I think there is a standard height for common objects (chairs, desks, beds…). In America, I bet the majority of the population could agree on a standard height for most things, within two or three standard deviations. In China, this standard is much lower. It’s even worse when you happen to reside very close to kindergarten classrooms. Using the railings to walk down stairs means almost bending in half. Sitting in chairs is like curling into the fetal position. If I want to stretch my legs under the table, they actually span underneath the width of the table and far out onto the other side.
Furthermore, children are like tiny adults with many, many mental problems. They have no volume control and will sporadically go from loud to soft. Sometimes they’ll randomly pummel the nearest person or object, just for the heck of it. They crawl around backwards. If you try to help them stand up, they just let you drag them. They don’t push toy cars across the ground, they launch them like airplanes through the air. They burst into tears for no apparent reason and they think being upside down is the coolest thing ever. You’re probably saying one of two things: welcome to my world, or sucks to be you.
Either way, you must agree: tiny humans are quite insane. I’m convinced that when I was a kid I was never so clever or so…well…crazy. With the exception of preschoolers, however (2-3 year old here). They tend to watch me with huge eyes when I try to do anything. It’s like pulling teeth to get them to repeat what I say or interact with me. Maybe they’re just shocked; I must look like a giant to them. I need to figure out how to say “I’m not going to crush your bones to make my bread” in Mandarin. Maybe that’ll be the first step to getting them to play and sing with me.
But the Kindergartners (composed of small, middle, and big classes which depends on their age. Small is 3 years, middle is 4, and big is 5…I think) are endlessly clever and eager. I never thought I’d enjoy singing the hokey pokey three times in a row with different body parts substituted to wiggle around as much as I have. And did I say they were really smart? They pick up English so fast!
It could be because they’re already exposed to it in their classrooms and in other environments as well (a lot of signs have Mandarin as well as English on them). Or it could be just really active short term memories. I guess I’ll find out next week if they actually retained anything. At any rate, I was definitely surprised to find how rewarding it is to have these mini-individuals catch on so quickly to matching pictures with English words and remembering and distinguishing between objects. I never came to the conclusion that kids were alright in America, but I guess it helps that all of these kids are so gosh darn cute. Or almost all of them. I mean, you can’t win them all.
As much of a blast as this has been so far (after one day, that is), I should have known I would have a problem child or two. Curse those independent thinkers! In one class there was a boy who was catching on really quickly with the flash cards for “boy” and “girl”. He understood when I pointed to his classmates if they were a “boy” or a “girl” when other kids were still in the parroting phase where they repeat what I say…no matter what I say. This boy, this little gem, however, was the master of gender differences. That is, with the exception of himself. When I pointed at him he was adamant that he was not, in fact, a boy. He would only repeat his name at louder intervals when I tried to correct him. He also tried to get the rest of the class to call me a boy. One boy in another class was deeply offended by my shoes; he wouldn’t stop pointing at them questioningly for a majority of the class and shaking his head. But success in strides was made when a boy who had previously spit at me every time he walked by me, gave me a hug.
But overall, today very few things went smoothly. Aside from the preschoolers not being that engaged, I was unsure where to go, the teachers were not expecting me usually, and my transitions from topic to topic were pretty awkward seeing as I’ve never done this before in my lifetime. I hope they don’t all think I’m a failure or that learning a second language is pointless. Or maybe they don’t think it’s pointless…they just think me teaching is pointless. At any rate, there is a lot of room for improvement, and since I have a dumb compulsion to always be the best or mostly the best at everything I do, hopefully I can get better. This practically runs in the family, after all.
I know this is only day one and things will get harder and I may not always have a positive feeling about this and eventually even the hokey pokey will get old (shock, I know). Or give me a class full of 2 and 3 year olds all day, and I’ll probably doubt that children are capable of learning anything (I know, I know…it’s their first time at school, they’re nervous, they’re shy, be patient, blah blah blah). But I hope, somehow, magically, it never stops being SO FUN. I hope the kids are enjoying as much as I am. And I also hope that those special few overly ambitious and creative children find someone else to ridicule than the American. Also also I hope the food gets better (or it in some unfathomable way stops making me feel ill). Also also also, I hope the beds somehow inexplicably become softer. And I learn to speak Mandarin fluently in the coming week with little or no effort on my part. And a McDonalds opens down the street. And they sell more cow milk instead of soy milk in the stores. And I want a pony for Christmas.
And they all lived happily ever after.