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Myanmar

 

A Guide to Tourism Destination and Beyond

Vol. 2

No.1

October-December 2002

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The Kindergarten Teacher

(A True Story)

By Aung Thinn

By the early 1960s I was already a lecturer at the University of Yangon. Before that, I served about three years as a middle school teacher in my hometown of Taungdwin-gyi. At the risk of being thought boastful, I must say that I was considered quite a good teacher at both posts. Actually I had thought it was nothing much: one can become known as a 'good teacher' without too much effort or talent. But what I encountered on my trip home in 1963 shook me.

I arrived just as the schools reopened for the new year.

I realized I had been way off the mark with my evaluation of 'good teaching.'

Let me explain.

On that visit to Taungdwin-gyi, I liked to spend my time at the Shwe In Taung pagoda, where a little museum had been set up. I was also one of the directors of it, along with some of my best friends, so we liked to gather there in the evenings to chat. On my way there, I would drop in at the primary school next to the pagoda, to inform my friend, U Nyan Sein, who teaches there, that I'd be waiting for him. He was also an art teacher, but his other duty was to teach reading and writing to the newest children in school: the kindergarten kids.

One day I stood at the door of his class, to tell him to come along to the museum afterwards. He was drawing something on the blackboard: I watched to see what it would be. His class of five-years-olds waited silently. After a few deft strokes, they recognized a popular cartoon character, as I did.

"Its Master Tortoise!" they cried as one.

U Nyan Sein added a walking stick.

"He's holding a walking stick!" the kids chorused again.

Then, "He's smoking a pipe!"

U Nyan Sein turned towards his children. "One day, Master Tortoise was out walking, and whom do you think he met?"

He turned back to the board and started another drawing at the other end.

"Master Rabbit!" the children shrieked in one voice.

"Well, Master Rabbit said to Master Tortoise..."

He seemed to be making up the tale as he went. I did not remember any of it as I just waved at him and left.

"You can listen, too!" he called with a laughed. I told him I'd see him that evening.


For two or three days I would just see him making drawings and telling stories. So I asked him why he was not teaching anything.

"I can teach reading and writing anytime," he replied. "Yes, its true, I mean it. But right now it's important that children enjoy school; they must love coming to school, not fear it. Its the most important step."

I reflected that it might well be true; and the next day decided to spend more time watching him at work.

There was one young boy in the front row, crying his eyes out. He would not look at the drawings nor listen to the story: he cried steadilyand without any sign of stopping. He would often glance out of the window and I saw an relderly lady, obably his grandmother, sitting under the Tamarind tree nearby.

After a while U Nyan Sein called out to the lady:
"Please go home, Daw Aye Thar, don't worry about him. As long as you're there I won't be able to stop him crying."

At this the boy's sobs turned to shrieks. The grandmother looked reluctant to move.

"This is awful," he said to me. "It's much worse handling these old dames than the kids." Then he called to her "At least, please go around the corner where he can't see you."

The old lady moved away slowly. The howls of the boy shook the room. U Nyan Sein went on with his story; the kid sobbed on. This went on for some minutes until U Nyan Sein paused to look at the boy, with a slight smile on his face.

"Now, class, it seems this little boy could not use up all his crying, that's why he can't stop. Why don't you all cry so that it will be used up quickly?"

The other kids immediately went into loud pantomime of crying: they sobbed earnestly, rubbing their eyes, howling in glee. The room rang with their 'sobs.' The boy stopped crying in amazement, turning to look around in confusion. Then the other kids stopped. I could not help chuckling at the sight of it.

U Nyan sein went on with his tale. After a while, the boy started again: and again the others joined him, crying together to 'use it all up.' There were no more tears after that.

The next day I went early to his class. That kid looked as if he had been crying, but was not at the moment. Their teacher looked frisky and excited. He called to the class: I!Hey, today I'm going to give you some plums, you want them ?"

"Yeessss!" answered the kids.
"Hands up those who want plums!"
The little hands flew up. The kid who liked to cry did not raise his hand, but gaped up at his teacher: would there really be plums, he seemed to be wondering. So was I.

U Nyan sein turned to the board. He drew a circle, and put a stem at the top. "Here's a plum...who first? You, you're the youngest... here it comes!"

He pretended to pluck the fruit from the blackboard, threw it at a child, who pretended to catch it, and ate it with a smack of his lips.The class roared.

"Here's another!" He drew the next one, and threw it. "Here's one that is not sweet," he said, "It's not very round, its sort of longish. But anyway, see how sour it is." The kid he threw it to puckered up his lips. "Its very sour!" The other kids screamed with laughter. There were loud cries of "Me! Me next!"

"And this one is rotten, it must taste awful", he continued, drawing a wobbly circle. The kid he threw it to made an appropriate face. The class of five years olds were having time of their lives; the plum picking session was a great success.

The next day, I learnt that a new step was being taken.

"Today, I'm going to buy plums from you, five at a time" he announced. "But only the sweet ones will get paid with a mark. Sour or rotten ones I will not buy at all, so you won't are get a mark. Now see how a sweet plum is written...here..."

He drew a very round circle clock-wise on to the blackboard.
"And a rotten plum is this," he said, drawing the circle anti-clock-wise.

The kids made motions in the air with their little hands when he showed them.
"Like this! Not like this!" they chanted after him.
I wondered how he would check on writing anti-clock-wise, since he could not be watching all the kids at once.

A little voice piped up: "Teacher, he's drawing a rotten plum, like this!" his little hand waving in the anti-clockwise move.

His neighbor said, drawing in the air, "No, no, I'll write it like this!" making clock-wise motions with his hands. Aha, I thought, the kids check each other.

So that was all the plum picking was all about: the Myanmar alphabet is based on the circle: the letters are in that sense deviations of the sweet plum, a very round little circle.

The kids set to with a will, drawing 'plums' on their slates.

After writing five 'plums' each, they brought their slates for inspection.

"Now this is sour, next time I won't buy It," he'd say. "But this time I will," and made a mark. The kid went away happy.

The little sobers came up shyly.

"Hey, you may cry a lot but your plums sure are sweet!" U Nyan Sein told him. The boy campered back to his place, very happy, and I noticed that he came up often and happily, to show more plums.

The next day a new lesson started. He asked each one to stand up, and to announce their names. Then he drew a 'Ka' (First letter of the alphabet) on the black board.

"Now, you all have names...tell me your names, one by one...now that's a pretty name! What a fine one!...and what nice names you all have. Listen, look at this on the blackboard, he's got a name, too, its 'Ka'...don't forget now, you like to be called by your very own name, right? So does he."

It went on all through the alphabet.

After seeing my friend at work, I was truly shaken; was I as good a teacher, was I myself doing as much good for my students as he is?

(The above short story was translated by MTG)

AungThinn
Born 1927 at Taungdwingyi, a town in Central Myanmar. Awarded Masters degree (with honours) by Yangon University in 1972. First article published in 1959. He is a renown educator, literary critic and writer of Myanmar. Started teaching in 1959 as a junior assistant teacher in a middle school at his native town and retired in 1978 from the post of Asst. Lecturer from Yangon University. He has published more than 30 books on various subjects. He now lives in Yangon.
 

Enchanting

Myanmar

A Guide to Tourism Destination and Beyond

Vol. 2

No.1

October-December 2002