(Va)Nessa’s First Week Of School: The Drama


When I’m not out fighting international crime, I teach at one of
the many 21st Century Kindergarten branches that are scattered throughout Beijing. It was Beijing Teach that connected me with 21st Century Kindergarten and after performing a teaching demo, they liked me so much that they hired me immediately after I ended my class! To be a really successful teacher in China (for kids or adults), it helps to be very articulate. They want teachers with clear accents so their students can adopt a similar style of speaking. Interpersonal skills are also hugely valued by the Chinese when dealing with foreigners. If someone likes you in China, they’re more willing to let you slide when it comes to mistakes or lack of experience.

The guy in the photo above is my new friend Matt from London. We live 2 blocks away from each other, work together every day, and we’re backpacking Taiwan for October Break. It’s amazing how easily the ex-pat community connects so effortlessly in Beijing. We are a family of foreigners.

This is our playground. It’s 10 times better than my playground in the States back in the day… and only English was offered. Get with the times America.


As a bi-lingual school, the children are taught how to read, write, and speak Chinese AND ENGLISH. I can barely buy veg at the market with my poor Chinese skills.

At school I’m known as “Nessa.” Normally, I put up a real fuss about people not using my full name (Vanessa) because my Mom gave me that name when I was born and I will die with it as well. It’s a beautiful name. Stop. Giving. Me. Nicknames. But the ‘V’ sound is incredibly difficult for native Chinese speakers and they can only verbalize “WO-nessa.” So for the sake of the children, I shortened my name to simply “Nessa” for the duration of my stay. It’s been a confusing week.

I teach 7 classes every day; 30 minutes each. Easy, right? The catch is, there’s no lesson plan. At all. It’s completely up to me to assess the needs and abilities of the small human beings in front of me; with little to no help. With such creative freedom, I thought it would be easy to wing-it on the regular. But keeping the attention of 20 hyped up 5 year-olds is more daunting than the Thursday night line at MA’s in Cleveland Circle. (SHOUT OUT TO ALL THE BOSTON COLLEGE ALUM)

The first couple of days were my own personal hell. The rainbow of reactions I would receive from my kids varied. Sometimes they would scream. Sometimes they’d stare off into the distance like a love-struck teenage girl. SOMETIMES they would pull their pants down and flash me their junk.

I’m sure it was meant as a compliment. I hope it was meant as a compliment.

Today, I finally cracked the elusive code to the mind of a Chinese child: Multimedia.

You need to tucker-out the toddlers’ mind, body, and will power. I sang “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” 77 times today… 11 times in each class. I would go faster and faster until their little hands would smack their own skulls, desperate to keep up. They would jump up and down and sit and stand and scream and hush themselves once they heard the sharp crack of my voice.

There will be fun and nonsense when I SAY there can be fun and nonsense.

Today, the Chinese teachers were finally impressed with my ability to control a classroom and gave me encouraging thumbs up and smiles all day long. After they smacked a delinquent or two in the head for poor conduct, of course.

Some of the Chinese teachers saw me practicing yoga and handstands in the dance room during lunch today… now they’re coaxing me into teaching them yoga during nap time.

But all I want to do is participate in nap time now. Damn it.


4 thoughts on “(Va)Nessa’s First Week Of School: The Drama

  1. Vanessa—sounds like an exciting classroom environment. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather be out there fighting international crime? Think of the glory! Think of the dangers! Think of all the conspiracies you could shine the spotlight on!

    Best wishes for your efforts with all your little kindergarten munchkins. But don’t slap their heads.

    Lee and Pat Freeman

  2. I am thinking… Now hear me out on this… That you need to babysit *my* kindergartener over your break for more practical application of your new skill instead of that random backpacking business! 😁

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