[VIEWPOINT]Teaching not solely about lecturesAnother semester is over. When the disorder at the beginning of a semester has just about died down, midterm exams suddenly appear. It always seems as if I have only submitted the results of those midterms, when a semester is ending. Before the semester starts, I make up my mind to teach to the best of my ability, but when a semester is over, I often feel I have fallen short.
I recall what a professor said in his retirement speech some time ago. To other people, time passes by the day, the month, and the year, but to teachers, time passes by the semester. The professor quoted Pi Chon-duk, a scholar of English literature: “When a bride has made kimchi 30 times, she becomes a grandmother.” The professor felt he had prepared syllabi only a few times, and now he was about to retire. He asked young teachers to practice virtue, because teaching was not just about transferring knowledge.
In my Introduction to English Literature class this semester, a student reminded me of Yong-hun. Yong-hun attended my English writing class soon after I returned from studying abroad and had begun as a college lecturer. Yong-hun was a somewhat peculiar student. First of all, he was conspicuously short. He was often distracted in class or else he slept frequently, resting his head on his arms. He did his homework without much enthusiasm, or in many cases did not turn it in at all. I used to reproach Yong-hun because, as a new lecturer, I was eager to teach. Yong-hun was a loner, and when there were no classes, he practiced Chinese martial arts, shouting “Hoit! Hoit!” not bothered by passers-by, in front of the Humanities Building.
Soon he began sticking a note beneath the door of my office each day. The note always said, “Teacher, I am growing every day by 2 centimeters. My head seems to be filled with cotton. So I can’t do anything.”
I scolded him for making unbelievable excuses just because he didn’t like to study and ignored his notes thereafter.
One day when Yong-hun, who had been absent from my class for a while, left a note. But this time the message was a little different: “I will fly to heaven from the Emmao Building.”
Feeling a chill, I hurried to the Emmao Building. Indeed, Yong-hun sat on the edge of the roof of the building. After coming down from the roof at the urging of teaching aides, he said to me, “I’d like to fly away to heaven. I want to be free. Teacher, take me to heaven.”
Eventually, he took a leave of absence from school and received mental health treatment. But he never returned to school. Later, I heard that his father was an ambassador to a Latin American country. His father supposedly favored Yong-hun’s younger brother, who was tall and handsome and had excelled Yong-hun in everything since childhood. His father, I heard, had been hard on Yong-hun, criticizing his looks and his poor performance in school.
Perhaps Yong-hun’s wish to grow tall like his younger brother was so strong that he had the illusion that he was actually growing. Perhaps he thought he could win his parents’ love that way. Perhaps he was so lonely that he needed to say anything -- even to a cold-hearted teacher (like me).
After Yong-hun left school, I chided myself for failing to notice that he had been asking me to help him. I promised myself that I would be a teacher who listens to students’ hearts rather than their words.
Many years have now passed. It’s possible that there was a student who wished to “fly away to heaven” last semester. Nevertheless, I only continue to deliver knowledge, giving lectures and blaming myself for letting another semester just pass by.
* The writer is a professor of English literature at Sogang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Chang Young-hee