I was feeling a little low when I woke up today: It's Christmas season and I'm far away from home, and I've been sick for a week. I miss family and friends, American-style supermarkets and wide open spaces - to quote the Dixie Chicks.
Even stinky old Los Angeles has more open space than Taipei. This morning as I picked my way through an alley mined with dog shit, I thought about how I would be thrilled just to enjoy the openness of a Target parking lot for a couple minutes. Public green space is seriously scarce here. In these parts the "backyard" is, truly, a foreign concept.
I arrived at school thinking my dollface nubbins would pick up my spirits. As I prepared my classroom, I listened to them practice their Christmas play upstairs. They've been practicing every morning for about a month. I could hear them saying their lines interspersed with teachers' voices yowling "STAND PROPERLY" and "DON'T MOVE!" Pretty much an average morning.
Then my boss came downstairs.
"Ok Teacher Leslie, come along. We go to play. Bye bye!" She motioned to follow her down to the first floor. The other two teachers fell in step behind us. One of my students started to cry.
Me: What's going on?
Vancouver: They did really bad this morning with their play.
Boss: So I told them we are going to leave .... BYE BYE STUDENTS!
Ten pairs of big black eyes watched us from the top of the stairwell.
"NNNNNnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnOOOOOOOooooooooOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooo" Someone wailed.
We got outside and shut the door. Vancouver, my boss, and the other Chinese teacher burst out laughing. Then my boss cracked the door open, there were at least two voices bawling. But that wasn't enough.
Boss: Students! I'm going to call the police. We're leaving! The police will come by later. Bye bye!
The crying got louder.
Vancouver (to me): Calling the police is the ultimate threat in Taiwan to students. I thought it was mean when I first started teaching, but now I do it all the time.
Most people, myself included, would think reducing an entire preschool to sobs would be a disaster. But where I work, I guess it's a ... character building exercise? A motivational experience? I was clearly the only adult present who didn't think it was an awesome idea. Not that I have any problem making little kids cry, my brothers can attest to that. But a whole school?
A couple minutes later we walked back upstairs. Two of my four students were wracked with sobs, snot trickling down their faces. My boss called two more students into her office (one of mine) and yelled at them in Chinese.
By 10:05 a.m. three of my four students were in tears, and the other sat in his chair staring ahead stonily. Wonderful.
Me: So! Who wants to sing Looby Loo?
(We usually sing first.)
They shook their heads solemnly.
Me: Okay well what would you like to do.
What I would've liked to do was hug them. They were pitiful. I wasn't upstairs to see, but they probably were being a little bad during play practice. But ... THEY'RE FOUR. And they're memorizing lines in a foreign language. And they have to remember their stage blocking. And they're supposed to be good. ALL AT THE SAME TIME. The expectations were never so high when I was four.
Ivan: I want draw a picture.
Me: Okay. We can draw pictures.
We drew tomatoes, carrots and celery. This week's unit is vegetables. That's 4.5 hours of English learning centered on veggies. Next week it gets worse: household chores. I don't believe whoever wrote this textbook was ever four years old.
A few minutes later Ivan wiped an impressive booger on the table and everyone giggled and pointed, so then things were pretty much back on an even keel.
But if I ever had any delusions about a future for myself in early Chinese education - and I didn't - they would've been dashed today.