Tuesday, January 13, 2009

When I started teaching, I had almost no experience with children that didn't go back 15 years to when I was 7 years old, just like my students. Consequently, I treat all my students like adults. I teach them like they're adults, talk to them like they're adults, yell at them like they're adults, and so on. This is mostly possible because I'm fortunate enough to teach a group of highly intelligent, hyper-active and hyper-motivated 6-year-olds. The arrangement works well: the students are smart enough to adapt to the fast pace of the class, laugh at my bewildered looks when they share the incoherent details of their social life, and they enjoy in kindergarten the freedom you'd expect as a university student. These kids speak a highly-developed system of broken English where most sentences begin with "Annnnnnd, my issssss" and then follow the structure of Korean grammar ("Annnnnddd, my is, Cindy's house go"). It's because we can have conversations about all sorts of things, unlike other students in the school, that I think of them as adults.

Every now and then, though, the arrangement breaks down. One of the slower, weaker students can't handle having to do everything on their own, or, God forbid, someone starts crying. There is, also, the matter of speaking Korean. For the hour that this class of kindergarten geniuses lasts, they are not allowed to speak Korean. Ironically, it's usually when they speak Korean that I realize that my students are actually 6 years old. Everything was going swimmingly well as each of the dozen students told me how much they hated the class and that they were never going to come back. Then, one of them saw a Korean teacher.

"Seonsaaeengniiiiiiiiiiiim, nuguya?" one asks ("teacher, whose is it?"), holding up a wayward scarf. Personality erodes so quickly when they switch to Korean, and all the maturity disappears. Their voices get whinier and higher and I realize that maybe I put too much emphasis on being able to write your own sentences. This class, like any other kindergarten class, is a success if no one ran headfirst into a table corner or lost a tooth.

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