As with any other job, there have been plenty of ups and downs during the first half of my contract. (I still can’t believe I’m already past the halfway mark!)
Some days are smooth. On those days, I leave work feeling like I accomplished something that day. Some days are tough. Then, every so often, there’s that one day that feels like it may never end—it just drags on and on, as if it’s a test to see how much more you can handle.
Being immersed in a culture that’s as fast-paced and busy as Korea, it’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind. Work can be stressful, and sometimes I feel like I’m overlooking the things that really matter on a daily basis. I’m so busy thinking about what’s next (what class I teach next, what I need to prepare for it, how many students are in it, where I have to go after school, what time I need to be there, etc.) that I forget to stop and enjoy what’s happening right now.
Of course not every minute of my job is enjoyable—does a job like that actually exist? However, there are many things about my job that never fail to lift my mood and put a smile on my face, even on those tougher-than-tough days.
Here are some of my favourite moments of teaching so far:
1. Getting kisses on the cheek from some of my students (especially when I get one on both cheeks at the same time).
2. The fact that the kids always share their snacks and sweets with me, even when it’s their last one or their favourite kind ever. (Whether I actually eat it or not is a different story and usually depends on what it is, how long they’ve been holding it in their hand, whether it’s wrapped or not, and how eager they are for me to eat it—but the thought is still very touching).
3. When the girls in one of my Kindergarten classes attempt to get out of doing their work by braiding my hair instead. (They often smell it, too, and tell me how good it smells. But that’s beside the point.)
4. The screams of “GOOD MORNING!!!!!!” or “ALLISON TEACHER!!!!!” from my Kindergartens when I arrive at school in the morning. If I’m really lucky, sometimes there is a hug or two to accompany their adorable, smiling faces.
5. The completely random and hilarious comments the kids make on a daily basis. Example: “Teacher, you look like apple! Your face is so RED!”
6. When my students tell me they love me. Even if I’m a lousy teacher, I guess it’s a good sign that they still love me anyway, right?
7. When I explain something in a way that makes perfect sense to my students, and I can see the light bulb flicking on in their heads. That feeling of getting through to them is indescribable, but is certainly one I’ll never forget.
8. The astonishment I feel when I listen to one of my 10-year-old students read a page from an English novel with almost perfect pronunciation and so much expression. It absolutely blows me away.
9. The excitement on the faces of my students when they learn a new word, write a new sentence, or know the answer to a question I ask them in class.
10. The chaos that is my hagwon on any given day—the noise that fills the building as the kids run and jump around the halls, laugh, cry, and scream, and generally just “be” kids. I’ve discovered that there’s something oddly comforting about chaos.
11. Watching kids be kids. There’s something about being around children that reminds you of the good things in life, and about what’s really important. For me, it’s a chance to look at the world from a different perspective.
So, even if teaching isn’t the easiest job in the world, it’s moments like these that make me think it just may be one of the most rewarding jobs there is.
When I look at it from this perspective, I feel extremely lucky to have this opportunity and to be gaining this experience. I have a great job. I have fun at work. I smile every single day. I laugh a genuine, real laugh at least once every single day. I’m challenging myself every day. I’m living on the other side of the world. Enough said.
Maybe the key to surviving those gloomy, seemingly-endless work days is stopping to think about all the good parts of my day, and about all the things I have to be thankful for. After all, this list is the one I want to remember about the time I spent in Korea—not the constant, tedious “to-do” list going on in my head.