Without fear there can be no courage

There are few things in this world that I dislike more than performing for a crowd.

So, naturally, when my teachers’ office nominated me (a.k.a. commanded me) to take part in the teacher-student relay race as part of Sports Day here at my main school, I was less than thrilled. I’ve seen the competitiveness of Korean kids, and I know that it extends to the teachers as well. I spent the week leading up to today imagining all the ways things could go wrong, from slipping in the sandy courtyard to dropping the baton to handing off the baton to the wrong person… in front of, oh, you know, just the entire school – ALL the students, ALL the teachers, and the principal.

I put a lot of pressure on myself. I wanted to do well, to make my students proud, to show the other teachers that I can contribute to the team. (I actually do enjoy running very fast… for a very brief period of time. Then I feel like dying. I’m a sprinter, not a marathoner.)


Today dawned muggy and hot (perfect running weather, am I right?), and I woke with dread in my stomach. To be completely honest, I think I was more anxious about today than I was for my open class. Is that strange? But teaching is different somehow. I can trust myself to speak clearly and walk around the classroom and check students’ book work and conduct a PowerPoint game. I don’t always trust myself to do sportsy things without doing something really stupid.

I got to school and could feel the excitement permeating from classroom to office and back to classroom. You’d better believe the teachers were just as excited about a day of no classes as the students were. At 8:30 a.m., we all went out to the track and field sandpit in front of the school to watch the fun and games.

The schedule today:

8:50 – 9:10: Opening Ceremony and Warm-up – Greetings and such, including an anti-smoking speech and pledge. Sadly, some kids do start smoking in middle school here.

9:10 – 9:20: Dance Club Performance – Covers of several K-pop songs and dance routines.

9:20 – 9:30: Tug of War (Grade 1)

9:30 – 9:50: 400m Relay Race Preliminary (Girls)

9:50 – 10:00: Tug of War (Grade 2)

10:00 – 10:20: 400m Relay Race Preliminary (Boys)

10:20 – 10:45: Jump Rope Contest

10:45 – 11:10: 놋다리밟기 (Nodaribalki, a traditional Korean game) – This involves the students from each class forming a line, bending over 90 degrees, and one student has to walk across all of their backs (supported on either side by two other students). The students who were stepped on first then run to the front of the line so that it can move forward, and when they reach the cone they have to go back. The best way to understand this game is to watch it in action. It’s pretty serious business. American schools would be sued left and right.

11:10 – 11:20: Tug of War (Grade 3) – I’m pretty sure Class 2 won. At this point I was mostly just freaking out about the fact that I had to go next.

11:20 – 11:35: Teacher/Student Relay Race – The moment of truth. There were four teams, and the line-up was a 2nd grade boy, me, a 2nd grade girl, and one of the 2nd grade homeroom teachers. I was thankful about being in the middle – no pressure about getting off to a good start or finishing strong. I can happily report that I neither slipped nor fell, nor handed the baton to the wrong person, nor anything else embarrassing. In fact, I pushed our team from 4th to 2nd. ^^ Needless to say, I was beyond relieved afterwards and enjoyed the final events much more.

11:35 – 11:50: 400m Relay Race Final (Girls)

11:50 – 12:05: 400m Relay Race Final (Boys)

12:05 – 12:20: Awards Ceremony and Closing

General notes: These kids go all-out. No holds barred, nothing held back. Whether they were running, jump-roping, tug-of-warring, or just cheering, they were giving 100% the entire time. So proud of them. They’re adorable. Each event scored points for the teams based on how they placed, and they were all very enthusiastic about cheering their classmates on. I was informed by a couple students that the top 4 teams with the most points at the end of the day received money for their class to spend on a pizza party or something similar.

Also, the 3rd graders were allowed to dress up in special class outfits instead of the normal P.E. uniform. Each class chose its own theme, so we had a team of Marios (yes, the full Mario suit plus cap – they must’ve been so hot!), a team of Guess Jeans shirts, a team of very floral shirts with matching shorts, a team of camo shirts, a team of traditional Korean hanbok (but the girls had shortened skirts so they could run and such)… very cute.

For the majority of the day, I spent time with two of the 3rd grade girls from my after school class (who subsequently welcomed me into their class’s tent and I found myself surrounded by Korean girls and chatting with them – some of whom I’ve never heard speak a word of English in class, but in this atmosphere they felt comfortable enough to talk with me). I agreed to cheer for their class, but only if they didn’t tell any other teams. Hehe.

I also took about a bajillion and one selfies / pictures with the students. They would come up to me in twos or threes, sometimes a whole pack of boys, sometimes one brave soul all alone… “Teacher, picture!” “Teacher, can we take a picture?” “Say kimchi!” This was frequently followed by whoops of joy from the boys as they galloped off to show their friends. Hahaha. I wish, I wish, I wish I had copies of those pictures, but there is no appropriate way for them to share the photos with me.

Here are some that I took myself during the day.


All lined up and ready to start. Aren’t they cute?

20150515_08573720150515_08573520150515_09245120150515_114645This picture may or may not feature a couple of my favorites.



Love them.


The Grade 3 MVPs (I think?) from the top 4 highest-scoring teams receiving certificates from the principal. Woohoo!

Today is also Teachers’ Day in Korea. All the teachers (yes, myself included) received a mini bouquet from the students at the opening ceremony. And now that Sports Day is officially over and the teachers are finishing up work in the office, there has been a steady stream of high school students (and even some university students) coming in to greet their former middle school teachers, bringing gifts and food and flowers. It’s really sweet to see the sincere joy and love teacher and student have for each other, even if they graduated two, three, or more years ago.

Don’t panic, family and friends who live halfway across the world, but on a day like this, it’s hard to think about ever leaving this school.

P.S. The title of this post is, of course, regarding the fear I felt about running in the relay today, which led me to thinking about how sometimes simple daily activities take some courage because we irrationally fear them – and also how oftentimes, in the end, there was no need for fear at all.

It also is a paraphrase of a quote by Eddie Rickenbacker.


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