I am an English teacher at an academy in South Korea. At the moment, I can safely say that my job and I have a love-hate relationship. Sometimes self-talk is the only thing that can get me through the rough patches to the amazing things that wait in each classroom.
Despite your run on the rocky, quiet mountain trails, your heart still bangs painfully against your ribs as you near the grey and yellow sun-bleach building. Vomit would be creeping up your throat, had you been able to eat. But, as it is, you could not. Words bounce off the sides of your skull, casting a bigger shadow over you than that made by the sun on the building. How can you do this when the impossible has been asked? How can you do this when the shame is still a bright red patch across your cheeks? How can you succeed when failure is all that warms your veins? Is possibly all that has ever flowed through your body?
Baby-step by baby-step you go in the glass doors smudged with fingerprints of all different sizes. Baby-step by baby-step you cross the cigarette-smoke infused foyer and climb the stairs. Baby-step by baby-step you enter the school, you go to your desk, you put away your things, you pull out your planner. The steps become faster. The plans begin to spill out across the page, ideas dribbling out through the trip of the pen until they flow across the page. Yes. Yes, you can do this. You’ve found the pot of creativity. His demands can be met, just possibly. Possibly.
Ideas become reality, printed out, collected, ready to go. It is almost time. Time again to try to prove your worth. At the last minute, he enters the office, focused on his task, his suit impeccably clean in the graffitied walls of the academy. You look down, focusing on your hands in your lap, aware that your muscles are tight, but you know it is not from your run. You are a failure. Do not forget. He doesn’t even look your way, his suit swishing as he marches from the room, papers in hand. The words in your head bounce around more frantically, stirring up the murky waters that had just begun to settle.
Time to go. They are waiting. In you go, materials, ideas at the ready. They smile. They reach out to touch you, see what you bring to them, offer a hug, ask for candy, offer candy, smile, laugh, question. They laugh. They play. They talk. Joy, joy, joy. At the park, they pull flowers from the budding branches and tuck them in your hair, place them in your open hands. They point to this and that, labeling each thing with their new words. They shower you with petals carefully gathered from the ground. They hold your hands. In the classroom they write your name across the board over and over, committing it to memory before they’ve even fully learned how to spell their own names. At the end of the day they whisper in your ear, “I love you, Teacher,” before racing out the door and into the afternoon sun.
And then, you know. You know all that you need to know to come back. You know that this is why. Why he insists on casting shame over you without reason. Why you trudge the path back. Why you stay. You know that those carefully enunciated words, the flowers in your hair, the tiny hands squeezing yours and the love that bridges the gaps of language and culture will bring you back, no matter what he says.