26 April 2006

Lemme Tell You About My Day...

Any kindergarten teacher in the world know's one has to be ready for curveballs. They also know said curveballs make for some pretty good stories. Curveball of the week: we suddenly learn Monday morning that each class had been given over to wholly inept college students who've invaded the kindergarten en masse in order to participate in some type of field experience.

It's enough to effectively de-rail a class when the homeroom teacher doesn't accompany her flock, and this happens often enough. Bedlam reaches new heights when four greenhorns amble in, hugged and tugged by the little ones. At this point, I become the only one even remotely in control of these children, and I don't even speak their native language.

Monday through Wednesday I slogged through business as usual. After each class I was ready, to use one of Anna Horkey's favorite lines, to set my hair on fire. Thursday I made ready for the visitors to earn their keep. With no preparation save the little English understood from me, they would teach my class.

As I made preparations Thursday morning, a two consequential events occured. First, I used the last kleenex in the room to help convey a used and crumpled kleenex from the floor to the trashcan. Simultaneously, bending to pick up the wad, I split the posterior seam in my pants. Three seconds later, twenty five students gushed into my classroom, bombing around the knee-high furninture and screeching like banshees. With a little quick thinking, I introduced my students to the ever-popular scoot-around-on-your-bottom game and successfully tricked them into getting into their places! I began class, split them into groups and set them loose on the field experiencers, who dared not refuse. It was working! Now just to keep from showing anyone my backside.

But wait, what's this? Presently I noticed some of the students holding their noses and a brown smudge on the floor. Crap. I took a quick poll of the five or six tykes standing round; none of them had to go to the bathroom (anymore), so I relocated their group and walked toward the kleenex box. The empty kleenex box. There was no chance I'd make a run to another classroom, only to leave moonstruck everyone in my wake. Distracted with the logistics of this substance's arrival on my floor, I resorted to paper, which I crumpled several times to make it more cloth-like, and alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

The show went on. That class eventually ended, and in the moments before the next class came in, I took the stapler to the ripped seam. Naturally, it was out of staples.

24 April 2006

Perfect Little Muffins

I have a preferred class of kindergartners. Inexplicably, they are called "Hyacinth". I hesitate to say "favorite", even though it might be true, because it reflects poorly on me as a professional. Plus, my other classes are filled with equally enchanting little muffins, but one teacher makes the difference. The Hyacinth class has the best homeroom teacher, and as a result, they are more easily taught than all the other classes.

For a moment, I want to point out some sobering truths of this situation which may not be readily apparent. The kindergarten where I teach, and indeed the Taiwanese kindergarten model has three levels labeled, predictably, K1, K2, and K3. Many little ones find themselves in the uncharted environs of K1 no later than their third birthday. Fine, we Americans send our toddlers off to preschool, but mostly this does not include learning to sit still, listen, and learn for extended periods of time. My own classes last 40 minutes, and no one turns a hair if the students spend that whole time sitting in the same little spot.

One bright Saturday, I realized the magnitude of these students' training. The kindergarten gathered all 150-some of the K3 students, who range between 5 and 6 years old, to take a group picture (see photos of the arrangement to the right). I was to be in the picture as well. As the teachers assembled their students into portait formation, I noted the children standing, just standing, and waiting for their teacher to put them somewhere. Get 150 American 5 and 6 year olds together and see if organizing a portrait isn't something like trying to keep a bunch of squirrels in a shopping cart. The mere possiblity of such a feat without tranquilizers left me thunderstruck.

For the time being, however, these children love school. Successful kindergarten teachers, like the one keeping Hyacinth in line, implement faithful discipline, show the children genuine love and and develop nourishing relationships them. I think. Some days, I wonder what really accounts for Hyacinth's mostly-rapt behavior.

Today, for instance, Jay, normally a chipper and bashfully winsome little muffin, could hardly keep his eyes open. I tried to figure out what was wrong, but could not get him to tell me anything. He simply sat there with sleepy eyes. Finally, as the class colored in their workbooks(!), it all came out. Not words, no, but whatever he had for lunch. Poor Jay oozed as quietly as Mauna Loa until a student fetched my attention from another child. Jay hadn't said a thing! I thought, was he really taught so well not to interrupt?

This is the only time these children will love school. From here, the long road of education is potholed with superfluous tests and examinations, endless schooldays (beginning, for example, at 7 AM and lasting until 6:30 or later, depending on the amount of cram schools they attend), and homework that will deprive them of the proper amount of sleep. Yet somehow all this busywork determines precisely the future for each of these students.

Hyacinth's teacher has taught them to obey. Perhaps it's more pleasant to see a child grow without as strict a code of uniformity, but the habit will serve them well as they grow in their culture.

An unrelated footnote:
Those of you following the saga of My Handsome Accomplice and I will be keen to learn that the relationship is now not only international but also intercontinental. That's right, somewhere around 12 hours from now, his kin will be scooping up his remains from the nearest airport after a 25 hour trip. He should recover just in time to begin studying Greek, the wretched soul.

22 April 2006

Calls Pending

Believe the headlines! The rumors are true; there's a divine call from Mecca, er, St. Louis MO with my name on it. Grace Chapel Lutheran School offers me their third grade position. The papers are on their way. It's my understanding that they're spending some time at the district office.

Last night at Friday Night Bible Study, I was talking to another expat. Previously unchurched, she has ended up a Bible study regular and has been given depths of curiosity about her creator. We were talking about future plans and I told her about my call and the call process. She asked why they were called "calls". It was an interesting chance to look at my little world of Lutheran experience.

I explained how Lutheran schools choose from a pool of candidates trained to work at said Lutheran schools, and how my dad had received calls to different schools while I was growing up. While childhood's simplicity filtered out the qualifying details, I cobbled together an understanding that schools employing him did so on behalf of God. Each time he received an opportunity to move again, he would consider and we would all pray, and God would lead to a new school or to stick with the script.

Even though the papers are still basking in their authentification process in the district office, I circulate the prayer request to anyone who will take it up, both for me and for this Lutheran school, that the Lord would lead and give clarity to the glory of his name.

21 April 2006

Friday Night Scratchpad

It's that time again! Thanks for tuning in for the monthly-if-you're-lucky blog post.

Betimes, I've complained about my gaggle of sixth graders before, citing them anti-social or inconsiderate. I'm not planning on taking any of that back, as children of their age are, as an empirical fact, pains in the butt. In fact, their inelegance speaks the grace of God all the more emphatically.

All of last week's curriculum focused on the story of Easter. Each day our learning took up a different theme: triumphal entry, last supper, and so on. By the time Thursday rolled around, I was convinced these kids had had it up to here with all this Bible learning. "Just what is this American teacher trying to shove down our throats, anyway?" In my mind, they may as well have been saying this.

Incidentally Thursday was also the day we took an intense look at the crucifixion, and the day I encountered five of my boys chucking chunks of asphalt across the school parking lot full of cars during our breaktime. Things were not going well. With a heavy heart I planned for Friday, (Good Friday in actuality, but the day we would celebrate and study Easter in my class).

The students' attitudes on Friday could not have been more joyful. They were more considerate and talkative than I've ever seen them, and many of their free-write responses about the Easter story were phenomenal:

My favorite part of the Easter story is that Jesus had nails in his hands when he died, after he alive again, holes from nails still in his hands. When he died he forgave our sins, when he alive he beat death, it's powerful!

I have more reasons to believe that the Holy Spirit has planted some seeds of faith. One student wrote me email, and in two simple sentences, triggered more moxie and joy from the Gospel than I can remember: "Teacher, I love to listen to the story about Jesus. Can you tell more Jesus story to me?"

"It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy." (Romans 9v16) Hasn't he told us? Reminded us again and again that we aren't capable of adding a drop to his ocean of grace? And he tells us, but we only seem to listen when we can see the fruits: God is faithful. He will grow faith.

Go therefore and be joyful.