Caveat: Farewell Song

This week I learned that a certain student had “dropped out” of Karma, for whom I felt an odd attachment.
Her English name is Gina; she is an elementary 3rd grader (moving into 4th grade).
Gina is the youngest of three sisters, and I’ve mentioned these three sisters before. Their family name is Song, and so I made a punny little rememberance in my mind, walking home from work the other day.
Song of patient worry.
The oldest sister, who goes by the English name Irene, was a 7th grader in one of the first cohorts I taught in Korea, in 2007. I vividly remember her puzzled but slightly aloof face, in the front row of that dark classroom, on the 5th floor of the northeast corner of the very first hagwon building I taught in, on first week of class, and thinking, “These kids have no idea what I’m saying.” I don’t think I ever mentioned her specifically, but she was the “quiet one” in the group of girls I eventually dubbed the “princess mafia,” which I mentioned collectively many times in my blog, starting in January, 2008. Irene is now a university student and majoring in English. I most recently saw her when she stopped by Karma shortly before we moved into our new location, last February.
Irene was the quietest of the sisters, and the most intellectual, I now realize, although at the time I thought of her more as being a daydreamer and an airhead than being studious – but I think in retrospect that it was more one of those fronts that middle-schoolers put up defensively.  She also was, as I recall, the least confident of the three, at least as a student. She was plagued by that bane of language learners, perfectionism.
Song of kind confusion.
The middle sister goes by Sunny. I taught her in 2011-2012 or so, during her late elementary years (5th and 6th grades). She was the kindest – I remember her as being one of those “teacher’s helper” type students, she was good at getting her peers to stay on task, and despite her own lack of academic interest, she was always keenly engaged in class. For Sunny, it was a social experience, though, not a learning one. She never improved in her English ability in the time I taught her – she was on a sort of plateau, with high communicative competence but chaotic grammar and pragmatics. She was kind of the mirror image of her older sister in some ways – gregarious on the outside, but not very interested in the academic side of things on the inside. I vividly remember a time when I was checking homework, and many of the students hadn’t done their homework, and Sunny said to me something like, “Teacher, aren’t you angry?” I shrugged – I have always been very laid back, especially compared to Korean standards, about student compliance with homework – especially with elementary students. Sunny’s face became grave, and she said something like, “You should be angry.” She then turned to the rest of the class, and scolded them, in Korean, on my behalf, for not doing their homework. But instead of being cold about it, she presented it as a kind of, “let’s show some class spirit, and do homework” – like a kind of pep rally.
Song of brash joy.
Gina, the youngest sister, I have taught for the last two years, through 2nd and 3rd grades. She is the most confident of the sisters (or perhaps that’s just an aspect of her being the youngest at the time I’ve known her?). She is clearly a happy and well-centered child – to the point of being a bit annoying – somewhat annoying to her teachers, but most notably annoying to her peers, who often end up feeling bullied by her. I have experienced a lot of frustration with Gina, because she would hurt other students (mostly unintentionally, I think) and create a toxic classroom environment. A while back, I wrote about her as a mini dictator. Despite all this, her intelligence and firm engagement with the learning project has led me to consider her one of my best students. Every class, she learned something new, and this was evident because she is extremely verbal, so she is constantly practicing things she’s learned or figured out, or “explaining” them to herself in her own never-ending monologue (mostly in Korean, but I get the gist of it). This monologue is another thing that makes her annoying to her peers, but as a teacher, I found it to be a fabulous resource – it told me what I was actually teaching (as opposed to that common teacher’s illusion: what I thought I was teaching).
Since these days I post videos of all my students’ speaking exercises, I have extensive video of Gina. One example is a recent short speech she gave – she is first in the video below.

So now, in the end, it’s just a Song of farewell.
picture[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

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