I’ll be back in a minute… could someone clean the blood off the floor please?
Just your typical day in school. I leave my 7-year-olds wiping blood off my classroom floor with toilet paper, and propel Suzy along the corridor, holding a towel to her nose and clutching a toilet roll and a pile of textbooks I’ve somehow forgotten to put down. We leave a trail of blood behind us – for once, I’m not actually exaggerating. These Korean kids have serious nosebleeds. I was genuinely frightened by the first few I saw, but now when it happens I can accept that they’re not dying. I presume it’s to do with the crap air quality and the need for excessive use of contraptions that blow out hot or cold air for large chunks of the year, drying out their sinuses. Whatever the reason, it’s like their noses just suddenly decide to open up and drain their bodies of blood.
It has not been a good day. Or week. Or few weeks, for that matter. I’m exhausted. I’ve started living for the weekends, which is never a good sign, especially considering how much I loved my job when I first got here. I’d still love it, were it not for the fact that the money-hungry principal changed everything several months ago, overloading us with more classes and responsibilities than we can possibly cope with without being devoid of energy, enthusiasm, or teaching ability. Three foreign teachers are doing the work of at least four. Two Korean teachers quit last week, and the place is now even more chaotic as a result – the only two or three hours free we have each week for lesson planning are now spent substitute teaching.
I think I need to look for a new job, much as it would pain me to uproot myself, move house, change area, and most of all leave behind my students and my colleagues. But I can’t get too attached, after all. I was able to move to the other side of the world. I can move to another part of the city, or even to another city. I can say goodbye to these children. All things are temporary. And this is just too much. I think I’m a good teacher when I’m in the right environment, but I know I’m a terrible teacher when I’m being expected to churn out class after class after class with no breaks and no time to plan my lessons. When I suffer, the kids suffer more. I’ve literally had to turn and walk out of classes a few times in the past few weeks in order to calm down, and I’m only slightly comforted to learn that my two (more rational, more level-headed) foreign teacher colleagues have done the same. We are cracking under the pressure. Today, I walked out of my classroom full of shouting infants straight into the arms of Kay, a Korean colleague, and I was so tired and so stressed that I couldn’t stop the tears spilling over when she asked me if I was OK.
So yeah, not a great day. By the time I’m about to start afternoon classes, I’m on my fourth can of energy drink, and Alex has just informed me that there is no toilet paper in any of the bathrooms. What do you suppose the kids are doing when they go to the bathroom? he asks wearily, and leaves me grimacing in horror. No sooner have I been informed of the toilet paper shortage than one of my elementary students’ noses opens and an ocean of red gushes out. It’s running down her arms, it’s on her clothes, it’s on the desks and floor, it’s smeared over her face, and she’s standing there tissueless in the centre of the floor as the others stop whatever noisy game they’re playing and yell “Teacher!! Suzy is nose is blood!!”. I’m too knackered for this, and I float helplessly up and down the corridor in a vague search for tissues. I eventually come to my senses and realise that my classroom is becoming a bloodbath and a small child is draining of blood while I do nothing, so I grab a towel from the bathroom and use it to stem the flow, just as young Adam comes running back upstairs proudly waving a toilet roll he’s pinched from somewhere. One of the neighbouring houses, knowing Adam.
As I stand there in the bathroom, with little Suzy quietly and patiently holding a towel to her nose as I wash her blood-smeared face, neck, hands and arms, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I have dark circles under my eyes, and my hair is, as usual, clinging to my face and neck from the humidity. I have bloodstains across my cheeks, and on my t-shirt. My hands are covered in blood. And all I can think to myself is… wow. Not “Holy crap, you are a mess, woman” (which would be fairly accurate), but “wow”. I care about this child enough to be setting aside all personal squeamishness and dislike/fear of generally gross and icky child-related things, and cleaning her up as cheerfully as I can, when less than a year ago I wouldn’t even have touched her – I would have run for a Korean teacher and let them deal with the mess. This school has changed who I am.
And I really don’t want to leave.