For the most part, I identify very well with little children. I am in one of probably very few jobs where having a childish mentality is a bonus! I understand the things they find funny when we read a story or watch a movie. I know how to make them laugh or wake them up if they’re getting tired/bored. I can calm them down when they’re becoming rowdy, or get them enthusiastic when they’re not interested. It’s a nice thing to have discovered about myself after spending most of my adult life thinking I hated children, and it certainly comes in useful in my day-to-day life!
However, there are two main childish qualities that I will never, ever understand. I have tried, and I have failed miserably, and unfortunately both lead to ructions on an almost daily basis.
The first is the importance they assign to the most absolutely trivial and unimportant of things. The colour of a pencil, for example. I’m not even talking about the colour that it writes – I can see how one might not want one’s work to come out yellow, or blue. No, I mean ordinary, plain, grey writing pencils with kid-friendly designs on them. The ones currently in my classroom all have exactly the same pattern, involving some kind of overly cheerful cartoon dog and cat drinking lemonade. Unfortunately, half of them are yellow and half are green. You cannot imagine the untold levels of stress and grief this apparently insignificant detail has brought to my life.
I’ll be handing out the pencils while repeating my instructions for the task ahead, expecting everyone to be listening so that I don’t have to go around explaining it to all twelve of them, individually. Within 2 seconds of distributing the first couple of pencils, however, someone will emit a cry of distress. “Teacher, no. Me yellow!”
I give them a Look and continue speaking as if I heard nothing, but this tends to backfire as they generally then assume that I heard nothing, so they start rhyming on incessantly about it. “Don’t want green. I want yellow. Teacher. TEACHER! Yellow. Me yellow.” On a good day, I will firmly explain that it makes absolutely no difference and that we can’t always have what we want, and they accept it and move on. On a bad day, they completely ignore me to the point where I end up throwing as big a strop as them and yelling “Well, TOUGH!!!!! You have green. It MAKES. NO. DIFFERENCE!!!! Stop whining!!!”, and they sulk, and it’s all very unpleasant. The same thing happens with the handle colours of the scissors. A pink eraser or a white eraser. Who gets to be first to line up at the door – there are actual physical fights over that one, despite the fact that they’re all going to the same place, where they all have assigned seats and gain absolutely nothing from being first through the door. I really do wish I could speak to them in Korean sometimes, just to have a serious conversation about why the hell these things MATTER SO DAMN MUCH to them. I mean, really, WHY? I cannot get inside the childish mind on this issue, and it drives me batty sometimes.
The other issue is the bickering. Now, one could argue that at least children are honest – they don’t pretend to like you and then tear you to shreds behind your back, as adults so often do, or politely tell you that something’s no problem at all and then proceed to dwell angrily upon it, building it up in their minds for unhealthy periods of time until they eventually snap and shoot you in the head with a stolen rifle. No, they simply tell you exactly how they feel about your actions. This is great, and also terrible, as it means I spend a frustrating amount of time pausing my lessons to lecture them on peace and kindness and harmony and sharing, generally while dangling a small, wriggling, kicking, punching child from each hand.
The girls tend to get angry about who sits next to them, mainly because they all fall in love with the same boy at the same time and think the world’s going to end if he sits down next to their rival, and then they start saying bitchy things to each other. Oh, so many tears. (And yes, they are six.) The boys tend to steal things from each other and then resolve the situation with an interesting mix of punches, kicks, pinches, thumps, and wild howls of fury.
None of it is fun for Teacher.
And of course, the icing on the cake is the previously discussed “angry sound” in the Korean language – i.e. instead of emphasising a particular word, they simply draw out the last vowel sound for, like, EVER. For the kids, this is actually their entire argument. Meaning you can be in the middle of a perfectly peaceful lesson, and all of a sudden the silence is shattered by half a dozen children wailing “awwwwAWWWWWawwwwwAWWWWWawwwwwwwwwAWWWWWWWW!!!!”, and no, I cannot possibly demonstrate how irritating that sound is via the limited medium of the written word. Just trust me. It makes me want to jump out of windows, mainly because I would be a really Bad Person if I threw the offending children out of them instead.
Yesterday in my after-school class I turned instinctively on hearing a lengthy vowel, and chastised two girls for attempting to slap each other. Over what, I did not care – I simply told them both off, looked sternly at them, said “Be nice. No fighting.”, and then hurried to the next table to remove the scissors from a boy’s mouth. In the meantime, the squabble between the two girls apparently escalated into a full-on cat fight, and the shout of “Teacher! Jane is cry!” sent me scurrying back to find that Melissa had, in fact, scratched the hell out of her ‘friend’, drawing blood and leaving a raised white trail of broken skin. I carried the sobbing child downstairs to a Korean teacher and raced back up to find three boys fighting tooth-and-nail over an eraser. An ERASER. My eraser.
The most upsetting thing about all of this is that my theme for the next two weeks in that group is “Friendship and kindness”. We had just finished a great little introductory discussion about how people look different, and like different things, and have different abilities, and everyone was in complete agreement that this didn’t mean anyone was any less deserving of kindness, love, friendship, or respect. I tried to reason with them by reminding them of all this in light of the dramas we had just experienced, and asked if they saw the problem. They all looked mutinously at me.
The only lesson learned was that apparently you can’t reason with 6-year-olds who want the white eraser or think their friend looks too pretty.
I shall continue to try, though. Tomorrow we’re singing Imagine and making a poster full of joined handprints, sprinkled generously with hearts and peace signs…