Teaching at an elementary school in Korea sure accumulates plenty of interesting stories. Since both of the schools I’ve worked at are in the rural part of town, the students are a bit more innocent and childlike compared to most ‘city kids’ in urban areas. Although you can find cute kids in any sort of region you work in, I have a soft spot for my kiddos because a lot of them come from broken families and do not have the financial means to attend hagwons, so I’m the only source of English learning they have access to. There are days where my heart goes out to them, then there are days where I want to pull my hair out. However, for now I’d like to focus on the rare cute things my students have done or said over the years. I’m sure many of you teachers out there will have much more to add on!
18 Cute Things My Students Do
1. When they see me in the halls, they run over to say “HI TEACHER!” with a huge grin and wave as if they haven’t seen me in years. No matter how many times I’d already passed by them that day.
2. When they ask me where I live and I answer with a straight face, “America. I come to school every morning in a helicopter”, they go “Nah-uh!” but then look confused for a second before asking “Re-really?”
3. When they have super chubby cheeks that would make a hungry hamster jealous.
4. When they wear animal headgear, ranging from glittery cat-ear headbands or huge bunny-ear scrunchies to hoodies with bear ears on the hood.
5. When they’re missing their two front teeth and can’t pronounce some sounds correctly.
6. When they shyly come up to my desk to whisper, “Teacher pretty” and run back to their seat.
7. When they have glasses that are too big for their face that they push up absentmindedly.
8. When they think the simple, last minute game I thought up as filler is the best thing ever. It could literally be something like ‘Throw the ball at the flashcards on the board’ and they cheer on their teammates as if they’re rounding the last corner of a triathlon.
9. When they give you their undivided attention as you read a storybook out loud, even if they can’t understand a word you’re saying.
10. When they insist on sharing their kimbap with you on school field trips. Usually served on a napkin with sticky fingers.
11. When they want you to call on them so bad that their raised hand is actually lifting their whole body off of the chair.
12. When they hear me call out their Korean name but say the rest of the sentence in English, and they say to their friend, “I TOLD YOU SHE CAN SPEAK KOREAN”.
13. When I meet eyes with one of them through the window of their homeroom classroom as I walk down the hall, and they give a tiny wave with a big shy smile.
14. When they write letters to you on Teacher Appreciation Day (스승의날) using broken English and tons of stickers.
15. When they tell me someone is dating so-and-so but said so-and-so actually likes someone else. This is coming from 9-year-olds.
16. When they see my hair in a side braid and excitedly point and yell, “ELSAAAA!”
17. When the smarter kids patiently help their struggling classmate with the textbook problems. (This one is a very rare phenomenon.)
18. When they eagerly stutter out the answer to my questions in English, unsure and yet unafraid to make mistakes.
Funny how all of the photos I chose are from my first two years teaching in Korea. To be honest, back then I didn’t know what the heck I was doing half the time, but made it work somehow. I never had any professional training or certification to be a teacher, and my major was in Spanish. And yet I took to teaching like a fish to water because it was my childhood dream to become a teacher, and instantly developed a family-like bond with the kids and faculty at my first school (which only had 84 students from grades 1 to 6 combined). Strangely, I find it difficult to feel the same level of attachment to my current school, which could simply be from growing older and jaded. Looking back on old pictures makes me realize how much I’ve changed in the past few years and how much of the passion for teaching has slowly started to fade. I’m glad I made this list because lately I’ve just been too focused on the negative, frustrating sides of working with children.
If you are a fellow burned-out teacher, I recommend looking through old photos or letters from your past students. You’d be surprised at how many happy, funny memories will resurface. Or try making a list like this one, too! 🙂