I Suck at Teaching Children
And honestly never should've been allowed to in the first place because...
Hi all—so I do have a more research-oriented piece I’m nearly done with but wanted to tuck this one in here because I did a research-oriented piece last week and don’t want people signing up for this newsletter to think that’s the only thing I do. My goal with these essays is to be entertaining and humorous—and I tend to write about whatever interests me each week. Sometimes that’s personal, sometimes blended with research about a topic. That being said, please let me know in the comments, or by responding in an email if you’d prefer one or the other. Also, if there are any topics you’d like me to cover, please let me know. I have no boyfriend, girlfriend, cat or dog, so I’m here for you.
I once taught a class of five-year-olds in Beijing at a little academy on the fourth floor of a mall where every wall was glass, everything else was plastic, and everyone was an asshole.
They made me wear a rainbow-trimmed polo that looked like the staff uniform at a pedophile convention.
One day, we were learning how to say ‘fox’. I asked the class:
“Fucks!” They said.
“No, fox. F-AW-X.”
“Fucks!” They said again1.
I took it down to an individual level. I asked one after another until all but a little girl named Strawberry had stopped saying ‘fucks’.
Strawberry just kept going, saying it quieter, weaker, sadder, until tears were coming down her face—even after I’d started saying, “it’s okay, it’s okay, you’ll get it next time,” she kept sobbing, “fucks…fucks….fucks…” until one of the other students got up and hit her in the face with his chair.
So I said, “WHAT THE FUCK!”
And undid all the hard-earned progress I’d just made.
I had one of the students run out to tell an administrator. A chunky kid named Dragon grabbed the chair-hitter around the back and sat on the floor holding him. I crouched down and tried to comfort Strawberry who was really bawling at this point.
While I waited—as I held this abused crying child—and watched the chair-hitter struggle against his bonds, I just thought, over and over: I’m never having kids. I’m never having kids. I’m never having kids.
Another teacher came into the room—settled everyone down, took Strawberry away. An administrator came in and led the chair-hitter away. Situation defused.
Two minutes later, she brought him back in. He sat, waited for her to leave, then got up and kicked Dragon in the shin.
As I started walking to the door, it opened and the administrator hurried back in.
She bowed, said, “sorry, sorry” and rushed to lead chair-hitter off into a corner.
I went directly to the principal’s office. His English was pretty good—
“You’ve gotta get chair hitter out of my goddamn class.”
“The kid who hits people with chairs.”
“Ah—Jacob—well, we spoke to his parents and they said he’s a good boy.”
“But he isn’t. He’s a monster.”
The principal sighed.
“Look—their parents know a lot of other parents and if we punish him for things, they’ll bad-talk us to people. This whole school runs on reputation.”
And—as I was about to tell him that was a load of horse shit—he followed up with, “Speaking of, one of the mothers said she heard you say the F-word from outside your classroom.”
“She’s a liar.”
“Hm. And you’re not wearing your uniform.”
He had me there. I’d stopped wearing it after day one—hoping no one would notice.
“It’s awful. It makes us look like pedophiles.”
“Oh.” He nodded. “What’s a pedophile?”
“It means you like to touch kids.”
“In a bad way,” I clarified.
“Oh—“ his eyes widened, “right.”
“Can I go?”
He waved at the door.
I looked back.
“You’re not a pedophile are you?”
“What? No—if anything, I am the opposite of a pedophile. I would like to live in a world without children.”
“I don’t know if that’s better.”
“It’s definitely better.”
I left. Back to class.
Someone must’ve given Strawberry a pep talk because as soon as I entered the class, she smiled and cried, “FUCKS!”
So I gave her a high-five and moved on to “short ‘a’ sounds”.
“Bat!” I said.
“Bah!” They cried.
Then Jacob, the chair-hitter, went to the wall, took down a framed picture of teddy bears hugging, and threw it at my face. I ducked. It hit the wall. Luckily, it was plastic so nothing shattered. I turned back, about to lose my temper, to find that Dragon already had Jacob wrapped in his arms.
Jacob spit, gnashed his teeth, yelled in Chinese, but it was no use. I smiled at Dragon. “If there’s a fire, I’m saving you first.”
And that’s how the rest of the class went until break time when the administrator came in to take all of the kids to the bathroom.
That’s when Ed came in—Ed was the British guy who’d gotten me the gig. He also refused to wear his uniform.
“How’s it going?”
“Jacob hit Strawberry with a chair.”
“Fuck that kid.”
“You’ve taught him?”
He nodded. “They tried to make me teach him last year, but I said no.”
“You can do that?”
“Not usually,” he frowned. “But fuck that kid.”
“I’m just gonna have Dragon hold him down all class. It’s the only way.”
Ed looked at the whiteboard and smirked.
“You don’t do the star thing?”
“What’s the star thing?”
“Here,” he said. He walked to the board and wrote Jacob, Strawberry, Dragon…
“Flower, Scott, and Spiderman.”
He wrote the rest of the students’ names. Then, he put five stars next to each one.
“Okay,” he capped the marker. “When a kid is an asshole, take a star. If they’re good, give one.”
“Does that really work?”
“Kids are idiots,” he said and walked out.
When the kids were dropped back off, they were all looking up curiously at the board, sitting a little straighter, except Jacob. Jacob stood next to his chair with his arms crossed.
“Jacob,” I said—in as much of a ‘teacher voice’ as I could muster—“sit in your chair.”
He smirked and sat on the floor. So I went to the board and erased one of his stars.
One of the little girls actually gasped.
I looked down at Jacob who stood up, walked to his chair, sat, and placed his hands on his knees. Holy shit. The rest of the kids straightened up in their chairs.
“Okay,” I said, “Let’s review!”
I turned on the overhead projector.
“Fucks!” Strawberry cried.
I walked over and neatly placed another star next to her name.
You should’ve seen that goddamn smile.
At this same job, we used to have to do “demo” classes for prospective parents. For some reason, they chose “F” as the demo letter, and “fox” as the word. After a month of awkwardly trying to get kids to stop saying “fucks” in front of parents, we gave up and instead turned it into a game to see how often we could get kids to say “fucks” with no one catching on. No one ever caught on. (Keep in mind we were about 21 and had 0 training in teaching kids—not that anyone cared, but we should not have been put in this position.).