4.1 Spring 2022

March 3, The new year begins

I parked in an impossible spot in the school basement lot, preferring not to think about how I’d back out in the afternoon.

Wendy intercepted me on the path in and an older woman in modern hanbok greeted the students. “I love you, I love you,” she said to the kids. She also said “hi” to me, which threw me off. Must be the new principal.

Helen told me the vice principal is extremely ambitious, he was even working during the holiday yesterday, and I wondered how these two personalities might clash. How entertaining.

I wasn’t distracted for long— the new semester officially kicked off and I climbed the three flight of stairs to the sixth grade hallway. One homeroom teacher, tall but unsure, approached me with uncertainty. “Are you the 6-1 teacher?” I asked and she slouched with relief.

“So you’re the native English teacher. I thought you were Korean.” She said, explaining why she’d looked at me like a ghost. Her eyes were rimmed red and I wondered if the infamous students had already gotten to her.

Though I know the kids, the class was very quiet. I learned that I can’t rollover inside jokes from the previous year; the kids have new classmates and the air of worry about self-image was strong.

That wasn’t true for 6-2 who are led by none other than the previous 6-2 teacher, the teacher of my favorite class last year. It felt like I had been teaching them for months already. I came in and immediately one boy, mimicking the new principal, said “사랑합니다.” I love you. I ignored his clear attempt at irony and sent him finger hearts.

5-6 was even better, a class of all my favorite former fourth grade students. Their eyes sparkled, they sang loudly, they participated with spirit.

Buoyed by 6-2 and 5-6, I thought all my fifth grade classes would carry the same cute fourth grade energy from last year.

That was incorrect. 5-5 was quiet and listless, probably aided by the fact the new homeroom teacher left as soon as I arrived. So it’s going to be this way from the beginning? That’s not a good sign.

To escape the crush of preteen kids using the same bathroom during break, I went to the third grade hallway that also has the lone 6-6 class. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up with three younger brothers, but I really feel a certain sense of rapport with some of the boys at school.

One kiddo, eyes sparkling with boyish mischief, beckoned me to the group half hanging out of their classroom door. I pretended to jump and touch the sign above, as they had been trying to do. I’m six inches taller than them at minimum so it was really just rubbing it in their faces. I’ve got to get my entertainment some way.

The boys, joined by some girls, chatted happily with me while a crowd gathered. The third grade class next door was also on break and a crescent of seven or eight star-struck kids had gathered behind me.

I looked back at my sixth graders as if to say, what’s their deal?

When I looked again, the young students were still standing there. I struck a silly modeling pose and they laughed.

“It’s the native teacher!” They whispered among each other. One brave girl said “hello”.

I wonder how much the 6-6 kids will be trolling their younger peers this year.

One grade 6 boy in a blue sweater vest, practically his uniform at this point, did a weird little dance back into his classroom. I gave him exaggerated side eyes and the homeroom teacher, only catching the tail end of this interaction, looked at him with alarm and a promise of scolding.

I left him behind to explain.

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