Thursday, December 15, 2005

"Let us bake bread together..."

Today we had another pre-school field trip, and it was my favorite so far! I'm not even sure why, but it was just pleasant and full of happy vibes. We went to a bakery where the little ones got to make cookies and decorate cakes and bring their treats home.

On "outing days" we English teachers have to be there earlier, at 10 a.m. (I usually teach pre-school at 11.) Somehow today I could not find my keys as I was scrambling to leave the house and I was nearly late, and when we all loaded into the five Ding Ding Dang vans (the kids call them the "Ding Ding Dang Bus," but they're mini-vans, folks, bright yellow ones) our route took us back down the street along which we English teachers walk our ~20 minutes to work. In other words, we all live between work and the field trip site. The English teachers didn't all ride in the same van, and when we got there I discovered others had also mused, "Man, they could have just picked us up on the way..." On the other hand, my pre-schoolers were tickled to have driven by "Linda teacher's house!" Not that you can even see our side street from the main road, as you'd have to turn twice, but it doesn't take much with them.

Also, hilariously, amid the Korean chattering I heard Wendy, who has zero attention span on her best day, say, "Da-wa-ga-yo?!" in a perfect whine. The Korean teacher answered her something that was clearly a "No, hush" kind of thing. I said, "Oh my gosh, did Wendy just say, 'Are we there yet?'" And yes, she had. It was awesome. I think that's my favorite piece of Korean vocabulary that I've learned, period. I cracked up for the rest of the ride.

I adore my pre-school. Today as we cut cookie dough I got to thinking about how smart a couple of them are. One in particular, Francesca, is a little genius. She's cute, too, but quirky cute, with her short hair, round face and glasses, and big smile. She has the best mind and attitude of just about any of my students (that includes on up through the 13-year-olds). And she's ridiculously helpful in class, like when I've got five or six kids who don't understand whether they're supposed to be writing "big" or "pig" and I'm rushing around trying to attend to all the cries of "Help me teacher" and "Teacher, what is it?" that I swear some days are the only English words I hear from them, Francesca has long since finished her workbook page and she'll calmly walk around the U-shape of chairs translating or repeating the instructions or helping someone find an eraser. She's amazing. I tell her she's going to be president someday. She doesn't quite understand that. Yet.

Anyway, so I was watching her and thinking, 'I really want to know what becomes of some of these kids after I vanish from their lives.' And then I thought, especially with my pre-school whom I spend more time with and whose personalities I know better because we have class Monday through Friday instead of only a couple days a week, 'I think I want to know what becomes of ALL of them!' So I decided at the end of my stint here maybe I will try to tell them they have to write letters to Linda Teacher in America. I mean, it's brilliant. It should make their mothers happy: free continued English instruction, right? And anyone who knows me knows how much of a letter-writer I am and how I am always trying to find fellow letter-writers. I'm certain there are some lurking among my students. So, that is my new brilliant plan. And I can say of Secretary-General Francesca I knew her when.

So we made cookies and I was delighted that there was a penguin cookie cutter. I made a little family of penguins and had them surround my heart-shaped cookie. But then there was more dough, so there were more penguins. I let Brian and Jina decorate some of my penguin flock and take them home for themselves. I didn't really need more than three cookies. And I managed to keep only the three, my two original penguins and their heart, free from the dreaded too-sweet chocolate icing.

Then, the kids decorated small cakes with white frosting. They were so well behaved, sitting in pint-sized chairs around long, low tables, decked out in paper aprons, listening to the man instruct them. In between cookie sheets and cake trays I entertained my dozen. I even managed to intervene between Andy's and Chris's (inevitable) fighting and wage peace. They are really good friends, but they fight every day, too, like physically. And clearly there have been enough injuries in my pre-school of late.

The bakery is called "Pain Pain" (as in bread en francais) but I kept purposely calling it pain - pain as you would say the English word and getting my kids to do the same. Sometimes you just have to be a little rebellious. It amuses us ENTs (English Native Teachers) and it doesn't make a difference to the KTs (Korean Teachers) anyway. I like to alleviate my boredom with the munchkins sometimes. Like Jenny, one of the smart students and maybe the oldest one in the class, who is so bored all the time and who unlike Francesca does not channel that into good behavior. Jenny is also helpful to those who don't know what's going on but spends more time talking to her neighbors in Korean than getting their work accomplished. Francesca will be valedictorian and student body president; Jenny will be head cheerleader and homecoming queen. I can see it now.

Anyway, so Jenny with her long hair and long limbs and ultra-confidence always wears something cute, and on the last field trip she had these pleather boots, a sassy skirt, thick gray tights, the works, and she's, like, all of six years old. I called her a little fashionista and she immediately repeated the word, amused. That happens a lot: you can't get them to repeat "Where is the book? It is here" to save your life, but they'll hear some random comment and seize upon it. So the name stuck and I call her Fashionista almost every day, now. She still doesn't know what it means, really, but I can tell that she knows it's slightly teasing, but not mean.

I actually gave Francesca a nickname today, too. They had slices of fruit to put atop their cakes: kiwi, strawberries, tomatoes(!), etc. Naturally, Andy cried because there were no banana slices. He loves him some bananas. Well, Francesca put almost all the grapes, and only grapes, on her cake. I said, "Hey, Ms. Grapes of Wrath, what's going on with you here?" Then it struck me how she is kind of Steinbeck-like, and I think equally brilliant. She was "Hey, Steinbeck" to me for the rest of the day. *She* probably will figure out what her nickname means soon. She's probably already read the entire works of Steinbeck for all I know.

They've just about mastered "Jingle Bells" so I think tomorrow we're going to sing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." We're also about to move on in our reading book, an extremely easy version of Three Billy Goats. The veeeeeeeery big goat is just about across the bridge, so we'll have to see what the troll is going to do about it. I was impressed to see them using the word "bridge," now part of their repertoire, in the van today, on the way back from Pain Pain: they would place their bags of cookies across the opening between two seat backs, or bridging the gap between my knees, and then I would walk my fingers across "Cookie Bridge." This provided endless minutes of fun.

And now it's just about Friday. And it's just about Christmas. And things are merry and bright.

"I got thinkin’ how we was holy when we was one thing, an’ mankin’ was holy when it was one thing. An’ it on’y got unholy when one mis’able little fella got the bit in his teeth an’ run off his own way, kickin’ an’ draggin’ an’ fightin’. Fella like that bust the holi-ness. But when they’re all workin’ together, not one fella for another fella, but one fella kind of harnessed to the whole shebang—that’s right, that’s holy." -- The Grapes of Wrath

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