I will miss you.

Goodbye...

Goodbye…

So, here it is. Tomorrow starts my last month in the job that I blindly stumbled into way back in 2009. I couldn’t have guessed what a difference it would make to my life; couldn’t have known how much it was to challenge me, test me, and change me. Over the past 40 months, I have taught upwards of 400 children. I’ve known all of their names, how many brothers and sisters they had, what made them laugh, what they were afraid of, and which Angry Bird was their favourite.

pool

Leaving will be a painful wrench.

I do know it’s time to go, though. My heart hasn’t been in it for a while now – I’m frequently bored, my patience is running low, and I’ve been teaching the same material for so long that my job brings me almost no satisfaction any more. I need to go somewhere new and shake things up. It’s time for a new challenge. And besides, much as I will find the goodbyes extremely difficult at the end of this month, there are a lot of things I really, really will not miss.

  • Working 9-6, Monday to Friday, with Saturdays regularly thrown in for good measure. I. Am. Tired.
  • Teaching art. I was all enthusiastic at the start, but let me tell you, being trapped in a room all day with a bunch of over-excited 5-year-olds and a load of paint, glitter, and glue is not actually all that much fun, most of the time. Nor is cleaning the classroom afterwards.
  • Being overworked. More classes, more hours, more paperwork, more marking, more planning, more reports, more rules, more presentations, more events, more, more, more. When it comes to work, Korea is all about More.
  • Eraser! Teacher! Pinisheee! Hot! Cold! Me is no! Teacher! Help-uh me! I’m done! Teacher! Aw-awwww-awwww-aww-awwwww! This is whaaaaaaat? Teacherrrrrrrrrr! Bathroom! I’m thirsty! He not share! She is me hit! Teacher!
  • Compulsory staff dinners and bonding nonsense with colleagues I already see all day, every day.
  • That feckin’ photocopier.
  • Members of staff yelling into the tannoy system and scaring the crap out of me or disrupting my classes.
  • Stay in your seat. Don’t speak Korean. Listen to the teacher. Push in your chairs. Line up. Close the door. Don’t shout. Sit down. Don’t touch my desk. Speak English. Do you understand? Wait. This is your last warning. “What… is… this?”!
  • My colleagues. Once upon a time, we had a lovely group of teachers who all got along very well, making work a fun place to be. Now… not so much. I am one of only two teachers from the original staff when I started at the school, and the only remaining English teacher. I like one of my new colleagues. That’s not enough.

But of course, I wouldn’t have stayed where I am for so long if I didn’t love my job the majority of the time. These are the things that I will miss.

  • Success. Those little moments that make it all worthwhile. When a previously tongue-tied child suddenly starts speaking in full sentences. When a 7-year-old spontaneously explains global warming in near-perfect English. When the class as one finally understands something after my near-certainty that they were just never going to get it. When I come up with a particularly popular game or activity that has them all laughing and not even realising that they’re learning at the same time. When I look back over a child’s work from the past year and see real progress. When I realise that I can speak at a fairly normal speed and be understood. When I pause to listen outside my classroom door because I can hear my 6-year-olds talking to each other in English only, even though I haven’t come into the room yet. It has been a rewarding job in spite of the frustrations. Or perhaps even more so because of them.
  • jessicaMy director. We’ve had our moments, but I was really, really fortunate to get a job in a school with a director like her. She has made every effort to mediate, be fair, understand, and assist. She has taken me to doctors, banks, hospitals, dentists, and the immigration office when I needed her assistance, and never once made me feel like a burden.
  • Cuddles. I can’t imagine any job can be as filled with affection as this one. I am a fan of hugs. (The other day, while discussing a relatively unpopular character from a TV show, I said “Aww, I just want to cuddle him!”. “You would cuddle a werewolf” came the unimpressed response.) Working in a kindergarten is like spending your day in a big room filled with cute little cuddly teddy bears. My youngest class this year has been the sweetest, best-behaved group of babies I have ever encountered. They sit quietly and attentively through each class, they enthusiastically answer questions and tell me all about their day, and then at the end of the class, instead of lining up, they run to me and shower me with cuddles and kisses and I love yous, then cling to my hands and my clothes as we walk up the stairs to our classrooms together. It melts my heart every time. hugs
  • Singing children’s songs every day. You can’t not smile at least a little bit when you’re doing “If you’re happy and you know it” with a group of happy, enthusiastic kids.
  • The cooking lady and the school lunches. School lunches used to cooking ladymean sandwiches and Dairylea Triangles and bags of crisps. Now, they’re all about spicy soups and rice and barbecued meat and delicious sauces and copious vegetables and side dishes. All served with a smile and a “chalmeogaeseumnida!” (“eat well!”).

But more than any of those things, more than all of them put together, possibly more than anything I have ever missed in my entire 31 years of life… I will miss my students. “My” kids. I don’t care that they’ve been responsible for my headaches, graying hair, screaming into a pillow, or bouts of potential alcoholism. Some of them are total brats, yes, but most of them are “my” babies.

andyI love them. I love Andy, a 5-year-old who showers me with hugs and kisses every day. I love Marina, who clung to me on her last day as we both cried. I love Jennifer, who made me a Valentine with a poem she wrote all by herself. I love Justin, who is now 13 but is still as enthusiastic, polite, and funny as ever, showing no sign of turning into a sulky teenager. I love Benjamin, who recites “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock” with a big grin on his face. I love Daisy, who I’ve watched daisytransform from a nervous, chubby-cheeked 8-year-old into a sweet, kind, friendly 12-year-old. I love John, who likes the Beatles, and I love Suji, who wanted to marry Kevin and Leo, and I love Paul, who cried if he didn’t get the pink scissors, and I love Kate, who is 5 going on 80, and I love Julie, who uses words like “gusto”, and I love Thomas, who still wants to sit on my knee even though he’s 8 and at “big school” now, and I love Kara, who likes playing Apples to Apples, and I love Amy, whose handwriting is better than mine, and I love Charley, who once asked me if I was from Neptune, and I love Daniel, who johnthinks I sleep in my classroom every night, and I love Elvin, who went from being something of a ‘special’ case to the brightest, most talented student in the school, and I love Alex, the Busan boy who always got teased for his accent, and I love Kelly, the little girl who wrote me a letter during my first week, and I love Kevin, who started speaking with a cute lisp when he lost his front teeth and never got the ‘s’ back when the new teeth grew, and I love Crystal, who genuinely thought until yesterday that I fly back to Ireland every day after school. I love my students. I never thought I would be capable of loving a child this much, never mind a few hundred of them. I will miss them so much it hurts to think about it.

And so, despite my dwindling patience and increasing frustration of late, I hereby resolve to enjoy this final month with the infuriating yet incredible little human beings who have – without a shadow of a doubt – made me a better person.

impy

kidsThanks, kiddos.

 

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Here’s a thought… oh, my mistake.

These children just won’t think, and it makes me go arrrrghhhhh and have to turn around and look out of the window and take deep, calming breaths while staring desperately at the calming, fluffy clouds.

I’m telling you, it’s unreal. The simplest little thing will become a huge, insurmountable problem for them, and they have absolutely no inclination to think about it and resolve it.

For example, I’ll often give them a colour-by-numbers activity to keep them interested. They easily understand what they have to do, unless one of the colours listed in the key is “white”. Every single time, this prompts an almost panicked outburst of Teacher! Teacher! We have no white crayon!. Over and over again, they ask me what they should do about this. Over and over again, I try to be patient, asking them to look carefully at the page and tell me what colour it is. White, they respond blankly. Yes… so…, I say, trying to nudge their thought processes along – and still they cannot see the solution to the problem.

Or maybe they don’t want to think about it. They just want me to tell them the answer. To tell them how to think, what to do. That gives me the creeps.

They have little to no concept of resolving trivial issues by themselves. My old “Hot! Cold! Eraser!” frustrations have never gone away, and “eraser” genuinely is one of the most loathsome words in the English language for me now. Every time I hear it said in that high-pitched whine, my insides contract, my skin crawls, and I start to feel wildly, irrationally angry with the world. If you ever happen to see me becoming irritated, and think it might be fun to witness me losing control completely, then just start saying “eraser” at me. You’ll see.

I mean, it’s like these children have no understanding of sharing. None. Even if I put one eraser down between every two children, instructing them to share, one of them will frantically scream “Eraser, eraser!” the second he or she needs it and finds it in use by the other one. There is no intervening filter or thought like “shut up and wait about 3 seconds and it’ll be free”.

Same with crayons. Your green crayon is missing and you want to colour the grass? Your friend won’t lend you his? Well, look at him, can’t you see he’s using it? Why don’t you colour the sky first instead, and wait for him to finish with the green? Why, damn it, WHY??? Or, you know, whatever. Sure just sit there for 5 minutes doing absolutely nothing but looking panicky and greenless, whining about it until Teacher wants to launch you out of the window. Fine.

Quick poll. What if, say, you were sitting in a classroom aisle chair and someone was trying to get past you to the chair at the wall, but you were sitting with your chair pushed so far back that there was no gap between you and the desk behind? Would you (a) move over to sit at the wall, letting them easily take your now vacant aisle seat, (b) stand up and move aside to let them pass, (c) pull your chair in to give them a gap to squeeze through, or (d) remain exactly as you are, staring blankly and unresponsively at them as they push at your chair and try in vain to wiggle their way past you? I swear, I SWEAR TO YOU, I have never seen any human being of any age from any country choose option (d) until I came here. Never. Even the tiniest children, surely, have the sense to recognise that firstly, a problem exists, and secondly, they are capable of resolving it very easily, all by themselves. I’m pretty sure your average hamster or duck could also do this.

But these children, for whatever reason, simply cannot. It drives me absolutely insane. I don’t know whether it’s that they don’t see the problem in the first place, or that they don’t feel it to be theirs to fix. But they sit there. Unbudging. Looking expressionlessly at the child trying to get past. I am not a violent person (and I want to assure you that I would never harm a child!), but this leaves me so utterly astonished that sometimes I want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them just to see if their brains are awake and functioning behind those unseeing eyes.

I don’t know if it’s a “child” thing or a “Korean” thing, I mused to a friend this morning in a state of pent-up, angry frustration, but I’m leaning towards “Korean”. My uncertainty is due to the fact that I haven’t had much experience with children other than Korean ones, so I can’t be sure – but all evidence is starting to suggest that this is a uniquely Korean issue.

Imagination, “thinking outside the box”, creative solutions… none of these seem to be especially valued or encouraged in Korean society. What is important is rote memorisation: study, study, study, until your head is full of facts and figures that will earn you an A when you churn them all out on to paper in that exam. Don’t get me wrong – these are incredibly bright, intelligent children I’m talking about. It’s just that their unwillingness or incapability when it comes to any kind of critical thinking, analysis, imagination or creative problem-solving makes them seem… not stupid, but… I don’t know. Less alive, or something. Less human, more robot. Little mini-Einsteins who could recite the periodic table by the age of 5 but have no concept of moving aside to let someone past, or not needing to colour something white because it’s already white. Little computer-like geniuses who can memorise their country’s entire history but genuinely can’t figure out the solution to being too hot while wearing two sweaters and a heavy winter coat.

hot(view original image at  http://roketship.tumblr.com/tagged/kids)

Is it a “Korean” thing? I’ve certainly never experienced it anywhere else…

What does your personal hell look like?

Hell is an uncomfortable bra.

Hell is an uncomfortable bra.

In my personal hell, everyone is angry, arguing, and fighting all the time. There are white lilies everywhere. No one ever flushes the toilet, I share my home with cockroaches, and every time I speak, people roll their eyes, snicker, ignore me, or start talking about me in a language I don’t understand.

The temperature in my personal hell is always above 30°C, and all the air conditioning is broken. I am unable to wash my hair or take a shower.  The only place to sit down and rest is in the middle one of a row of airplane seats, and the people on either side of me are using the armrests. All my clothes are made of cotton wool.

The internet does not exist, and the only choices on the TV are trashy talk shows and American soap operas. I can’t hear them anyway, because my personal hell is filled with the sound of crying babies, electronic dance music, and someone sniffing every 10 seconds.

There are no books.

I am constantly hungry and thirsty in my personal hell, and the only snacks allowed are liquorice and beondegi. All food is bland and dry, and there are no sauces, condiments, or spices. The only drinks available are Pernod Anise and Jägermeister.

Every time I sit down to eat in my personal hell, people strike up a conversation about vomit or some other horrible bodily function. There is a husk of popcorn kernel stuck in my teeth, and I know that no amount of brushing, flossing, rinsing or picking will ever dislodge it. I am forced to talk on the phone for an hour every day, and then make small talk with strangers while standing in a noisy, crowded place where I can’t properly hear.

All single men are skin-headed and clean-shaven, and have Liverpudlian accents.

In my personal hell, I am always wearing contact lenses, and eye drops do not exist. My lips are dry and chapped, and I am wearing chipped nail polish, false eyelashes, and a bra one size too small.

High heels are mandatory.

I would love to love you.

love

You wrote a song for me once, and sang it softly to me as I lay exhausted on the cigarette-burned, beer-stained, second-hand sofa in the damp and dank apartment that was all we could afford. You hated your dead end factory job with the foreman who treated you like shit and the hours that left you drained and irritable. I hated getting up at 4am to work the early shift in Sainsbury’s before trying to stay awake through a day of university lectures and then putting in a few hours of shelf-stacking before swaying wearily on the subway, my aching body wedged miserably between other unhappy commuters, as I journeyed home to cook a depressingly frugal dinner for us both. We ate in silence.

But on Friday nights, we’d smoke a joint and share a bottle of wine, my head on your lap and your fingers softly stroking my hair as we watched the wispy fingers of white smoke create a comforting cocoon around us, and listened to Pink Floyd and The Doors and talked dreamily about The Future. The places we’d go, the memories we’d make, the places we’d see. We knew we would grow old together, you and I. And you wrote a song for me for no reason other than to show me that you loved me, and when you sang it to me, nothing else mattered. I was in love with you, and you were in love with me, and we had nothing, and we had everything, and that was that.

***

You were chatting me up at the bar, but I was oblivious because I wasn’t used to being hit on. Men didn’t see me – or rather, they did, but they seemed to see me as one of the guys. I didn’t realise what you were doing with the frequent touches of your hand to my arm, my knee, my back. You pulled your bar stool close to mine as you told me about your hopes and dreams, and you clowned around to entertain me. You made me laugh with your stories, and drew me in with your questions. I was so lonely, that night. I was so tired of being invisible to the object of my unrequited desire, that you, the popular, scruffy guy with the bright blue eyes I’d never really noticed before, and the comical mannerisms, and the oddly charming accent – you were the cure I hadn’t realised I needed. You made me feel interesting, attractive, confident. You saw me, when he didn’t.

When you kissed me, I was taken completely by surprise. When you kissed me again, I was a goner. You were a pro at that game. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anyone the way you made me crave you. You were a drug I couldn’t quit.

***

You asked me to dance at the party, and I was giddy. We’d worked together for a year, and we were the Ross and Rachel of our workplace. A secret glance, a beer-induced confession to a mutual friend, a friendly hug that lasted just a second longer than it should have, an unexpectedly passionate argument, a sudden thrill as our hands accidentally brushed together, an awkward silence following a moment of possibility. You took me for a ride on your motorbike alongside the river one evening, and I pressed my cheek against your leather jacket as I held on to you more tightly than I needed to.

Then you shyly asked me to dance, it was some cheesy boy band song about everlasting love, and we slow-danced in front of our grinning friends, and I felt like my teenage heart would burst out of my chest and go flying around the dance floor on Cupid’s wings, and you kissed me, and we danced some more, and then you asked me to be your girlfriend, and I said yes, and you smiled, and I smiled, and life was just incredible. We went for a walk through the park on a sunny Saturday evening, because we were too broke to go to the movies, and we chatted nervously, not quite knowing how to make the transition from friends to more-than-friends, until you clumsily put your arm around my shoulders, and I started to laugh because it was just so strange and you were so unsure of yourself. So you laughed too, and we sat on the river bank in the long grass and shared fish and chips and threw sticks for your dog to fetch, I think his name was Jack, and we watched the sun set, and you kissed me goodnight in a way that let me know you’d been secretly wishing for this all along, too, and everything about it was perfect.

***

You wrote me email after email; beautifully crafted sentences wrapped themselves around me like a bear hug in sweaters on a cold day. Your words danced on the screen; a single sentence could make my heart skip a beat. Every story you told, every time you made me laugh out loud, every insight you gave me into your mind, your heart, your life… every email you sent was another push towards the edge of sense and reason, until eventually I was falling, and I fell, and I had fallen, and you were everything. You were my first thought when I woke up, and my last thought as I fell into a sleep filled with you, and most thoughts in between. I was smitten with you, and you with me. The “you’ve got mail” sound from my computer would make my pulse quicken and my heart race like a triple shot of espresso. I loved you, I loved you, I loved you, I loved you, I loved you, and it was all there was, and it was all I was. I imagined the touch of your skin and the sound of your voice and the feeling of your breath against my ear, and then we were together, and it was real, and it was exactly as intoxicating as I had dreamed it would be.

***

You kissed me after dinner, as we walked from the restaurant to the bar where we would meet the others. It was December, and it was snowing heavily, the fluffy flakes glowing against the Christmas lights. We were walking hand in hand, still in the first flush of new love, one of the sickeningly happy couples that make people go “awwww!” or roll their eyes in disgust. You teased me when I slipped on a patch of ice, and I pouted, and you pulled me laughingly back from the crowds on the street and kissed me under a streetlamp, the snowflakes settling on our hair and turning our heavy black coats to powdery white, and I didn’t feel cold at all.

***

I would love to love you, but I can’t, because you’re not just you, you’re all of you. You with the song and the wine, and you with the smooth pick-up lines at the bar, and you with the motorbike and the dog, and you with the beautiful writing, and you with the kiss on the snowy night under the streetlamp. I would love to love you, if only you were one man. If you wrote me songs, and flirted with me, and watched sunsets by the river with your arms around me, and wrote me long letters, and kissed me in the falling snow, and didn’t care who could see us, and enchanted me with the stories you wrote for me, and asked me to dance to the slow songs, and made me laugh, and charmed me, and stroked my hair as I lay with my head on your lap… if you were one man, one man who did all those things, I would love to love you.

But you’ve only ever existed in parts, like a file being downloaded from a torrent site. A piece from here, a piece from there. That guy provides one snippet, some other guy sends another. You – you wrote me a song but you’ll never ask me to dance. You – you made me laugh and made me feel good, but you’ll never love me or hold me in your arms. You – you kissed me regardless of who could see, but you’ll never have deep, meaningful conversations with me. You – you wrote letters that captured my heart, but you’ll never make me feel confident and attractive. You – you gave me the delicious thrill of teenage romance, but you’ll never stay through the hard times of disillusionment and exhaustion.

I’ve only ever had pieces of you… but I would love to love you.

Thursday

penguins, scissors, ninjago,  don’t speak Korean

glue, computer freeze, ninjago, what does a penguin say anyway

TEACHER I’M DONE

red angry bird yellow angry bird green angry bird

what is wrong with the freaking photocopier now

stay in your seat, don’t eat that crayon, ninjago, this is whaaaaaaat

David is me is push, ninjago, colour the penguins

paper cuttings and glitter spills

ohhhhhhh chu-wa, chu-wa, chu-wa, chu-wa, chu-f***ing-wa,

ummmmmm I don’t think penguins say anything, aren’t you cold

blocks, tears, listen to the teacher

running in the corridor, climbing on the desks, slap, punch, wahhhhhh

who broke the fire extinguisher, fire extinguisher is whaaaaaaat

STOP SHOUTING, angry birds, cold coffee

just colour the penguins

ninjago, must write the weekly plan, John is speak Korean

Internet Effing Explorer

raise your hand, floor sweeping, teacherrrrrrrrrrrrrrr my glue is no

I’m hot I’m cold ninjago I’m tired

just colour the penguins colour the penguins colour the penguins

seaweed soup and fish carcasses, help-uh me, help-uh me

stickers, lesson plans, paperwork, life plans

why must they always shout into the fecking tannoy

teacherrrrrrrrr how do you spell “I”, black angry bird, pigs

Sally is not share pink crayon, penguins are black and white

teacherrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

teacherrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

headache

COLOUR THE PENGUINS

Kevin and Harry is fight

ninja fecking go

out of coffee

WILL YOU ALL JUST SHUT UP AND COLOUR THE GOD DAMN PENGUINS

penguins