Overwhelming

Tomorrow is my last day on ChangXing Island. I will teach three classes and then leave on the ferry at mid-afternoon. I cannot really describe how I feel but I will try. There is no doubt in my mind that I want very much to go home, to be with Grace and Michael who I have missed so much. But I am also acutely aware of what an incredibly special time this has been in my life and that makes it difficult to let go.

Today was emotionally overwhelming as I received such an outpouring of love from the children that I could barely speak. They brought me gifts and hand-made cards throughout the day, all indicating how much they love me and how much they will miss me. My favorite class, Karen’s fourth-graders, gave me applause as I entered the room (I’m sure Karen helped engineer that :-). This being a special session, I opted to just sing songs. We sang Wheels on the Bus which they have sung many times and then I introduced two other songs – Hello and Big Nose. Big Nose has been a hit with the second-graders for many weeks but I had not tried it with the older kids. They liked it a lot; especially when I put on the funny glasses-with-big-nose-attached near the end of the song. I let them each have a turn at trying on the glasses and they laughed every time someone put them on.

Earlier in the week I had written a goodbye letter to the kids and that task helped me realize just how much I have become attached to these children. I found myself misty-eyed while writing it. Since I think it may help you understand why what is happening here is so special for me, here is the letter:

Dear Students of Grade 4,

I will be leaving ChangXing Island on Thursday, November 27th and going back home to the USA. I am excited to see my wife and son again but I am sad to say goodbye to you. Being your teacher has been a great pleasure for me. I have gotten to know you over the last three months and to learn how special you are. I love you all and will miss you very much.

I hope I will get to see at least some of you again some day. Perhaps you can come and visit me in the USA or perhaps I will come back to ChangXing to visit you. I will never forget you and the gift you have given me. The gift I mean is your friendship and your respect. I have so enjoyed teaching you and answering your many questions in the hallway. I have said “Hello” and “Good Morning” many, many times while I’ve been here, but I never got tired of doing it. I want to leave you with ten things to think about:

  1. You are very special. I know this is true, and I hope you remember it always.
  2. China is a great country and you are the future of China. Be proud of your country, be proud of your school, and be proud of yourself.
  3. We all need each other in this world. Remember to love each other as you love yourself. Do something nice for someone every day if you can.
  4. Take care of your environment the way you take care of your school. There are so many people now, it’s important for us to be gentle to the earth.
  5. Remember that learning is the key to a better future. Work hard at your studies, ask questions about things and never stop learning.
  6. Respect and listen to your teachers. They are here to help you become valuable, happy citizens. I know that they love you and want you to succeed.
  7. Be creative in your thinking. We teachers can tell you what we know and that will help you grow. But you will discover your own truths about the world and you should trust your own ideas. Use them to make the world a better place.
  8. Learn about other people and countries. My stay in China has taught me so much about China and helped me to understand its people much better.
  9. Take care of your health. Don’t eat too many sweets and don’t smoke cigarettes.
  10. Have fun. Remember to always find time to just have some fun!

If you want to write to me, you can send email to johnmillspa@gmail.com and I will write back to you. Of course, you will need to use English for this!

Teacher John

My second-graders got a simplified version of this letter and Karen is ensuring that all seven classrooms where I have taught will have it posted on their bulletin boards.

After we sang all the songs and had fun trying on the funny glasses, we took several group photos and I enjoyed the way the kids huddled around me, wanting to be close. With only a few minutes of class left, Karen told me that some of the kids had some things they wanted to say. As hands were raised and I called on them, each came forth and made a little speech to me that was so heartfelt I nearly cried. I can’t remember exactly what was said but lots of “I love you” and “Thank you for your words,” and “Welcome back to ChangXing Island some day”, etc. Hugging the kids has been something I’ve always wanted to do but have held back from for cultural and professional reasons. But on this occasion, I threw caution to the wind and pulled them in for big hugs. Some kids were a little uncertain about being hugged – others threw themselves into it wholeheartedly – but I had the feeling that even the nervous huggers really enjoyed it. I sure did! It was almost too wonderful to believe it was really happening. That’s part of the reason I wanted to write this post tonight, even though I’m really beat and have another emotional day ahead of me tomorrow. I want to make sure I never forget what that classroom was like today.

After the children left, Karen and I were talking about what had happened. She told me that she had read my goodbye letter to them this morning, translating for them where necessary. She said that many kids were actually crying. I know their affection for me is real and that they will truly miss me, but I suspect the cause for tears is more about hearing that someone cares so much about them. I don’t think I love them or care about them any more than their Chinese teachers do: I know that Karen loves them very much and they know that too. But I think my special situation of being a teacher, but not really a teacher, gave me license to say some things that a regular teacher might feel uncomfortable saying. So I’m so glad I said them.

As I have written this post, I’ve felt like I may be being a bit immodest. If I have sinned in this direction, I beg your indulgence. My objective is simply to share with you the joy that these beautiful young people have brought me.

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