Strong women (and, teaching is not a solo sport)

Today was Preparation Day for all the teachers at my school. Tomorrow we begin the 2nd semester, so today was the day for everyone to come into the office and prep the classrooms and class lists and seating charts and class materials and so on and so forth.

Because of this, I was able to meet with two of my co-teachers at lunchtime and we went out for lunch together. They are two of my favorites, and I was delighted to spend time with them, especially after not seeing them during summer break. As I listened to their familiar Korean chatter to each other (frequently pausing to interject in English, “We’re talking about XYZ”), I felt so grateful for being blessed with such amazing women as my CTs. Just as with any job, your coworkers have the potential to make or break your day-to-day job satisfaction, and in my case they have greatly contributed to making this experience enjoyable for me.

All of this led me to reflect on how many strong, smart, and determined women I’ve met while teaching here. (At the moment, 11 out of my 12 co-teachers are female.)

I’ve spoken before about my main CT at my smaller school. She met me at the Office of Education on my first day in Daegu, helped me out when I got lost later that night, and took me under her wing on my first day of teaching. She guided me through my first class ever, but in a way that made it sound like it was all my great idea – “Oh, this is good, Maddy! Next you will ask the students to do XYZ, right?” I definitely would’ve been lost without her. (Literally. Heh.)

Over the course of the first semester, I came to appreciate her more and more. Humble but competent, bright, cheerful, sharp, intelligent, always getting straight to the point while simultaneously bringing a warmth to the conversation that lets you know she enjoys talking with you. When we co-teach, she has that special and rare knack for taking the lead or picking up the slack in moments when my teaching is about to falter. I absolutely love her.

Then there is my Korean “mom,” who I’ve also written about before. She and I share an office at my small school, just the two of us, so naturally we became close via many a discussion of students, workload, stress, and personal life throughout the semester.

These two lovely ladies made my first 5 months in Daegu so much easier and less stressful. They were the first two co-teachers that I developed a relationship with.

But in one way or another, I’ve come to admire all of my co-teachers as I’ve gotten to know them better. Each has a unique approach to teaching, each has her strengths in various teaching techniques that I try to learn from.

I learned today that one of my CTs is a fairly famous teacher in Korea; she’s led seminars around the country, and this semester will hold an open class for teachers from all over the area. It’s a pretty big deal. Of course, she never mentioned any of this to me herself. Makes me feel a bit more stressed about co-teaching with her, though. I’m sure she must be judging my class without even meaning to. *sigh*

Whether they rule with an iron fist or control the class by having a playful, friendly relationship with the students, all of them have the ability to quiet an unruly class with just a word or two. All of them have a powerful skill that I don’t – the ability to speak, understand, and translate a second language. I know it’s not true for all Korean English teachers, but all of my CTs have a pretty good grasp of the language.

All of them have spent hours in the office, well beyond the official end of the school day, working on lessons and all the red-tape paperwork required of them. Sometimes they come in for hours at a time on weekends as well.

Of course, I know it’s also not uncommon for American teachers to put in extra hours of unpaid work, and I’m fairly certain that teachers all over the world do this! My admiration for my Korean CTs obviously extends to teachers everywhere. Provided they’re teaching for the right reasons – i.e. passionate about sharing knowledge, working with children, interacting with students, etc. – most teachers are awesome like that, willing to put in the extra (personal) time and expense for the sake of their students. Outside the classroom, we think about our students, we worry about them, we smile because of them. We’re constantly seeking to improve our lessons and teaching techniques for them.

This also led me to thinking about how comforting it is to have a teacher network. I think it’s so important for teachers to be able to talk to other teachers, and not just for the obvious reason of sharing ideas and strategies. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to confide your stresses, anxieties, and “this-kid/class-makes-me-want-to-pull-my-hair-out” moments with a person who can completely empathize.

Today, chatting with my two CTs, it was so comforting to hear that I’m not the only one feeling this horrific dread in the pit of my stomach about starting the new semester tomorrow. And not just dread – anxiety, nervousness. Even though my co-teachers have been doing this for years, they still get nervous about the start of school. I was reminded that just about every teacher feels like this at back-to-school time, and it’s not because we hate our jobs or hate the students or hate teaching (at least, not necessarily; I’m sure there are some teachers who are tired and in bad school situations and perhaps they do hate their job).

At the end of the day tomorrow, I think the dread and apprehension will be at least 75% eliminated. It’s just a matter of getting back into the groove. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway… but I have a feeling tonight is gonna be a loooong, restless night.

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