I really need to stop trying to be clever with the titles of my post because even knowing what I intend by that title, I’m not sure it makes sense to me. Rick Castle disapproves I’m sure.
There are three classes at the middle school I teach at for the rest of the week, and today was the last time I’ll ‘officially’ teach the Second Grade (North American Grade Eight, or thirteen to fourteen years old.) And I’ll miss them. It was a rather strange class with the English ability varying wildly from ‘pretty darn good’ to ‘No Englishee teacha’.
It made planning a lesson tricky. Something I’m sure most teachers around the world can attest to. Where is the happy balancing point that keeps the more skilled students engaged without ignoring the less skilled ones so that they fall further behind. This class had the biggest gulf between skilled and unskilled. Two in particular, I don’t think I taught them more than four words of English.
This is also the class that contains my three biggest successes of the past year.
Teachers shouldn’t have favourites, all that would require would be for us not to be human. I can’t help if my favourite trio of girls happen to be the ones who were always smiling and more importantly always trying. One girl in particular I’m proud of, for up until the new school year I hammered her relentlessly each time she came into the library to clean.
Korean students help ‘clean’ the school everyday. And here, they do as required of them.
This one girl, every day I would force her to speak and think in English. It started out with every response to my questions being “왜” which eventually became “why” (the English equivalent) and eventually “what?” What she hasn’t noticed, but I have, is that now she is one of the students people look to for help in English. She’s made long strides and she doesn’t even realize just how far she’s traveled. It helps that she’s kind and unassuming too.
But yes, I do have my favourites, although not so much today. Today it wasn’t about favourites, or even teaching, it was about candy and cola and K-pop. Three things the students here love.
Nothing I was going to to tell them today was going to change their level of English. So it was my turn to give back. I teach the other two classes once more each and those periods will be the same.
Candy, cola and K-pop.
My way of thanking them for being really, really good kids.
I actually think teaching middle school (and kindergarten/elementary last year) has kept me young. It’s fun to watch them interact with one another and I can’t help but laugh at a lot of them. Even if the only thing I’m certain of is that they know how to ask for candy in English.
But then, quite some time ago, my co-teacher said he wasn’t too concerned with what I actually taught them. He didn’t care about my lessons, or if they played games in class. And he’s right. Because in this tiny, rural school tucked about in the middle of the border between North and South Korea, where tanks and gunfire are common. Where (today) I hardly batted an eyelash when 12 Humvees rolled by with gun turrets as I walked to school laden down with goodies for the students. (The turrets didn’t mount .50 caliber machine guns.)
Here’s what I’ve done for these students and this tiny school for the past year. South Korea is a small country covering half a peninsula tucked off by itself on the far side of China but near Japan. Too many of these students might not escape the farms and areas they’ve spent growing up during their younger years. For some, that’s fine, for others, Seoul is a far-away place.
Then into this place comes a ‘waygook‘ from Vancouver, who has traveled the globe, volunteered at the Olympics, helped write a book, taken pictures from Africa to Europe, Canada to Cambodia. They learned (whether they realize it or not) that the world isn’t such a big, scary place. That people the world over laugh and love and learn. And that, if they want to accomplish something, want to do something, want to dream. If they can find a way to see it through, that chances are they’re going to succeed. Even if it is in ways they didn’t contemplate at the outset of their ventures.
There is a reason that The Amazing Race is my favourite TV show of all time. (And why I picked that link.)
The world is a very big, small place. Around the world most people are far more similar than they are different. For many of these students that was the biggest lesson I taught them.
That, and I hope, to dream.
I’ll sign off with one of the quotes I came up with while in Africa a dozen years ago, something that I truly believe, surprised me when I realized it and helped expanding my view of the world. Chances are when I came up with this I was getting drunk with a chief at the time (we had the same name!) and it’s this…
“laughter has no accent.”
So go, learn, travel, laugh.