A cluster of Barbie dolls remains piled up along the side of the futon. On the desk sits a Groucho Marx – inspired eyeglass / nose / mustache combo. A small whiteboard and dry erase marker, a stack of note-cards clipped together by lesson number (MC-L2-U6- LC2-11: Weather and Seasons), and a bear puppet pepper the other side of the desk. My laptop sits in the middle. My iPhone earbuds, plugged into the computer, lay in a cluster. My office remains ready for short-notice bookings and previously scheduled lessons.
I log into the VIP KIDS teacher’s portal and access the calendar that displays my bookings. All my time slots I opened for the morning are marked “Booked.” I glance at the time. 6:53a.m. I click on the 7:00am session and open the power point presentation that provides the curriculum for the next thirty minutes.
In the small screen next to the power point slides, I watch a young Chinese student look up from her book as I open the document. My computer camera is off still. I reset the stopwatch feature on my phone, which is propped against a tall, skinny Virgin of Guadalupe candle on my desk and then take another swig of coffee.
Popping off my chair, I lean in to switch on the other lamps in the room and close the blinds as the sunlight pours in. Clicking “start” on the stopwatch and turning on the camera button, I smile at the student.
“Hello!” I exclaim, waving incessantly with wide eyes.
“My name….” I begin slowly and draw my thumbs in toward my chest, “is Teacher Sara.” I add as I hold up an index card with my name written with my best first-grade teacher printing.
“What,” I shrug my shoulders and hold my hands up, “is your name?” I point at the camera to the child in Beijing.
“My name is Jill. J-i-l-l, Jill.” The girl says proudly.
“Hi Jill. How are you?” I speed up a little sensing she knows some English.
“I am fine, Teacher. How are you?”
“I am fine, also, Jill. Thank you.” I hold up two thumbs.
Looking at the title of the power point I continue, “Jill, today you will learn about weather and the seasons. Are you ready to learn English?”
“Yes, Teacher. I am ready to learn English.”
I flip to the first slide which is a review of letter names and sounds. She initiates the alphabet song before I even begin.
She’s an eager beaver.
“Wow, great job, Jill.”
The Chinese kids, I have since learned, all sing the ABC song differently than I ever did growing up or when I taught elementary students in the States for 12 years. I like their version much better. The letters LMNOP are not clustered together like one letter. Seriously. Try it. Sing the ABC song and notice how fast we typically say the “LMNOP” part. It’s silly. The Chinese have it right. They have different breaks in the song and it just makes sense. I need to learn that version and start a movement here in the ol’ US of A…unless it has already begun and I’m just late to the train.
I digress. Back to Jill….
The next slide has pictures of different types of weather: sunny, windy, and rainy. We review those words, act them out, and read them a few times. The next slide shows a calendar. Sunday is circled and Jill repeats, “Today is Sunday.” She repeats the skill for Monday and Tuesday.
When she sees the slide labeled Wednesday, she reads, “Today is Weather.”
From the background, I hear a shrill voice correcting her before I can, “Wednesday! Today is Wednesday!”
Jill’s face tightens.
“Wednesday. Today is Wednesday,” she obediently repeats.
While I feel mostly excited and in awe that I’m teaching English to a child in China, 12 hours ahead of my time zone, it’s mixed with a bit of sadness and guilt that I’m contributing to the high demands and pressures on these kiddos to perform with perfection.
I put on my Groucho Marx mask and in a silly voice encourage her.
“Jill, good job!” She giggles.
“Yes. Today is Wednesday. What is the weather like today?”
“Sunny,” she replies.
“Yes, Jill. Today,” I pause and turn the computer to the window, “is sunny.”
“Sunny, sunny, sunny,” I chant playfully and watch her eyes widen at the sunlight.
She turns her camera to the dark window and back again, then smiles.