It has been about ten months since I walked into my first classroom, a terribly green teacher with a month’s experience and a backpack of English teaching binders to my name. Though I was looking forward to my assignment, I was consumed with anxiety about teaching high schoolers—after all, few people believe I am not one myself, and I could not tell yet who was going to be intimidating whom.
Strangely, it is not the fear, the learning curves, or the pile of challenges that stand out most from that first semester. It is the moments that I would recall at the end of the day, the ones that I would write in my journal because I wanted to remember them 12 months and years from now. For instance, that particularly rough day a few weeks after I started, when one of the school pastors stopped me to say, “Every time I look at you, I thank God for sending you to teach our children!” Or the day when fellow teachers showed me how to bow like a Korean gangster as opposed to the ordinary Korean’s bow.
Being an English language/Computer teacher at UBMK means much more than writing editorial composition lesson plans or explaining when to use the gerund and when the infinitive. It means holding back a chuckle and giving good advice when your 12th-grader laments his inabilities to date the girl of his choice. It means catching a taxi with a student and learning he was up the entire night completing a major English project—and then for me to do the unthinkable and allow him to sleep through my class! It means donning a sports vest and forever destroying the idea that every American excels at basketball. And it means zeroing in on the only purpose of life when at the end of the day a 10th-grader walks into the teachers’ room, where I am the only one left, and admits he is struggling with intense spiritual concern.
Ministering among the children of a micro-Christian community presents a unique set of challenges. Nearly every one of my students is thoroughly acquainted with the fundamentals of the Bible; most of them display a remarkable level of character and ethics. Ministering to the children of Korean doctors, pastors and teachers is not exactly equivalent to working among orphans, street children, or even your average Mongolian schoolchild. The processes are different, but what I am learning is that the core is the same: love. And for me, who abhors the colloquial or cliché, that is not a formulaic answer—it truly has been a process of discovery for someone who has never excelled at the standard words and gestures of affection.
I remember specifically the day when one of the girls I teach asked me, “Teacher, do you love us? Do you really love us?”I was stunned. Of course I loved them! That day was a turning point in how I purposefully related to my students. Doing was not enough. A child does not just need an extra half hour of tutoring; the clingy 9th-grade girl needs an extra hug and the negligent 11th-grade boy needs an “I’m proud of you”. Every day, every class, every inter-action needs to be flavored and filled with the genuine love of Christ. The children often know as well as I do the way of the Bible; what they need is to see and feel the results of that way in those who guide them.
This is nothing new or groundbreaking, of course. But once my student asked me that question, I realized that often it is through the students themselves that God is teaching me the greatest lessons.