Earnest Thoughts from a Young Teacher

Image courtesy of Key & Peele.

Image courtesy of Key & Peele.

There are some days when even getting out of bed sounds like an insurmountable feat.
There are some days when you could jump out of bed from sheer excitement. Most of my days so far have been spent dragging my feet in bedsheets, dreading the morning light because it brings on the weight of responsibility and dashed expectations. While I respect the past ETAs for sharing their thoughts on Yilan teaching, I sometimes believe only the best and brightest moments were documented on their blog, as they should. However, I do not share this mentality of merely glorifying schools, as future ETAs might benefit from some no-frills, no-nonsense reality. Fulbright teaching is my dream job, but that doesn’t mean it comes without a price or a pound of flesh.

ETA-ship is hard. Your LET might let you teach, they might not. You might have a substitute who stakes her claim in student minds for a month, terrifying them with bi-weekly exams and dreadfully boring lessons relying on horrible CD songs. For the record, CD song company, English speakers sing songs about normal topics, not about mothers confusing their children with fleeting emotions (though perhaps that might make an interesting ballad) or incorrect math equations. Further, you cannot treat children like robots. Listening to the same nonsensical song 50 times in a week will make them despise English and you. I honestly don’t understand  how a teacher expects her students to react after playing the same God forsaken monstrosity for the umpteenth time in a row. They will not suddenly develop respect for you, nor will they find you more intriguing if you let them scream and yell under the guise of “expressing English feelings.” A classroom is an environment in which both the teacher and students deserve to learn.

Further, your LET might go off the deep-end. We have heard some horror stories about LETs terrifying their class into submission. Teachers have used everyday teaching aids as projectiles against students. Others shout at or embarrass students until they cry. Perhaps I’m less of a disciplinarian than most, but I think psychologically damaging a child hurts more than it encourages. Further, some LETs have abused their rights as a co-teacher. ETAs tell of certain teachers who demonstrate clear signs of mental disorder, often screaming at their co-teachers or wrongfully accusing them. Some are just plain racist. Bad teachers, it appears, rear their ugly heads no matter what culture they reside in. Others, of course, fall on the exact opposite of the spectrum. LETs take on their co-teachers like their own family, accompanying them to restaurants or bbq with them on national holidays. Some go hiking or give you a taste of Taiwanese family life by just hanging out with you on the weekends. My LET even took me on a workshop on international education at a local junior high school. It’s kind of like marriage, I suppose. There are good times, there are bad times. There are times when you want to bash your head into a wall.

You will survive on the smallest of kindnesses. A care package sent by a loving friend. A postcard from Boston. Updates from your small group back home. Communion taken in your newfound church home as a broken child of God. You will weep as if the ground could sprout trees from your tears, as if you could collect salt from every droplet. But, oh, you will also laugh until you shake. You will giggle and snort until you feel like you will explode from joy. I’m not going to pretend and say that being an ETA is easy, but I do not hesitate and tell you that it will be everything you make of it.

Reality toes the line between your highest flung dreams and your darkest nightmares. Some moments lay outside of your grasp on the cloudy edge of hopelessness. Others pull you in and remind you what it means to take hold of your faith and know that some things, some dreams, some kids, are worth fighting for. Those are the times you shine the brightest.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” [Romans 5:1-10 ESV]

Despite the fearsome paths we tread, in the face of dire situations and great evil manifested in ordinary clothing, we know this to be true. Kids deserve the best. They deserve us at our best. Further, it DOES NOT MATTER WHERE THEY COME FROM. I am sick of teachers and even parents putting students down because they are poor or need special care. It only matters how big their dreams are and how much they want it. It’s up to teachers to show them how much they are capable of.

As teachers, we have a chance to be somebody’s best friend, a parent and, to some, a superhero dressed as Clark Kent. The more we discourage our students, the more we become their Kryptonite and their greatest weakness. In many ways, we just need to do our jobs, but we must also find a means to encourage students out of the stereotypes that inhibit them. It’s not about us. It’s all about finding light in dark places.

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” [James 3:1]

I guess it really comes down to one thing only. Why are you teaching? What is your purpose? Is it to glorify yourself? Is it to terrify someone “under” you? Or is it to foster the future? Like it or not, we’re doing just that.

The future stares us in the face everyday, and they call us teacher.

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