Ask my friends and family: I am not a 'kids' person. I've never been a kids person. I didn't babysit when I was younger. I don't have the maternal urge to have kids. Kids scare me and I don't know how to interact with them. When I'm around kids I forget I have to watch my language because I have what some might consider a 'colorful vocabulary'. I don't know what to do with kids... do they need to be fed? Do they feed themselves? What happens if they pee their pants? At what age do they stop doing that? And for Christ's sake, WHY are they always sticky?
Well, now I teach first grade.
I knew going into this job that I would have to teach kids, but I guess it never really registered in my brain that I was going to be teaching kids. Actually, I don't really know if I thought the whole thing through in general. I came here because I was broke and needed a job and I was just relieved that I was going to be generating income. It was something new in a super new place, and I was more preoccupied with how I was going to find a place to live and how to function in Vietnam. I guess I came not knowing what to expect and was just rolling with it.
After 4 days of settling in to Saigon, I showed up at work, signed some paperwork and was given a desk in an office-y looking room with 50+ other expats. I was given very little information on what I was supposed to do, but was reassured that this was normal, and that I just had to wait until someone gave me a schedule. I sat around for 2 days doing nothing, being confused, and then I was told I was covering a sick teacher's 1st grade class TEN MINUTES before the class started. I was given a lesson plan, some flashcards, and a stack of worksheets, and sent out the door to a taxi that would be taking me to the school.
"But wait! You know I've never taught before, right!? Wait... WAIT! What do I do!?"
"You'll be fine. Just show them some picture flashcards then play some games. 1st graders love games. Good luck!"
"What kind of games!? I don't know any games!"
The carnage they ensued the next two weeks is something I cannot accurately articulate. My second week of teaching I completely lost control of a class I was substituting, which I referred to as "the demon children" (have you seen Kindergarten Cop?). First of all, for a reason that is completely beyond my comprehension, the 6-year-olds at this school have fountain pens and bottles of ink, so of COURSE some kid decided it would be funny to pour it all over his desk and smear it on the walls. I'm not joking. The other kids around him joined in. I looked at my Vietnamese TA like "WTF do I do!?" and she just stood there looking annoyed and unsurprised. I had to remove myself from the classroom because I couldn't help but start cracking up about the fact that this was my life. This was just the tip of the iceberg. Substituting first grade is basically just being a dancing monkey for 90 minutes so the kids are distracted enough to not cause mass destruction.
When you are suddenly in charge of 30 kids, you adopt a personality you never knew you had in you. I did not know I was capable of being Teacher Kaylee, and it is strange. I now say things like "1, 2, 3, eyes on me!" and "Ms. Kaylee is not happy. Do you know why Ms. Kaylee is not happy? Because you are not listening. If you are not focused, there will be no stickers today. I am not kidding. I will wait." Teacher Kaylee sounds an awful lot like the teachers I used to hate.
WHO AM I?
I was a substitute teacher for 6 weeks before I was given my own classes. I now teach three different Grade 1 classes, three times each per week (the Cambridge curriculum, where color is 'colour' and french fries are 'chips'). Not only am I teaching them English, but also math in English. When I was just covering classes, I dreading coming to work. I'd be thrown into classes last minute, and each class was a different grade with a different teacher and different rules, so I never got to know any of the kids and the job was basically just to be a chaos-control robot, walking around the room taking toys and making sure they do the work their regular teacher assigned. But now that I have my own kids, life is easier -- somewhat.
My routine is like this: I write my name on the board and split the class into 2-4 teams depending on class size. I have a stack of team names they get to draw from at the beginning, which include Team Nemo and Team Spiderman (they all want to be Team Spiderman). We play a round of "Teacher Says" (i.e. Simon Says) which ends in "Teacher says sit nicely and quietly!" Then I ask for volunteers to give me the date and recite the class rules (listen, be quiet, no fighting, etc.) -- students who answer correctly get points for their team. Then, I remind them that the winning team gets a sticker at the end of class. Kids lose their shit for stickers. Teams will lose points for misbehaving. I have one class that requires me to turn into a fun-sucking Nazi or else all hell will break loose. It's just anarchy in there... kids on the floor, kids on the desks, screaming, running, stabbing, crying, throwing things... so with them, the coveted stickers are rare and we can't do fun cut-and-stick activities because there's no way in hell I'll let those kids have scissors.
I'm not a natural at this like some teachers are, but I'm getting the hang of it. I guess I kinda like some of the kids... I'll admit I have a soft spot for the ones that sit in the front row with their little glasses and bowl cuts, stoked to learn. It's also pretty cute to walk into a school and have several kids yell "MS. KAYLEE!!!" and run up to me for hugs and to tell me about the elephants they saw at the zoo.
I still think they're scary. And sticky. But some are okay I guess.