I’m proud to say that Korea is my new home! The photo above was taken a few weeks ago in Jeonju, a traditional/historical district in Korea. While I did participate in the lion dance, the picture is not of me but of two friends instead. I guess I wasn’t good enough to have my picture taken!
My move to Korea has been the culmination of a two-year long process involving much prayer, research, preparation, and counsel from others. If you’ve been in my life over the past two years, you may have been a part of this process! While it is difficult to summarize all of my reasons for moving overseas, I can at the very least try to give you an idea.
I’ve only been a teacher in a low-income school for four years, but sometimes it can feel like too long, I’ve started the school year with no supplies, no curriculum, and no principal. I’ve walked into my classroom to discover it had been trashed by “construction crews” the night before. I’ve sent thirsty children to get water, only to discover that the fountains don’t work and the water from the classroom sink runs yellow. I’ve taught over 30 students by myself at one time, watched children with learning disabilities sit in classrooms for years without receiving help, given paperwork for parents to sign that makes them believe their child is getting extra support when no such thing is happening, and seen countless children pushed onto the next grade when they don’t even know how to write their name.
I’ve spent nights weeping after laboring to the point of insanity to do everything in my capacity that I could possibly do, and it still wasn’t enough. It never is enough.
And then I read the words of Jesus in Revelation, “Behold I am making all things new,” and it hurts. It hurts because it is easier for me to believe in the brokenness of our systems than it is for me to believe in the power of God to protect our children from the evil at work in this world. It is easier for me to believe that the world is corrupt than to believe it is being renewed. It is easier for me to see the tears of a six-year-old child because they cannot pass a standardized test, than it is for me to see the fullness of who they are, a fullness that even the worst systems in the world could never take away.
We held a “testing rally” on Friday that was quite possibly the most depressing experience of my year. The purpose of the rally was to get kids “pumped up” and “excited” for testing. In preparation, my students and I created a giant poster saying, “Don’t forget the power of yet!” The poster was a reference to Janelle Monae’s Sesame Street song.
We crammed all 320+ students into our gymnasium while they listened to a small speech informing them that, “This test will decide what opportunities you have in life, and even what colleges you will go to.” A speaker came up and told the children to chant, “I am smart. I will pass!” And younger students stood to perform cheers for the older grades.
As the spectacle unfolded, a queasiness settled into the pit of my stomach. The chanting and cheering was supposed to generate excitement, but it created something of an ominous contradiction to the actual spirit of the school. A spirit of defeat. more “Do Your Best: The Lies We Tell Our Children”…
It hits me mid-lesson. Two weeks into the school year. I’ve spent the entire month of August setting up my classroom, preparing unit plans, rehearsing lessons, structuring my schedule so that everything goes just right, drilling procedures into my students day after day from the moment they arrive to the daily goodbye, and tirelessly calling parents to establish student-family connections, and then it hits me. The predictable existential crisis. I pause in the middle of a lesson and look around at the snotty-nosed, fidgety mess of little bodies playing with their shoelaces in front of me, and I think to myself, “What the heck am I doing with my life?”
Some teachers naturally love the children in their classroom. I am not one of those teachers. Each year, as I meet the new army of youngsters that I’ve been tasked with educating, I secretly stifle a feeling of dismay as I realize that I’m inexorably stuck with this brood of germs for the next ten months of my life. The summer feels eternally distant.
There are moments at the beginning of every year when I wish that I could just sit down with parents and walk them through the harrowing process that is known as Elementary Education in the state of Oklahoma. But every year I put a smile on my face and walk them through the future that I hope we can create for their children, despite all the systemic obstacles standing in their way. My hopes for a better future wage war against an enemy too monolithic to fully describe. The following is a letter written by the System regarding the future thatithas planned for our children. It is only a very small snapshot of a much larger network of systemic forces working together to destroy our children’s future.
Dear Family of _________,
Welcome to American Dream Elementary! We are honored to incorporate your child into our data. Today, we partner with you in the challenging process of permanently institutionalizing your child for the rest of its life! We understand that you have many fears and worries. Rest assured, your child is in good hands. more “What the System’s Vision for Your Child’s Education Really Looks Like”…
It was early in August. Students would not be starting for several weeks. I had spent June and July in New York on a much-needed vacation with my family after a grueling first year of teaching. Now I was back. Ready to start a new academic year. Theoretically.
I pulled into the parking lot of my school and grabbed a box from the pile of junk in the back seat. It had been two months since I’d packed up my classroom for the summer. Time to start another year. I finagled my way past the building’s rusty gate and somehow managed to open the southeast door with a few spare fingers underneath my box of supplies. more “Do low-income teachers suffer from PTSD?”…
[I do not blame the psychologist for what happened here. In many ways, she is just a cog in the machine and just as much a victim of the system as my student. The fact is that the following story is all too common. The future of children across the country gets trapped into a never-ending system of useless paperwork and ridiculous requirements that make it nearly impossible to get them help. The sad reality is that the school psychologist in this story really was, more than likely, too busy to do her job. This is a terrible injustice.]
“I’m sorry. Perhaps if it were not so late in the year, we could do something for him,” the psychologist said.
“I came to you in October with this data.” I breathed in slowly, attempting to control the tempest of rage inside of me, then breathed out.
Dante had been my student since the beginning of the year. It was now May, and he couldn’t even write his name. Information slid from his brain like butter, and he was the only student in my classroom whose test scores actually declined mid-year. Something was wrong. Perhaps a learning disability? I couldn’t know. more “Too Busy to Do Your Job”…
Teach for America gives countless surveys to their corps members. One question, in particular, always resurfaced during my two-year commitment: “I believe that one day all children will have the opportunity to achieve an excellent education. Agree or disagree?”
I took a long hiatus from the blogosphere, and I’m glad I did. When I started this blog, my intention was to create a space where people could stay updated on the things I’m thinking about and learning, but when I embarked on a masters program two years ago, I knew life was about to get very full, very fast. Taking a break from blogging was necessary. It allowed me to focus on my degree (in Education Administration) and spend time reflecting on my experiences, instead of just writing about them.
Now that my degree is complete (yay salary raise!) my hope for this blog remains the same. I want this to be a space where people can connect with my thoughts and experiences in life and benefit by reading what I have to share. Ultimately, my hope is that the kingdom of God be strengthened as a result. more “Returning, reflecting, and moving forward”…