By ELLEN ENDO
Several years ago, the director of our church’s school of religion asked if I would volunteer to teach the third-graders on Saturday mornings. She was a sweet-looking woman who resembled the Fairy Godmother from “Cinderella.” I had taught a college-level course part-time way back when Asian American studies was just getting started, but I had never taught religion and had no idea how to teach young children.
She tilted her head and looked at me as if I was her last hope. Maybe I had taken too big a sip of the sacramental wine that day, but I heard myself say, “Okay, I’ll do it.”
The cute little lady was about to hug me, but I backed away. “You won’t feel like hugging me after you discover what a terrible teacher I will make,” I warned. She giggled. Fairy godmothers always giggle.
“You’re going to love the third-graders. That’s really the best age,” she assured me.
I learned that I had to attend an all-day workshop, which was good news because I definitely had questions, lots of questions.
When I arrived at the workshop, I reviewed the session outlines and saw that there were classes for first-timers like me and refresher classes for those who had been teaching for a while. At the opening session, I soon realized that all, I mean ALL, of my fellow trainees were either employed as professional educators, or they were retired teachers. Panic set in.
Upon learning that I would be teaching third-graders, my fellow trainees were unanimous in congratulating me. (“That’s the best age.” “You are so lucky.” “They’re my favorite,” yada, yada.) I was consoled by the fact that at least the kids would be civilized.
My first day at church school (catechism) began on the playground. All the teachers were positioned according to grade level. The arriving children lined up in single file behind each of us. So far, so good. Parents came up to me and introduced themselves. It felt good to be regarded as a professional even though I was filled with self-doubt.
The teacher standing next to me had a little tidbit to share. She was my predecessor. In other words, she was the third-grade teacher last year but now she’s teaching second grade. “I will miss the third grade. They’re great,” she said. Nevertheless, I became suspicious. Why did she change? Plus, she was very nice, a little too nice.
Don’t teachers usually stick with the same grade because a new grade means a new textbook and new material? Even an amateur educator like me knows that.
Once in the classroom, I wrote my name on the chalkboard. The children were sitting quietly at their desks, until a voice rose from the silence. “Miss, can I go to the restroom?” The voice came from a boy named Angel.
“Already?” I inquired. “We just got here. Do you really have to go?” He nodded urgently. “Okay, go ahead,” I said.
Another kid, Marcus, asked me if he could remove his outer sweater because he was too warm. I said, “Yes, of course.” But when Marcus removed his outer sweater, his shirt came off, too. He soon realized he was bare-chested in front of entire class. Everyone laughed. Embarrassed at first, Marcus quickly covered up and put his sweater back on.
I empathized with Marcus, but then…he pulled his sweater and shirt up again. His chest was bare, again. The children laughed even harder this time because now Marcus was doing it on purpose to get a reaction. “Okay, that’s enough,” I said. “Marcus, put your sweater on or take it off, but don’t keep doing that.”
“Aaron was the first one who laughed,” April announced. Ah, the self-appointed class cop, I presume. I would soon learn that Aaron is April’s twin brother and that she persistently tattles on him.
At that moment, the church school director came into the classroom with Angel in tow. It appears that the student known as Angel had devilish side to him. Angel had taken an eraser from the chalkboard and was throwing it around, leaving rectangular chalk imprints on the walls, floor, and windows. Angel’s little prank elicited laughter from the kids. I had officially lost control of the class.
For the record, not everyone is suited to be an educator. Good teachers are all superheroes. Eight-year-olds, on the other hand, are scheming little opportunists. Thankfully, they eventually grow out of this egotistical stage as they begin to develop social skills and a more refined sense of morality.
Which brings me to the subject of the eternal eight-year-old…
In rare cases, a seemingly grownup individual fails to develop beyond third grade. That is the case, I’m afraid, with Donald T. Rump. At first, I worried that he might actually become president. I no longer worry about that.
The longer he keeps talking, the less likely it will be that he makes it to the Republican nomination.
My greatest fear now is that the damage has already been done. Trump, unfortunately, has awakened the racists lurking deep down in the crevices. Crackpots, the latent racists, the racists who believe they are patriots, and don’t need a majority of the population.
I’m worried that his rhetoric has become the rallying cry for racists and, worse, those who advocate racist doctrines but believe that they are patriots.
“Racism does not have a good track record. It’s been tried out for a long time, and you’d think by now we’d want to put an end to it instead of putting it under new management.” — Thomas Sowell (1930- ), American social theorist and author
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