The A-B-C’s and 1-2-3’s of Teaching Preschool in a New Country
Yes, I am behind a full week of posting. Truthfully, I was blindsided by the underrated power of energy-sucking preschoolers. Granted I haven’t worked outside my flat for over a year, and I did expect an energy challenge with a new outside 9am clock-in routine. And even after the first day I strutted home feeling rather proud of myself. However by the 3rd, 4th, and 5th days my gait became regressively knuckle-dragging. I slept for 12 hours on Saturday.
Overall it’s been a pretty great first week at school. And it’s my first time in front of classroom of 3, 4, and 5 year olds in a few years. Last time I was in a kindergarden classroom, I was assistant teacher. This time I rule the school! Or at least my 60 square meters of English class. Which brings me to my first observation on teaching international preschoolers English as a second language: The ABC’s in this experience are:
Arbitrary: I’m lucky to work in a school that thus far seems to have a pretty free-flowing curriculum. The school is comprised of 1st floor Baby Studio (ages 0-3), 2nd floor Czech class, 3rd floor French class, 4th floor English class. All classes above Baby Studio are the 3, 4, 5yos divided up according to their parents’ wishes and sometimes splitting the week with different language class. The top floor is the Director’s residence. The Baby Studio is also an apt disciplinary directive for an errant child. It’s a bit like child talk for ‘go to hell’ since it is the bottom floor of the school and a dreaded place for a preschooler to return.
So thus far I have no daily curriculum beyond the month’s theme of Adaptation. I don’t think it takes a full month for a child to adapt, so we’re just moving forward in the manner I learned from Mrs. T (no relation to Mr. T of tv fame) while assisting her kindergarden class back in the States. “What would Mrs. T do?” I only have up to 40 minutes in a school day in which to conduct a lesson. This week has been a mix of repeating the Hello Song, the Months of the Year song, ABC flashcards and some thematic dancing. I’m sure once I get the hang of it, things will become somewhat more structured – or as least as much structure as a preschooler can grasp. I love this free-form style of learning and educating.
Beautiful: It’s the learning and educating working together, like yin and yang, ebb and flow. It’s amazing the small things one can learn from a child, one who is not only seeing and defining new things constantly but also in a second language. It’s like a puff of fresh air in my face when a child shows me his crayon drawing with a proud blue-faced monkey. Or that the 3yo identical Syrian twins who can write their names unassisted, but one writes forward and one writes backward. It’s how tough little Pavel can be on the playground but a stern word of punishment brings him crying for a cuddle. It’s only been a week, but my heart is swelling with affection for my little troupe.
Comedic: goes without saying when you’re dealing with preschoolers. Sometimes their maniacal nature can begin to grate on a teacher’s nerves, especially towards the end of day or week. I try to appreciate their fresh humor (and fortunately I’m a life-long fan of simple jokes). I like how teaching is built around games, songs and repetition. Too bad that doesn’t carry on into adult life. How much would it change one’s outlook to start the weekly board meetings with the Hello Song? I have a loud silver bell I ring when I want the class’s attention. But the Rule is: when you hear the bell, everybody freeze and look at teacher! It totally works, maybe because I not only use it to signal clean-up time but also spontaneous dance minute.
As for the 1-2-3’s, I can best break it down with a numeric summation of my week:
3 – Number of children I made cry during the week. Not that I am an orgre or knuckle-rapping disciplinarian, but especially in the beginning the alpha dog position needs to be asserted. Two of the criers were wailing for their mommies at separation time, so not so much my fault until they directed the noise to me at mama’s exit. The 3rd was above mentioned Pavel who was probably mostly embarassed at being rightfully reprimanded. And besides it ended in a sweet cuddle.
2 – Number of dirty bums I had to wipe. I use the British term here as it somehow makes the situation sound a bit prettier. Whilst revelling in the thoughts that I don’t need to bother about verb tenses and sentence structure in this English class, I had forgotten this aspect of teaching young ones. The first day I was summoned to the toilets by a downward dog positioned half naked kid requesting a clean check. Thankfully he was clean, but had forgotten to flush and left an elephant-sized turd I could hardly believe had come out of that tiny person.
1- My amazing assistant L, without whom I could not weather these unpredictable seas. She’s young and Czech and is bad cop to my good cop in our class of up to 11 children. We bonded on the first day and even after the first week are developing a near non-verbal understanding and communication. I’m also the 1 and only person in my small school who does not speak Czech. Some of the staff do not speak any English. I look forward to improving my Czech to at least preschool level this year. I am also 1 happy teacher looking forward to the A-bsolutely B-enevolent C-haos that the new week may have in store.
Haha, what would be your A-B-C’s of the first week of school?