The greatest change since I started this blog six-and-a-half years ago happened tonight. I am no longer teaching English at a hagwon. Early February 2004, I flew here to find relief from one of the tech crashes. It was supposed to be temporary relief–a distraction from my career. I ended up working as a teacher longer than I did anything else. Much longer than I wanted to. This particular job was also the most stable I had been in my adult life. Four years at the same place. My previous record was two years at the TV station in my college days.
So, now what?
In 2003, I spent each day at home on the computer, unemployed. Then I came to Korea. Now, I’ll spend each day at home on the computer, gainfully employed. I have the Curator-in-chief position at OhmyNews International that lets me work at home for a few hours a day. I have a few writing gigs. And I’ll do some freelance teaching on the side. I like to call it “English training.” But it would be no more of dealing with little children. Fighting children. Loud children. Rude children. Lazy children. Stupid children. Of course, most of them weren’t that way, but the hagwon industry attracts the ones that are so. Hagwons are not schools. They’re babysitting services. It was always frustrating that the parents would spend so much money on these places and never care if their child never did homework or studied. It was a babysitting service. I’ll have a couple months of just adults before the baby’s born and I’m thrown back into Childville.
Now I have the freedom to work on my business, on my web site and on my writing. I don’t know how to feel yet.
Each day towards the end felt longer and longer. Today felt the longest of all. The last two classes were doing their best to make me not regret my decision to quit. I separated the four boys in my last class for fighting and acting up after multiple warnings. The previous two days I had them with their heads down on their desks for the rest of class, and they still hadn’t gotten the message. My last class–a solo middle school student–didn’t show. I think he quit. So I spent the last period wrapping things up at the school. Cleaned out everything I could clean out on my desk, in my room and on my computer. I was expecting to feel more sentimental, but it wasn’t there. The last ten minutes in my classroom, I walked around the walls, reflecting on each addition I had added over the years. What sparked me to put that on the wall? What was I doing in those days? I had spent most of my waking life in this one room for the past four years. This room with windows but no view. The pitiful air conditioner that was designed for a much smaller area. The whiteboard that had seen so much action. The remnants of tape on the legs of chairs from a Halloween haunted house years ago. The large four-poster-sheet zoo mural my kids and I made in 2007. I kept meaning to add more animals to that zoo and never did. All the Transformers and Star Wars stickers on the window and walls. All the grammar signs I made, each sign stemming from a frustrating concept I got tired of re-explaining verbally and felt would be easier to just point to on the wall. The two postcards from my student Cindy’s trip to Italy a few years ago. The large map one class made last year to help explain giving directions. The half-ass dinosaur timeline. The Stupid Monsters. The cardboard clock with the hands ripped off. The velcro calendar parts I meticulously made and was so proud of, stripped of laminate on parts with other pieces missing. The porcupine quills given to me by a recruiter friend in South Africa. The giant diagram of the sentence “I am eating the cat.” The chart I made on the white board with tape to show who had perfect scores that week and who owed penalty papers and rewrites for bad scores and no homework.
The desks and chairs were in disarray from that last rowdy class–racing out of the classroom with hasty goodbyes, as if they were going to see me again tomorrow. Would I miss those kids?
I doubt it.
Most all of my favorite students are long gone, and I have learned not to become attached. It only hurts when they leave. I knew things were really reaching the end for me when I could only think of three current students that I would miss, and I told them to look me up if they ever needed help with English homework.
I went to the teachers’ room to do one last sweep of my desk and desktop. I made sure all remnants of my existence were stripped from the computer. All passwords erased. All stuff in the Application Data folder purged. Changed the user name to the next guy’s name, and shut it down.
Dave sauntered to the doorway. “Last minute left. Last minute.”
The bell rang. The kids all raced out. I packed all my loose ends. Turned off the air conditioner. Turned off the light.