Can’t isn’t a word I say very often. When it comes to pairing “I” with “can’t,” I won’t speak.
Then I started teaching.
Teaching English to rooms of children who it seems are unwilling to listen, to learn or to try. I’m a 14-hour plane ride from my friends, family, peers and mentors. My support group sleeps when I wake and wakes when I sleep.
Suddenly the inability to accomplish a task is a reality.
Once the overwhelming experience that is any introduction to Asia passed, I found myself in a crash course on teaching. And Korean everything—language, culture—the second I walk outside I’m tested on my limited knowledge.
However my knowledge has been tested in ways I never expected. I have been teaching to the best of my ability in the way I thought best for my respective classes. Less than a month in, I received complaints.
Regardless of cultural differences, I had messed up. I apologized and tried to adjust. I set to immediately altering my lesson plans and teaching style.
The same day I learned of the complaints, I had told Manfriend I thought it best if we talked, “only when our internet paths cross.” The teaching, the children, the parents, the complaints, the preparation were more than overwhelming addition to another stressful conversation with him.
The world was getting to be too much and I started to panic. I thought I might lose my job. I thought about what I would do if I were fired. I finally calmed down enough to review my contract and realize I won’t be fired for two complaints one month in, but I was still worried.
The panic was there in a tiny corner of my brain—the part of me that constantly plans for the worst possible outcome was and is busy planning away.
The next day I pushed away the panic and confronted teaching. I knew I would disappoint my students by taking away activities we had planned. A punishment they didn’t deserve and were most likely confused by although I tried to explain without complaining. (A lesson in tact I assure you.)
Just before class began for the day, I asked Mina to look at a test I had prepared for a class we teach together. She looked at it and said, “This is good, but usually we give them more pages.”
I said, “Okay.” I took the test back and started adding more exercises. But somehow I was sure she knew the parents had complained about me and this was her way of trying to help.
In seconds I felt my eyes begin to water and my mouth tremble. I stood up and walked to the bathroom as quickly as possible.
I stood looking out a small window at a small square of sky with the rectangular buildings that are the skyline of Chungju poking the gray and fog. I cried. I cried for myself, for the challenges I faced to get here and the troubles I’ve had since arriving. I thought, “I can’t. I can’t do this. I can’t teach.”
Then I tried my best to look like I hadn’t been crying. I straightened my dress, finger combed my hair and washed my face. Then I went back to the office to finish writing a test.
And now I don’t know what to do.