a stream consisting of a series of channels that wander, branch, and reconnect, creates a braided pattern, known as anastamosis

White Bear (3and4s)
White Bear (3and4s)

Piss, Puke and Tears


It almost sounds like the title of a hardcore album–or something that happens to backpackers in the old quarter of Hanoi after hours–but in fact, these are three things that I deal with in a regular week while teaching English to preschoolers.

When I tell people that I’m a preschool teacher, they usually laugh and make jokes about how I don’t actually teach anything and am instead a glorified babysitter.  This may be partially true, but future ESL teachers will be thanking me later when these students walk into their classrooms with a recognizable American accent instead of the standard incomprehensible Vietnamese accent.

Let me tell you about my average day with the little tykes.

I wake up around 7AM every day, shower, chug a coffee and eat a hearty breakfast.  (There’s no facing the little ones without a dose of caffeine.)  I hop on my motorbike, leaving home around 8AM, which, luckily, is after the bulk of the morning rush hour.  I arrive at school and collect my materials for the morning: usually my hand-colored flashcards and occasionally props.

After heading upstairs, I slip off my shoes (socks only in the classrooms) and head to my 2-years-old-and-under class who are usually just finishing up breakfast.  As soon as I walk through the door, I am greeted by about 10 laughing, happy children and 1 who unfailingly bursts into tears the minute I smile at her–I have no idea what I have done to this child to warrant 3o minutes of crying every day.  We sing a song such as ’5 Little Ducks’ or the rainbow song.  I have learned that active songs  like ‘The Hokey Pokey’ and ‘If You’re Happy and You Know it’ should not come right after breakfast, or else breakfast ends up on the floor.  Then, we do a menial task, like counting to 5, over and over and over again for about 20 minutes–we count different things; sometimes we pass a ball while we do it.  Then we end with another song and say goodbye.

I head to my favorite class: the 3- and 4-year-olds.  We, too, start with a song.  This week it was ‘I like to eat, eat, eat apples and bananas.’  We review the vocab with my flashcards and move on to some task-based game–counting, asking questions, recalling previous vocab words, etc.  I’ve done relay races, played memory, the wonder ball, charades.  I’ve had floor races,  played duck duck goose, and Simon says.  I never bring prizes or candy treats–a high-five is all I need; high-ten is even better.  By the end of a few classes I’ll usually have about 70% of the students using the target vocab/grammar structure.  There’s usually about 1 or 2 that say nothing at all and 1 or 2 that just yell one thing over and over.

Me: May I have an apple?

Student: Apple!!!

Me: Good! (pointing at my mouth then at the student) May I have an apple?

Student: Apple!!!!

Me: May I…

Student: (blank stare)

Me: Have an apple?

Student: Apple!!!

Me: Ok!! (High five. What else can you do?)

We sing the same goodbye song every day, and as it ends, every day, the kids nearly tackle me, grabbing my legs and feet and sticking their faces near my crotch.  I am generally immobilized for about 3 minutes before I convince them that I actually am coming back tomorrow and that they don’t have to worry.

My third class is with the 4- and 5-year-olds.  Class is structured the same as with the 3-4s, but the students are beginning to develop an attitude.  This seems to be about the age when the ‘no, teachaah’ gets big.

Me: Can you give me the balloon?

Student: No, teachaah.

Class: (explosive laughter)

I don’t get the joke.

As usual, the half-hour classes fly by and before I know it, I’m back downstairs switching my Pre-K supplies out and getting ready for my remedial first grade class of 12 students.

As soon as I walk in the door, I am reminded of how much I love the little ones.  First-graders are everywhere: hiding, throwing things, on the computer, drawing on the chalkboard, doing martial arts.  They don’t like studying (hence the remedial class) and they also don’t like listening.  I generally plow through my lesson, which is not that unlike the pre-school classes (except that we’re in a much more boring classroom).  So, when I think about it, I guess I can’t blame them too much.  This is their first year out of dancing-in-their-socks in their colorful preschool classrooms into institutionalized education (including exams! for 1st graders!).  But I still thank heaven when lunchtime finally comes around.


  1. Piss, Puke & Tears????
    Do your socks ever get wet? ;-)

  2. WOW! Sounds like you run the gamut everyday. I had a teaching job like this years ago. I went to three schools a day, ages ran from 6 months to 12 years old. Every day my emotions ran from happy loving adoration to shocked frustration to pure, unadulterated worry. I came home exhausted but happy and I LOVED every minute of it! I still think about all the kids and wonder how they are today, especially the ones who were not happy children. I will never forget one of them. With all the intensity you experience, I really hope you love this as much as I did. I am so grateful I did it!

  3. Thank you for the inspiration. I love what you are. good luck to you.

  4. this is really cool, to read about your daily classroom experience in dancing sock-ed technicolour. I’m going to Hanoi soon to teach, and I’ve never done it before, and anything as friendly and realistic as that daily grind looks okay with me! Plus, I love your blog so far, just stumbled onto it. I hope your elbow feels better!

    • Thanks! Glad to hear that you’re heading to Hanoi. It’s a great place to live. And if you need to find a job or two, I could hook you up:)

  5. Pingback: First Friday Photo Gallery: Signs, Signs, Everywhere the Signs | Anastomosing

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