Paul Steffan: Education of a Teacher

At the end of this teaching life all I will have is what I've left behind of me. 

Day 1: September 1996
Seoul, South Korea--Sang Shin Middle School


To say I was underprepared would be an understatement. No need to put adjectives such as woefully, very, shockingly, or even sadly. Change the word to unprepared. Just realize that a undergraduate degree does not make one a teacher. You can fly over to a new land, but there is no way, even with the best of intentions, that a native speaker of English understands the ins and outs of English language instruction. When I walked into my first class on the first day with Mr. Lee, the senior teacher and the head of the English department (by all accounts virtue of his age, not his expertise) he has a warped, thick tree branch in his hand. It was the length of a child's sword. The all boys Grade 7 class was rowdy. Students up, students down, shouting across the room. He walked in with me following. Pressed suit, mine, not his. And then for every child who was up, dancing the jig of a Grade 8 boy, he promptly, without malice but with experience, hit them on the shoulder, some on the head as he bellowed in Korean all the way to the front with me following. Some ducked, some feigned injury, none cried. He got to the front. Rowdiness over. In the proverbial blink of the eye, he passed me the solid sword like branch and told me to "hold it." I held it.