In a few weeks time I will be a teacher... Me. An actual teacher. I will be teaching 3rd-6th graders English in South Korea. More specifically, in Yecheon Dongbu, Gyeongbuk province. I have never taught before. Not formally anyway.
If you had asked me 2 months ago, "Do you think you could be a teacher?" My answer would have been a confident, "Of course!" Now my answer has become, "Uh... yep." I am confident in my abilities, but there are a few things weighing on my mind.
First off is the responsibility. I have never been fully responsible for a child or their education before. That's not something to be taken lightly, at least I don't take it lightly anyways. I know I can do it, but I know that at some point I will fail in some way. I am, after all, only human. But will I be able to correct those failures, and how much will those failures or successes impact the children that trust their impressionable minds to my care.
Which brings me to perhaps the biggest thing that has been on my mind with this topic. That is, how I was when I was in school.
Does anyone remember "Gifted and Talented?" (GT) Does that even exist anymore? For those who don't know GT was this program that took in kids around 3rd or 4th grade who seemed to have a gift for learning. "Smart kids" I suppose. You had to take a test on various subjects like reading and so on. I was selected to take the test and one of the sections was creativity. Oddly enough I failed that part of the test. When I was smaller this actually had a huge impact on me. I questioned why I didn't have creativity. I figured I was just an unimaginative person and I stopped being interested in any kind of art projects. Now, however, I know where my creativity lies and it has never been any different, even at that age. But I had to figure it out myself through various art forms and it took me a long time to get over the stigma of that test telling me I was not creative enough. I cannot imagine a day without art for me now. If I had never questioned that test and experimented, I don't know what my life would be like today. A life without art is a life without expression. This single test could have decided the rest of my life. No, in fact it has, I strive every day to be more creative.
Although I was a little older than my potential students, a lot of stuff was changing in my life around 5th grade to middle school and no I don't mean just the usual "changing into a man" stuff. I had a lot on my plate and on top of that, it wasn't until 5th grade that I had ever had a male teacher.
So what? Big deal, your first male teacher.
I was raised by my mother and had weekend visitations twice a month with my father. My father left my mother before I was born. She inevitably married when I was about a year old but he too was non-existent more often than not and not a great person when he was around. So the only two males in my life that were of a higher status than me had hurt my mother, and by association, hurt me. I hold no grudges against my father. Whatever he was when he was younger, he is a good man now. Though around 5th grade is the time I needed my father the most, and the time when I felt I had my father the least. I don't know whose fault it was, if it was anyone's at all, but that is how I felt.
I now understand that I have a real aversion to male superiors. Even to this day I cannot stand the fact that a male is over me. I know how to deal with it, but I hate it. At work, I prefer to have female managers and bosses. When I have a male boss, I simply never go to him more than I have to and that is how I avoid staying out of trouble.
So then in 5th grade I get thrown into a classroom where I must take and obey orders from a male. I didn't know why I fought so hard against him, but I do now. It was amazing, like night and day I went from GT kid to being in the principal's office every day. I had the weight of a lot of personal stuff on my shoulders, and they go and throw me into a situation which was only an accident waiting to happen. 5th grade was the start of all of my school issues. Until college, I had not done homework since the 5th grade, I broke school property, I yelled at my male teacher, got in plenty of fights, I even set stuff on fire which ultimately got me sent to a school for troubled kids. I fully blame administration for how that period of my schooling turned out. Any self respecting administrator should have seen what was happening right away. My mother was not the uncooperative, tuned out type either. In fact I feel like she was in the principal's office more than I was. They knew my situation. It doesn't take a genius to think, "Okay, this kid hasn't had stable male figures in his life, and hasn't ever had a male teacher until now and he is acting out now where he never has acted in the past. Maybe he needs a female teacher."
I feel bad now for all I put my 5th grade teacher, Mr. Herrera, through. He didn't deserve half of it. He was around the age I am now and I think this was his first teaching opportunity. It wasn't his fault at all, but neither was it mine. In the end we did become really close on a real personal level. He didn't give up on trying to win me over and by the end of the year he succeeded in becoming one of my favorite teachers. It was, however, a little too late because I would go on to get kicked out of school a few years later as I mentioned previously.
(I wish I could meet him now and tell him where I have turned up and where I am headed. I don't think he remembers me but if he does I know he'd be shocked.)
Later, during high school, I merely got lucky. I met a girl who really knew how to keep me in check. I thought about most of my actions a little more mostly because I didn't want to fail her. For that, I thank her, I can only imagine the hardships she saved me from. Not everyone gets lucky like that and High School is really a huge determining factor in someone's life. I have no doubts in my mind that I am ultimately sitting here now writing this in Korea because of the help and support she showed me. Perhaps she did so indirectly, but she helped me get where I am and where I will be in the future.
My point in all of this is that I know what conclusions teachers and administrators drew about me. They looked at my poor grades, my switched off personality, my introversion, and came to the conclusion that I was just another difficult kid. Little did they know that I was learning, I was studying, I was listening to every word they said. I just couldn't show it. I remember countless times a teacher asking if I was even paying attention and I'd have to reply, "No," because I was reading ahead of what they were teaching.
So then, will my experiences as a kid in school prepare me for what I am about to face? Will I be able to see the potential in the children who won't speak? Or will I fail them as so many failed me before? It breaks my heart to no end to think that this is even a possibility. I know what it is like to be failed, to be let down by so many that had the opportunity to lift me up to another level. Of course the majority of the effort must come from within the individual, but a teachers job is to see the potential and squeeze it out drop by drop if they need to.
Can I do that?
Can I teach my 5th grade self?