I work with children now.

18 Sep

In order to pay the bills while I pursue my master’s, as some of you may know, I’ve been scouring job listings, mostly Craigslist, for anything that would seem like a good use of my college degree. I was looking primarily at teaching/tutoring jobs, because that seems to be the only productive thing you can really do when your specialty is speaking a foreign language. Unless you’re also a paralegal, however, in that case, there are a million jobs for you in New York City alone. Maybe I should have been more like my Dad.

It got to the point where I got a little desperate, actually, after one very promising job prospect fell through. I eventually took Glenn Beck’s advice, swallowed my pride and started applying to retail positions at Blockbuster, and yes, even McDonald’s.  Luckily, I got a response from this one particular company (whom I will not name to protect my job). The job was tutoring elementary school kids in English and Math, but speaking Chinese was listed as a “plus” in the ad, so they got back to me after seeing my resume.

It soon became apparent why it was a “plus”: The company is run by all Chinese people, and targets itself almost exclusively to Chinese parents who want to get their kids ahead in school. The program is kind of similar to Kumon, if any of you are familiar with that, where it’s a very structured program that kids go to on weekends and after school. It’s a cram school, much like the “juku” that are so ubiquitous in Japan. To Asians, going to school is not enough school, so you have to go to an after-school school to fill up all the time not taken up by going to school. Whatever, it’s not my place to judge, I just need a job.

The way they go about the entire process seems characteristically Chinese, as well. They have placement tests for each level of instruction they offer in English, basic math, and “critical thinking math.” How does this company figure out up to what level a tutor would be qualified to teach? By making him or her take EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THE PLACEMENT TESTS. I am not kidding. My first day of training, after a basic introduction, they just handed me a bunch of test booklets and said, “Go do them.” They start you from the very beginning, like THE BEGINNING, i.e. 1+1. It goes up to about middle school level.

Of course, the worst part of it is not the difficulty, but it’s just the endurance factor. Going through test booklet after test booklet, by the time I got to doing division problems, I actually started to doubt myself. Sometimes I’d panic and almost start to count on my fingers because my mind was so fried. I started to wonder if this, in and of itself, was just some kind of work ethic test to see if my spirit could be easily broken, like Chinese number torture. It didn’t help that the person who was supervising me while I was taking these tests would actually come check and ask me, with a straight face, “Is it hard?” I am 22 years old with a BA from an Ivy League university, and I am being asked if adding fractions is hard. FINE! I GIVE UP! THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!

The rest of the training also included tips for dealing with Chinese parents that I never thought would be tips for anything ever. For example, I was told not to shake my leg or tap my foot or fidget when I teach because (and I very closely paraphrase what this Chinese woman told me) Chinese parents think that if you tap your foot when you’re young, you will grow up poor, so if they see the kids doing it and they say they learned it from me, they’ll be very angry.

These are people who come from the country that will soon eclipse us as the world’s number one economy. They think tapping your foot makes you grow up poor. Then again, a fifth of Americans think Obama is a Muslim, so it’s like to-may-to/to-mah-to.

Somehow, I made it through this ridiculous testing gauntlet of pain and finally started getting to work with the kids. Now, as obscene of a human being as I am, I like kids and I think kids like being around me, as long as I don’t make the mistake of being drunk around them, but even the one time that happened, there weren’t enough injuries or convictions to make them dislike me.

I like kids because they’re impressionable, still optimistic that the world isn’t going to just sodomize them until they’re on Zoloft for the rest of their lives, and have a lot of energy for everything they do.  It rubs off on me and I have fun with them.

I also love kids because often they just do not give a FUCK.

For someone who has a hard time taking a lot of things seriously, when a kid just blatantly acts shitty with full acknowledgement of his or her shittiness, it is HILARIOUS to me.

As part of the training, I had to observe the person who supervised me, the “is it hard” girl, giving a placement test to this 3 1/2-year-old kid whose Chinese mom obviously was trying to get her to be able to skip kindergarten into 5th grade or something, but she was way too young to concentrate enough to do this program. The supervisor gave her the test and tried talking her through some basic problems, which she seemed to partially get, but then after a while, the kid just crossed her arms, sat in her chair, and stopped trying to answer questions. The supervisor pressed her a few times, but this kid was having none of it, and she just grabbed the little booklet with the questions and THREW it on the floor. It was such a deliberate throw, so full of disdain and rebellion, that it felt like if that kid knew HOW to give the finger, she would have given it to everyone in that room right then and there.

I let out a chuckle, and I immediately apologized for it. The supervisor, smiling and clearly not mad at me, said, “Yeah, if you’re with a kid and she acts like that, it’s probably not best for you to burst out laughing.” I was still embarrassed, but it did not make this kid’s not-give-a-fucktitude less amazing.

Today was my first real day leading a group of students, and I encountered another gem of child behavior. One of my groups had a girl who was kindergarten age. She came in, told me her name, and seemed pretty happy; I wasn’t worried.

Then, however, I told her to start doing her English classwork.

Boom, crying. Crying! Just like that!

Normally, a kid has kind of a process he or she goes through when presented with something he or she doesn’t want to do. Usually it involves a series of protests, getting stronger and stronger, maybe some attempts at negotiation, and then crying is usually the ultimate result if no compromise is achieved. This girl, though, just said, “Fuck it,” skipped ALL of those steps, and proceeded immediately to crying.

I reacted to it similarly to how I figure a woman reacts to a guy who’s really forward about wanting to sleep with her. Although the end goal isn’t really desired, there’s just a certain admiration for the boldness and directness of this approach. This kid was like a guy with gelled-up hair and an Ed Hardy shirt saying, “Hey baby, why don’t you come watch me cry for two straight hours and not stop once?” and she fucking delivered to the letter of her promise. I’ve never seen such dedication to one’s own shittiness from a kid before, and probably won’t again.

I suspect after a while I’ll stop finding it charming and start finding it annoying, but it’s definitely interesting to try and put myself back into the mindset of a kid between the ages of four and ten and understand them. It provides a good perspective on myself, as well, where I can look at me justifying to myself why I unnecessarily spent cash on a pizza or something and realize it’s just my inner child going “COOKIE! NOW! WANT COOKIE NOW! …NO! COOKIE!”

Here’s hoping I neither ruin these kids completely nor do they ruin me any more than I am already ruined.

P.S. My girlfriend, after reading this, adds, “So working with kids is to adopting/having your own kids as volunteering at an animal shelter is to adopting a pet.” Her pithy recapitulations are pithing me off (yeah, that just happened).

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2 Responses to “I work with children now.”

  1. Gonz 09/19/2010 at 11:05 pm #

    THERE….ARE….F-F–FOOOURRRR….LLLLLLLIGHTS!

  2. mom 09/20/2010 at 3:12 pm #

    That is a funny stand-up set! I hope you continue to enjoy it.

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