Hands wave frantically in the scream filled air as they run aimlessly in hysteric circles. Bodies are on the floor kicking and rolling around, Some are jumping reaching towards an unforgiving fluorescent lit ceiling that seems miles away. Foreign words fly in high pitched urgency.
I am ranking this at least ring 5 of 7 enduring a special kind of hell-fire fueled by sugar and lack of Rittalin. And, just as I foresaw long ago in Catholic Sunday School, hell would not be complete without the excruciatingly torturous mechanisms of English grammar.
The she-devils and the he-devils segregate themselves from one another. The Trinity of Trouble sits to my left; ever innovative and utterly devoted to achieving domination by wrestling each other to the floor. The Choir of Chaos is on my right; cliquey and competitive, their activities include impromptu ballet performances and crying.
I am the supreme ruler of anarchy bearing a vestigial title and the burden of implementing the tortures of the English language with an “I just want to help you” attitude that exudes utter frailty and is easily dismissed by the pint sized hell creatures.
Welcome to Monday.
With such a charming little faces, it is hard to imagine that going into class would be more like gearing up for war. I prep my drill sergeant voice, remind myself to be strong, and head into the classroom labeled London, where I am greeted with the above described scene.
I break up and re-seat the boys to no avail, try to comfort the girl crying with her head on the desk; to which I am responded to with a fervent description of the latest altercation of the circle….all in Indonesian. These little kid problems make half of as much sense to me as they would in English which is zero. (You’re 7, in the elite socioeconomic class in your country, no one expects you to do anything, including behave, and the world is at your feet. So what if your friend maybe ran a little faster than you and beat you in duck-duck-goose, people are constantly beating me in the game of life…thanks art degree) But, at least I can relate to the nonchalant confusion they feel towards someone yelling at them in a foreign language. I turn around, pull two more boys off the floor. Start threatening, “No one is getting stickers if they do not sit in their seats and get their books…5-4-3-2-….” We never get to 1. Even though technically we should be somewhere around -5 on the countdown, it would be so sad if no one got stickers, neither of us can bear it.
The fire in their eyes dulls and they stare with brown doe eyes rimmed by long dark lashes as I write on the board unit 3’s adjectives: “short, tall, ugly, beautiful, fat, thin, happy, sad, old, young.” We read them together in a chorus of cherub like voices all miraculously sitting in desks with books open and it is like the clouds have parted and grace has replaced the previously apocalyptic atmosphere. We do some work sheets. I explain how to play duck-duck-goose through pantomime successfully. Just a few more pages in the book and such will conclude our time together. I almost feel bad for using my loud-voice.
Back to the classroom because this duck-duck-goose thing’s educational value cannot be justified for playing it for more than 15 minutes even though they want to play until its sticker and go home time. So we go to the book where they will draw pictures. There is a space for mother, father, me, and a blank for a family member or friend all with 3 little multi-colored lines creating a landing strip for knowledge to be scrawled out: adjectives.
A wave of gratitude passes through me as I see the words short, beautiful, thin, tall being driven into the paper with all the force of developing fine motor skills. I move on to crying girl’s paper which says “I am beautiful, tall, mad with Michelle, happy with Alya. Frankly, I’m impressed with the originality and almost correct use of emotion words. So I move on. Bintang is copying Radit’s paper per the usual, really. I stop him to ask him about his adjectives.
“Are you tall or short?”
Tall and short both are scribbled into the lines.
“No those are opposites, remember opposites?”
Duh you don’t, that was when you had Irfan in a sleeper hold and were throwing his shoes across the room.
I pass over to a particularly bright student, pristine red bow holding her little adorable bob cut from her face.
Hmm you, okay…. I hone in on this anomaly.
Tall, Thin, Ugly, Sad
“Anissa, who is this?” As if I have to ask, the stick figure has the ruffles of my sleeves and my ponytail artfully drawn.
“Oh, It’s you. Here!”
I proceed to watch as she transforms the stick figure’s hair into the afro that I fight against 80% humidity to tame every day. The Choir of Chaos has crowded, giggling, around the desk to behold the spectacle that is stick figure me being mutilated on a 7 year old’s paper.
To add insult to injury I even straightened my hair today, she’s drawing how I typically look when I don’t have the heart to fry my hair into submission.
So what do I do? Make her change it? Make her stay after class? Try to establish the importance of respect in the classroom environment?
“Anissa, that is not very nice”
She looks up at me defiantly. I smile back at her, if only to emphasize the falseness of the scraggly stick figure’s long droopy curve mouth.
I guess that 1st grade isn’t going to be kind to me the second time around either.