I have a student named Sam.
Sam is in my advanced ESL class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He wears a very smart private school uniform and gives about 75% effort on good days. I was getting a bit frustrated with the fact that he always seems to be borderline too exhausted to work in my class. As many public school teachers may know, tiredness is often synonymous with laziness or boredom. However, I am required to get through these lessons all the same.
So, I asked him the other day, “Sam, are you tired?” His nodding head lingered precariously over his desk, as though sleep were an inevitability rather than an option. It bobbed up for a moment as he replied, “Yes teacher, very tired.”
I asked: “Do you go to school before this?” “Yes teacher. From 8-4.”
I continued: “Do you go home after that?” “No, to another academy.”
I pressed onward: “When do you eat?” “On the bus.”
My response, “Oh… wow!” So this boy literally goes to school from 8AM until 9PM (his last class with me). And I am left feeling moderately guilty. Luckily for my students I am not above assuaging my own guilt by distributing mass amounts of candy.
To conclude, the dramatic emphasis on education prevalent in Korean culture is definitely not an over-exaggeration.
This interaction caused me to recall the quote: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
You may be frustrated, irritated, or having a rough day — but be aware that everyone else is fighting. Maybe they aren’t fighting for their lives and their enemy is merely fatigue, but it’s easy to lend a smile, a bit of sympathy (and candy).