Cake Days

How did David Miller become a kindergarten teacher? 

I’m not prepared to offer a definitive answer tonight, as I suspect they’ll be debating this one for years to come.  Perhaps it was something in the soju, or a bit of undigested bibimbap.  But every morning I get up and walk to school, where I play fearless leader to a trio of tiny children.  I teach them how to spell words like “bug” and add numbers like 6 and 2.  I remind them to share their toys, and to put on smocks to keep their lunches from staining their clothes.

Even with all the fires of secondary education burning in my soul, the external evidence still indicates I’m a kindergarten teacher.  The rest is academic.

It’s not a bad gig, if you can get it.  Sometimes, I even feel pleasant sensations in my heart.  I think it might even be joy!  Yes, it can be a very joyful work environment, filled with laughter and colors and the wonder of marvelous possibilities.  But then again, today someone peed all over the floor in the hallway.

(It wasn’t one of mine.  But you know that one day, it could be.)

Like I said, I have three little monsters in my charge every day: two girls and a boy.  People tell me that it’s hard to teach such a small class; the classroom management equations get dire when the one kid acting out represents a third of those present.  I’m not sure I’d actually feel more in control if there were ten kids who would rather color than learn phonics in my classroom, but I won’t argue with the theory.

One of my three, the boy, is what I would call my nemesis.  We must all be tested by something in life, and in my case it seems I flew across an ocean and endured bureaucratic hell, to be tested each day by a kid named Andy.  Like all the best nemeses, he recalls a younger version of myself: hyperactive, inattentive, unwilling to sit in a chair.  Or still, ever.  I’m sure my old teachers can all relate.

The boy has his less-than-admirable traits.  In an age group not known for maturity and empathy, he stands apart as a paragon of self-centered insecurity.  Whenever we must form a line (and often we must), the question of “who is in front and why isn’t it me?” is ever in his mind.  It’s usually ringing in my ears, too.  He’s not above bullying the girls to get his own way.  And while he is clever, he has bad habits, like guessing the pronunciation of a word from the first letter alone, or conveniently forgetting the meaning of key classroom vocabulary.

“David Teacher, what is ‘sit down?'” he asks, whilst standing on his chair.  Again.

But I wouldn’t be writing about him if it were all that bad.  In point of fact, he’s been getting better these past weeks, and his misbehavior no longer deviates so strongly from the class average.   In fact, he’s capable of genuinely moving sweetness, and he’s clearly not out to make anyone’s life miserable.  But one place where he continues to stand alone is in strangeness.  In word and deed, Andy is baffling.  He knows it, and he loves it, and truthfully I kind of love it too.

About two weeks ago I heard him yelling about “Cake Days” during play time.  Since that is one of the few times of the day when I don’t need to be aware of every little thing he’s doing, I assumed he was excited about someone’s birthday and moved on with my life.  He kept doing it from time to time, and it wasn’t until this week that I learned the truth. 

Andy loves trains.  He loves buses too, and pretty much anything that moves.  I guess because they remind him of himself?  But that’s neither here nor there.  At playtime he usually busts out a lego train and guides it hither and yon, in defiance of the nature of trains but in accordance with the workings of his heart.  And when he excitedly offered to give one of the girls a ride on the Cake Days, I put it together.  In all the frantic urgency of being six years old (Korean age), he was trying to say “KTX.”

Andy can say KTX normally.  I’ve heard him do so a dozen times.  But at playtime, the KTX becomes Cake Days.  I don’t know how, but it does.  And it makes me laugh out loud.  I told him he was being hilarious.  He grinned, and went right back to writing the exciting saga of Cake Days.

I guess that’s the vital essence of kindergarten right there.

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