Since I have never been to band camp I never get to start a story with “One time in band camp. . .” so I’m going to tell you a story about a time when I was a high school English teacher. In the 7 years of teaching from 1991-1998 I have amassed some amusing stories so I might as well share them with you so we can share a laugh. The constant rain in my area is making me blue so I need a distraction.
My first job as a teacher was in Pamlico County High School. It was a 6 hour drive from my hometown but my always supportive father told me to go for it. Getting a job in December is never an easy task for teachers but someone had taken leave and not returned so there was a vacancy. For some reason, they liked me and I was hired. I have to admit I did not do any research about the community. It really didn’t matter as I liked most everyone and I had no strong ties to my own community per se. Plus it was a town by the water and that was very attractive to me.
So the first few weeks of my first year as a teacher I took time to get to know them, learn about their community and introduce myself. They asked a lot of personal questions and I tried to answer as many as was appropriate. They were especially interested in my being born in South Korea and being of mixed race. There were several students who were biracial (black/white), of Native heritage (Arapahoe) and one family who were of Korean descent even, which was a pleasant surprise for me. Representation of race is not just important in cinema, literature and media. Children really want to see people like them in the normal world too – especially at school.
One of kids asked me, “Ms. Song, what are you?”. I of course answered playfully, “A human”. “Nah nah – you know what I mean – where you from?” “The mountains of NC.” “Sigh – come on now – I mean for reals – where did you COME from?” “My parents”. Oh what fun I had with their fragile little minds. LOL Eventually I relented and gave them a short bio of my life thus far.
One beautiful child looked at me up and down after the conversation and very seriously said, “Ms. Song, I figured it out. You ain’t black. You ain’t white. You ain’t KOH-rean. You know what you are? You Cafe Au lait.” I absolutely LOVED that description of my skin color and have used it over the years many times. She needed to put me in a category and I thought it was great. Just thinking about this moment makes me smile.
All these kids – they helped me to grow and become who I am today. Watching them struggle with heavy academic loads, church obligations, poverty, chores, part time jobs and social anxiety made me really appreciate the teen youths of America. They are not thieves and hoodlums – they are just big kids trying to find their way. I hope all of my students have found happiness in their lives. It was an honor and a privilege to teach them.