And so it ends.
This week has been simultaneously the most joy-filled and most heartbreaking of my entire time in Korea thus far.
In a short 4-1/2 months, I’ve experienced so many emotions while teaching my classes – from fear to happiness to self-doubt to despair to happiness again, and then to joy and love. And now it’s time to break away, to close the chapter and start on a new (but similar) path.
Goodbye, 3rd graders!
From Day 1, I started keeping “class notes” – just a little document where I could type notes on the class in general – their attitude, behavior, any student names I’d learned – things to remind me of which class I was headed for the following week. As time went by, my class notes became longer and longer, growing from a couple rushed fragmented notes to detailed paragraphs about the kids and their progress.
My perception of each class changed as I began to recognize individual students by face, by name, and by personality. Class notes were no longer a way to remind me of who the heck I was about to teach and whether or not I should dread it; instead, they were a place for me to write the funny things they said and did or things I wanted to remember about this or that student – who might need more attention, who might be higher or lower level, etc.
Essentially, my class notes went from “Quiet. Not much participation” / “Noisy and unfocused” to “Omg I love them. They were engaged and willing to participate. Student XYZ is so cute/hilarious/fun. Student ABC fell asleep but maybe next week I can get him to stay awake,” etc. etc.
And now, it’s so heartwrenching to say goodbye to them.
On Tuesday, my awesome co-teacher told the kids in advance that I won’t be teaching them next semester, so when I walked into my classroom for our last class, I was greeted by a decorated board – “Maddy teacher, I love you” – and 38 Post-it notes with goodbye messages from each student. Best surprise ever.
So, how did I spend my last class period with them?
First, I broke the news. This was usually met with varying degrees of sadness ranging from slightly bothered to full-on despair. Some classes cared more than others. One boy cried, “샘, 가지마요! Don’t go!” (Saem, kajimayo = Teach, don’t go!). Another said, “I will be 1st grader” (upon hearing that I’m teaching 1st grade next semester). Another said emphatically, “Teach 1st grade? Not good idea. Why? Why?” Still another said, “Teacher, don’t go. Two semester… stay.” My co-teacher told me that the girl with the highest English grades in the school (100% on every test – reading, writing, speaking, listening) said that she studied hard because of me, and that now she doesn’t feel like studying. My co-teacher thinks most of them will stop putting in effort next semester because I’m not there. Oh my gosh. Just tear my heart out already.
Then, hidden pictures. I’ve mentioned this game before. It’s easy and fun. Usually we’d play it with pictures related to their key expressions from the textbook, but today it was just fun pictures of things we’d talked about in class casually – pictures of Obama, Ormie the pig, the idioms “Time flies” and “Don’t give up” (two of our collective faves/running jokes this semester), Twix (since I always give it out in class), Homer Simpson (they love him for some reason), and Daegu – a picture I took myself and they had seen on my laptop background several times. So, like an inside jokes hidden pictures game.
Next, Quiz. Not a scary quiz, just a fun partner quiz. Four rounds – Random, Who Is It? (close-up picture of a person), What Is It? (close-up picture of an object), and The First Class (questions about my self-introduction on Day 1). I chose this because it’s not just another bomb game (even though they love those) – it felt a little more personal and something special and different for our last day.
When they finished, I made them check each other’s scores and pretended like I would give Twix to the top 3 scores or something. Then, of course, I revealed that I’d brought enough Twix for everyone, and they would clap and whoop in excitement. One kid refused to eat his and told me, “Teacher, keep. Treasure.” (Makes me wish I could’ve given each of them a more personalized, non-edible, lasting goodbye gift.)
5 giant bags of Twix: $75
2 taxi rides to lug those giant bags to my school on two separate occasions: $6
Seeing my kids’ faces and hearing their cheers when I pulled out enough Twix for everyone: priceless
Finally, goodbye and group picture. I told each class that I was so happy to have been their teacher this semester; that they are really great students; and that I will miss them so much next semester. They “aww’d” in response, and eagerly agreed when I asked them to take a group picture. I would post them here but I want to be careful about privacy and such. (Believe me, I’m dying to show everyone how cute they are! If you know me personally – friends and family – rest assured you will be seeing them at some point.)
And that was that, and I would slowly walk out of the classroom and some of them would say “I’ll miss you Teacher!” and I would say “I’ll miss you too!”
Now, to cheer myself up, I will remind myself of some of the funny things they’ve said lately.
Me (in my goodbye speech): You are all great students.
Boy: Oh, yes! I am good student!
He’s one of the most mischievous, actually, and he knows it. Haha.
Me: Who is this? (It was a picture of Harry Potter)
Boy: Hell-ee-copter! (helicopter)
That works, I guess.
Me: Who is this? (Picture of Captain America)
Boy: Captain Americano! Where is Captain Korea?
Dang, I’m going to miss these kids.
P.S. In case you’re wondering what Korean middle schoolers do on their last day of school… they clean the classrooms top to bottom, watch the closing ceremony / principal’s speech over the school broadcasting system, and go home before lunchtime.