Reading and writing opens the toolbox. Inside the toolbox are the tools to break down the doors and the walls keeping you from bigger worlds.
Meet Teddy. NOT the bear – I’m talking about my student who made me cry this morning. And this is why I want you to meet him; because I won’t be teaching English anymore very soon and I was reminded by this child of why I’m going to miss this job so very much.
Everyone always says they miss kids the most, that the kids are the best part of the job, and it’s true.
Because in all honestly, these kids cut us foreign English teachers who move here to Taiwan without any kind of teaching degree the biggest break of all: they let us be their teachers. They look up to us, they love us, they point and yell at us, they hug us, these little people who don’t even share my same culture or language. And in being their English teachers, we make more than they will make when they graduate from college with a degree in engineering or accounting.
Education can be a cruel system, and every teacher has a choice in how they will paint their students’ experience; the heart-gripping and complicated part of all this is that every student is different. You CANNOT treat them all the same.
Teddy is a triplet. He also happens to be the bigger and slower one of the three, but he’s still adorable. And he’s funny. But as many have already personally experienced, being slow causes problems in the classroom. In order to survive, the student must compensate. So Teddy compensates by being goofy, laughing, talking loudly about anything he can think of. He entertains the students, infuriates the teacher. Both student and teacher are familiar with this drill. In Teddy’s case as a kindergarten student, it’s very easy to push him to the side, throw toys at him to play with and ignore him for the most part as I push my other more capable students to soaring academic heights. But I know that’s not right. So I fought all my frustration and began to intentionally work with him one-on-one, EVEN though it would have been easier to let him play with a book he completely couldn’t read and EVEN though nobody holds me accountable to any academic standards at my school.
This morning, Teddy started writing on his own. This child couldn’t write without tracing over fully written letters in the past; he can’t even draw pictures like his classmates can. So this whole school year I’ve been giving him the guidance he needs and endlessly coaching him on his ABCs. But this morning, as all of the students were in literal awe of the new books we just started, I decided to push Teddy to try it by himself. I didn’t let him say, “I don’t know” or “I can’t.” I told him to say, “Teacher, help me.” So he tried, and there on white space where no previous letter had been, he formed “A” and then “l” and then “i” and then “t” and then “T” and the “I.” And he was so happy. In fact, he and I were both so happy, that we clapped and cheered after every letter he formed at the beginning. Teddy was so happy that he declared, “I know!” and “I did it!” for his classmates to hear, and the other students gathered around accordingly and started encouraging Teddy with teacheresque words: “Great, Teddy!” “Good job!” “Teddy can do it!” “Teddy knows!” I composed myself, but tears had already pooled in my eyes.
This morning I felt how much I was going to miss teaching these kids.
Teaching children to read and write is one of my favorite things, a favorite thing I’m going to lay to rest for a while starting February 17. Having only four more days of this job made this morning even more meaningful, like I’ve accomplished something my short year and a half of teaching at this school. My students can read and write now, and I’m going to miss watching and coaching and monitoring their progress.
And I will always remember Teddy. He likes to be my partner when he has no partner walking from the playground to the school in the mornings. And he rewarded me with the greatest reward any teacher can ask for; in a sense, this is the student who completed my mission as an English teacher here in Taiwan – for now anyway.
For Teddy, and every other student I’ve watched cast off the training wheels and ride. This is also for my mom, through whom I inherited a spirit of teaching and who herself taught elementary school for 40+ years before retiring. (I plan to spend 40+ years doing something else.)