It’s the third week of school. It’s the first week I’m doing a regular full week of classes. Yesterday I had Year 1 for the first time.
Last year, my first several sessions with Year 1 were difficult. They were five years old. They spoke only Samoan. They were out of control. They kicked my butt.
I faced this year’s first session with some trepidation. I had a lesson planned that involved practicing counting from 1-10 and then drawing a heart by connecting the numbered dots. But we hadn’t paid for electricity so I couldn’t print the worksheet.
No matter. I quickly used a black marker and plain paper to just draw a heart on each sheet. 29 of them, since that’s how many five year olds I’d be facing.
Last year, when I said “Sit in a circle.” they just looked at me as if I was speaking a foreign language. Oh, that’s right. I was. Yesterday, I said “Sit in a circle.” and they immediately began yelling “Circle, circle!” along with “Nofo i lalo!” which means “sit down”.
Within two minutes, 29 five year olds were sitting quietly in a circle. They had learned from older siblings what that means. And in my class, “Sit in a circle.” always means some kind of game, song or something else they think is fun.
We counted together. I pointed at the numbers I’d written on the blackboard, which has cracks and holes in it. When they got to 10 they started cheering and clapping. That’s something else I did with the little kids last year. Every time we got to a multiple of 10, we’d cheer.
We counted forward and backwards for awhile, then I pointed out numbers they yelled out what they were. That’s very different from the traditional teaching method here where they memorize counting but don’t connect it to the actual number, so can’t count backwards or recognize a five if you say “five”.
Then I got out the hearts and crayons. I demonstrated they could color it all one color. Or many different colors. No right or wrong. That, too, is very different. Typically, it would be prescribed and they would be slapped for coloring outside the lines or using the wrong color.
There was a little whispering as they colored. I went from child to child, giving them feedback. “Good job!” “Nice work!” “Beautiful!”. Every time with a thumbs up, which has become my trademark when kids get the right answer.
I had to run to the office to get something. My boss was there and asked who I was teaching. When I said Year 1 she started laughing and said “I have to watch.” She was surprised to see the kids sitting in a circle, coloring together. When one of the kids held up their drawing to me and said “Good job?” while holding her thumb up, my boss laughed out loud. Me, too.
When the little kids were excused at the end of the day, several ran by the room where I was teaching, giving me a thumbs up and yelling goodbye in Samoan. Thumbs up, indeed.