4.1 Spring 2022

March 4, A sense of accomplishment

Alexa, play “Part of Your World”.

The new school year has started and I feel a nebulous but sparkling mist of accomplishment. There were a series of small events– getting recognized by my nail lady at the PT gym, chatting up unfamiliar foreign women at the other gym, kicking off class smoothly, getting mistaken as Korean by one of the new teachers to which MJ the sub said upon retelling “makes sense”.

It took me a a day to realize that I feel like a part of the community. I feel settled.

As much as one on a yearly visa can be.

Jack showed me his secret hide out, and home to the only laminating machine; there are other teachers who rotated into my main school that know less about our kids and campus than I do; I have a fishing buddy. My local network is slowly expanding. As my Korean improves, though at times it feels like my ability is regressing, I gossip with MJ about new teachers, policies, and happenings around town. Finally, I’ve reached the petty chit chat of an office worker!

One of us, one of us!

And after the continuous calamities of the last two weeks, I’m happy to be back to a classroom routine.

Today was my second day of class, and a full day of the new sixth graders. You know them as the troublesome former fifth graders.

But I failed to calculate how much a year of teaching them has built our foundation. They knew exactly what to say, sing, and do. Half of the kids in the hallway caught me to chat and occasionally perform while the other half waved to me through their classroom windows as if we hadn’t seen each other in months, rather than just a week or two.

I wish the old sixth graders had been that way, but I guess that’s the benefit of having already known these reluctantly lovable gremlins for a year.

I realized that aside from their classmates, I was the only other familiar face in their hallway. Most of the sixth grade homeroom teachers are new to the school: in Korean elementary schools, teachers must reapply to teach a position every year and must move to a new school every five years. As a result, there’s a huge shakeup in the two weeks between the spring semester and the new school year in March. One fifth grade teacher became a P.E. teacher, Wendy who was a second grade homeroom teacher became the new English teacher, and Helen now teaches fifth grade. Some teachers rotated out of the school, and some in.

Despite the shakeups, I have sure footing thanks to a year under my belt.

Is this… what stability feels like? I lack that distinct one-year itch that slowly seeped into my other jobs. It’s… nice to have a routine. To have people to say hello to at the supermarket, to have a schedule that rotates routinely between gym, Korean class, and house chores.

Sometimes I beat myself up for living a life that is by all accounts incredibly normal.

My younger self believed that feeling any sense of stability, having any regimen, meant I had given up. Thus feeling happy in a routine is a new but not unwelcome experience. Perhaps because exciting threats like immigration policy, COVID, and education office budget cuts keep my existence in a spicy state of question.

I think it’s also hard to communicate to people that I enjoy just…. living day to day life. I’m not using the corporate card to fly to conferences and eat buffet breakfasts (I miss that, a little) but the day-to-day wins of my teacher life carry the same emotional triumph as the ones of my corporate life.

The meanest kid in school respects me for reasons I don’t understand. The sixth graders are inordinately happy to see me and know exactly how to sing our song. The new teachers are impressed by my class structure.

So today I will celebrate my accomplishments because even if they’re not impressive, they’re important.

  • I got invited to do debate again this year. I was offered a school in another city since I’m the only person with a car and have heard that the students are good.
  • A new sixth grade teacher who taught English in the past complimented my class. “I was really impressed,” she said.
  • The troubled fifth graders, now sixth graders, for all their fist fights and mood swings, have across the board been happy to see me. A prior year of teaching them has really helped our relationship.
  • The same kiddos are comfortable around me and took the initiative to ask me questions during our activity. Separately, one girl tried to pick up pencil lead at my encouragement and after several attempts, the lead inching closer to the crease in the floorboards, she accidentally dropped it right in the crack and I had a genuine laugh. Bless her.
  • The PT said my arm muscles are like that of a professional body competitor and that my back is super strong. (We’re working on the bottom half…)
  • I connected with the two foreign women at my gym who are new to me. One of them has a car and we high-fived. Car life!
  • One sixth grade teacher thought I was Korean; my outfit that day was entirely American-bought but I guess I walk with enough authority to seem like a school staple.
  • I did not kill Jack’s latest plant gift. In fact, it bloomed beautifully.
  • Three students said “I love you, teacher” this week.
  • I ordered and assembled a book shelf. My house is neater and every time I glance at my new shelf I am quietly delighted.
  • When I handed over my new contract, the vice principal was impressed that I had gone to the office of education alone to take care of it. I was confused; I have a car so what’s so hard? But I appreciate the amazement. I suppose I’ve progressed a lot in this Korean life– not that I’ve noticed, the more I know, the harder it gets!

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