I show up at school and spend a minute or two straightening my classroom.
Robinson and J arrive.* I make a big show of excitement and hug both. Robinson looks extremely happy to see me. J looks happy.
*I am sad to report that Sarah never got over her fear and has now left the school. I miss her and wish we had toughed it out together. Grace is still there, every day, and is starting to get a lot better. Still sobs her little soul out for large portions of the morning but can now spend brief periods in the classroom with me as long as a Korean woman stays by her side. Baby steps.
They beeline it for the toy box. I crouch beside them and add commentary. "Building a road huh? That's awesome"
At this point Haylin and I will take out our book and try to do some teaching. I get Robinson to look at me, and point to a picture of a ball.
Me: What is it? (I speak deliberately: What. is. it?)
The kids own this page. But we're trying now to get them to speak in full sentences.
Me: It's a...?
Robinson: Eetsa ball!
Me: What is it?
Robinson: Eetsa car!
Fuck yes! I run over to the board, write "Robinson" and draw a little picture of his face. Next to this, I add 3 or 4 stars.
Stars are the currency of the classroom at our school. I use them less than other teachers, but they do help from time to time. For the younger kids at least, they can carry a lot of influence.
The stars next to Robinson's name catch J's attention. I put the book in front of him now.
Me: J, what is it?
Me: It's a ball?
J: It's a ball.
Me: What is it?
Eh, good enough. J can lose interest fast, so I'm not gonna push the sentence thing right now. I go to the board and throw some stars his way.
I'm supposed to play the kids a children's CD called Musical Starship every day, and I do.
You can't see the tracklist, but here's a sampling:
1. Mary Had A Little Lamb
3. Jake and Jill (sic)
4. This Little Piggy
5. I Love You
6. When I Was Young
7. I Can Count From 1 To 20
8. Three Little Monkeys
9. Where Is Thumbkin?
10. This Old Man
Sometime two weeks ago I decided to brainwash the kids into liking music I also liked. It was an intricate plan. One day in class I started singing "She loves you, yeah yeah yeah, she loves you, yeah yeah yeah!" After a minute of this the kids began to imitate me. At this point I ushered them in front of my computer and played a youtube video of the Beatles performing She Loves You live. The second the song started I broke into a crazily enthusiastic dance. The kids got really excited and started dancing too. When it ended I played it again. And again. They were singing the song when they went home.
Now, every day, Robinson will come up to me and say "Music?" And I will respond "Music!" Then I will go over and play the same video for them. We all dance around. J is particularly fond of the moment in the video where Paul and George shake their heads and sing "woo!" When the video ends I play them a few more songs. Our school has a lot of stupid and rigid rules I am not eager to offend this early in my contract, so I keep my DJ sessions confined to the early morning and Fridays.
They haven't responded much to any of the other Beatles songs I've played, but they fucking love "She Loves You." We can build on this.
Haylin goes to one of her other classes. The kids screw around for the next 40 minutes while I do selections from my Greatest Hits.
The Tickle Bug
I bend my index finger back and forth (imagine the kid in the Shining) and say "Uh oh…it's the tickle bug." The kids shriek and are soon tickled.* Stole this one from my uncle.
* My co-worker was telling me that when she worked at a camp back home there were strict rules governing where and when she could touch her charges. Not at our school. On my first day I was encouraged to hug, kiss, and tickle the kids as much as possible. Not much pedophilia anxiety in this country.
I get on all fours, make a scary face, start breathing heavily, and crawl after the kids. This one, too, often ends in tickling. The kids, apparently, refer to this as "the ghost."
The Smile/Frown Wipe
I look at the kids and smile. I pass my hand slowly over my face, revealing a frown. Back up, smile. Back down, frown. Relied on this one pretty heavily in the first week so I don't do it very much anymore.
We have a jar in our room filled with these brown discs that have little dots on them. I guess it's supposed to be a cookie jar? Seems like the kind of toy that would have killed a kid and been outlawed in America 15 years ago. I have no idea what it's purpose is.
One day I did the obvious and pretended to eat one. I got the kids to look at me in profile, then acted like I put the cookie in my mouth. I started chewing, then swallowed. I rubbed my belly like it tasted really good. Then I got a panicked look, bent forward, and pretended to puke the cookie back up.
Well the kids fucking LOST it. They ask me to do it all the time now. They come up to me, already laughing at the thought of what is to come, hand me one of the discs and say, "coo-key me-da" which according to Haylin means "It's a cookie." Then I do it and they immediately ask again.
I pick the kids up and carry them over the table to the other side.
I pick them up so that they're flat on their stomach in my arms and then run around the room.
I'm with the kids for almost four hours a day, which is a lot of time fill. I often find myself just staring at them, trying to think of things to do before they get bored and cranky. One day, utterly out of ideas, I started to play pee-ka-boo. And the kids had CLEARLY never seen this before, because they absolutely lost their shit. They looked at me like I was a genius. It was like the Johnny B Goode scene in Back to the Future.
And so forth. The list grows daily. Again, I'm with the kids from 10:00 - 2:45 with an hour in the middle for lunch. They can handle maybe 25 minutes of learning a day. That leaves a lot of empty space to fill. Old material is a big help, but I try to crank out a few new gimmicks every day. Most are discarded instantly, but some stick and get added to the rotation.
Today was productive in this regard. I invented Bench Press (I bench press the kids), which went over well, and also I remembered Spiderman, a favorite trick of my uncle* where he would hold us upside down and pretend we were walking on the ceiling.
*Different uncle. When trying to entertain young children, memories of the shit your uncles did at family parties are a priceless resource.
If I'm out of energy or ideas we'll just sit around and color or cut things with scissors (the kids take great joy in cutting things with scissors). Periodically I will ask them review questions to keep them fresh. If I'm lucky I can think of a lesson-related activity that holds their interest. What we do is pretty much entirely up to me, which is both cool and a little uncomfortable.
The kids have to go to the bathroom. I know this because one of them is saying something that sounds like "wee-wee." I'm not sure whether this is American kid-speak they've adopted or if it's a Korean phrase I'm mishearing.
Our school is headed by an icy middle-aged woman I will refer to as Director K (spooky!). She is a shadowy Dr. Claw-like figure that you barely ever see, but still everyone lives in fear of her. From what I'm told in order to stay on her good side you must accomplish three things: your children must sit nicely in their seats, they must have good penmanship, and they must walk down the hall properly.
"Walking down the hall properly" means walking in a straight line with your hands on your hips. It looks very stupid. Fortunately I have only two kids so training them to do this was fairly simple.* When the kids line up in front of me I wave my hands in the air and say "haaaands…" then I slap them on my hips and say "BOOM!" By now they are good at following this direction. The success of the Hands/Boom system is due largely to J and Robinson's undying love of the word "boom."
*My situation at the school is very fortunate. I could go into detail, but to break it down:
1. My kids are too young for expectations.
If certain performance standards are not met by your children parents will complain and you will feel heat from the administration. My co-workers are constantly stressed about their kids not learning fast enough or having shitty handwriting. My kids can't write, know no English, and are 3 years old. We have no performance standards.
2. There's only two of them.
Christ, can you imagine trying to corral ten Korean three-year olds? Dick in a blender. My class will almost certainly grow as the year continues, but I was at least able to get into rhythm while the number was still manageable. And when the new kids come I will already have footholds in J and Robinson.
3. They're dudes.
Not nearly as important as the top two, but we've cultivated a nice "just us guys" relationship that I enjoy.
I stand outside while J and Robinson pee in classic "shirt up, pants down" fashion.
Time for more teaching. The next two words we want them to learn are table and chair. I grab a chair and put it front of Robinson.
Me: Robinson, what is it?
Me: It's a…
Robinson: Eetsa chair!
I put my hand on the table.
Me: What is it?
Me: It's a…
Robinson: Eetsa table!
BOOSH. The thrill of receiving stars fades quickly. I knew teaching them anything new would be difficult without a new reward. With this in mind I devised the Magic Chair. If they sit down in the Magic Chair and answer a few questions correctly, I carry them around the room in it.
J doesn't give two shits about stars after the first ten minutes of class. But seeing Robinson ride the MC has him locked in. I grab a chair.
Me: J, what is it?
He thinks but nothing comes to him.
Me: It's a chair.
J: It's a chair!
I point to the table.
Me: It's a table.
J: It's a table!
We go back and forth until hopefully he can answer once without my help. But he has earned a ride on the Magic Chair just for trying.
11:20am - 12:10pm
They wash up for lunch. It's a very hygienic school. Every single kid washes their hands before lunch and brushes their teeth right afterward.
Haylin brings them their lunches, and I say goodbye. I pick up something to eat at the take-out restaurant across the street and eat it at home.
Robinson considers the troubling implications of the Magic Chair.
Back to work.
The kids fuck around. I try to get J to learn his colors with little success.
The kids and I head to the playroom, a carpeted room down the hall with better toys. We do the same shit as we would in our room but here I can toss them around more. Sometimes another teacher will bring their class in, and we will sit against the wall and shoot the shit while the kids go crazy.
We return to the room to clean up and get ready to go home. I have taught Robinson and J the meaning of "clean" but only Robinson seems to give a shit. The kids are the same age but Robinson looks and acts far older. I let J get away with too much because he is physically so small. Sometimes he is lazy and uncooperative. But pressing the issue requires more effort than picking up the toy does, and it wouldn't work anyway, so I almost always pick up the toy. It's a bad habit.
They are in their jackets and ready to go home. We wave goodbye to each other. I kiss both on their foreheads. They leave.
I go to the board and erase their stars. Always feels pretty coldblooded.