[Letters] A teacher’s memories
Yesterday, I said goodbye to all the students and teachers during the broadcast of our farewell ceremony at the end of the final semester. It seemed weird and impersonal to speak in front of a monitor, but nevertheless I experienced a complexity of very personal feelings; feelings of regret and a feeling of missing something or leaving something very valuable behind.
When I look back on the past three years, I honestly believe that I have done my best to live up to the high standards of the students, and the goal of Gimhae Foreign Language High School (GIMFL), which is to produce ‘global citizens.’ Actually, under the terms of my contract, I was entitled to teach at GIMFL for two more years. So why did I make the decision to leave this school, which offers benefits such as a rent-free apartment and bonus incentives? Did somebody force me to quit? Did too many of the students disappoint or anger me?
When I think about it, no one pushed me to leave, nor did anyone ask me to move to another school. I am sure the decision was all mine. While I was at GIMFL, my inner mind harassed me incessantly, insisting that I was not qualified to teach those gifted students. I constantly told myself that I was too old to be able to teach them with new skills, using state-of-the art technology.
But when I stood at the monitor to say farewell, I felt that I had been wrong. I realized that most students had loved and followed me. Those students who behaved disrespectfully to me turned out in the end to be good natured. I realized that it was their immaturity and not any ill will that was responsible for incidents of bad manners and for occasional shows of arrogance and disrespect.
Most students are inherently kind and gifted, but considering their age we can understand that sometimes they are likely to act against the wishes of their teachers. Therefore, it is incumbent upon these teachers to correct and guide the students so that they develop into global citizens who are motivated by a good natured respect for everyone. Then any bad manners will be transformed into good manners by virtue of the teachers’ arduous efforts and constant patient forbearance.
I regret not having considered the truth sooner so that I might have avoided making the decision to leave this school. Maybe I also have to blame some of my own immaturity. I failed to see and consider how good and lovable the students were and how dear they had become to me. Now I miss them even though it’s been only two days since I said goodbye. Memories of times shared with them intermittently pass through my mind like petals in the spring wind: blurred teary eyes at farewell events in the classroom which still break my heart; memories of laughing with each of them while picking persimmons in the school orchard; memories of going to take a boat to view Niagara Falls. (One of you saw your ticket blow away out of your hand, because, so amazed were you at the sight of the falls you forgot to clutch it tightly enough.) I remember talking about Mr. Hutton’s wanton behavior in the short story “The Gioconda Smile.” (You were all shocked to read that a person’s playful cheating can have a horrendous result. I think you must have learned a life-long lesson from that story.) I have a very fond memory of dictating “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe, of how we were all moved to tears. I really think that when the poem “Birthday” was read, most of you were inspired to open up to a new world of love.
Those moving recollections will become jewels in my mind. The memory of being with you will be a proud and frequent conversation topic for the rest of my life. I am sure that all of you will be valuable people in whatever careers or walks of life you pursue in the future. I just feel sorry for not having been able to properly identify a lot of your potential and help bring it out. Each of you has an array of gifts that I somehow wasn’t able to fully notice.
My wish now is to keep all your names in my heart and be able to greet any of you by name whenever I happen to meet you. Because of my precious memories of the time we spent together I will always be able to recognize you wherever you are and however much time passes.
Lee Eung-tae, English teacher,
Gimhae Foreign Language High School