This week, I went back to school. Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of summer left, and I’m not heading back to college yet. I’m still in Mexico, so I haven’t visited my old high school recently. Instead, I went all the way back to preschool and kindergarten. The kids here in Mexico are still in school, and on Tuesday, I was asked to serve in the kinder classroom. Loving to teach and work with kids, I enthusiastically agreed.
When I walked into the classroom, I was greeted by several of the kids who know me because I’m around so much. The teacher introduced herself and began speaking to me, reminding herself to speak slowly so the gringa could understand. After a couple tries, I got what she was saying and went to help the three youngest boys–between the ages of 3 and 5–with their work.
The first boy asked my name, so I told him and asked his. Then he started his work. I turned to help the other two. Things were going well. After a very short while, however, the boys refused to work. They ganged up on me and talked amongst themselves. I couldn’t always catch what they were saying because they were speaking in little-boy words, rapidly and shrilly, not to mention they spoke in my second language. The teacher came over to help me. She took the boys away for a bit to have a chat with them. They were made to apologize to me. But as soon as she turned her back, they were back to their antics. I felt like I had no control. As someone reminded me later, this is how substitute or new teachers feel. The classes don’t want to work, they won’t listen, and the teacher has little to no authority.
By the time we reached botana (snack at noon), I was drained. I went to find a quiet place to cry. The combination of culture shock and frustration in the classroom were enough to take everything from me. I just wanted to be left alone. But God sent a kind woman from the current work group to talk to me. She let me vent my frustrations and suggested I talk with the woman who had asked me to help in the classroom. That woman then agreed to talk to the teacher. While the two talked, one of the girls from my house noticed I had been crying. She hurried to comfort me and dragged some of her friends (who speak excellent English) to cheer me up. One of the teachers stopped by and told me that teaching is a battle, but it is one we must fight for the kids. The encouragement was wonderful.
When my supervisor returned, she asked me to take a short break but to head back into the classroom for the afternoon. I went off and cried some more, begging God to somehow give me the strength to endure two and a half more hours of this. Then I went down to the kitchen, where the teacher was getting to last of the kids to finish their snack. My supervisor gently asked if I was ready to go back. I thought I was.
I was wrong.
I cried. Right there in the kitchen in front of half the group and the cook and my fellow intern and my supervisor and the teacher. I really hated that. My supervisor tried to calm me down, but by that point, the teacher had noticed. So she came rushing over, hugging me and reassuring me that I was doing great and that the boys were the problem. Then the cook (whom I work with every Saturday and frequently during the week) called me over, telling me not to cry and promising that those little boys were crazy (as little boys tend to be). The compassion these women offered me was amazing. I was overwhelmed.
That afternoon went much better, but when school let out, I was ready to go. That night, the house where two of the three boys live had the substitute parents there. The sub mom heard what had happened in class that day. She comes over to my house on Thursdays, so she knows me fairly well. She was angry that the boys had treated me with so little respect. When she saw me pass by on my way to the van, she called me over.
There we stood–the sub mom, the teacher, one of the boys, and me. After bringing my supervisor over to translate through my tears, they requested that I tell this young boy how he made me feel. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I was sobbing. By the end, so was he. Then the adults told him to apologize again and hug me. I promised him that I forgave him and hugged him tight. He cried into my shoulder, and I squeezed him tighter. A few minutes later, we were walking over to the other house to have the same conversation with the youngest boy. He cried harder. It broke my heart, and I hated to cry in front of them because I knew it made it harder on the kids. But the adults assured me that this was best for the boys, that they needed to see how they had hurt me.
The adults were right.
Yesterday, I went back to kinder to help again. The teacher wanted me back so the boys could practice respecting me. I was terrified. I did not want to go. But when the bell rang, I walked up to the classroom to begin my day. They start the day with a devotion and singing, and when they sang “Jesus Loves Me” in Spanish, one of the boys requested we also do so in English. I came up to the front and led, rather self-consciously. One of the girls afterward told me that I sang very well. That is one of the sweetest compliments I’ve ever received.
Then it was time to work–the real test. We sat down around the boys’ little tables and played a game of recognizing colors. Then we started worksheets. Two of the boys (the two I talked to after school) got right to it. The third boy was much slower to start. We got through their morning worksheets, and they got toys to play with. When we took a bathroom break, one of the boys from my house saw me, and he warned the boys that they better listen to me. Then he told me to keep trying. My house brothers and sisters are so encouraging! During this morning time, I discovered a few things.
First, in a few years, the littlest boy is going to become the next drummer in Mexico’s latest boy band. He’s already got the drumming skills, and he’s always had the charm. He spent most of his playtime with a pencil and a popsicle stick, pounding a rhythm on anything he could find.
Second, one of the older boys could easily be Mexico’s next Diego Rivera. One of his tasks was to trace stencils for a picture of his own design. At first he used the stencils to create a cute scene with a house, a car, a garden, and the moon and stars. However, soon he traded the stencils for his own imagination. He recreated the same picture but all by himself. I was impressed with his love and effort poured out on the page.
Third, that little chat with the boys after school did wonders. It was important for the boys to see me cry and to hear how they had hurt me. It was also important that I hugged them so that they knew I still loved them deeply.
After all that, the kids went to PE, and I had a break. I helped prepare the botana for my house. I ate with the kinder kids, who asked me to pray for their snack. I prayed in English (as they requested), which thrilled them to no end. Then we trooped back inside. We had some more work to do, and one boy just didn’t want to do it. Boy Band wavered between working and refusing, mimicking both of his older peers. Rivera worked as hard as he could, finished quickly, and was rewarded with extra playtime.
Perhaps the highlight of my day was when the other teacher’s aide was rewarding the kids for good behavior. She asked me how the boys had behaved, and I was able to give praise to Boy Band and Rivera. The boys beamed, knowing that they had done better and that I was proud of them. After school, lots of people asked me if my day had gone better, and I was able to proudly tell them of my boys and how much they had improved.
Sorry this post is so long, but these past two days have been quite the journey, and I want you all to know about it. I go back to the school tomorrow morning (unless plans change), and we have another fresh start. Please be praying for me and my boys as we face another day of kindergarten.
Dios les bendiga.