This week the first semester finally ended. The week was marked by the usual end of term events including a whole staff Teachers’ Dinner.
My school is so large that usually Teachers’ Dinners are held by grade or subject. But once a semester, the whole staff goes out en masse for an evening of alcohol-fuelled festivities. The menu is usually duck, because unfortunately for the ducks, they are cheap.
I suspected that since I was leaving the school, I would probably have to make a farewell speech of some sort. I consulted a Korean friend for appropriate things to say, and practised saying them in Korean.
The big day came. The restaurant was huge and my staff filled it to bursting. As the duck was already simmering away when we arrived, I assumed we would be eating before all the speeches. An older, well-respected teacher was retiring, and 2 other teachers besides me were leaving, so I anticipated a lot of speeches.
Everyone jumped to their feet and clapped when the principal arrived, and then we all settled down for some serious eating. #3 stood up and began speaking into a mic. Nobody listened.
I had just taken a large bite of some frondy green salad when I heard my name. I looked up to find everyone staring at me expectantly.
“Go! Carrie-teacher! Go, go!” my co-T hissed frantically, pushing me to my feet.
“What, now?” I gasped over the mouthful of salad.
I went. As I made my way to the front of the room, I tried surreptitiously to feel if I had any salad fronds stuck in my teeth. The principal was talking about me, all lovely things I’m sure. The only thing I understood was that I had worked at the school for 2 years. He finished speaking as I arrived at the front. I bowed politely, wondering what I was supposed to be doing. He bowed back, beamed at me, and handed me the mic.
And that’s when I realized my speech was in my purse. My purse that was all the way on the other side of the room. Ack.
Now I realize that I am a teacher, and a language teacher at that. Talking is my job, and not to toot my own horn but I am very good at talking. I could talk the hind leg off of a mule. 😀 But public speaking turns me into a quivering mass of uselessness. I turn a sickly shade of green and spew nonsense at speeds that would put auctioneers to shame.
“Small words!” #3 said, as she whacked me on the back in what she must have considered an encouraging manner.
Oh dear. I looked out at the sea of expectant faces and felt ill. Gulp.
“Anyeonghaseyo!” I said, deciding to start with ‘Hello!’ in Korean.
Cheers and loud clapping was the response. Encouraged, I continued.
“I want to say thank you…”
More cheers and clapping interrupted me. I could see teachers muttering “thank you” to each other, visibly proud that they had understood.
“… thank you to everyone…”
More clapping and muttering of pleased understanding.
“… for being so kind,” I paused in expectation of cheers and applause. I was getting the hang of this speech thing.
The applause was just as loud but I could see that ‘kind’ had puzzled them.
“Kind,” I repeated, placing my hand over my heart. “…so very, very kind…”
Delighted applause and cheers as everyone placed their hands over their hearts as well. I was beginning to think I should give up teaching and devote my life to giving inspirational speeches when what felt suspiciously like tears began to fill my eyes. Uh oh. My mind went blank. What else could I say?
“Korea is a wonderful country!” I blurted out inanely. “And you are all wonderful people!”
And then, to my utter mortification, I burst into tears. There was a startled pause, and then the crowd went wild. I got a standing ovation. Talk about leaving a lasting impression…
I was presented with a beautifully wrapped gift and finally allowed to sit down.
“Silver is very good for health,” my co-T told me.
“And turns black if someone puts poison in your food!” added another co-T.
“Oh. Wow. Thanks!” I replied, startled. Was poison something I needed to worry about?
The party went on into the wee hours. As the alcohol flowed, and people became more courageous I was approached by staff members I had never seen before.
“Carrie-teacher!” they would cry, like we were long-lost friends. “I will miss you!”
“I will miss you too!” I felt obliged to reply, even though I didn’t know who they were. We would share a drink, smile at each other, and then they would stagger off to share a drink with someone else.
It warmed the cockles of my heart to know that I will be missed by complete strangers.
Next year, when I’m a penniless grad student, I will eat my macaroni and cheese with my silver chopsticks and remember the good times I had in Korea. 😀