Looking Forward

10 Things I learned as an assistant teacher in bilingual kindergarten

  1. Expect the unexpected. It’s a cliché that very much applies in a classroom of 5 year olds. This week, one of my students came in from recess with her shoes tied together. Another recounted the tale of the rat skeleton his family found in the attic. You never know what’s coming…
  2. In kindergarten, kids contemplate the big questions (“Anne, how long will I live?”). I’ve heard them discuss gender and sexuality, marriage, politics, religion, and the weather. They make complicated things simple in the most beautiful way.
  3. Don’t wear white to school. Clothing must be fingerpaint -, cleaning product – , and snotty hand – proof.
  4. “Sit down and raise your hand” must be rule number one. Otherwise, I am accosted by small bodies with loud voices, all with the expectation that they are my first priority. If I could have more hands and another brain, please, that would help.
  5. In my class, there are children raised by the rules of one culture, of another culture, of a mix of cultures. There is an actual difference between children raised strictly in French and children raised strictly in American. Neither makes a perfect child (but they are perfect to me).
  6. Play. The best class is full of humor, and nothing motivates or pleases children of any background like games.
  7. Read. Books are the most important thing to child-brains. When I have kids, words will be magic and stories will be magic come to life.
  8. Smile. There is no better way into a child’s heart. Except perhaps candy, or showing animated films (such as these).
  9. I have made unparalleled use of my multi-tasking abilities. I can simultaneously pour paint, help someone spell a word without giving the answer, prep snack, clean countertops, and empathize with a child who’s hurting from a bobo.
  10. People who teach kindergarten are straight-up superheroes. The creativity, the energy, the organization, the patience, the people skills…I can’t think of another job I’ll ever have which requires the same level of each all at once. I will miss it.

Why will I miss it, you ask? I have a new job for next year. It may require very similar skills. It may be just as challenging, and will hopefully be just as rewarding. It’s an almost total change of gears.

I’m going back to my second home, my alma mater, to teach upper and middle school Latin. I couldn’t be more excited. I’ll be following in the footsteps of one of my favorite mentors and teachers, I’ll be in charge of my own subject, I’ll still be teaching language, and we’ll have a lot of fun bringing a dead language to life.

Au revoir aux enfants, and salvete discipuli!

As the sun sets on this chapter, I’ll be climbing new mountains.

IMG_6415.jpg

IMG_6542.jpg

P.S. Seattle is beautiful.

Looking Forward

On Kindergarten

IMG_5154

How I feel at school is analogous to how I feel in life. I’m a barely-adult. Sometimes I feel like I’m underemployed; my immense skills and talents gained from world traveling and an education from a prestigious university are wasting away, unused [in a fit of eyeroll-worthy pretention].

Other times, I end up sobbing in Mommy’s backyard, locked out and overflowing with self-pity, and life is just so hard. Those are the moments I want to be a kindergartener, not teach them.

I’d die to have someone pick the seeds out of my orange slices. I want someone else to receive an e-mail saying I need to bring a potato and a leek to school tomorrow, to put those vegetables in my backpack without letting me know I had that responsibility. I’d love to ask an all-knowing all-powerful adult to validate my drama, and to make my friends apologize for hurting my feelings. I’d happily burst into tears and jump into some strong person’s arms when I’m tired, or frustrated, or I just can’t go on.

I want it to be okay that I’m young, and I’m learning, but I can’t do what the older kids can do yet. I want someone wise to remind me of that undeniable truth: that we are always learning and never perfect, and if you’re perfect what’s there to learn?   

But something happens when you’re in the repeat-childhood that is your 20s — you get to be “independent.” I became my own wise adult. Not only that, but I get to be the wise adult for my little almost-students, who are totally dependent. I have a wise adult voice, a wise adult air of confidence. My wise adult self makes sure they wash their hands with soap and teaches them it’s L M N O P and not ello-meno-pee so maybe they can read someday. 

But inside I know the truth: I am not a wise adult. Sometimes I can’t remember to bring my own potato and leek, and I can’t find the words to validate my own drama or make my friends apologize to me for hurting my feelings. All that feels like my fault and my shortcoming, because now it’s my responsibility.

Maybe the illusion that barely-adulthood is shattering is that wise adults “know what they’re doing.” Maybe they’re all just doing what they can, and that’s either enough…or not, sometimes. 

Or the true illusion is independence. Maybe I am only slogging through “becoming wise” because I know there are people behind me who would tie my shoes and help me zip my coat, if my fingers were numb or I didn’t know how.

Maybe we’re all still kindergarteners, inside, and we still need each other. 

On Kindergarten

Making Way for Ducklings

I disembark the Megabus in Boston right on time, with the whole day to myself. I stow my luggage and wander into the city, picking a road and ending up near the arched entrance to Chinatown. Skirting this neighborhood, because I’d be led in the wrong direction, I make my way to the center of the city — the Boston Common. Naturally, my Seattle nose, urged on by a Seattle brain, sniffs out the best coffee, and I curl up on a sunken brown couch in the Boston Common Coffee Company for my introvert blogging recharge time. The cashier asks me if I went to Emerson University, acting like he knows who I am. Instant local.

After a sufficient amount of caffeine and plugged-in time, I set out on the Freedom Trail, armed with a 4$ app and a 3$ map to find my way from dead hero to church to dead hero. I meet the ghosts of Ben Franklin, Sam Adams, John Hancock…all the soldiers and founding fathers, and the two or three famous women…IMG_5344

IMG_5345I also run into my new favorite store. When I was little, I fell asleep to the book on tape editions of Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings at least thrice a week. Little did I remember, Robert McCloskey was from Boston and has a store named after his work.

DucklingsIMG_5367

 

I pass through Quincy Market, which distracts me long enough that I never make it to the next stop on the Trail (Paul Revere’s House). A street show, featuring very loud speakers blaring “Gangnam Style” and a group of break dancers, greets me at the entrance. I stop to watch, surrounded by kids on a field trip who are supposed to be more interested in the historical square in which they stand — where the Boston Tea Party-goers got all riled up. History, predictably, loses to K-Pop. When they leave with their chaperones, I also leave, heading deeper into the market. Urban Outfitters, souvenir stands with jewelry and Boston boxers and fancy twisted paper lamps…food stalls sending delicious smells wafting through the air…I soak it all in.

I realize my proximity to the harbor and head there, called by the sea air, which I can already feel. I find a bench right next to the water’s edge, and sit and stare out at the Atlantic — all the sailboats, moored and bobbing at the dock. I watch the comings and goings of the water taxi, transporting people laden with baggage to nearby islands? other spots on the coast? The seagulls cry overhead and I can smell salt and fish. An old man with a satchel tries to sell me a newspaper that helps the homeless. I start dreaming of clam chowder, real New England clam chowder, but I can’t bring myself to leave the harbor. It’s like Seattle’s harbor but less industrial, and it’s bathed in sunlight and chilled by the crisp, autumnal Boston air.

IMG_5371

Finally my hunger for a regionally appropriate lunch drags me off the bench. I head back toward Quincy market, where I’d seen rows and rows of food stalls earlier that day. Sure enough, there it is — The Chowda Company. I buy some chowda from a man with a Bostonian accent and sit outside to eat it, next to the outdoor games area. I rip and dump my oyster crackers, scooping one up for a delicious creamy-crunchy-soupy bite.

IMG_5380

At first, I watch a family play ping pong. Then I become so absorbed in my chowda that I only look up when I hear….French!? 

Sure enough, there are three French people — about my age — who have started a game of ping pong. I eavesdrop, wishing slightly that I could go home with them after their East Coast vacation is over. But only slightly, as my own East Coast vacation has shown me how much I love traveling in the U.S., and how many places here I still haven’t seen…

I spend over an hour at Quincy Market, watching. An awkward young couple plays chess. Some Irish boys in green sweatshirts run by (those accents, though…). I hear more European tourists speak German, British, French, Russian, as they pass me.

Finally, it’s time to meet my friends/hosts. I walk back to the city center and discover my other favorite place, and the setting of Make Way for Ducklings: the Boston Public Garden.

IMG_5391

I hope it’s obvious from my writing how much I loved Boston. [I’m trying a thing where I show and don’t tell, in an effort to improve my writing/try new things.]

Seeing study abroad friends, aka surfing on their couch, was fantastic. Sometimes it takes a visit to remember that faraway friends are still friends. Hospitality strikes again. I hope to return the favor by showing off Seattle!

In the words of Augustana, “I think I’ll go [back] to Boston…”

IMG_5413

There I am, relaxing in Hahvahd Yahd.

Making Way for Ducklings

Chatting with Children

I used to think that the most interesting minds were adult ones. More experiences + more language = more valuable things to say, right?

I was wrong.

The antidote to a frustrating day with the class is to also have lots of positive moments. (Unless the day ends badly, from which one can never recover. Never.) Overall, it’s mathematically neutral…but spiritually, I think the positive interactions lift the soul more than the momentary frustrations bring it down.

At lunchtime, I walk around and sit at each table for a few minutes. Upon my arrival at a table, all goes quiet…I’m scrutinized by searching child eyes. Did we do something wrong? Does someone need food opened? Is it time to clean up? Why is she here? 

When it’s decided that I’m not a threat, I become the center of attention. “Why are you looking at us?” “Were you ever a baby?” “Can you open this?” “Do you have kids?” “How old are you?” “Do you have a cat?” “When is it recess time?” (Because, yes, maybe, no, 23, yes, soon)

Someone kicks a chair, and I exclaim, “Apologize to Madame Chaise! She doesn’t like being kicked.” The room dissolves into giggles. “Why are you being so silly, Anne?” says the child.

“I know I’m a little bit sick, Anne…I have a lot of bless-yous.”

“Anne, he called my food gross!” “Apologize to her food please! You hurt its feelings.” [cue giggles]

“Anne!! Anne!! I can’t find my water bottle!” “It’s under your arm, silly!” [giggles]

I may not be convincing you that my time in the classroom is so interesting by means of these mundane little snippets. But, what I am quickly learning is that there is nothing mundane about kids. The mundane is not even mundane. The garbage truck is the biggest event of the afternoon. The fire drill once a month is traumatic. Creating 6 identical plastic egg characters is the funnest thing they’ve done all day. Cutting paper in zig-zags is summiting Mt. Everest.

IMG_5155

They are full of joy and imagination. I probably won’t ever forget the first self-portrait lesson, where one little guy looked up at me with a face of pure glee, held out his drawing, and whispered “I love it!”

Do you remember when you couldn’t read or write? I can’t. For all I know, I popped out with perfect handwriting, able to read all of Nancy Drew in a week. It’s fascinating to go back to K, where they learn the alphabet, and how to count to 20, and see how I learned it. And we don’t just teach that…we teach behavior. Respect. Listening. Self-regulation. Self-discipline. Self-expression. All of the fundamental parts of a person are there for the cultivating.

It just kills me when people don’t think of children as people. They are all of us…uncensored. Talk to them, you’ll see.

Chatting with Children

Little Linguaphiles (or not)

I’m jealous of my students.

I was 15 years old when I started learning French, and it took me 8 years to become good at it.

There are students in my kindergarten class who speak no French, but I know that by the time they’re in first grade they’ll be semi-fluent. In other words, it will take them one year to learn what it took me 8 years to learn. And their language skills will be developmentally appropriate. Instead of cramming 20 year old thoughts into (maybe) 15 year old language skills like I did for a while, they’ll be caught up to themselves.

There are a zillion articles about how learning a second language is good for your brain. Most of them say something like: it connects the parts of our brains better. It makes us more flexible. It makes us more precise with our words. In my personal experience, I can’t really compare my brain with someone else’s — but, speaking another language has helped me become more thoughtful and articulate than I was before. It made me love words. And, I wouldn’t have been able to have half the experiences I had abroad without my hard-earned skillz. Just that makes it all worth it!

Some of the children who are still learning French are already bilingual (Spanish-English! Japanese-English! Chinese-English!). In a year or two at the school, they’ll be trilingual. Maybe they’ll be true polyglots (I met a girl abroad who spoke SEVEN languages! Fluently!)

This is the future of the world. We need more people to be bi- and tri-lingual. The U.S. is known abroad for having poor language skills…maybe this is changing. One school at a time. I’ve even heard of Japanese and Mandarin immersion programs in the Seattle area, which is cool too. The more diversity, the better!

Maybe I should have learned a different one. In one of my old diaries, from when I was 6, I wrote:

IMG_5126

Ah, the irony, given how my life has turned out.

I’ve had a couple of the kids tell me the same thing: “but I don’t want to learn French!”

Cue heartbreak…until I rediscovered my journal. Maybe one day their tune will change.

Little Linguaphiles (or not)

In the Big City | In the Big World

I moved. I’m currently writing this from a basement room, now mine, in a house in Wallingford — one of Seattle’s coolest neighborhoods. In my biased opinion, that is. I’ve gotten to know most of the Seattle neighborhoods pretty well, both from summer adventures to visit friends and from recent explorations of my new home. I definitely can’t find my way between them without my trusty Google Maps app, but I’m getting there! Here’s my new nest, for the next year or so:

IMG_5058I have a new job, as a Kindergarten assistant in a dual-language school. I swear I’m more immersed in French there than I was in France. The school day is all in French except for an hour or two of English, and my whole team of teachers has French as their first language. I think I found my perfect next-step job. It’s keeping my language skills up (lots of new vocab…). It’s also really overwhelming me, in a good way, as I learn how to wrangle 5 year olds in a foreign language for 8 hours at a time — Not. Easy.

I come home sweaty and exhausted, with paint all over my fingers. It’s only been three days! But it is incredibly rewarding. The cute outweighs the mess. And part of my job is making a door look like a minion.

IMG_5067

The end of summer was really sudden, and it really feels over. For me, the end of summer has always been marked by the start of school, and this year it was no different! Une bonne rentrée, indeed.

My sister left for Italy. It’s her turn to travel the world, and I could not be more excited for her. I keep trying to convince her to start a photo blog, but I have to be content with her instagram photo updates, for now…Seeing her off filled me with nostalgia. I vividly remember my plane flight toward Paris, now almost three years ago, and how the subsequent semester changed my life. I hope it will do the same for her. Ciao, Clairenstein!

I get the question a lot: Do I miss France? Yes and no. I miss all the people I was close with, both the teachers and students of the lycée/collège in Somain and my fellow English teachers in Val. That international expat community, which insta-forms when you spend time in another country, is unlike any community I’ve encountered at home. There’s an unmatchable open spirit and joie de vivre. The world seems so big.

But losing the community, for now, doesn’t mean I have to lose the spirit of it.

Now, I’m coming full circle. I am training li’l tots to be in the Big World — to range leurs affaires (clean up after themselves) and to be sage (to be wise, in all the ways). To be cognitively and linguistically flexible, to be helpful, patient, kind, and empathetic, are, to me, the requirements of the diverse community we live in. It has returned me to my child roots. I cling to a consistent routine, I clean up after myself, and after two days of school all I needed was a hug from mama. While being in a new position has shaken my confidence, I think I do fit here. I love playing a minimal, but important, part in the development of little global citizens, and it’s exciting to help them learn and grow.

But for real, the children…they are adorable! (ah-door-ableuh)

In the Big City | In the Big World

Opening Up

Knowing I have only a month in a beautiful place has infected me with carpe-diem-itis.

I am by nature a gradual person. I dip a toe in the water, watching the ripples to make sure nothing creepy lurks at the bottom before I dive in. It extends back to my preschool years (as do nearly all psychological things, says Freud) : I watch before I leap. Apparently, when I was three and four years old, I’d sit and watch the other kids doing all the activities for ages. Then, I’d get the confidence up to go in and try it myself — and I knew how to do it.

My osmotic observation techniques have served me well since then. I’ve stayed out of trouble, I’ve avoided unnecessary risks. But, as I began my whirlwind life in Toulouse, I found myself adopting an attitude of Reckless Abandon.

This doesn’t mean I’m suddenly jumping off cliffs, crossing the street when oncoming traffic is racing toward me, or taking all the dark back alleys to get home at 3 in the morning (like I did once in Paris, oops). It means I am qualm-less about Opening Up.

Here’s what I’ve learned from numerous moments of alone-ness : strangers are only strangers until you say something to them.

That’s all it takes. You just have to say something.

After this saying of the something, I instantly know :

— if they’re interested in saying something back

That’s all it takes to make a friend. It shatters the illusion of aloneness instantaneously, in a burst of “interaction.” It pulls me out of the reality of Anne’s Head and into the reality of this other person, this new universe of human, this stranger who is suddenly less strange. There’s a constellation of life experiences and perspectives and feelings, of thoughts and opinions and fears and dreams and countless quirky weird things, just there to be discovered.

And, even more importantly: if I show them mine, they show me theirs.

Aren’t my best friends only best because they’ve seen all the weirds in my universe and not run away? Didn’t I have to show them my weirds as a test, to see whether or not they would run away? Aren’t they most comfortable around me when I’ve been weird, because it means they can be weird too?

In less interrogative language: If I open up to the world, I find the worlds who open up back. I find the worlds who appreciate my own constellation of life experiences and perspectives and feelings, of thoughts and opinions and fears and dreams and countless quirky weird things, and who want to discover me back.

Through this friend-making, opening up, and discovering new worlds… I’ve learned the secret to a happy life. That’s right, I discovered it.

It is thus:

Only let people into your world who think the world of you.

My new rule for continuing to be friends with someone is based entirely on how they make me feel. If they make me feel like I’m not a world worth discovering, goodbye. If they make me feel like my world is flat and uncomplicated, wrong, or inferior to theirs, they’re out. Basically, if they don’t respect me as a super cool other universe, then, even if I think they’re a super cool other universe, I should run away. Friendship needs to be reciprocal.

Opening Up takes a lot of courage. Once you show someone some part of your personal constellation, it’s out there, entirely at the mercy of their response. When they don’t respond with interest or respect, it hurts. But, if I don’t show it to them, I never know how they’d respond.

I’m learning: friendship should be selfish. I listened to a podcast the other day in which they talked about friendship, and how friendship is the only relationship in our lives which is entirely voluntary. There is no contract, there is no hidden agenda of sex or marriage, there is no legal obligation to terminate if all goes wrong. There is only what we choose to put in, and what we want to get out. I want to get out as much as I put in, and from here on out, I’m striving for balance in all of my friendships.

This means being as open and honest as possible. Right from the very beginning. If I’m not the real me, how will they get to know the real me? How will I get to know the real them?

So, for this month in Toulouse, I have one goal: BE ME, with reckless abandon. And see how many new friends I make.

Opening Up