March 6 2010
Well, we have finished our first week of teaching at our Korean schools. It was a whirlwind of a week. I feel as though more has happend to us this week than has happened in multiple weeks combined. Highs and lows, busyness and downtime. Schedules set, and schedules changed…. and no one knows for sure. Stress, and excitement. Teachers and students. The biggest thing that I feel has happened this week was the fear that was faced, and by God’s grace we pushed forward and didn’t back down. In a very real sense we have died to some of our fears and been rebirthed into a new life of service for God.
For some days before my first day of school, I felt as if March 2nd was a day of significant change. March 2nd was the first day of school, and as it approached, I felt as if I was preparing mentally and spiritually for war. I have read some epic stories of war. And on the eve of battle, there is always this heavy sense of reality; of the fragility of life; of the significance of life and love and death that pervades the thoughts and spirits of those who are preparing for battle. In some way, so it was for me. I realized that I was on the eve of facing some of my greatest fears and inadequacies. “Do I have what it takes? Am I adequate? What will happen to me? Will I die?” It seems funny that I think this way sometimes, but is not all fear ultimately based in a deep fear of death itself?
Paradoxically, it is death we must face if we will have life. More specifically, it is fear of death that we must confront. For fear of death is at the root of all sin.
In a book of prayer that I like to use, one of the Psalters says:
“Age after age You proclaimed by the lips of Your holy prophets that You would deliver us and deal mercifully with us, calling to mind Your solemn covenant. This was the promise that You made: to rescue us, and set us free from fear, so that we might worship You with holy worship, in Your holy presence our whole life long.”
Christ was sent to rescue us from our fear of death, so that we might face it, and find life. If we do not face our fear of death, we will become the death we are trying to escape.
So now the verse “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” has a new significance.
Thanks to Christ who lives, I was able to face something that I probably would have typically ran from because of my thoughts that said “I am not adequte; I am not good enough.” Through Christ, I am enough. “My grace is perfected in your weakness.”
What was it like?
I have to confess that half the fear I had was going to my school. I am teaching at Cheonan Buk Middle School. Meeting new people, people that I will work with, and people that have authority over me can be very intimidating, and even more so when they are people of different cultural background and language than my own.
I found out when I arrived at school that I probably wouldn’t be teaching the first two days because they were days of orientation for the students. The first day, I arrived at school and took off my shoes (as is cusomary) and put on my school slippers. I was greeted by a teacher who showed me into the main teacher’s office. It is a large room with probably around 50 teacher’s desks. I was shown to my desk, and shortly after I was introduced to my principal and vice-principal. My principal is a female (which for some reason intimidates me more than having a male principal). They both were very nice and welcoming. Shortly after, I had to come to the front of the teacher’s office with the other new teachers, and give a short speech to introduce myself. Talk about the stress of first impressions! A couple hours later, they had the student body lined up military style outside in the school yard and all we new teachers had to bow to the students to introduce ourselves! It doesn’t matter how long a foreigner lives in Korea, Korean say we always look awkward bowing. Haha. The first day I got to know my head teacher Mr. Yu, and my supervisor Mrs. Jeon. I also met some other of my co-teahcers, and they were all very nice.
In Korean culture however, it is unusual for anything to be planned and set in stone prior to a scheduled date. So my teachers told me that they didn’t yet know my schedule for classes I’d be teaching, but that they should know in a couple weeks! This only added to my stress levels! How am I supposed to prepare my lesson plans? Later in the day they told me that I would be teaching the 1st and 2nd graders (same as 6th and 7th in the States). So they gave me my textbooks, and I prepared my lesson plans for my first classes. Lunch came, and so I went with the teachers to the lunch room and had my first Korean school lunch. It consisted of kimchi, seaweed soup, fish, rice, and some vegetable medley. It was actually really good as my palate is becoming adjusted to eating the earthy and spicey Korean diet.
My second day I also did not teach. I stayed at my desk most of the day working on my lesson plans. Not much happend this day. I did meet some more of my Korean co-teachers, and I have to say that they are so hospitable. One of the aspects that I love about Korean cultue is that the virtues of humility and respect are highly valued. People tend to repect and value each other, not seeking to show off or put others after themselves.
The third day came and I was prepared to meet and teach 1st and 2nd graders. I was going to be teaching first period. Upon my arrival as I was getting ready to go to my first class, one of my co-teachers said: “sorry, schedual has changed. You won’t be teaching 1st graders anymore. Now you will only teach 2nd and 3rd graders! Ahhhh! I’ve learned that if I’m going to survive in Korea, I’m just going to have to learn to go with the flow. You just never know day to day, what is going to happen. And because status is so important in Korean society, you are just supposed to accept what is passed down to you from your superior. So I threw out my 1st grade lesson plan, and started on my 3rd grade lesson plan.
The other part of my fear was meeting and teaching the students. Every student is put into a class with about 35 students. This set of 35 students are their classmates for the year. As a teacher, I see each class once a week, and I teach up to 22 classes a week. That means that I have around 770 students! It is nearly impossible to learn all of their names and adequately give them the attention they need.
But I went to my classes on the first day of classes, and I faced the fear that has long crippled me. And God by His grace sustained me, and I even found that I was energized by being with the students. Which is interesting for me as an introvert. Typically, I am drained by being around people, and I need alone time to re-energize. But this week, I found the opposite to be true. I was being energized by the students!
I even found that I was having fun! Some of the student’s English ability is less than others, and sometimes it was like pulling teeth to get them to talk in English (because they fear being embarassed, or by embarrasing their friends if they know a lot!). Fortunately pulling out candy, and playing games that go along with their textbooks really gets them excited and more willing to talk! My last class of the week was the most purposeful that I’ve felt at a job in a long time. I felt like I was connecting, and making some meaningful difference. In every classroom, there is always at least two curriculums going on. The actual subject of discussion, and the other unstated one. This one is often more important and more loudly heard. Is is the unsaid curriculum that either expresses to the students that you care about them, or that you don’t. It is a curriculum that is based in the opportunity to mentor, or to forsake a fellow human being who is looking for guidance.
That last class of the week, I felt like I realized how important this unsaid curriculum was, and it was like tapping into a purpose for my life that I think may be my vocation.
Jill and I are praying that God will help us to love not just the students that are easy to love, but even the ones that are obnoxious. It has been so exciting to meet the students. Being a foreigner, we feel like celebrities in our schools. The students are so excited to see us and they swarm us and smile and say “you so handsome”, or to Jill “you so beautful.” Over and over again they swarm us in the halls.
On Friday I can’t remember how many cell phone pictures I had to take with some of the students. It was a blast! Pray that my head doesn’t get too big!
I feel that even in this first week of school, Jill and I have been stretched and pushed, and pulled, and frustrated, and stressed; but we have also grown, and I hope we are being transformed into better human beings.
Thank you for all your prayers! Know you are in ours!