Was I Like This in Third Grade?

I was nervous going into this week. Actually, I was downright dreading it.

I’ve been teaching after school English to a range of elementary to middle school students for a couple months now, but this week, the new school year started. Which meant a whole new set of adventures and challenges for me.

It’s turning out a lot better than I thought.

My first class of shy little second graders is super cute. They grin shyly at me when we have trouble communicating, and two of the girls who pay no attention to me during class came up and wordlessly gave me little candies today (aww..). The classes with my familiar advanced students have been great, and I actually feel refreshed conversing with the adults; I feel like my understanding of Korean culture is deepening.

Everything has been surprisingly smooth. Except for the nightmare class I have to teach at 4pm.

14 third graders who don’t know how to control the volumes of their voices squished into my tiny classroom, 11 of them boys. Half understanding no English whatsoever, the other half not the least bit interested in using the English they know. At least five ringleader troublemakers, and a whole bunch of other easily distracted yappers.

Nightmare.

A low point was the moment in the middle of class today when half the kids suddenly decided they wanted to go to the bathroom all at the same time, and I had to literally block the door with my body. That’s when I went into commander general mode. “EVERYONE SIT DOWN! 5! 4! 3! 2! …” They may understand little to no English, but they understood that.

Yesterday, this class utterly exhausted me.

I felt so frustrated by their rebellious, disrespectful attitudes, drained by the constant noise and inattention to what I was saying, overwhelmed by the lack of control I had over the class. It took the whole rest of the day to recover from those 45 minutes.

But today I decided something. I wasn’t going to get frustrated.

I realized I was giving these kids too much power over the way I thought of myself. My frustration stemmed from a feeling of failure. I felt that if one kid didn’t respect me, I was somehow less than I would be otherwise. But that’s simply not true. My identity and worth are not affected by what these kids think of me or how they treat me.

So I went into today prepared with lesson ideas, discipline strategies, and reminders to self of who I am. I am the teacher. I am a joy bringer. I am smart, caring, and fun.

I wouldn’t say today’s class was a huge success.

Though I tried a new seating arrangement, turned the lights off multiple times, and called a couple boys outside for private chats, it was still a struggle to have any semblance of organized learning.

But, today was a huge turning point for me.

Today, I didn’t feel completely exhausted after class. I felt upbeat. I realized I was in the middle of a process. A process of building trust with these kids, getting to know them, earning their respect, and learning how to have fun with them. (And teaching them English.)

I didn’t resent the kids who yapped or grumbled or mocked me. I just laughed or sternly said their name or made fake angry faces at them. I was able to celebrate the little victories (like the majority of them actually responding to their English names).

After they all left I could just sigh to myself and say, “Okay, that’s over. Glad that adventure only happens once in 24 hours.”

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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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