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.