I teach a range of kids from 2.5-18 years old. Starting at 3.5, the kids take class without their parents, and it becomes my job to enforce the rules (don’t pick your nose, don’t hit each other, I already said don’t pick your nose, fingers out of your mouth, what did I just say?, that’s right, don’t pick your nose, etc.). I can’t be everywhere at once, though, and the kids will occasionally run smack into each other, fall down hard, or intentionally misbehave while they think I’m not looking. This is equal parts doom and hilarity; the invincibility they feel while my back is turned is instantly crushed into a fine dust when they discover that the mirror that extends across the entire room is nothing but a shiny taddle-tale. Then they get busted and I laugh (on the inside) as the bravery drains out of their faces, and a murmured, “Yes, ma’am” is all that remains of their conquest. Better luck next time, kid.
At the end of class, the kids line up and we all clap for them. I talk about what they learned, what they’re working on, and so forth while the parents smile and nod and gaze lovingly at their kids (or pantomime standing up straight for their kid who has lost interest in my monologue). About 90% of the kids I teach are great, so most of the time, it’s pretty dull. But every now and then, when the kids think I’m not looking…
I have a hapa student (let’s call him Sam) who has a tough time standing still for more than a few seconds, and takes corrections pretty hard (he pouts whenever I don’t praise him). But overall he’s a happy kid who has a good time in class. A few weeks ago the kids were all lined up in front of the parents at the end of a normal class. Just as my hand came to rest on the door handle, I glanced at the kids to make sure they were lined up straight, and what do I see but Sam, way at the end of the line, flipping off every parent in the lobby with both hands and a huge smile on his face.
Flipping the bird to a bunch of adults in front of your classmates is a pretty ballsy thing to do at any age, but it’s not something I expect a four-year-old to know how to do. I froze, with my hand on the door, and said, “Sam,” in a sharp, level voice. His hands dove behind his back, and his smile disappeared, replaced by a mask of fear as I walked away from the door and asked him to step out of line for a chat. Once we were far enough away from the other kids, I crouched down and asked, “What were you doing over there, Sam?”
Sam: [eyes to the ground]
me: Sam, eyes up here. What were you doing?
Sam: [lip trembling] I don’t know…
And then he collapsed onto my shoulder and started crying. I rubbed his back a little, then pulled him away and asked him if he knew that what he had done was bad. He nodded (of course he knew), so I asked, “Can you say sorry please?” to which he immediately responded, “Sowwy pwease!” Fuuuuuck, so cute.
I put him back in line, said my piece to the parents, dismissed the kids, and watched Sam collapse onto his mom. She hadn’t seen him do anything, but knew better than to accuse me of mistreating her son in some way. She had no idea where he picked up this behavior, and was just the right amount of bemused and displeased. She is a good mom, and a nice lady with a good sense of humor (thank god).