Before leaving for work yesterday, I sat on the edge of the bed and I touched Good Man’s cheek gently. He was still mostly asleep. “여보. 안녕. 난 가.” Sweetie. Bye. I’m going.
I waited. Good Man said nothing more. I rolled Good him over and stared at him until he opened his eyes. He nodded. “잘 가.” Goodbye. He closed his eyes again.
I poked him. “야! 무슨 일이야?” Hey! What day is it?
Good Man slowly grinned. “Happy birthday.”
Last year I dealt with a broken toe. This year was better.
I got to work and my new coworker (the one I really, really get along with) had brought me a bottle of champagne, which I’m pretty sure isn’t even allowed on school grounds. Champagne and good chocolate. Another coworker brought me a book, which was rather sweet.
My students were well-behaved and in high spirits.
And then, after lunch, I walked into my room and all of my students popped out of the closets and climbed out from under desks and yelled “surprise!”
I knew something was going on because bless them, 12 year-old children aren’t quiet when setting up a room for a surprise party, and I was eating with my coworker next door! Plus, I’d been finding sticky notes on the floor. “[Student] cookies,” and [Different Student] cups.”
But they did an amazing job. They took care of everything—cups, plates, napkins, juice boxes, cookies, chips, dips. A coworker had given me flowers and they moved them from the window sill to the round table. They added more flowers, cards, a few small presents. Confetti made from reused, colored scratch paper. Posters around the room which said “Happy Birthday Ms S!” and “Greatest Teacher Ever” and…
I have generally gotten along well with my students. I’ve built communities and classrooms and we’ve had our private stories and jokes and… It’s one thing I really missed while living in Korea. For language and cultural reasons, I didn’t get the same feeling. But this class is something else entirely.
I hugged every single student, thanked them all individually. Gave Dead Meat back the cash he was trying to give me as a gift. “But it’s my gift to you!”
“Honey, I know, but I can lose my license if I accept money from you, OK? I love the thought, but I want to be your teacher.”
Dead Meat gave me a note.
Dear Ms. [S], you have been a great
teacher so far this year. You have taught us
how to speak Korean. You have made us
laugh. Even though you yell at us you have been a
great teacher especially in math! HAPPY
Another student, AC/DC gave me this card with a long, funny letter inside of it.
If you look closely, you’ll see a report card on me and a bowl of Korean noodles, as well as a wedge of cheddar cheese!
The first month of school the students had to do a writing assessment on a favorite gift. I talked about Good Man’s birthday cheese and this child listened, because he gave me these yesterday.
Fancy Schmancy Cheeses
I got cards in Spanish, cards written in slow, careful handwriting. Hugs, the happy birthday song.
We spent recess inside, having ourselves a little party. What was so amazing to me is that even though my students generally get along, all eighteen of them managed to get along well enough to plan this, keep it a secret, and execute it. Wow.
After our party I let the students continue to snack at their desks while I did a social studies lesson on longitude and latitude. And even though they were still a little wired and hyper, they listened. And they answered questions. And they did their work.
With NCLB Act (No-Child Left Behind), the human aspect of teaching can fall to the wayside. It can turn into being all about tests and drills and cramming. But the students, and the teacher, are ultimately human beings who need to celebrate events, who need to come together, who need to form a community.
Sister sent me a sweet email. I love chatting with her and emailing her because I care about her and I want to understand, and her to understand me, so she makes me study harder. She asked me if Good Man had gotten me a gift. Said he was 무뚝뚝한, which my Korean dictionary is defining a little too harshly, I think.
Good Man had “bought” me four pairs of leather gloves. Meaning I said, “I want these gloves for my birthday” and he said, “OK, order them.”
“Well, technically I did not buy them for you, but in reality, yes,” he said.
Which is true.
We went out to dinner at a local Vietnamese restaurant. Afterward, we stopped at a fantastic pastry shop and picked up four little desserts to eat at home.
See that mocha tea cup up in the corner? Oh man. Wow. That thing was incredible. It was filled with light, airy chocolate.
Talked to Mom, George, Dad on the phone. Crashed.
Happy birthday to me.