End of Year Returns

When I first took a job as a teacher, I was expecting to get work experience out of it, to save some money, and to learn about language acquisition. I have gotten all of those things out of it, but the greatest lessons I’ve learned are grace, forgiveness, and patience. Teaching preschool is a big challenge in giving love. First, you meet a group of children you don’t know, and their parents, who don’t necessarily like you or trust you. You give everything you can to these children; you serve them, teach them, love them, encourage them, and remain patient with them when they try their hardest to make your life difficult. You do what their parents tell you to do, even if they are not polite in giving those instructions. You do things you don’t want to do, like helping kids use the bathroom or punishing them for bad behavior.  But you also share wonderful moments with them, like learning new songs, discovering that they are able to write their own names, chasing them on the playground, and sharing jokes. You see them every single day, and come to know their every mood, desire, and weakness. You even might spend some idle moments watching them play and considering which one you would be willing to adopt if given the chance. You worry about their nutrition, and feel relieved when the picky eaters expand what they’ll eat. You get excited about new activities that you know they’ll enjoy, worry about them when they’re home sick, and give them a shoulder to cry on after they scrape their knees on the playground.  Some days they might cry when their maids or drivers come because they don’t want to leave class, and sometimes you might miss them when they’re absent from school.

And then at the end of the year, you have to say goodbye. You might see them around again next year, but chances are, they won’t really remember much about you after a little while.  I certainly remember very little of my preschool teachers, and I know that the students are so young that they will forget most of what has happened this year, even though it is the foundation for what they will learn for the rest of their lives.

I am not returning to teach kindergarten again next year, and I’m glad of it. It’s not what I want to do professionally, but I also can’t really imagine starting over another year with new students. I can’t really imagine going through that same process again, especially because I remember that at the beginning of the year (and even several months in), I felt like some of them were so hard for me to love, but now feel so attached to them.  One thing is for sure: when I have my own kids, I’m not letting them leave they house until they’re thirty.

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Learning Language like a Three-Year-Old

I find myself taking a lot of lessons from kindergarteners, and language learning is one of them.  I don’t think that adults are necessarily much worse language learners than kids, but we do have several disadvantages:

  • Kids who learn foreign languages usually study for many years, including being fully immersed
  • Kids are free when they speak; they are not inhibited by feeling self-conscious
  • When one learns a language at a young age, it is usually done through immersion in conversation and by learning from everyday situations, books, and interactions, instead of from grammar lessons and lectures
  • Children who are in a sink-or-swim situation are very motivated; for example they might have to learn a language to succeed in school or make friends

I took a French class in the fall and felt that I learned very little from it.  I was really disappointed for a while, until I realized that the reason why I got so little from the class was because I learned so much French elsewhere.  So I’ve decided not to continue with lessons, because I want to learn French like a kindergartener.  However, since I cannot quite put myself in that situation, and because I have the benefit of another 20 years of life, I am going to try to expedite the process.

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Here I am, about to go to kindergarten.

I don’t have many years just for learning French, but I do have plenty of opportunities for immersion (and to put myself in sink-or-swim situations!), and I can choose my own songs, books, and movies to move myself forward.  I also have the benefit of having studied other languages and understanding grammar.  At the moment, I have decided to focus on which tenses people use when they talk so that I can improve how I conjugate verbs.  So that is my plan of how to learn from my students, but also take advantage of the fact that I am not three.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

C’est l’heure de Maman

After the two weeks of winter vacation, a few of my students are having trouble adjusting to being away from their moms all day.  My mom was here visiting me for the whole break, so I also have to adjust to life away from my mom.

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My dad was here too, and is also photogenic.

I mentioned in my post about my sister’s visit that having family come and see what my life is like gives me new perspective on my situation.  My mom is especially helpful for the obvious reason that she knows everything.  How to clean marble floors (vinegar), what to do with exhausted yet excited three-year-olds (duck duck goose), why my yeast bread didn’t rise in 45 minutes (my apartment is too cold), and what a galette is (whatever you want it to be).  She also shares my interest in cooking mystery vegetables, drinking Nescafé Gold, walking everywhere, and watching movies in French that were not made in France.  It was a lot of fun to have my mom stay with me, but just because she’s gone doesn’t mean I’m back to the old routine.

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We also both like looking at jewelry.

My mom came to work with me for four days during the three weeks she was here, and was excited about every one of them.  It helped me realize that if she’s excited about my job, I can be too.  Sometimes it drives me crazy, but sometimes three-year-olds are hilarious.  It’s also pretty nice to have a job where I get to run around on the playground and color every day, not to mention the world-class pastries the school chef delivers right to my room.  I also found a new appreciation for other aspects of my situation; just last weekend Chicago had dangerously cold weather while my mom and I were enjoying drinking avocado juice outside in sunny Casablanca.  My mom also met some of my friends, so it was wonderful to have her perspective on my social life (if you’re wondering, my friends are “varied,” some are “adorable,” and some know where to get really amazing birthday cakes).

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Sorry, we already ate them both.

My students occasionally cry during class because they want their mothers.  I’m not going to cry, because I’m 23 and not 3, and also because I don’t think my eyeliner is waterproof.  But if I did want to cry, I would remind myself that my mommy will come back, and there are plenty of fun things to do before then.

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My dad takes cool pictures of my mom taking pictures.

Moms certainly are capable of fixing everything, even when their kids are older than three.  I’m taking a lesson from my students and remembering that you don’t miss your mom if you are having fun.  But, there’s plenty of space for her in my apartment for when she does want to come back!

My Inner 3-Year-Old

This morning when I lined up my students to go to gym class, one of the girls told me that she didn’t want to go because she doesn’t like lining up, and she was hungry.  I told her we had to line up to go to class and that we could eat later, and that sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to.  But what I was thinking was that I also absolutely hate lining up, and had actually been planning to eat an apple while the kids were in gym because I was also hungry.  I think I’m supposed to be wiser than a kindergartener, but I’m not doing such a good job of following their rules.

Along with teaching English, my job is to teach kids how to behave in a group and how to follow directions, get along with one another, and adjust to being away from their homes.  I’m not entirely sure that I’m an expert at any of those things…or that anyone is!  My student Jenny hates playing with the loud boys, and I always sit by coworkers who are quiet on the bus home.  My student Lena cried this morning because a boy hit her and so she wanted her mom; I felt sick yesterday afternoon and the only thing I really wanted to make me feel better was my own mom.  Julian won’t eat his salad because he wants to eat cookies; I like salad pretty much, but I don’t always eat it when I have peanut butter cookies in my fridge.  Little Kenza comes up to me at the end of every day and asks with pleading eyes, “Momma?”  It’s her first year spending each day away from home for so long, and it’s difficult to adjust.  This is my first year far away from home, and I don’t feel like I have it much easier than she does.

The lessons we learned in Kindergarten will certainly apply for the rest of our lives.  At twenty-two, I still struggle with being away from home and doing the things I should do before doing the things I just want to do.  In fact, I’m thinking of applying my own teacher techniques to my daily life.  Next time I want my mom, maybe I’ll distract myself by drawing a picture.  Or maybe next time I want to check Facebook or bake cookies more than I want to go to work, I’ll give myself a time-out.  And you can bet I’ll be giving myself a sticker after I’ve finished this blog post.