Another Year, Over

My students.

They weren’t jerks this week. And so I miss them.

At graduation today I was fighting back tears. And I was mostly doing OK, until Cat’s Eyes came up for his certificate and handshake, bawling, rubbing his eyes. He went in to shake my hand and wouldn’t stop. I lost it, and bawled. I had to whisper to him, “You have to let go, hon.”

When it was Bad Kid‘s turn, he whispered, “Get a hold of yourself, Ms S!”

My co-worker presented her class first and thanked the parents for both of us. “Thank you for giving us your children,” she said, “thank you for trusting us.”

Teaching in Korea was easier in many ways. When I was there, I knew that. The paperwork? What paperwork? The parents? Never really had to deal with them—not directly, and mostly positively. Never had to refer a kid to social services, the counselor, or for special ed testing. Less teaching hours, more prep time (and less need for prep!). Low expectations because, hey, I’m a foreigner!

But in Korea, due to cultural and linguistic barriers, I also never had to deal with a child crying over her uncle’s death. I never had to tell a child to invite the whole class instead of purposely excluding students. I never walked kids home because their parents couldn’t pick them up. I never kept a kid and her little sister after school, just to give the older one two extra hours a week where she could be a kid rather than looking after her sister all night long. Never had to march over to a child’s house to drag her to school when she was failing. Never had to explain how to use a pad for a first period. Never had to tell a child that the reason other kids don’t like him is because he thinks he’s too good for them. Never had to find out why a child smelled so bad, only to find out the water and sewage were out at his house. Never had to deal with a girl’s first breakup, letting her cry on my shoulder, wailing, “But I didn’t mean to hurt his feelings! And I did! And it feels horrible!” (“But honey, you’re going to dump and be dumped by more than one guy in your life, probably. And it always hurts.”) Never had to tell another student to quit spreading lesbian rumors. Never had a student’s little sister crawl into my car after I dropped her older brother off, only to throw her arms around my neck in a big, giggling hug.

While the workload was easier in Korea, the emotional load was, too. And I didn’t consider that, didn’t realize what it meant. Not really.

One of my coworkers said, “Well Ms S, if you’re this upset over your students leaving, imagine how you’ll feel when it’s your own child!”

I didn’t tell her we don’t plan on having kids.

I have 20+ new children every year. I borrow them from their parents for a few hours a day, for 200 days, and then I give them back. For one year, they are “my kids.” Teachers in America are expected to be mothers (and fathers). There are many negatives that come with that expectation, with that role (low pay and lack of respect, for example*).

But today all I could see were the positives.

* A bigwig woman from the board of ed came to congratulate our students. She said, “I hope all of you will become doctors and lawyers!” My principal asked what was wrong with being a teacher. That same scene with different minor characters has occurred so often in my career…