It is safe to say that my feelings about my students change daily, sometimes by the minute. Some days they are engaged, funny, and enthusiastic; we joke and laugh, and time passes quickly. Other days, nobody listens or cares, they whine and carry on, and the minutes tick by like hours. However, through the ups and downs of my 17 different classes (all with different students) each week, there is one reliable source of joy: kindergarten.
The kindergartners make me feel like a superhero. I teach them once a week at my Monday school, but, if I’m lucky, I get hit with the feelings of being a celebrity three times that day. First, at lunch: when I enter the cafeteria, the kindergartners spot me instantly. They turn en masse, abandoning their teeny chopsticks to wave enthusiastically with both hands, little voices excitedly calling, “Hellooo!” Even after their teacher has directed them back to their food, they watch me eagerly, sneaking more quick waves and breaking into big smiles when we make eye contact. They’re adorable.
After lunch I make my second superhero entrance of the day, this time into their classroom. Again, they wave excitedly and exclaim, “Hello!” like they did not just see me at lunch.
Originally, I was nervous to teach kindergarten, as I had no clue what to expect. Being in charge of a bunch of little humans whom I could not communicate with sounded slightly terrifying—not to mention dangerous—and unlike my other classes they are too young to have any textbooks or curriculum. But I was happy to find that even young children who don’t understand the language I’m speaking can be charmed by my songs and smile.
Imagine a group of eight four-year-olds who all think you are the coolest thing in the world. They trail me to the carpet where we sit in a semicircle and sing songs—The Wheels On The Bus was a huge crowd pleaser—and read books. I entertain them for as long as I can keep their attention (usually around 30 minutes) and by the end of class the semi-circle has collapsed in on me, with a few hands on me knees, others on my arms. Their Korean teacher sits nearby, crowd managing and singing along.
Without fail, every class ends with the song I taught them on the first day of class: Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes. I have tried slipping out without doing it, but as we near the end of our time together one student inevitably starts doing the motions, looking at me hopefully. So alas, we sing it… every Monday… first normal speed, then slow, then fast— which is really just spastic giggle-infused dancing. We high-five goodbye and I see myself out as they all watch me go, waving and chattering.
When the bell rings at 4:25, I leave the school and head to the bus stop. This is is when the third celebrity spotting happens. If I time it right, the kindergartners are in line, walking to the school bus. First, one student spots me: “Hellooo!!!” Her friends quickly follow suit, and the line falls apart as they scurry over to the fence that separates us, sticking their hands between the bars to touch me just one more time. They follow me along the fence and wave goodbye (still saying, “Hello,”—we’re working on that).
When I imagined teaching in Korea, my experience with the kindergartners is more inline with what I had envisioned (and hoped for). They are cute, of course, but they are also curious and uninhibited; additionally, I have a co-teacher in the classroom who supports me and assists the students, which is not something I can say of most of my other classes. The kindergartners are my bright spot, as I slog through periods of bratty 4th graders and silent, uninterested middle schoolers. If I had to point to any one place where I truly feel like I’m making a difference here, it is with the kindergartners.
Do I hope they are learning something each day—the parts of the body or the colors of the rainbow? You bet! But more importantly, I hope that, through me, they are forming positive associations with learning English. I hope I’m helping them build a foundation that will make them successful when I am long gone from Korea.