Do What You Don't Want

by Valerie Liu

About two years ago, my abacus teacher asked,

"Would you like to help me teach abacus?" I nodded reticently, narrowing my eyes with suspicion.

"I'm opening a new abacus class Saturday morning. Eleven o'clock to twelve." My eyes popped open. No! Give up my weekend time to teach little kids how to add one plus one? I remained silent while my teacher set my Saturday mornings in stone. If my sister was in a polite mood that day, she would've called the look on my face "a look of consternation." If she wasn't, it probably would've come out as "a look of constipation." When I got home, I calmly put one foot in front of the other, preparing to fly into a raging sulk the moment I got to my room. That night, I pouted while calculating how much money I could earn as an abacus teacher assistant.

Next Saturday, at eleven o'clock, I stared gloomily at the cheap, thick carpet. I pointedly ignored the thumping footfalls of shrieking six-year-olds, hoping that I hadn't just traded my soul for the allure of money. After the first few classes, I realized my duties as teacher assistant were mostly comprised of inspecting the bathroom every time a student used it, taking out the trash, and struggling to teach the autistic student in the back of the classroom. I understand you must be dying with jealousy, and you're thinking, "She got paid, too!" Even though it wasn't as bad as you would think, I never really enjoyed it. I approached each Saturday morning with the vigor of a dying man, but I continued to teacher-assist. Eventually, I helped out with other classes and sometimes multiple classes in a week.

In case you are still green with envy, I will tell you that controlling even a small class of kids is not easy. Once, there was this one particularly loud and troublesome class that contained only boys. Whenever someone mentioned the number "six", the whole class exploded into giggles while one of them would go, "sixy, sexy, sexy!" (I certainly didn't teach them that.) I did not have a sudden revelation that I wanted to become a teacher when I grew up. If anything, tackling rambunctious kids only helped me recognize that teaching is an exceedingly thankless task.

In retrospect, I realize I did learn some things. When I handled kids, there was no longer an awkward silence and general boredom, nor did they ignore me and talk over me. After awhile, I managed to quiet them sometimes. I also learned when to back off when they were getting frustrated, and how to just have fun around them. Perhaps very little of teaching abacus taught me anything about abacus, but it was a good experience that was rich with another skill that I had rarely practiced before: social skills!

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