Circus? What circus? Let me explain...
‘Are they 3 years old?’ I asked, based on my experience of teaching children at the age of 3 to 4 and 4 to 5 in a Kindergarten in Spain. I was shocked to find out they were 5! And more than 60 in total! Their level of immaturity was there to stay for the duration of the course – half an hour a week, for nearly 4 months. It wasn’t just my first impression and it wasn’t due to their excitement for the novelty of having a new teacher who was only speaking to them in English. This inevitably stirred some giggles occasionally.
When I was invited to come to the Children’s Day show at one of the kindergartens last week I was daft enough to suggest presenting a song with a selection of the cream of my three groups put together. Without further ado, we carried out one rehearsal of the song which they already knew – ‘Are You Happy?’. The show was going to take place the following week, but I was confident to come out in public with what they showed me during the rehearsal: words – check; volume – check; ability to sing in two groups – check; ability to stay put in the place chosen by the teacher – check … we were sound!
On the day, that is yesterday, we had sufficient time to rehearse it 3 times before the show and they were shouting it with confidence. Their teachers weren’t that bothered with them – they rather took the moment for a break from their own hectic schedule, so the formation wasn’t perfect, but it sufficed…. me thinking this would receive more attention on the stage, when it came to it.
Realising this song was going to be too short, I decided we’d sing it twice, so we rehearsed it as such. This confused some of the children a bit, but then we did it again and they seemed to have gotten the idea. They were also explained in Chinese that this was going to happen & they took it on board, with a collective, ‘yes, OK!’ which was reassuring.
Descending 3 floors towards the school yard, I mentioned to my assistant Linda how immature I find the little ones especially, at 5. The older ones are 6 currently and they’re a little bit better. Little did I think that it was the young ones we were having in the front line! The way they could stand still in line behind their own teachers, waiting for the first act to finish, was calming to the nerves.
Little did I suspect that, once they reached up there, their emotions would burst into a totally unexpected direction. A frantic surveillance of the audience occurred immediately, with the result of sporadic bursts of happiness here and there, when mummies and daddies were identified in the mass of people at their feet. Waving and jumping around, the teachers’ attempts to put them in place were just futile, uncalled-for intrusions of discipline.
I was very flustered when a teacher shoved a microphone in my hands, indicating that it was for me to sing to the audience while directing the children. NO! I couldn’t possibly do that – especially unawares, when indeed, I needed both my hands to mime the gestures in front of the children! I quickly decided not to raise the level of immaturity floating in the air, so I took it, still trying to deliberate internally whether or not I was going to use it for singing. At this point I had to use it with my imposing attention getter ‘Class – Yes’ the children were so used to by now and by the time they finished saying ‘Yes’ I counted our usual 1, 2, 3 and we started in force.
The first time came out at a lower quality than our rehearsal in the classroom last week. By the time I carried on directing them for the second time around, I’d lost almost half of them in their newly found fun burst of waving, jumping and cheering at their parents and there was no teacher in sight that could calm the boisterous down. Only a few sang – I was one of them, hearing my own awful voice in the air around my ears, bouncing back from the powerful loudspeakers in the corners of the yard… forget about the gestures, since I couldn’t show them in front of the group, so for the remaining 2 minutes or so the only thing that whirled around my head was the wish to have this circus over and be gone!
The bow at the end was by a sporadic 10 out of 60 children contribution and I couldn’t even face the audience to do the bow in front of them myself, thus reaping the credit for this performance – I can’t remember if there was any applause and I avoided looking at their faces, miming that I was still busy with my kids’ actions on the stage. All in all, it was a complete anarchy, which didn’t yet have an appropriate storage place in my mind.
I asked the headmistress while taking my computer from her office what she thought about it and she said it was two short and that perhaps two songs would have been better. You must be joking! The one we did should not have happened at all - I thought retrospectively! But this wasn’t the time to analyse, let alone I didn’t even want to think any further about it!
Back in the yard again I witnessed a perfect performance by the same children, without the aid of any teacher and with the other teachers just sitting on the edge of the stage absentmindedly, since their assistance wasn’t absolutely necessary. This was quite a complex choreographed dance of a group of girls and boys, maybe 30 strong, which was, to my astonishment, flowing perfectly in the sound of music. I asked the headmistress how long they had for the preparation of this act and the reply was… one month! Maybe they had rehearsal times every day during the past 2 weeks, which we used to do in my old college prior to shows of this kind.
On my way back home I thought that it was entirely my fault for having volunteered to do this, instead of simply accepting the invitation, getting a chair and watching the show, like everybody else – maybe I would have been pleasantly surprised by their skilful teamwork. Maybe I could have rejoiced in a lovely memory of my little angels forever after, however the opportunity passed me by.
A muted but persisting ‘that’ll teach you’ thought accompanied me well into my sleep last night and it is only my ability to take each day as it comes that thankfully managed to classify that awful thought as part of yesterday… Today we’re back to normal – I’m just preparing to go and have our English classes re-scheduled from the day before the show… Of course, we could have had a final rehearsal, should they not need that time for their beautifully choreographed dances, but…