Every Wednesday begins with a trip out to Bai He
Kindergarten where I attempt (and fail) to teach English to three classes of
squirmy little kids who don’t understand anything I say. The kindergarten
teachers teach the kids everything before I come, so I am just supposed to
work on pronunciation with my superior native accent. That’s the idea
anyway. What actually happens is that I show the kids the flash cards that
they have been pre-drilled with, and they scream the words at the top of
their lungs. A couple of the chubby boys make fists and practice their
upper cuts along with each word. As soon as the kindergartners see a
picture, they yell the word, regardless of what I say or how I pronounce
it. The futility of my job was exemplified in one instance. The flash card
had a picture of a boat, so I said “boat” very clearly. “SHIP!” they
screamed back at me, since that’s what they were taught before and nothing I
said could change their minds.
Usually, within a few minutes, the class completely
breaks down as half the kids are beating each other, several are crying,
others have been sent to corners of the room as punishment, some have
wandered off to look at books or play with crayons. Two girls spend the
entire time picking lint off of each other’s sweaters and rolling it into
balls. The floor is littered with a dozen perfectly round, pea-sized balls
of red and green lint. Sometimes I attempt to play a game, which results in
half the kids on the floor, and even more kids crying and hitting each
other. Just when the chaos reaches its peak, I’ll try to get everyone back
in their seat, and the teacher will put on a tape of some ridiculous song.
Instantly, the kids start wiggling in their seats and doing whatever hand
motions they’ve been taught to associate with the song. Then they scream
along with the song, not understanding a word they’re saying. And all this
because their parents want them to know English so that they will have a
really good job in 20 years and be able to take care of them when they
This Wednesday was a little different though. The
kindergarten school had invited me to accompany them on a field trip to a
strawberry patch outside of Dalian. When I arrived at the school yesterday
morning, the 60 kindergartners and their parents or grandparents were
milling about the school. The principal found me, and spoke to me for about
five minutes in Chinese. I didn’t understand a single word. Then I got
passed on to one of the kindergarten teachers, and we soon boarded one of
the big tour busses. So there I was, sitting in front of the bus happily
chatting with the mother sitting next to me, who, luck of all lucks, worked
as a translator at her company and spoke very good English. Once we were on
the road, the kindergarten teacher plugged in the bus’s microphone, and said a bunch of things to the parents. I, of course, understood nothing.
After a few minutes, the teacher handed the microphone to me, along with a
flash card with a picture of a strawberry. Great, here I go again.
I stood up, held the picture of the strawberry, and
said “strawberry” several times, while the busload of people repeated me and
the principal recorded everything on her digital video camera. I felt
satisfied that they were able to repeat the word, and seeing nothing else to
do, I sat back down. The kindergarten teacher seemed a bit disappointed.
She took the microphone, and then led the bus in a completely meaningless
game. Everyone had to chant “pass it down” while passing the picture of the
strawberry around the bus. My failure as a teacher in this instance was
because I can’t think of such inane games. My brain just isn’t capable of
it. But the thing was, it worked. It kept the bus occupied for at least 10
minutes. I never would have guessed it.
I returned to happily chatting with my seat mate, when
again the microphone was again handed to me with the instructions to “sing a
song.” Readers, “deer in the headlights” panic does not begin to describe
it. “I can’t sing!” I whispered, furtively. She nodded, and smiled, in the
way that all Chinese do when I tell them I can’t sing, meaning that it is
impossible, I’m lying, I might as well live on the moon. She was beckoning
for me to stand up in the aisle to sing. Everyone was watching, the
principal was recording. I tried again, “I can’t remember the words!” So
she told me the words, and non-singing Sera was presently standing in the
aisle, singing “Kiss, kiss, kiss, one, two, three, I love you and you love
me.” It was one of those dumb songs they always played on the tape when I
came to teach. She made me sing it four times. Then, I had to sing another
song, “Red means stop. Green means go. Yellow means wait! You’d better go
slow.” Four times. The agony.
When I was finally released from Barney duty, the
mother next to me said, “It must be hard to teach kindergarten!” Which
really meant, “They make it look easy but you’re so bad at this that maybe
it takes some skill after all.” I agreed with her, and tried to explain
that I am much better at teaching older children and adults. I was trying
to redeem myself and convince her that I could do lots of things
competently; singing children’s songs on busses just wasn’t one of them.
She nodded and smiled.
We finally arrived at the strawberry farm, and as all
the kids got off the bus, it was like a giant bladder bursting. Within ten
steps of leaving the bus, every child peed. There was no pretense of going
behind a tree or out of sight or out of the grass that they were going to be
rolling in in a few minutes. Nope, they just peed wherever they were. It
Then the teachers gathered everyone together in the
grass and we played some games involving wolves eating the little children.
I really liked this because I got to be a wolf and chase after the kids
while all the parents either took photos or video recorded it. I often
wonder how many home videos I’m going to be in by the end of my stint here
in China. After the wolves ate all the kids, we went into one of the
strawberry greenhouses and ate strawberries for dessert.
Later, I would eat lunch with 3 people whom I had
never seen before, spoke no English, and marveled at my chopstick ability.
After lunch, they would drive me back to my flat in Dalian, and I would go
to my school and teach for 6 more hours.
But at that moment, I was eating strawberries and they
click here for more picture of this delightful kindergarten