I stood at the door, surveying the classroom and the circle of children inside. The classroom teacher had just finished snacktime, and now 16 pairs of eyes turned towards me, the English teacher.
For weeks, I had been teaching these children English, reading them stories, singing songs, playing peek-a-boo with the puppet. And all this time, the children sat. And stared. And said nothing. It was unnerving, teaching this group of silent children who never even cracked a smile. This was it, I decided. Time for some vocalization.
“Good morning, boys and girls,” I greeted them, grabbing some plastic farm animals from a table as I passed. “It’s time for English.” The eyes blinked, the children said nothing. The classroom teacher smiled wanly, hoping against hope that maybe, just maybe, the children would join in a bit more actively today. I knew better. These kids were joining in, like it or not. I silently and happily declared war on the silence, and willed them to speak.
After the Good Morning song, I put the animals on the table, one at a time, counting as I went. Then I picked up the sheep. “This is a sheep,” I said. “Sheep. The sheep says… meow. Meow, meow, meow!” A few snickers, then a voice: “nee, juf, het zegt meeeeh!” (no, Miss, it says baaa!) “What?” I asked, not understanding only the one child. More children chimed in: “Meeh!”
My inner voice started cheering. Hurrah! A response! “Aha!” I replied, “Baaaaa! A sheep says baaa! Well done!”
Now other children joined in. “Baa! Baa!”
Then I picked up the horse. “This is a horse. A horse says… woof! Woof!”
This time, the children knew what to do. “Nee, juf! Dat zegt hiiii!” We continued, the class correcting my mistakes as I showed them the cat, the cow, and the pig. Then it was time for the magic. First, we counted the animals. The children joined in. One… two… three… four… five. I lay a cloth over the animals, and pulled out my magic wand. (yes, I have a real wand, it works wonders)
“Abracadabra, hocus pocus, make an animal disappear!” and palming the cow in the cloth, I lifted it. “Uh-oh,” I wondered. “How many animals now?” We counted four. Fingers flew into the air, and children practically shouted “de koe! De koe!” (the cow, the cow!) “What?” I asked, “The cow?” Heads nodded. “Uh-oh, time for some more magic!” I said, carefully laying the cloth back over the animals. This time, the cow returned, but the horse disappeared. Then the cat. And the pig.
Thirty minutes later, I knew we had won. That was the end of the quiet class… and the start of many noisy, speech-filled lessons.