Scary Teacher

The other day I showed a friend my serious teacher face. He got scared.

“Usually you seem so sweet and happy, laughing all the time and smiling… Guess that’s not really you,” he said, shaking his head.

“What? No! That is me!” I exclaimed.

I felt a slight panic come over me at his reaction. Not because I was so worried about his perception of me, but because I suddenly thought of my kids (i.e. my students). Surely they didn’t think the same thing? Surely the times I showed my serious, semi-scary side didn’t cancel out the times I smiled at them and laughed with them, right?

Surely they didn’t think my scary side was my true side and all the rest was fake?!

It reminded me once again that I need to be more intentional about the way I treat my students. They are precious kids that have been entrusted to me for at least part of their day. The goal should never be to scare them.

What I really long to do is teach them how to love and respect people, how to be kind! (And also how to communicate in English. But that’s a much easier task, actually.)

I used to judge parents who yelled at their kids in the grocery store.

“Maybe those people shouldn’t be parents,” I would think to myself. Maybe they shouldn’t, hard to judge a person well from a 15-second slice you happen to see of their life. But now that I’m a teacher, I am much less inclined to jump to that conclusion.

Sometimes my kids can be so infuriating (especially my crazy class of third grade boys) that I literally want to throw them across the room. Or at least slap some sense into them. That’s a surprisingly high level of rage for a mellow person like me to be driven to feel. I think the only other time I’ve felt that angry is when my little brother used to make strategically annoying comments aimed to infuriate me when we were young.

Of course, I never actually touch my students in those moments. I just use my voice. That’s what I did with my brother, too, come to think of it. But whereas I used to yell in my brother’s ear when we were young (for which he now blames his slight hearing issues––never gonna live that down..), I don’t always raise my voice now. I recognize that as communicating I have lost control, and that is not what I want to communicate.

But my tone. My tone is kinda scary. Maybe. Maybe it’s not that scary..

The other day I felt terrible after chastising a boy during class.

I went right up into his face and started a long stream of rebukes in English that I knew he mostly couldn’t understand. I was trying to intimidate him and shame him more than anything else. And that’s why I felt so awful later.

I should never be shaming anyone! Is that going to help them become a better person? Doubtful.

But that’s when I become so thankful for kids’ resilience and natural ability to forgive. The same boy happened to come early to class the next day. I thought he would avoid me after the way I had treated him the day before, the way he had turned away, trying but not quite succeeding to keep a fake smile plastered to his face.

Instead, he came right up to me, proud to have some news to share with me: “James isn’t coming today!”

When I took advantage of his slight pause in front of me by grabbing him, wrapping my arms around him and squeezing as hard as I could over his weak protests, I knew everything was going to be okay.

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Elizabeth is an American living in South Korea who believes in destiny, miracles, and living life intentionally. She holds to simple faith in a complex world, values the beauty of the everyday, and strives for vulnerability with other imperfect humans. She is always learning, laughing, and finding herself in awe of grace.

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