Fortunately, I didn't have a lot of time to be homesick. I had to pull myself together and get ready for work so I could look like the cookie-cutter white American the parents pay good money to parade in front of their children. I got dressed, stopped at my favorite Paris Baguette to get a snack, and headed in to see my babies.
The kids arrived shortly after I did, and my new co-teacher and I got them all set up for their final dress rehearsal. They look crazy-cute in their costumes, so I snapped a few pictures of them before we headed down to the gym.
And then when we got to the gym, I, uh... went a little crazy with the pictures. I won't make you look at all of them; I know that they're my munchkins and therefore I'm the only one who really wants to look at a hundred pictures of them standing on a stage, but I'm still going to make you look at some because it's my blog and I do what I want.
After the rehearsal, the kids and I returned to the room to kill time while the parents arrived and took their seats. I had set out some pictures for the kids to color in case the parents came in to check on them, but it quickly became apparent that no one really cared what we were doing. So we did this:
When the time finally came to herd my tiny people down to the stage, we lined up and marched to the gym. They took the stage while I manned the music, and they performed their concert so very well. I made videos of, um, all the songs, but yet again, I know that no one else is as obsessed with them as I am, so I'll only post one.
In case you're curious, they're signing along to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, courtesy of yours truly (and some help from Rosie since I'm not actually that good at ASL). We've been practicing it for the last three months, and they were spectacular. They did a wonderful job on all their songs, and I was so ridiculously proud of them.
After the concert, the parents provided food and drinks, and we all stood around to "mingle." I don't know if you've ever tried to mingle with a room full of people who don't speak a lot of English, but it's a tiny bit challenging. Basically, Kelly and I stood huddled together, watching the kids stuff their faces with sugar then run laps around the building. In the middle of the dinner, the mommies presented me with a present. They gave me some crazy expensive shampoo and conditioner, a gift certificate to a mall I can hardly afford to stand next to, and a hand-made card from the kids. The card contained a message from each of my babies...
"Ms. Nikki sorry for not listening to you. Robin"
"To. Ms. Nikki, I wish you could have a merry christmas. I love you. from Sun"
"Nikki Teacher Merry Christmas I love you Nikki. Because, I love present and singing to. from: EunYool"
"Dear Miss Nikki, you great and I presheted (translation: appreciate) you and Merry Christmas. evelyn"
"To Miss Nikki, can you wear red coat that I will be really happy and I will say wow to you. Brian"
"Dear Ms. Nikki. You are a good American and you are a good teacher. from David"
Can you guess which present I loved the most? I might have started crying. Okay, so I cried a lot. You would have too.
Warning: this post is about to get stupid sappy. Stop reading if you have a weak stomach.
As you've read in my last few posts, I've not been having the best time the past few weeks. I still love my life here (for the most part), but things have gotten kind of hard. I didn't expect to have to defend my character to the woman who hired me. I didn't expect to get to the point where seeing "Procter & Gamble" on my toothpaste tube would make me tear up. And I didn't expect to have to have an evacuation bag packed just in case we got bombed. When I look ahead to my future, I always see it as a movie montage of all the high points, but I forget that real life is a lot messier than the movies. Sometimes you get really sick, and sometimes you're in a bad mood, and sometimes you get your heart broken, and sometimes you forget why you're doing any of the things you're doing at all. And then you crack a joke and one of your kids responds, "Teacher, are you being facetious?" - because you taught him that word! - and it suddenly all seems worth it.
Teaching is really hard. I knew that when I was in the thick of student teaching, and that's why I gave up on it. If you look back on my journal from that semester, you can literally watch my spirit die as the weeks progress, and there's a letter at the end to the Eaton High School class of 2008 that blames them wholeheartedly for killing my dream of wanting to be a teacher. Aside from clearly being too melodramatic for my own good, I truly thought that would be the end of my attempt at being an educator. I've known a lot of people to judge teachers for having such "easy" jobs, but being responsible for the psychological and emotional well-being of dozens of children is a ridiculously daunting task. Unless you've actually spent time in a classroom, I don't think you can really know how frustrating and maddening and discouraging it can be to listen to yourself say the same things over and over and over and over until you're not sure if "getyourfingeroutofyournose" is actually a sentence.
But teaching is also the most rewarding job I could possibly imagine.
When the kids were on the stage, every parent in the audience had a camera zoomed in on one individual kid, but I stood in the back and watched them all. I knew which ones shimmied the best during "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and which ones would giggle when they tried to say their lines. I knew which ones couldn't keep their costumes from falling off to save their lives and which ones always slipped in their tap shoes. The parents each had one child to be proud of, but I had eleven. Every single one of those kids on that stage made me so ridiculously proud tonight, and I can't imagine ever dedicating my life to anything other than this. I'll say it again: teaching is hard. It's harder than you can possibly imagine to give every part of yourself to a room full of typically ungrateful little kids. It's frustrating to spend weeks trying to convince your kids it's a "quarter" not a "quater" then have to defend your own credentials to someone who has never spent even a full minute watching you teach. But the high I'm on from watching those kids tonight could get me through a dozen unfounded accusations from my crazy boss. Yeah, I deal with a lot of crap here. But this is what I see every morning when I come in:
and that makes it all worth it.
One last thought. People always talk about how you don't fully understand God's love for his children until you have children of your own. I kind of always put that in the "I'll experience that later" file in my mind, hoping that one day I'd understand what people meant by that. Tonight I think I got a little glimpse of it. If the way I love these children isn't even close to how much their parents love them, and in turn that's insignificant compared to how much my God loves me... then I'm humbled beyond words at how much I'm adored. If looking at those little faces can literally bring joyful tears to my eyes, then how much more am I loved by the God who designed and created me? It'll take a whole lifetime to understand it, I think, but I know it's beautiful.