Hands down, my favorite thing about being a teacher, even above teaching, is being able to interact with so many people. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching, but the reason I love teaching is because it’s about taking information and conveying it in a way that it will be understood. To do this successfully, you must know your own personality and your presentation strengths and weaknesses, and you must know and be able to work with the personalities of your students and your co-teachers. This is what I’ll miss most next year. I’m changing school so I’ll still be teaching, and I’m sure I’ll meet some really amazing people, but I’ll miss the students and teachers here.
So without further ado, I give you brief glimpses into some of the personalities that I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with at Sapgyo High School, given with nicknames or job titles so that I’m not breaching anyone’s privacy.
First there’s Mr. M. I actually am not sure what he teaches, but he sits next to me in the teacher’s office. He does not speak very much English and knows that I can speak some conversational Korean, but everyday pulls up google translate and asks me a question in English about how my weekend was or how I am feeling today. During the winter when I kept getting sick he tried to make an appointment for me to get a flu shot. One day he got upset at my host father because I had to walk up the hill in the rain to go to school. Everyday without fail he stops what he’s doing to say goodbye to me as I leave the office.
Then there’s Mr.K. He’s one of my co-teachers, and by far my favorite one. He rarely skips class and in class he only ever translates things into Korean after receiving my permission, preferring to just repeat the question in simplified English, or with a different grammar form. About two months ago he gave me a box of instant coffee, telling me that I looked tired, and then without fail every two weeks after that he’s given me a new box of coffee, telling me that he thought of me when he was at the grocery store with his wife. Recently he’s also been throwing in random ginseng energy drinks, and vitamin C drinks as well.
There’s the short, Korean language teacher. She’s probably the oldest teacher at our school and also by far the shortest, but dresses like she’s in her thirties and wears pencil skirts and dresses, and her teaching slippers are five-inch platforms. She’s still shorter than me, though I wear flats. She always explains Korean grammar points to me in slow and clear Korean when we’re brushing our teeth in the bathroom after lunch. The students love her.
There’s the photography PE teacher. Oh man, what can I say about the PE teacher? We haven’t talked recently, but at the beginning of the year he took me, my host sister, his daughter, and my host dad on a trip to a traditional pottery village in Hongseong, where he basically recreated a photo studio (he had a light and everything!), made me sit in front of a pot and pretend to make it, and took numerous pictures of me. The next day he came to school with a giant framed photograph of me leaning over a pot and told me that it had to stay on my desk all day. All the other teachers came to a consensus and told me I looked like the Mona Lisa. During our faculty volleyball game every time he served the ball he would look directly at me and say “Emily” and then spike the ball as hard as he could at me. Gotta love the man.
There’s my host father. Words cannot describe how amazing my host father is. The first time I met him he was wearing a pink tank top and hadn’t cut his hair recently, so it looked like a curly afro. He has a good English vocabulary but not a whole lot of grammar, so every time he wants to say that he is good at something he says “good driver.” Example – when he wants to say that he is good at drinking alcohol (which he says everytime he drinks) he says ”I, alcohol drinking. Good driver.”
There’s the office worker who no matter what time of day it is yells “GOOD MORNING, EMILY” everytime he sees me.
There’s the Home EC teacher who makes homemade deok for the whole office, and last semester invited me to come to her class and learn how to embroider a pillowcase with other Sapgyo students. She wasn’t lying when she said her class was one of the students’ favorites – she’s a good, steady teacher and it was hilarious watching my rough-and-tumble male students who are quick to tackle each other in the halls silently threading their needles with pink thread. It was also hilarious seeing their panic as I asked them for help, or what I should do next.
There’s the music teacher who is giving me danso lessons. She always talks to me in English, but it sometimes comes out a little strange. For example, the first time I wore a particular dress she exclaimed “oh Emily! SHORT SLEEVE!” but then proceeded to tell me in Korean that it looked very nice, and why hadn’t I worn it sooner? Every single morning she makes sure I’m adequately caffeinated by asking if I would like some coffee.
There’s the woman who works in the office, who smiles whenever I come in to do my laminating, and always tells me I should come in more often and we should chat.
There’s my non-English co-teacher. I am supposed to have an English co-teacher for each class, but for two of my classes I have a computer science teacher who can speak some English. She knows that she has minimal English but she’s not afraid to admit it, so she always sits at a desk and does all of the activities and plays all of the games with the class.
There’s the male Korean language teacher who has the most beautiful speaking voice. We have a teacher’s meeting every Monday and Thursday which I generally tune out because the Korean is too high level for me to understand, but when he starts to speak I listen, because his pacing, intonation, and tone of voice is just lovely. The first day I came to Sapgyo High School he had my co-teacher tell me that he couldn’t speak English but another teacher told him I liked to bake, and he does too, and so he made me muffins, and then he gave me a basket full of muffins. Ever since then, some mornings I find muffins on my desk.
There’s the singing PE teacher who likes to randomly burst into song as he walks around school. He has a good voice. In the winter it started to snow and he sang a Korean song about snow, then coerced me into standing up and singing “Let it Snow” in front of the entire teacher’s office.
There’s the Vice Principal who loves photography who will randomly call me over to his desk, so that he can show me a picture of a flower that he took, or a picture of his new grandchild.
There’s so many more that I can’t even begin to detail, or I haven’t gotten to know well enough. Everyday I find out something new about these wonderful people I work with. One teacher’s daughter speaks fluent English and volunteered in England for a year. One teacher volunteers to translate letters of thanks from English into Korean for families who have given to charity. One was in the military for six years before coming here. I was worried because I was the youngest teacher at my school, the first foreign teacher, and one of the only female teachers, but they really have welcomed me with open arms and tried to make me feel comfortable.