The rewards of being a teacher

Somewhere along the way there comes a point where you come to realise just how rewarding teaching can be. Be it when you get one enthusiastic student or a whole class full of drive and energy. It can be challenging and difficult at times too, especially with the tough students.

There is one student in my 5th grade class. His name is Seong Mo. When he came into fifth grade I was told by another English teacher that he was ‘trouble’. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but I think it had something to do with the fact that one of his his parents was Filipino. Korea can be a difficult place to be if you are not ‘of the norm’. Koreans are notoriously outspoken and it can be quite offensive and upsetting if you take things too literally. Comments such as “Teacher why you red face?” (Sunburn) or “Teacher dirty” (unshaven) are classic lines. I dread to think what it must be like for a student that sticks out. I was told that she had given up on him, his English was appalling and I should give up on him to. I did not.

In the first lesson he forgot his English book and was moderately disruptive. In the second lesson there was no change. I started thinking about ways this could be dealt with. My method was just to have a quiet (international sign language) word with him and make him understand he needs to be ready for class with his English book. Lesson three, no book. I then made him write me a letter of apology and got my co-teacher to translate whilst I spoke to him. I told him he could be my special student and that we could be friends if he was good. Then I took every opportunity I could to encourage him with speaking in class and writing the date on the board. I also learnt his name, which was pretty important too as I could refer to him directly during the lesson. The results were amazing. He became focused and behaved well. Most of the time he remembered his book. In my last class he stood up and told me the day and date in perfect English, I was amazed.

After I told the class that I was leaving to go back to England, he wrote me a letter in Korean. I asked my co-teacher to translate it and this is what it says:

Seongmo's letter

Apparently he thinks I look Argentinian too? Maybe I’ve spent too long in the sun?!

I’m told that he has now decided he wants to be a scientist, and so has come to the conclusion it is important he learns English and studies hard. Even if he does not learn English I hope that I have started to make him believe in himself and showed him that when he focuses he can achieve anything. I am so proud of him.

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