I was running late. As usual.
My black sandals clattered against the stairs as I dashed to the 4th grade homeroom. The new schedule eliminated my between-class breaks; I was supposed to begin a lesson on the second floor as I was finishing one on the first. I am generally not that talented.
I knocked on the 4th grade door and hustled in. The kids were gathered by the open windows, hanging half out and yelling at the soccer game below. A few broke away to talk to me in urgent Korean. They jabbed fingers at a classmate. I looked to the teacher for help, but he was already disappearing out the door.
"Han bun, han bun." One minute, one minute. I plunked an armload of books on the desk and crawled underneath to plug in my USB. When I resurfaced, the kids were still there (rats), chattering and pointing. Eventually, I figured out the boy in question didn't have a phonics workbook.
I glanced at the clock and sighed. I thrust the attendance sheet at the nearest girl. "Ok, Jessica, do this. I'll be right back."
The extra books were stored at the other end of the school. I puffed down the hall thinking about how I'd spend my Friday night. Wine was definitely going to feature.
On the way back, I saw two of my students pelt out of the classroom, wild-eyed.
"Where are you going?" I asked, but they whipped past me and into the Teachers' Room. This seemed distinctly ungood. I reached the classroom to find the remaining students gathered around the open window, screaming. One round-faced boy stood off to the side, tears cascading down his cheeks.
The little girl with the attendance sheet pulled at my arm. "Teacher, teacher." She paused, and groped for English. The word she found made bile rise in my throat. "Fall, fall."
Before I could swallow back my vertigo, the 4th grade teacher bounded past me and to the window. He pushed the kids aside and shouted to the people down below. As I stepped closer to the window, I saw first a crowd of boys, pressed together at the edge of the soccer field, their game forgotten. Then I saw the dark head of the 6th grade teacher, a tall, unsmiling man, crouched over something on the ground two stories below us. I closed my eyes and managed the remaining step to the window.
An enormous window pane lay smashed on the playground below, the packed dirt carpeted in broken glass.
It took me a moment to register that there was no blood, no broken form, no sign of any injury. I sagged backward with relief. For a few seconds I'd been utterly, nonsensically, gut-twistingly convinced that I had (through, I suppose, a lack of teacherly presence) killed a child. It took a moment to digest that everyone was alright. Another ten seconds found me wondering how responsible I'd be for allowing 4th graders to drop plate-glass windows on a teeming playground.
"Seon Saeng Nim," Weakly, I hailed the teacher, who turned from the window. "I'm so sorry. I just went to..." I held up the workbook. The residue of my fright must have shown on my face, because he instantly reassured me, gwen cha na, it was ok, no one was hurt. He disappeared out the classroom door.
I inhaled, exhaled, called the kids to their desks. "Ok, guys, here we go. Open your books to Unit Two..."