then the teachers were called up on stage to be introduced to the watching parents. This was all fine and well. But then the kids all stood up where they were, in the front rows, and someone started playing a tune on the keyboard, and they all launched into the sweetest little song I’ve ever heard. Well, I couldn’t understand all the words, since it was in Korean, but I was able to pick up the words for “teacher”, “thank you”, “goodbye”, and “love you”, so that was really more than enough! They sang to us as we stood on the stage, and to my great alarm I felt tears pricking my eyelids. Good grief, I feel them again now just remembering it.
I did make it off the stage before the tears escaped, and I had to run for a tissue as Alex rolled his eyes and the Cooking Lady tried to comfort me by offering me a tangerine (we have no common language other than food). Then I was surrounded by lots of my students and their parents, wanting a last picture taken with me, the Teacher With Red Eyes. Some of them gave me parting gifts. Others just wanted a goodbye hug. And then they were off, never to be seen by us again.
I had no idea teachers went through this every year. It’s heartbreaking. Or maybe it’s just me…!
Anyway, the new term starts on Tuesday after a long weekend that appears to be the workaholic Korean equivalent of the Norn Irish 2-month summer holiday. I wonder how I’ll feel after a whole year with my new students?!