Bye kids, I’m off to the UK to chillax with my mate the Queen.

Goodbye, terrifying sleepy-Ernie, guardian of the minuscule boxes… (goodbye, oddly flirtatious bed-duck)

Tomorrow marks the beginning of my last two days of work as an English teacher before the whole nine and a half months of my time here becomes just another line on the CV. Two days and I become nothing more than a tourist again, five measly lessons before I can begin to wean myself off caffeine and stop spending every day talking in an energetic high-pitched squeak (in order to maintain a good energy level in my voice when teaching I simply channel Nickelodeon through my throat as best I can). I have already adiosed seven groups of kids and from now on the only thing that would cause me to go all the way to Lichterfelde Süd is psychotic hysteria caused by a massive brain haemorrhage making me lose my sanity. HA!

Thus far I have therefore had to perform seven ‘final lessons’. In my company the last lesson of the year for each English group is a bit of an event; the parents are invited to come and watch, the kids get given certificates to officialise the fact that they have successfully learnt space travel vocabulary and the school staff secretly rejoice that there won’t be some uptight British youth messing up their schedule anymore. Much like the open lessons of Spring these have been mixed affairs, some beautiful and sentimental and some so nightmarish I wanted to turn to the parents and scream, “Do you see what happens when you forget to take your pill every day!?” The upcoming lessons are by far the worst groups, but we’ve had some real humdingers so far, ladies and gentlemen.

Saying goodbye to my favourite group on Tuesday was the worst in terms of genuinely-felt sadness. Usually these final lessons are the only lessons where my taut grin is actually genuine due to the joy at having ‘Good riddance…’ circling around my head all the time, but in this lesson I really was sad to be leaving the little blighters. Apart from the little girl who chose the budgerigar (foolish choice, they are simply ugly birds however you squint) the kids were all feverishly proud of their masks and all wanted photos of themselves with me; I have also promised I will send them all photos of myself with my best friend, the Queen, once I’m back in the UK, so I suppose I’m going to have to find a crown to put on my granny sometime in the near future. Although the lesson started on a bad note, with little Nikos unexpectedly and inconsolably collapsing into sobs during attendance because it suddenly occurred to him that he was unable to write his name, we managed to get it through to him that he was at no point required to write his name or even provide contact details or bank account number that day. Monic violently thwacked her head on a Fisher-Price baby’s computer and developed an enormous purple egg on her forehead, and I obtained the largest and deepest paper cut in history during the certificate ceremony, but we all left the lesson feeling sentimental and bittersweet. One kid gave me a leaving present of a gluey piece of card, some small tortilla chip fragments and a miniature glow-stick sealed in a windowed envelope. 

Sadly, other lessons have not been quite so endearing. My Thursday morning kids’ parents didn’t bother to show up at all and the kids themselves are dense as a stack of MDF, so when I gave them their certificates they simply asked, “What are we supposed to do with them now?” and then put them in their mouths. In one of the Thursday afternoon classes one of the pupils accidentally but very heftily kicked a parent’s baby during one of the games, but that same mother was a cheerful and generous soul and brought a huge sack of treats out at the certificate ceremony so each kid left happily clutching a sticky and melting array of sweets alongside their immediately forgotten certificate. One of the other children, a sweet and quiet little girl who is clearly a shy genius gearing up to be the next Marie Curie or Ernest Hemingway, came with her dapper gentleman of a grandfather who handed me a beautiful rose as a thank-you gift. I don’t think he understood a single minute of the rest of the lesson which followed as it was simply a maelstrom of shrieking tazmanian-devil-children, but his granddaughter was quietly beaming with pride the whole time. My Wednesday morning class was ruined by the boys having a huge argument about which of them was a “Shoehead”. Wednesday afternoon required a huge amount of effort to stop the girls simply lying on each other but the parents sang along with the songs like the best panto audience.

It is a hard job, this, and one that doesn’t provide much reward, but I will say this for it: the intensity and difficulty of working with small children is mind-blowing, and those who do it (and do it well) for the long haul are worthy of great respect. Above all the sense of responsibility is so great it takes a while simply to overcome the initial fear of it all; you of all people have been trusted by strangers to take care of and educate their most beloved, fragile and malleable children, tiny human beings who absorb every piece of information they ought not to notice (such as whispered swear words or sloppy artistic license) while simultaneously doing their level best to hurt themselves and each other while under your care. Despite only seeing the kids for three-quarters of an hour a week we play the role of sibling, parent, teacher, friend, ally and enemy to these kids, and often the role of counsellor is thrown in for good measure if a kid is sad for real,heart-breaking reasons, like the loss of a baby brother or the absence of their father. Beyond all this working with small children very much feels like working for small children – they are bossy, selfish and demanding, and despite being minute and weak-bodied you will do anything they ask just in order to keep them from screaming. You are their slave and their dogsbody not because you want to be but because they threaten such cataclysmic punishment if you fail. They will cry, they will hit or bite you, they will pee on the floor or tell a school staff member that you did something mean to them. Or, worst of all, they will simply look at you with big and bored and disappointed eyes and silently tell you that you have failed to win their respect. It’s a rough ride, and given that just a few months of this work have caused my ovaries to shrivel I don’t think it’s for me. 

Now the kids are free for a glorious summer of forgetting everything they ever learnt in our lessons and forgetting above all that they ever had a short and hyperenergetic Englischlehrerin with a crocodile as a pet and a dolphin as a comedy sidekick. I won’t forget a single one of them though. If there’s one thing I have learned in this job it is that every toddler in the world is equally as weird, deranged, spontaneous and unignorable as the others.

Rose T