Saturday, February 12, 2011

Graduation Day: Part 2


This past Thursday was Graduation Day for our middle school grade 3 students. It's kind of a solemn day, at least it is for me. This year, it's especially so as many of my favourite teachers have completed their final year at the school.

In the Korean public school system, teachers stay at a school for 5 years and then get re-shuffled to a new location. I suppose that serves to keep things fresh, but I feel that it also serves to limit potential friendships to a degree. I would imagine that one of the first questions new teachers ask veteran colleagues is "when did you start here?" or "how many years do you have left?" What would be the point, I suppose, in becoming close to someone who's leaving at the end of semester 2?

Well, for better or for worse, I have become quite close to a handful of teachers who will be leaving after March 2nd. Next year will be very different, and in time I will see that as a good thing, but in the meantime, I try and imagine my daily school life without some of the kindest people in it. It's no exaggeration to say that in my 2 years at this school, I have come-across the complete spectrum of friendliness - from those who couldn't be bothered to say good morning when they are directly in front of me and crossing my path in a quiet hallway (even when I say it in Korean), to one who has invited me to his family home no less than 5 times and is looking forward to the 6th, and one who will drop everything to insist on giving my parents a ride to the airport because such is the level of respect he would automatically have for my ma and pa.

Choi Yong is one such person. He is Jackie Chan and Super Mario. He is the head of the School Discipline Dept., the head PE teacher and soccer coach, and the heart and soul of our school. Students love him, but never want to be on his bad side. When over at his place for dinner during my parents' visit to Korea, he showed us a clip of him competing on one of those physical challenge game shows made most famous from their Japanese incarnations. In it, he got tripped-up and caught by closing mattress walls before he could reach the final goal. With his head and arm barely sticking out, he asked the show's host for one more chance - adding that he was doing it to show his students (from a previous middle school) what they can do if they never give up. He got one more chance, and was the only contestant to make it through the gauntlet that day.

Choi Yong is larger than life, and he is kind. I'll miss saluting his smile each day on my way through the school gate.

As for the students. It's tough to see them go. Of course, if I'm being honest, the great majority of them were very skilled at being a pain in the ass most of the time. But those that wanted to know me, and who wanted me to know them, will be missed. There were a few tears among the students that day, but not from me - if anything graduation day allows me to simply enjoy feeling connected to the students in a way that I can't during the semester. I came close though when the student quartet led in the singing of the Korean version of Auld Lang Syne. I suppose when you're in the teaching business, you're also in the saying goodbye business. Things are in a state of constant change everywhere, and certainly in every profession, but perhaps nowhere are the partings so regimented as they are in school. That's going to be hard for me.

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