Guest Article by Sara Townsend
The skin on my cheeks droops past my chin, gray in color, lizard-like in texture. My hair stands up in all directions, an electrified purple. The clothes on my body literally crawl. My blood-shot eyes swell from their sockets, roving and dark with covetousness.
|Monster Sara with students|
My name is Monster Sara, and I am the degenerate alter ego of the friendly Ms. Sara. I eat subject-verb disagreements for breakfast and smart little third-graders for lunch. My favorite meals are those that taunt me in English, and right now, I am on the trail of just such a one, a particularly rambunctious student friends call Hana but I call “sedap.”1
I prowl, feet pounding the ground, arms aggressively swinging back and forth, stopping before the desk in the far corner of the room. I bend low to catch my prey’s eyes. She peers from beneath the table edge in horror.
“Rawwwrrr, I am hungry for the taste of young, supple fleeeeeesh.”
Hana’s head leans to the right. Her eyebrows draw together, making the patch of skin between them wrinkled and old. She squints hard.
“I want to eat you.”
“Ahhhh!” My lunch quickly crawls out of her hiding place and scrambles to her feet, releasing loud, giggly screams. She runs across the room, her arms flailing in grim mockery of the carnivorous beast fast on her tail.
I follow as she yells provocations, snarling after every “You can’t catch me,” “I am not your food,” and “Supple fleeeesh… Apa?”2
Fulbright Malaysia Primary School Fact #1: Elementary education is different.
It’s true. There are only twelve English Teaching Assistants in primary schools this year, and it’s fairly safe to say that we take the cake on funny child-development stories. We deal with bathroom drama, slobber, and unexplainable yelling, dog-piles and random play and undeveloped capacities for sitting still. We work with student characteristics many other ETAs haven’t been immersed in since they were—well, exhibiting those characteristics themselves.
In the middle of writing a five-senses poem on a noun of her choosing, one of my students gets up from her desk and shouts, “Ms. Sara! Ms. Sara! Ahrnggghhhhhh. AAAAAaaaahrngh!” She holds her arms out stiffly before her, eyes half shut, waddling around the room.
I take a look at her poem. Her noun is “zombie.”
Fulbright Malaysia Primary School Fact #2: Children often learn best by playing.
It is fairly well known that learning and playing go hand-in-hand for children. As a primary school ETA, I get to see this in a lived context everyday.
My zombie student pinches her nose and says, “Zombie smell—no good! Ms. Sara, how say, ‘no good smell’?” We discuss the options. She settles on the word “stinky” and writes it diligently on her paper, then begins to puzzle out the next line of her poem.
At recess the next day, this same student runs up to me and says, “Ms. Sara, the ZOMBIE is STINKY!” I mimic her zombie growl and sniff my armpits. “Stinky,” I confirm. She laughs and runs away, shouting, “Stinky, stinky, stinky!” I can still hear her voice, giggling over her newly-learned word, when the bell rings.
Fulbright Malaysia Primary School Fact #3: If you want to be an effective ETA, you must check any serious self-perceptions you carry at the door.
Every ETA was given this advice during orientation. “Drop your dignity,” we were told, by which our coordinators meant: You must be willing to act ridiculous in order to make speaking English fun for the students. This is true for all ETAs, but this advice seems to hold particular relevance for the primary school experience.
Because, after all, what kind of primary school ETA doesn’t sniff her armpits or turn into a student-devouring monster when provoked?
|Primary School ETAs Sara Townsend and Hannah Boeck|
1. “Sedap” is the Bahasa Malaysia word for “delicious.”
2. “Apa” means “what.” My students use this word both when they want to know the meaning of something and as an expression of confusion.