Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sometimes the Most Challenging Things can be the Most Rewarding

Last Thursday was my last day teaching English to local Okinawan Kindergarteners. Here, children go to public kindergarten from 3-5 years old. The class I taught was an extra class offered after school. I taught two, one hour classes from 4-6 on Thursday evenings. There were 20 students in one class and 12 in the other.

Honestly, I complained about this class A LOT. Mostly because I hated the hour drive there and the hour drive back. Driving here is a stressful and annoying situation, so the long drive can really get you in a bad mood. It was also $8 round trip just to make my drive an hour instead of two.  I also complained because it wasn't as easy and blissful as I thought it would be. The idea of teaching English in a foreign country sounded like such a fun adventure. I was excited to use my teaching skills that had gotten a bit dusty after almost a year break and was excited to plan lessons again. I went to my first class with wonderful games and a perfectly planned out lesson. Let's just say it didn't go as planned. It is hard to use all of the wonderful classroom management techniques you spent hours in college learning when they don't understand a word you are saying. It is also hard to play fun games when you can't explain the directions. I hate to admit it, but I cried that first day. The image of what I had expected was completely shattered. I started to question my teaching abilities. The language barrier also upset me. I wanted to be able to understand what those adorable children were saying more than anything. I didn't like the feeling of not being in complete control of a situation. I had also never been in position where I was surrounded with people who I couldn't communicate with and I was supposed to be the one in charge. Not one person at the school spoke English and could answer the questions I had. I felt so out of place.

Things got a lot better after that first day. I knew what to expect. I learned what kinds of things worked and what didn't. I learned that getting three year olds to sit down for an hour and listen is impossible, no matter how many years you have practiced classroom management. I learned to communicate without speaking the same language. I learned to embrace the chaos and allow the sweet, innocent hearts of the Okinawan children touch my heart.

This class seriously was a struggle for me. I like to succeed, and at times I felt like I was failing. One kid would run around in the back, another group would be chatting nonstop, another was hitting someone, another was running around in the hallway. I felt like they weren't listening to me or learning. After awhile, I realized they were picking it up. They knew their colors, shapes, numbers, weather, animals, food, clothing, body parts, actions, and greetings when they came into the class knowing nothing. That's a lot! I couldn't help but smile when they could name every single picture on my flashcards.

There were hard moments. At least one child cried per class. One child even threw up. But there were also great moments. There were sweet hugs. There were fights over who got to hold my hand. They smiled and called me candy because they thought that was my name, which made me laugh every single class. The laughs and the smiles made it all worth it. I learned so much a grew so much as a teacher during my five months teaching the class.

On my last day, I was so sad to say goodbye. I was excited not to have to make that drive every week, but knowing I wasn't going to see those cute faces every week made be really sad. The parents were so sweet and gave me hugs and thanked me. They all wanted my picture with their child. They were so gracious and thankful. The cute little old lady who helped with my class was also so sweet. She gave me the biggest hug and even shed a few tears saying goodbye. It reminded me how sweet and genuine the Okinawans are. They remind me to be kinder to others and remind me of all the good in the world.

I really do believe that challenging things can be the most rewarding. They teach us so much and tell us a lot about ourselves. I will never forget my time teaching those 32 adorable children. I learned lessons that will help me in my new teaching situation. I wish I had been more thankful for the opportunity while it was happening, but when I look back, it will always be with a smile.

These pictures are a pretty accurate depiction of the chaos that ensued every.single.class.

And don't forget about this cute lithe guy


  1. Aw, these pictures make me miss working with kids.

  2. Sweet pictures and sweet memories! It's always easier to appreciate things more once you're through than when you're in the midst of it....I struggle with that myself.

  3. Hi Mackenzie,
    This was a great read. As someone so young, you have some great knowledge that you share.
    I don't even remember how I found your blog but I went to Japan as an exchange student in high school and I am enjoying reliving some parts of Japanese life through your blog. Japan is like no other, the people are so kind. Keep up the wonderful blogging and thank you for sharing your stories!

  4. I nominate you for sainthood! This had to be so hard!! I can barely understand my own toddlers, and English is their first language!!! You are amazing to push through and come out truely enjoying your time with them. And how cute are these pictures Candy? I mean Mackenzie ;)

  5. So precious! I totally understand this frustration. I have it experienced it so many times this year...from teaching English at an Italian summer camp, to teaching English to two Spanish boys, to working with more Italian children. It's such a struggle, especially at first. But it's always so tough to leave in the end because you've formed such a special relationship with them! I'm glad you have these happy pictures to help you remember the good times!

  6. I love this post! Such a beautiful farewell to a special time in your life! I know those children will remember you and your heart for them! It seems that you have such a great passion for teaching and I love how that is revealed through your sweet words above! Can't wait to hear updates on your new class!

  7. Really enjoying your blog. I was a teacher for 13 years and am now living an adventurous life with my Marine, dabbling in law enforcement and writing a book. I really hope we get stationed OCONUS one day. I am not feeling well and have been up all night in the midst of a pcs, so I've been reading your whole blog, and this is by far my favorite post. Your voice is authentic, and people can really see what teaching is like. Good luck to you guys!


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