Papa Park’s tough love on volunteer teaching
This post is an excerpt from Nancy Park’s blog, a WorldTeach Colombia 2015-2016 volunteer. See below for the link to more of her blog posts.
Back in August, about a month into teaching, I was skyping with my dad, venting about the difficult time I had been having.
He was good enough to indulge me and listen first. He had also grown up in a poor neighborhood as a child, in rural South Korea. He was the only person in his family to finish high school, and first in his town to ever go to college. He was the exception I dream about for my students. He found relatable the most unrelatable classroom experiences I was having, and empathized generously, saying he knew exactly how chaotic it all must be.
…Before dishing out the kind of tough love that no one but your own parent could:
“You must realize, it’s silly to be frustrated, and even a bit pretentious. You’re not a teacher. You had 3 weeks of training and that was to save you from drowning, not to make you an exceptional swimmer. There are others who have trained for longer and are much more qualified to be here. So don’t think you have amazing skills to offer and that it’s these kids who are standing in the way. You don’t, and they are not.
“Also, don’t expect to see the impact you’re making until much later, if ever. You’re planting seeds, not growing trees. The job requires you to give without seeing. You must believe what you’re doing matters in some way. It’s a weird chicken-or-the-egg paradox, I suppose. Either it is true, so you should believe it. Or you should believe it because it will never be true if you don’t. Either way, calm down and stop stressing over a grammar point.
“Instead, be someone who believes in them. Is patient with them. Is genuinely interested in investing in their future, so that they can do the same. Love them first. Teach them second. Frankly, these kids would’ve been just fine and life would have continued if you’d never come, so don’t run around like you’re saving a sinking ship. But while you’re not saving anything, you may be able to add something. Because you have a lot of energy to give, and you are only here for a year so you shouldn’t be burning out. But you can’t love your agenda more than the kids. It is much more important that you love them where they are, than loving where you think they should be.
“And finally, the reality is that you will learn more than you teach. Instead of getting upset, channel your energy into asking why, then asking why again and again until you get to the absolute root of things. Study the world around you. The machine is too big for your frustration, and you certainly can’t solve it in a year. The more productive, reasonable thing to do would be for you to learn it. So you can maybe help solve it later.
“I love you, by the way. And I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks, appa. I love you too.”
Check out other posts from Nancy’s blog here as she talks about teaching, traveling, the meaning of life and more.