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Every other weekend for the past 3 months, I’ve been coaching basketball to 60 children. I was pumped at first; I eagerly prepared drills and came up with numerous skills. I knew the main purpose of coaching was for the children to learn English, but I was still thrilled to finally be able to coach my favorite sport…little did I know it would be one of the most challenging things I’ve done…


To be honest, I was slightly nervous to teach orphans and regular students together. I quickly realized dribbling and shooting became secondary to what really needed to be taught.


For those who may not know about these orphans (abandoned children), they are not your typical quiet, timid type. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, some orphans primary goal is to make the teachers cry (I was one of them last year-yes, I was so naive then:)).

Let’s just say I had to teach myself all the Korean swearwords after having one class with them (typical for a foreign teacher to be cussing themselves out in Korean by repeating the unfamiliar words thinking the children were teaching them good Korean while they deviously laugh).


Believe me, love is not a teachers (or anyone’s) initial response to screaming children saying, “F—k you, teacher!” while 2 other students are trying to steal from your pockets as your scrambling to break up a fist fight due to a regular student telling the orphan student they have no parents. And forget about trying to get them to listen to a complete stranger talk about basketball in a foreign language. Their thoughts, “Why do we need English? And why the h-ll do we need to listen to you?” Imagine this adding to a total of 60 students with only 2 other teachers. Luckily I have a strong voice.


My motto I kept telling myself the first month, “Love the hate outta them.”

No-brainer, right? Loving orphans? Can’t be that hard since their behavior is a direct result from their lack of love. But after countless inappropriate comments and behaviors, I was so tempted to just coast through the 2 hour basketball class like any other teacher and just “make it through” to the end of the day till they leave. But I knew I just couldn’t…


I knew these students wouldn’t want to open up to another person just coming in and out of their lives yet again to be abandoned…the pain is too hard to love and be hurt again by abandonment. So they react by rejecting the thing they need the most: love.

Thankfully, I have learned their ways and used some skills to get their attention. First: high expectations and positive reinforcement. I used their oh so competitive spirit to my advantage and set up a point system for each teams respect and teamwork. I think I spent as much time talking about respect, teamwork, and behavior in the first month as much as basketball skills.


Each class and throughout break times, I would try to speak to as many students as I could individually (as a group they feed off rebellion; when you get them alone, you can concentrate that love individually and it’s much more powerful) remembering their names, writing little comments and notes about them.


As I continued to love on them and invest time, and be strict (you gotta be with these kids), I saw a change. The bitter isolated walls started to crumble and those initial curses and grabbing turned to smiling faces says, “Tanya Teacher!”


By the third time, I had many of the students come running hugging (huge deal since most of them refuse being touched in the beginning; hard for me since I’m such a physical touch girl) me waiting excitedly to see me.


Teacher Lane playing with the kids during break time. The kids were fascinated with his super tallness (6’2’’ if I remember right).

3 of my favorite girls. Beware of their cuteness…they were some of the most misbehaved students at first.


I came into the cafeteria and saw one of the girls with her hands up against the wall (standard Korean punishment). Her face showed that she was being punished. I thought the girl was being punished for punching a kid or cussing out a teacher—pretty typical for her.

So, I skipped over to her, playfully grabbed and hugged(we had a relationship by this time) her from behind, tickling her I said, “Kwenchana? Kwenchana?” “Are you okay? Are you okay?” in a teasing manner trying to crack a smile.

She didn’t smile. Later I found out she was being punished for breaking a window in the cafeteria!

Hmmm…I was wondering why the Korean staff was glaring at me while I was ruining their punishment plan. She is my favorite…for real:)I think I relate too well with her tenacity. She has such a strong spirit with unbelievable potential.

More play time for Lane.

The kids not from the orphanage…as you can see, they think they’re some pretty hot stuff.

Orphan students being scolded by one of the head guys of our company for money being stolen in the dorm rooms. You can’t tell, but it was pretty intense.

One of my favorite times with the kids…waving and saying goodbye as they go back to their home. So many mixed emotions going on all at once.

Their overly excited waves as they’re blaring to the teachers, “GOODBYE!!” while the Korean staff is rushing them to get on the bus.


The kid with the green shirt is another favorite of mine. Absolutely no English but he makes me laugh just looking at him. His nickname I gave him: Goggles (can you guess why) He has no idea what it means and makes such mischief with his overly exuberant energy. But I can’ help but laugh and tease him.

One of my favorite pics of the day…

Another fav…

It amazes me how my worst class has become my favorite class. I have truly fallen in love with these kids. I’m so excited to spend Christmas day with them, but so sad that it will be the last weekend they’re here.

I visited their orphanage 2 weeks ago for their baptism (pictures coming shortly) and was so blessed by their reactions. Their faces were priceless when they saw teachers showing up for such a special occasion (major deal to be baptized). Sad to say, but it was almost unfathomable for the kids to see a teacher to actually come to their home. Oh how I can’t wait to see them when I come back to Korea.

Saved the best for last…. This picture might be voted for one of the top of the year. There’s so many good ones I love that should take that place, but I just can’t seem to shake his expression, the lighting, the colors, the way the window splits his face, the parallels of the window to his life…all such good dynamics.

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December 23, 2010 - 8:14 am

Jamie - Tanya, this is an amazing post. The photos you took were just so awesome. You have such a great gift and amazing talent!!! You. inspire. me.

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