10/14/2010: My story as a teacher
To start, writing this is difficult for me. I really wanted to do something else, like playing a little bit of computer games. I’m still struggling, but I am getting closer to freedom. This is a long, and I think happiest, chapter of my life. My spirit is telling me to worship God, to spend more time with Him, while my body is telling me to play games and enjoy myself. I may do both, knowing that I cannot worship both God and games. This discovery, or story, will be reedited and will have many add-ons as I remember my memories. Thus, it will take a while to get this published, or maybe I can just publish it and edit it if I have a newer version. In computers, this is called patching, in journal writing, maybe it’s called revising.
After my failure at nursing school at East LA college, I told my dad that I now wanted to be a teacher. I find that as I grow in God and experience new things, I learn and see more about myself. I grow more confident of my abilities, more aware of myself, and things I previously thought impossible is possible. Before, I thought being a social worker, although it is very appealing to me, as impossible. I can’t speak very well, I stutter, I’m not very conversational, I don’t have social skills, I don’t have friends, I don’t know enough of this world to help people or myself :(, etc. So, I crossed out “social worker” early in my life because I felt diffident about my abilities. Now, as I grow more in God and life, I grow more confident (Phil. 4:13), and decided that being a social worker would be more perfect for me. The more I know about myself and the more I trust in God, the closer I get to my dream job, my career bull’s-eye.
My dad believed it is always important to not only get the education for the career, but also to gain some practical experience, if only to look good when applying for a career-related job. Before I joined the nursing school, I volunteered at a local hospital, the San Gabriel Valley Medical Center. Then, I went to PCC and took the nursing assistant class so I can be certified as a CNA. As I wrote in my last story (my story as a nurse), I didn’t finish the class because I was too afraid. I didn’t have a solid enough relationship with God back then to carry me through life. Now, since I wanted to be a teacher, my parents encouraged me to find a teaching job so I can gain more experience and see if it really is a job for me.
This time, my mom helped me out. My mom noticed an education center just a block away from my house called “SINWA Education Institute.” Wow, my mom is a lot more aware of her surroundings than me. All this time I’ve been living here, I never knew an education center behind Papa John’s. We planned for a day to come in, impromptu and all, and the day came.
I remember my first feelings. I was afraid, nervous, and scared. I’m afraid that whoever the manager is would reject me outright. I’m glad I didn’t go in alone; what I feared might actually happen. One thing that comforted me and gave me courage is that my mom is going with me and I know she’s excellent with people. She calmed me down and told me to just trust in God. “God will take care of everything,” she said. I remember praying with her right before going in. Getting out of the car (my mom suggested walking, but I was too nervous to show myself to the world), ringing the doorbell, and getting inside the classroom is equivalent to the invasion of Normandy for me. The principal, Mrs. Wu, greeted us and my mom exchanged friendly greetings. I said “hello” and smiled. I can be very warm with people, but it takes time and at that time, I was afraid to show myself completely. I never been to an interview, the one at McDonalds doesn’t count because I had 100% confidence I could land the job, anyone can get into that job, right (that was how I thought back then)? Now, in this proper interview, I had no idea how to act, so I acted reserved but friendly. I think I remember being a little more relaxed after the prayer. I felt a new sense of confidence and assurance, but, I was still nervous.
My mom and Mrs. Wu connected almost immediately. They started talking about their lives, experiences, as well as my life and experiences. Then, they started talking in Taiwanese! I had no idea what they were saying. Are they talking bad about me, etc? I remember myself talking to Mrs. Wu, too, and telling her why I wanted this job. I forgot what I said though. I also met Mr. Wu, her husband and the assistant principal. From their first impressions, they were very nice and cordial to me. Mrs. Wu told me I should volunteer first to get some experience. I agreed immediately. I’m just so happy to get experience working with children! She told me she would have to conduct some background checks and other clearances before I can actually start my job as a tutor. I had to go through the same when working as a nurse, so I understood the concept. I think from her first impression, she saw me as a kind, although a bit nervous, trustworthy person. I am to start next Monday, so I have the rest of the week to prepare myself. When my mom and I walked out of the education center, I beamed a smile at her and told her thank you. I was so happy at the success and miracle. It was much better than my best expectations. God is such a wonderful, loving God, the God who gives me second chances.
The day as a tutor-intern came. I am to come at 2:45pm. As always, I was scared, shy, and nervous. What will the children think about me? How many will there be? Will I be able to get along and teach them effectively? I walked in the noisy classroom. Mrs. Wu was at the door and greeted me. I looked at the classroom and was surprised to see that there is no tutor. All the students were just doing their homework by themselves. Mrs. Wu’s office desk is at the south-west corner of the room, so there was some control at the noise. I see mostly elementary school level students. Some of them are doing their homework; others are talking with their classmates. When I first walked in, I was expecting an “all eyes on me” type entrance. However, I was relieved when only a few looked up at me. After a brief discourse, Mrs. Wu then announced to the class that I would be their new tutor. “Okay everybody [clap] [clap], here is your new tutor, Steven, and he will help you on your homework. If you have any questions, raise your hand and Steven will come and help you. Steven, would you like to introduce yourself to the class?” I was taken aback at her sudden introduction and wasn’t prepared to be discovered yet. While slowly walking to the front of the class, I smiled, waved my hands at everybody and said, “hello everyone. I’m Steven Yeh and I will be your new tutor. I am 19 years old and I finished high school.” Seriously, I didn’t know what to say and I stuttered a bit at first. I’m not used to having people, even children, stare at me. I became very shy, but nice and polite to everybody. I also, for the first few months, never stopped smiling. After a while, the kids told me why am I always smiling? A girl told me I was scaring her. I told them I am just very happy to be with you guys and help. Being with children always seems to make me very happy. There is something about the innocence and naturalness of children that I’m allured to. Maybe I have it too. I think if the whole world were like them (the good side), the world would be a much better place. The kids convinced me to stop smiling so much because I was scaring them, so I tried to look normal. However, throughout my job as a tutor, I would frequently go to a private place and just smile broadly because I can’t help it! I just feel so happy to be with children and to help them. I am just so happy to be with God’s people, my reference to children (Matt. 18:3, 19:14, 18:10).
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14
In the beginning, I just stood watching kids do their homework and waiting for a hand to come up. Then, I would ask the students who were talking to do their homework. They looked at me with fearful eyes and obeyed. Initially, they would be fearful of me, naturally, because I am a stranger to them, but after a week, the children start to warm up to me. They became less afraid. A few took a month, and I remember a girl, in third-grade, who never really trusted me. S (first initial of her name, to protect privacy) would always be silent to her peers and to me, quietly do her homework, and ignore everything else. Even if she made mistakes on her paper, or doesn’t know how to do something, she wouldn’t ask for help. She would just sit there, head down, looking at her paper. I have to make my rounds and observe that she needs help. And, when I explained the concept to her, she wouldn’t ask any questions! She would look at me with her fearful eyes, make a slight nod and get back to her work. I checked her work afterwards and many times, she actually understood what I was telling her. After a while, I wouldn’t go so near her if I wasn’t checking her work because she tenses up every time I was close. Personally, I believe she might be a victim of child abuse. I saw her dad (her parents divorced) and he looked scary, with a full beard, grey-white hair, wrinkled skin, and other complexion. It seems strange, but at that time, I didn’t take any action. I was afraid and what if I was wrong? Every time I talk to S, as with most of my students, I would kneel down to her eye-level, and talk gently and softly to her. She’s afraid of people, so I need to gain her trust first, but, I never did. I remember praying for her and asking Jesus to heal her. I don’t remember if I ever talk to her about Jesus or not. There was a few times when she actually talked to me and asked questions, but that was rare. And, lastly, I never remembered her laughing or even smiling.
After a few days of volunteering as a tutor, my boss, Mrs. Wu, told me I am spending too much time with the wrong students. She took a blank sheet of paper and wrote a list of children’s names starting with those that need the most help. She told me if I were to become a teacher, I need to have a plan. I need to identify who needs help and who doesn’t. She wrote about sixteen names and I used it as a guide. Later on, I used the list as a prayer list and added new names when new students come. My original plan was to use the list to pray for my students every day, but after awhile, I never sticked to the plan. I would start to pray for them and then I became lazy and stopped. I only prayed for my students from time to time, not daily, and it was a mistake I made. Had I prayed for my students daily, many of them would have gone closer to God.
Mrs. Wu told me that once I start teaching summer school (I started volunteering in May), I will get paid. To be honest, I was going to tell her that it’s fine, that I’ll do it for free. Teaching and helping children is so fun that I’m willing to do it for free. In fact, I may even consider paying to do this. I finally found a job where I’m not working, but playing.
I thought at first that teaching the kids would be one-way: they raise their hands, and I give them the knowledge. What I discovered later on was that the kids are teaching me too. In fact, it seems every day when I go to teach, they are teaching me more than what I’m teaching them. I may teach them math, English, science, etc, but they are teaching me life skills: how to get along with people, the experience of being and talking to people. Plus, when teaching them, I also learn some of these basic subjects, too. I remember opening up a student’s algebra book and reading the content and “reviewing” myself before actually teaching him. I just look at the examples and quickly remembered what to do. I don’t want to look dumb in front of my students, so I would just quickly go over the lesson and teach. If I still don’t know, I would tell the truth to him but tell him that I would get back to him on this tomorrow. Sometimes however, the truth is too hard because it makes me look like a dumbass so I would be mean to cover myself. It’s sad, and looking back, I should have just told the truth 100% of the time. I would also take pictures of the algebra book (I still have them!), page-by-page, and then look through it once I get home. That way, for his next math lesson, I would know what to do.
Back in that lonely time of my life, I had no friends. No friends in college (PCC), no friends in church (I mean no close friends), just, no close friends in my life. So, when I began working, and throughout my short career, they became my friends. I would joke with them, make them laugh, talk about my life when I was a child, etc, and they would tell me their stories, and their “secrets.” One girl, C, in first-grade, would always raise her hand just so she can talk to me. For the longest time, I though she really needed help, but then Mrs. Wu told me, “Can’t you see, she’s using you. She knows how to do her homework. You help someone else,” and she came up to C and scolded her about wasting my precious time. In truth, although she may pretend to not know how to do something (she seems she really doesn’t know), I still enjoyed teaching and talking to her. Often, she would gesture with her hands for me to come forward and then, making a cup with her hands and holding it to her mouth, she would whisper in my ear a “secret.” I would listen attentively and tell her I won’t tell anyone. I never did, and, now, I forgot all of her “secrets.”
As I continue teaching and tutoring, I began to grow afraid because I am becoming like them. I’m not sure if other elementary or middle-school teachers have this problem, but I feel myself reverting to a child again. If I were to go back in time, to fifth-grade, but with the same brain, I would more likely than not act like I was in fifth grade. If I took the pill Detective Conan took, I may actually act like a child. It would be hard for me to go against the flow and resist.
I feel, looking back, that me being with children and teaching them is a wonderful gift from God. My childhood has been altered and messed with due to my ADHD Ritalin pill. I don’t remember most of my childhood life. Now, at 19 and working at a tutoring center, I feel God is healing my childhood by giving me experiences with children that I never had. Their memories and experiences became part of my memories and experiences. For that, I am very grateful for the wonderful gift God has given me. It reminds me that He is faithful and does all things well.
You know, from now on, I’m going to share my stories not chronologically, but individually, through each student. Every one of my students has a story to share.
Right now, I am on guard duty with Sgt. Rivera. Normally, I would feel tired, but I feel the Lord giving me some additional strength lately. Praise the Lord. Sgt. Rivera is currently taking child psychology and writing her final essay. Curiously, I decided to skim through her textbook. The book is filled with theories and viewpoints. Inside me, I already know a lot about children because the Bible teaches me about people. I feel the best theory, no, the truth, comes from the knowledge of God through His Word. With my Bible, I understand almost everything. I skimmed and saw one topic that interested me: “Morality, Altruism, and Aggression.” I looked through the chapter and especially Kohlberg’s theory of moral development. In it, I found that conscience comes from God, and those who learn God’s ways tend to be in the later stages. I immediately remembered my method of teaching children about morality during my tutoring years. It was then when I wanted to tell my story as a teacher through the stories each of my students gave me.
When I discipline my students (I call them my “children”) or teaching them right from wrong, I tried to invoke their God-given conscience. I believe that every child, deep inside, knows right from wrong. I have a seventh-grader at that time, named Brian, who always gets into trouble by hurting people. He’s very smart; he’s taking algebra at that time; but he also does evil things. He would cuss, make fun of, and insult at fellow students, especially students younger than him. He would throw stuff at them, or do evil pranks that make other students cry. For a time, I asked Mrs. Wu to remove him because he’s being such a troublemaker, however, probably due to money and her mother being involved in transporting students to our center, my boss resisted. This is sad. Every time he gets in trouble, which is, in my memory, everyday, I would always try to appeal to his conscience. I remember despite his evil, I am always still loving, kind, forgiving, but also just to him.
Every time he does evil, I always ask, “Brain, why are you doing this?”
“Because it’s fun,” Brain would reply.
“I know its fun. It’s fun for you, but it’s not fun for them” I said.
Sometimes, then, he would say that I’m wrong; that the other party also has fun when he’s doing things to them. To that, I ask questions. I want him to see that the other side is not having fun.
“How is he having fun?” I asked. “Look, he’s crying” or “See, he’s sad. He doesn’t want you to bother him.”
That usually is enough to stop his self-justification. Then, I would continue.
“Brain, you know hurting others is wrong. You need to do the right thing.”
And then he could complain, even try to dispute that he’s wrong, but I feel deep inside, he knows what’s right and wrong.
I try to teach my children stage 6 of Kohlberg’s theory of moral development. I dislike punishing them like giving them time-outs, being mean to them, withholding love, etc, because these methods don’t teach them the real reason to do good. They should do good because it is the right thing to do. And, I call them my “children” because God has entrusted me these kids for a period of time. They are my children from 2:30 to 5pm.
There’s a cartoon from my SOG’s (sergeant of the guard) textbook that I want to share with you:
Principle: [Sitting and angrily pointing his finger at kid] Ira, you will be punished if I ever catch you cheating again!
Kid: Yes, sir.
Kid: [to teacher] Mr. Grimmis wants me to cheat more carefully.
Ha! Lol. I think it’s funny, but I think it also teaches an important lesson. If we don’t invoke their conscience, the real reason why to do the right thing, these kids will never learn it. They will learn not to do wrong things not because it’s wrong, but so they won’t get into trouble. Martin Luther King Jr. said in a sermon that our society is changing from a conscience-based society to a punish-based one:
“Midnight is the hour when men desperately seek to obey the eleventh commandment, ‘Thou shalt not get caught.’ According to the ethic of midnight the cardinal sin is to be caught and the cardinal virtue is to get by. It is all right to lie, but one must lie with real finesse. It is all right to steal, if one is so dignified that, if caught, the charge becomes embezzlement, not robbery. It is permissible even to hate, if one so dresses his hating in the garments of love that hating appears to be loving. The Darwinian concept of the survival of the fittest has been substituted by a philosophy of the survival of the slickest. This mentality has brought a tragic breakdown of moral standards, and the midnight of moral degeneration deepens.”
If we don’t teach kids right and wrong, the real reason why to do good and the real reason why not to do evil, then kids will eventually adopt the survival of the “slickest.” They can do evil as long as they don’t’ get caught.
For Brian, I wanted to change him to become a better person. Working hours is not enough time so I played tennis with him and gave him my number so he can call me in case he needs help on his homework. I want to be an example of love and kindness. I want to be a role-model to him.
I got some stories to tell. There are times when I talked to him on the phone for more than an hour helping him on his essay. I joked with him and talked nicely to him. I want to be a friend as well as his mentor. I remember going to my computer, helping him find information, going to my family’s encyclopedia collection, to alternating in the kitchen talking to him. After the conversation, my dad would often ask who called me. I told him I was helping one of my students. My dad, however, would rebuke me for wasting my time on others. I disagree, however. I want to spend my time to help others because it’s the right thing to do. My purpose in life is to help people.
And then there are the tennis games. Sometimes we would play at Washington School, other times at Garvy Park (by Hellman Ave.). Although I played better than him, I still suck too. I remember seeing his disappointment when I kept hitting the net when serving or taking my first or second shot. I remember waiting for a long time, with my bicycle and tennis racket waiting for him to show up. Once, he never did, but that didn’t stop me from trying to connect with him.
Brian’s mom, as I said before, helped to transport some of my students to the center. I told her many times about her son’s bad behavior but, in the end, she told me she tried to do everything to help him but failed. She asked me to help her by helping him. I realized their family is divorced. Brian doesn’t have a father and I was told that might be a cause of his aggression. Well, then, I will be a male role-model for him. Slowly, towards the end of my tutoring tenure, I sensed Brian is becoming a better person.
Unfortunately, I joined the Army before I can fully change him. The last, or second to last day in LA, I invited Brian to play tennis. He brought some of his friends along. It was there when I told him I’m joining the Army and I said good-bye. I tried to contact him once during my Christmas leave, but he didn’t answer. I hope he becomes a better person and I hope he becomes closer to God.
Work in progress….