Several weeks ago I was informed quite to my pleasure that amongst all the teachers and all the classes at my middle school, I had been voted (by the students) as the favorite. I was, of course, flattered by their kind words and humbled to be so warmly welcomed in such a short amount of time but I could not help but wonder why it was that I was chosen and whether or not it was actually desirable to be so.
Given, there is not much more rewarding and motivating as praise from your peers for your good work. To me, the worthy and sincere congratulations and appreciation from others is better and more self-satisfying than my paycheck–especially on those sour Mondays or long Wednesdays. Yet this was something different. I was not chosen by my peers as the best teacher in Sindorim Middle school, I was chosen by the students.
In college I remember one such professor that all the students admired (and still do) who was formally known as Professor Ackerman (though he preferred to be called simply by his first name) who won similar recognition from us students when I was a senior. All of the students adored him! We were positively enthralled to see him anywhere on campus, he was always volunteering and participating in student-let activities, in the classroom he always maintained a high energy level and even managed to remember every single student by name (and he had quite a few students!) Yet, when it comes to what I learned in class I will admit, and not a bit proudly, that my reports and final marks were quite mediocre. Despite his enthusiasm and personable character, I found it easier to be his buddy so to speak and talk with him as such rather than as a professor.
Then what is the objective of being a teacher?
The obvious answer may be that we transmit knowledge from one generation to the next in bite-size, manageable, and comprehensible forms in order that the second generation need not repeat the mistakes of the previous and therefore grow out and explore where the previous generation left off. Teachers are the medium though which creativity and inquisitiveness blossom, the catalysts of mental development. One of the truest statements that I have ever read, and a statement born over three-hundred years ago, says it all:
You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it in himself.
That quote, mind you, from the great–though at the time deemed insane–Galileo. There is little else that holds as much truth to me as that statement.
As this year has continued and I was so graced by such recognition from my students as was my role-model Professor Ackerman in college I can not help but ponder what exactly I have instilled in my students. In college, the professor passed along passion for finance, energy for extra-curricular events, as well as an undeniably positive outlook on life and I was so moved by his extraordinary personality that I felt compelled to vote for him as the best teacher of the year. It was not because he taught finance better than any other professor, that–as I have mentioned–could only be something that I would one day discover and explore on my own. Instead, he was chosen for qualities that have nothing to do with being specifically professor-like but rather for exceptional qualities that any human being can possess.
What then is happening in the my middle school in South Korea?
If my own experience serves me correctly then I will assume that the honor that the students graced me with last semester has nothing if only very little to do with my abilities as a teacher. That’s correct, being voted as the best teacher in your school may have nothing at all to do with you teaching ability but rather is almost entirely based upon the energy and passion that you possess on a day-to-day basis both in and out of the classroom; it has to do with friendship and relationship building and all the qualities that are not unique to teachers and that….that is a revelation.
No matter who you are or where you work people will recognize your passion. If you love what you do or make an effort to make the best out of it by creating relationships with your 先輩 Sennpai and 後輩 Kouhai (those above and below you in rank) then you are in a course to be recognized. You will be recognized for being an outstanding and motivated human being and that is all that matters…or is it?
Teaching vs Playing
Yet the final note is that no matter how personable the teacher is their job is still to teach the students the subject at hand. What good is any so-called teacher if they cannot complete the job which they are meant to fulfill, correct? I agree, partly. Only partly because not for all the money in the world can I tell you what I learned in science class in 10th grade (let alone the name of the teacher!). Life happens and what remains after school is over are short memories and grown-ups. The best thing that teachers can do is to remain the catalysts of mental development and the bedrock for the students’ creativity and inquisitiveness.
My students are excited to be in my class. In the end it may be only because they think I’m cute, sure, but the truth is that they can feel the energy. The English language is not the most exciting thing to study (especially for a 13 year-old in Korea) so I make it exciting and dynamic and remember that what I wanted to do or be at 13 has no correlation whatsoever with my life path today.
“Connecting the World Through Language Exploration” is the motto of this blog and as an English teacher in South Korea, nothing can personify that motto more than when students run into my classroom early and yell “Good morning!” at the top of their lungs.
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