Best Kids On Earth
I don't have a favorite. I love you all the same. As a parent we say this and in my experience we mean it. There is a depth of emotion, an imperative of biology, or some other ineffable whichamacallit that makes the Sophie's Choice question beyond impossible. Yet I have never been a teacher who denies having favorites. Because I am aware of who those favorites are and that this implies a measure of unfairness, I try to go out of my way to achieve justice in its stead. I try to give every individual their due, and not to ever let my predilections get in the way of my professionalism. It doesn't have anything to do with a kid's love of literature or ability in English. Some of my most talented students have been my least favorite with whom to spend time. Rather, a combination of pluck and humor and eagerness, mixed in with some devilishness, even a smidgen of obstinacy, makes me cotton to them. Sometimes there exists a dose of rejection or suffering in their past, but above all they share an energetic curiosity and its cousin, humility -i.e., in order to be curious one has to first know that they don't know, ergo the desire to find out. Many kids seem to have that all drained out of them, at least in a school setting, or they are so busy trying to put on a confident air of being a certain blase persona at any given moment(thank you facebook and self-esteem classes and capitalism and everything else that encourages us to imagine who we are in terms of what we consume or like). If that sounds a little like my legalistic disclaimer for what follows, so be it. Here is my favorite squad from NongYaSai School, those four in the middle in the front row, playing colors and days of the week bingo.
Alert and sharply intelligent, they throw Thai words at me like drill sergeants, correcting my pronunciation and repeating until I have it just right, when they give a sharp nod of the head, signaling my effort is acceptable:
Teacha! In Thai? Niyap!
No! Niyap! Quiet? Niyap!
Yes! In Thai- niyap!
Though they sit up front, they keep the 3rd years behind them in line and on task, brooking no insolence but always ready to throw down for a goofy dance or game. On Tuesday, because I have them for two hours and we were suffering bingo burnout (I was trying to play until everyone had won at least one sticker, tilting the playing field towards the end by looking what a student needed and making sure that was my next card pulled from my bag), they got us all up in a circle and taught me the Dance Banana song.
Here they are one by one:
This is Ning- perhaps the fiercest of the group. She will make a fine director of anything, or an efficient general, someday.
This is Un, sweeter and quieter than Ning- but no less intense about her work.
Pam is, I think a little younger than the others; I see her checking her speed and correctness against Ning, and looking to her for how to respond to a given situation. She never has a hair out of place and her clothes are always rip roy.
Nat is the ever-smiling leader of the cadre. Though Ning barks the most orders, it is because of Nat that I am welcomed and accepted, and that whatever I say we are doing is met not with apathy but as an important and worthwhile endeavor.
On Tuesday after lunch she brought the crew in to see me at my computer.
Teacha! You sing.
No. YOU sing to me!
Teacha! You sing!
Let's sing together.
Teacha! You sing!
At a certain point, I know I am not going to win this, so I turn in my chair and I sing Yesterday by the Beatles. I sing it the very best I can, clearly and tunefully and soulfully. When I am done a pause ensues, Nat says, Yes! and they all clap enthusiastically. And I wouldn't trade that with Kenny Chesney for a sold out Madison Square Garden or Beyonce for the Grammy's or any other venue or numbers or ticket sales you can name.
These kids have high expectations of themselves and of me, which drives me to work as hard as can on their behalf. I suppose their being my favorites ultimately is self-serving, because they make my work, and thus my life, more substantial and meaningful. On Wednesday they had another party for me and besides the community members who came to tie a string symbolizing my connection to NongYaSai, some students joined in, including Ning here, and the rest of my "gang". This party was quite different in tenor. Instead of the white lightning, the elderly community members stuffed money into my hands during the blessing. They said there would have been more community members, but with the harvest in full swing people are scattered widely at noon. As befitting my local rock star status, I was given flowers and a chance at the mic.
That is the school's head boy, a sixth grader and another very sharp cookie. I'll get you some pictures of my 5-6ers next week. That is his teacher Lynn. Lest you think I have forgotten the place of the dreamer in the world, here is a picture of another new face taking up sizable pasture in my heart. He is the antithesis of Nat and the girls. Always in the back, off track, and out of it. Something about the way I pronounce his nickname brings out hoots of laughter from the class. He emanates a delightful sweetness, and who is to say where his mind is wandering while we are marching up and down through our lessons?