The pleasure of small faces

"Quack quack."

I took a long drink from my coffee cup, sighing.

"No, Crystal. A chicken doesn't quack, nor are you, in fact, a chicken. Sit back down."

Not for the first time, my student had left her seat and started strutting around the room saying "I a chicken," all the while quacking like a duck.

(Tap tap tap as she "pecked" at the table, unaware I've said anything.)

"Alright, come on now little chicken, back to your chair. We need to keep reading!" I say through my forced smile. After fruitless efforts to get her to focus, I'd caved and allowed us to read "Little Red Hen" for the 14th time this semester. It usually held this 8-year-old's attention during our one-on-one lesson each week.


Not this week, I guess.

Each day at work, it was something. A student who was too burnt out on extra classes and piles of homework to focus in my class. A student who repeatedly spoke Chinese despite my taking away his behavior stars. A student who stared calmly back at me, finger halfway up their nose, answering my question about verbs.

All this, and I wasn't even a "real" teacher.

A journalist for 8 years, any real expertise I had was in front of a computer screen in a busy newsroom. Hell, I was "the Beer Girl," writing about weekly brewery events and designing the front pages of newspapers. What the hell did I know about controlling a classroom or lesson planning?

I wasn't even that big a fan of children.


And then I moved to China. Now, despite struggles or misbehavior, the kids are often the high point of my day.

Stumbling into the school with a bit of a hangover and a bad mood, all it takes is Yo-Yo's infectious giggle to turn my day around. Then 5-year-old Eric will trot in, all smiles, eager to show me his phonics homework. A few hours later, 8-year-old Michael will show up early and become my shadow as I get coffee or prep for our lesson.

They may test my patience, but they also remind me of a beautiful innocence I sometimes forget. I grumble about how much they've forgotten each week, and then they stump me with a question I've never thought about as a native speaker. Then I'm left scrambling to figure out a response before they catch on.

I loved seeing my hard work come off the news presses, but I also love watching a student grow and mature every week. Months after being too shy to speak to me, they pull me aside to tell me all about their weekend plans, or to show me the book they're able to read.

Sitting behind my table, the little chicken having left a few hours earlier, I was frazzled and frantically typing through a student evaluation, hair piled in a haphazard bun on the top of my head. Suddenly, I hear a soft knock on the door.

"Hello, Lisa! Hello, Sara!" I say with a smile to my two favorite students, one 7 and one 8. "So, how are you two today?"

"Happy," Sara says shyly, beaming.

"I am too, Sara. And you, Lisa?"

She frowns.

"Teacher ... your hair ... it's ..." "Yes?" "Well, it's just crazy, teacher. You look crazy."

"Yes, well, I am crazy, so it all works out, eh silly goose?" (Giggles - "silly goose" always kills.) "Now let's see, who has their homework for me to see?"

Oh hell, maybe kids aren't so bad after all.

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