My best known Chinese word is “niao niao.” I say it constantly. “Niao niao?” “Do you have to go niao niao?” My students are two and three year old little pants-pee-ers, and we go niao niao a lot.
There’s hardly a better way to wake up in the morning (that is, of course, after a humid and sunny 30 minute saunter to work) than to put on your best un-scary face and entertain 11 babies. And they are babies, and I am a less-experienced teacher piloting the first ever Yo-Yo (tiny baby) class at Taoyuan Kindy. The best part: no one knows if I stink at my job. I’m literally making it up as I go, and there’s no rubric, guidelines, prescedent, nothing. Just me and my babies, learning about English, Chinese, and toilet usage.
Have you ever noticed how slowly toddlers eat? I get to watch them eat every morning. They love sweet buns and sweet soy milk, but they hate oatmeal and anything green. Sometimes I get my hands dirty and grab the spoon, doing the airplane and the choo-choo train, trying to force it down, but I usually let Teacher Lily and Teacher Pace do it. These are their babies too, (they are the Chinese Teachers), and they are amazing. And they have this fantastically frightening way of making the kids do just about anything…except eat quickly. So we spend a good part of the morning sitting around, watching snack digest into bathroom time.
The cast of characters: Alto, Oscar, Sannie, Angela, Wesley, Thomas, Chester, Yuka, Champ, Hans and Andy. Can you imagine how confusing it must be to a three year old to have two completely different names? Lucky me, I get to call them by the names they absolutely don’t recognize, so we also spend a lot of time running around the room waving apple-shaped name tags shouting “This is my name!” My favorite answer to the question “Sannie, what is your name?” is “Sanniewhatisyourname!” repeated nearly verbatim by the little pigtailed kid in question. She’s fabulous, but also very naughty. And so it goes.
The babies love to sing, or at least watch me sing and wave my arms around, so we sing a lot. Sort of. They also love to watch me blow up balloons and make the balloons make farting noises, so we do that a lot. But I swear they are learning. Alphabets and colors and how to stand in a line. Sort of. It turns out that this job is a lot like being a birthday party entertainer, so long as the jist of the activity is English centered. And everyone likes a good birthday, so as far as I can see, it’s mostly just fun. How lucky is that?
We go to the bathroom at least three times during English class. This is where I get to use my hard earning Chinese word – niao niao. I figured, there’s no need to punish the poor kids, who hardly even know Chinese, if they can’t recognize the word “pee pee” or “bathroom.” And since we have at least one wet set of pants a day, it’s necessary to stick to the driest approach. Oscar pooped on the floor last week, then stared at it for a good five minutes before we realized what was going on. The Chinese teachers and me, we’re bonding, one misguided bowel movement at a time.
My afternoons aren’t quite as hairy: I teach a curriculum to ages 7-11 very similar to a regular class at home. They love to use “pee” and “poo” in sentence substitutions, we just fly with it. They’ve come a long way from the tiny Yo-Yo urinals, so I figure they’ve earned it.
My week is full, but it is happy. Niao niao then, aren’t you impressed?