Wednesday, May 15, 2013

스승의날 - Teachers' Day

The bell rang; students were in their desks. Then, HJ called out, "1, 2, 3!"

Then, everyone started singing. In Korean.

I stood at the front of the room, kind of dumbfounded for a second. And then, I realized that it was Teachers' Day today, and this must be some sort of tradition. They kept singing.

I broke into a smile then, not quite sure what else to do. I chuckled a bit. They kept singing, everyone in my class except for DK, who was fast asleep at his desk. It was a nice-sounding song, but I didn't understand a word.

When they finished (probably after a minute, although it awkwardly felt like much longer), TS ran up, handed me a small cake in a paper cup, and said, "This is for you, for Teachers' Day!"

"Wow," I said. "Thank you so much, everyone! I was very surprised. Okay, class, what is today's date?"

- - -

So, today was Teachers' Day in Korea. The holiday has quite a few traditions here, including singing that song, buying gifts of flowers (carnations or whole baskets and bouquets) and rice cakes, calling and sending letters to teachers from your past, and otherwise showering all teachers with love and attention. It seems quite different from the Teacher Appreciation Day I know of in the US. Actually, I don't recall ever doing anything very special for any of my teachers in high school or college, and now I'm a bit ashamed.

But anyway, Teachers' Day is a big deal here. They say that the most important and respected people in olden times were kings, parents, and teachers. Evidently that sentiment has held up until today. Some of my colleagues, who have been teaching for years, received gifts from not only their current students (and their current students' parents), but also from some of their students from years and years ago. The entire school was overflowing with baskets of flowers, rice cakes, and even legit cakes from bakeries or Baskin-Robbins.
A cake given to one of my co-teachers by a student (or, rather, given by his parents). It's a gorgeous cake, pure white, with carnations on top. The text says "선생님! 감사합니다." (Teacher! Thank you.) and the student's name. It may or may not be a ploy to curry favor.
During lunch, all the students stood up in the cafeteria to sing that same Korean song to all of the teachers. Throughout the day, you could hear cheers and singing coming from different classrooms as the students tried to surprise their teachers. I certainly was surprised by today's serenade. In addition to this sweet gift, I also received a boutonniere -- there was one for every teacher -- and a NASA pen from a student, IS, who had just returned from a science competition in Houston, where he had won a bronze medal.

But the best gift by far was a small note from one of my quietest students, who happens to be in my lowest-level class. TH usually sits alone and doesn't seem to like to talk to anybody, let alone me. In fact, sometimes I get vibes from him that indicate he'd rather be anywhere else but in my classroom.

At the end of class today, when TH turned in his worksheet, he tried to slip it into the bottom of the pile, and I noticed that he'd written something in the margin.

It reads: <Thank You teacher.> I think it was hard decision to you to stay other country and teach other country student. However, you did greatly, and many students are happy in this class. I have met many foreign teacher, but you was the greatest teacher. thank you

Together, on three: 1, 2, 3! D'awwwww! 감동하네요!

Oh, and also, this student thinks one of the most important global issues (today's lesson topic) is language endangerment! I have no idea how he even knows what that is, but I am impressed. And I am touched by his note. It really is the best gift I could receive. The mini-tiramisu comes in a close second.

To all teachers, in Korea, the US, or anywhere in the world: Happy Teachers' Day! Keep on doing what you do so well, and never let discouragement overshadow the joy of making a positive impact in a student's life.

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