Saturday, 30 May 2009
Friday, 15 May 2009
I wear a red carnation on my chest, pinned there earlier by a nervous third grade boy. As part of the ceremony select student’s present their teacher’s with a carnation, but that is all a distant memory now as I realise that every eye in the room, and all of the lenses, are focused on me.
The Principal manages to restore order, saying a few short words in Korean, and then he hands me the mic telling me ‘A few words, short’. “Crap!” I get as far as ‘Thank you ev…” before my amplified words are drowned in a of sea cheers and the more than occasional ‘I love you!’ It seems that somehow, I have become a star, although never in the way that I had imagined.
So the ceremony concludes and the madness continues. It’s photo time, and in Korea this is serious business! We head downstairs to the school entranceway where I am quickly accosted by the vice-principal. He takes my hand in a kind of high five grab, pulling me through the crowd and kissing the back of my hand twice, Roman style. ‘Brother’. Somehow the photo works out just as habit is seeming to suggest it, with me, the tall white guy, standing smack bang in the middle and in between, (but just behind) the Principal and Vice-Principal.
Today is ‘Teacher’s Day’, where children and parents give thanks to their teachers. In many cases gifts are given but mostly, students should write letters of thanks to their (favourite) teacher(s). In South Korea the day has a long tradition, both students and teachers enjoy a shorter day and the atmosphere allows for a lot of bonding between students and teachers. Being teacher’s day I couldn’t help but give some thought to those teachers who were so influential in my life. Mrs. Dagg, the economics teacher who lent a sympathetic ear when I needed it, Miss. Figures, who taught me (through her frustration at how little I applied myself) that teachers actually cared about you and of course Mrs. Ireland, with the exception of my mother, the most influential woman in my life. Even today I attribute every success to confidence and attitudes she bestowed upon me. She is my inspiration and driving force behind becoming a teacher and I am a far better person for having known her.
So now that the formalities are over the party heads to a local Japanese restaurant for lunch, courtesy of the student’s parents. It’s set menu, sushi, sashimi, Korean wine and soju. I’m seated next to the Vice-Principal and opposite the Principal, and somehow, I get the distinct feeling I’m sitting with ALL of the school’s royalty. The Principal makes a quick toast and the teachers all chant something in response to the school name. I wish I knew what they actually said, but it sounded more like a war cry.
I won’t describe all of the oddities of lunch because it would take a lifetime to recount and I’m unlikely to do the situation justice. But there were a few worth recounting.
Sometime into the meal the vice-principal disappeared from our table, but as I was seated with the Principal I had no opportunity to go and find him, that is until I excused myself to the bathroom. ‘Andy! COME HERE!’ – the now familiar cry greets me from another room. The cry is loud and one that you wouldn’t dare refuse, but it is neither command nor request, it is somewhere in between. Drinking with the Vice-Principal commences, one shot, two shot, three shot, more. ‘Best teacher?’ he asks me, pointing to himself and referring to our golfing lessons. ‘Yes, really excellent teacher.’ I nod and smile. And then he disappears again. Later, Mr Kim helps explain the situation, it seems the Vice-Principal thinks of me somewhat as his son, who apparently, I either resemble or remind him of. It’s sweet, but is a new kind of feeling for me. Mr Lee offers his own interpretation on the situation. 'Today is teacher's day, but it seems that today, it is really your day.' Try as I might I cannot deny that the feeling is right, my day? No. But I certainly know where he is coming from. We all share in a wedding ceremony, yet we know who's day it is. And today, well yeah - Mr Lee had the feeling right.
Heading back to the Principal’s table I meet the Vice-Principal again and he calls me into the bathroom with him. He embraces me in a hug and more details emerge. ‘학생…’ (students…) ‘students you 사랑해요’ (the students love you) ‘So, I 사랑해요.’ (and so, I love you too). I can tell that he means it, and just to make sure, he reminds me one more time that I am a ‘excellent teacher.’ I guess the cheers at the ceremony must have gotten to him, but then again, it got to me to. Well, actually, the whole day got to me a little bit – am I teacher? In truth, I don’t feel like a teacher, I just feel like some kid who shows up everyday, masquerading as something he’s not, hoping nobody catches him. It’s like I have the model of what I should, I know what I’m trying to be, but the manual they gave me was written in Greek. And then sometimes, just sometimes, something happens and I feel a connection with someone, with a student, and I wonder, just maybe, just maybe I am becoming… or maybe I have become? One day, I hope this will be true.