4.1 Spring 2022

March 23, Good for me

The new fifth graders at my travel school are a joy. They laugh at my jokes, laud my style, and are interested in my life.

“How old are you? Do you have a boyfriend? What’s your MBTI?”

“I’m solo,” I said strutting, to their delighted cheers.

I’ve not had the pleasure of a class like that in a long time.

Sixth grade, however, did not go well.

Yana and I trekked to Anthony’s class as the travel school has clamped down on restrictions and have subject teachers visit homeroom classes directly. It’s not too hard for me since this is what I already do at my main school, but the travel school also further restricted the kinds of activities we’re allowed. No walking around, no group work.

Yana started to enter Anthony’s class only to take a sharp u-turn. We could feel the dark clouds rolling out from the sliding door. His voice had gone quiet and nearly inflection-less.

Uh oh. I know that tone. It’s the same one I use when I’m really upset with my kids but know that expressing anger has to be exchanged for quiet, disappointed menace.

After a moment, he came out and loooking entirely deflated, asked us to not do anything fun with the kids. In Korean, he told Yana in more detail what happened and I found out later that two boys had physically fought each other, among other problems.

Even his sweater vest drooped in disappointment. For someone normally throwing out fist bumps and whose laugh I can hear down the hall, it was a shock to see him so run down. Not for the first time, I wanted to crush Anthony into a tiny little ball and carry him around in my pocket.

There are some people that just make you feel aggressively affectionate.

This happened the other week. One of my sixth grade girls approached me in the hallway with an energy that screamed for a hug. COVID has taken away a lot, including physical affection. If this was B.C. (before coronavirus), I would have thrown out my arms for her.

But COVID has frankly ruined a lot so I could only channel my affection into petting a piece of her hair that was braided with a bead.

“Teacher, when is your birthday?” She asked seriously in Korean, eyes shining with all the warmth that we couldn’t communicate through physical cues.

I told her and she relayed this information to a few other girls. Does this mean I’m getting a present from sixth graders? I’m not banking on anything, but it’s nice that even the kids who are shy in class feel comfortable talking to me in the hall.

Later that day at the travel school, I knocked on Anthony’s open door.

“Can I come in?” I asked.

He looked surprised, and almost scared like I was coming to ask him out and he was going to have to reject me.

I slid my way through the tight desk rows and presented him with a few instant coffee packs I had happened to bring with me in my bag. It’s all I had, but I wanted to give him some sort of pick me up. He’s been mine at this school when I needed it.

He looked at the packets I deposited in his hands (힘네서요! I had said) with great seriousness. I told him he had looked down this morning and it wasn’t much, but I wanted to give him some energy.

“I thought this class would be comfortable. But it’s really hard,” he confessed.

“That must be difficult, I can’t imagine.”

“Those boys– they are bullies,” he blurted, looking at me in sort of hopeless way that left me without a response.

I wanted to ask about the kids’ families and home life, how their parents have (and haven’t) been involved but I also didn’t want to open a can of worms when he already looked like a cup of hot chocolate might make him cry.

All I got out instead was, “It’s going to be a tough year.” Good job me, A plus comforting.

I wanted to give him a hug, the kind of crushing hug that imbues someone with strength and care, but it would have been inappropriate on a thousand levels. Embracing my male coworker after hours in a darkened classroom?

Not to mention that Anthony himself has extremely clear boundaries. He radiated that same puppy energy of the sixth grade girl, though, and I had to restrain myself from patting his arm like I was a grandmother.

“Ah, so when should we go to dinner?” He asked, referring to our long delayed plans of sashimi.

“My birthday is next month so let’s go in the beginning of April.”

He immediately opened his desk calendar and wrote “appointment” at the top of April and said to me, with a kind of unnecessary obviousness, “I will also tell Jinsoo teacher.”

Don’t worry my friend, I wasn’t thinking this was a date. But I do appreciate someone who is so professional and considerate. It’s much easier to find people who like stepping all over boundaries like hopscotch.

This would never be me (honestly less because of restraint and more because born single) but there was a case awhile back in another city where two Korean teachers were dating each other. One afternoon they were caught kissing in an empty classroom and the hammer came down hard.

I backed away, saying something goofy and useless, trying not to bruise my hip on the desk corners.

“Thanks for these. Really.” He said, the three coffee packets in hand.

화이팅, teacher!

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