And I Said I Didn’t Want to Teach

This is Lewis. He always greets me with a kiss on the cheek or the hand and it melts my heart every time.

It’s around 9:30 PM and my blue New Balance sneakers are beating the lamp-lit pavement that stands between my office and the subway station. I’m walking quickly as the crisp evening air plays with my hair and peddles a wide range of scents (apparently the wind is a really handsy street vendor). With my arms crossed against the chill, I’m just about to brush past a couple and their daughter out for an evening stroll when the little girl’s head turns and she lets out a delighted squeal of “Easter!”

Little Sophia is not the first of my students to mispronounce my name. Sometimes, they do it on purpose. Bobby likes to say it with an intentionally strong Chinese accent so it comes out sounding something like “Eh-suh-ter”. But it doesn’t matter. Because each and every time Lewis, or Hao Hao, or She-Ra, or Tank, or Leo and Leon (the Trouble Twins), or Bigtail, or Herman, or Albert, or Nico, or any one of my 3–7 year old ESL students, says any variation of “Esther”, the tired old name I’ve been using for 23 years gets a little more pep in its step.

Sophia giggles and runs a little ways ahead, away from my fingers so prone to tickling. We chase each other to the end of the street, at once dodging strangers and using them as shields, until I catch her up in my arms and whirl her around in a tornado of laughter.

Children are like that — tornados, I mean. Tom, at the very least, has to be descended from some kind of natural disaster. He may wear a neat little collared shirt and cardigan, but his hair sticks straight out, defiantly untamable like the rest of his body that’s too tall for his age. In class, he either jumps out of his chair or slithers to the ground every three minutes. Taking him to the bathroom is even worse. You have to physically restrain him from tearing through the hallway, not only to keep him in line but also for fear he’ll smash his head on the marble floor with his clumsy twirling. Suffice it to say, taking a group of ten small children to the bathroom is like walking ten puppies without leashes and trying to make sure they all wash their hands to boot.

But sometimes I resent having to bridle their enthusiasm — especially the volcanic eruptions of affection. Daisy is about as untamable as Tom, but for one thing she’s about half his size and for another thing her outbursts are focused efforts to love you with every fiber of her tiny being. Most times, it’s just too much for her to restrain herself from running at you, arms stretched wide, while you’re trying to drill vocabulary. And when you see the wide smile, spaces between each tooth, stretching across her face all the way to her tiny brown eyes, and the stubs of her piggy tails bouncing with each step, the English names for farm animals suddenly seem profoundly inconsequential.

I say “bye bye” to Sophia and her parents, turning the corner to the Subway station as they turn the other toward where they live (presumably). And as I navigate the sea of bicycles, motorbikes, and pedestrians, cars honking to my left and people with flyers spitting Chinese rapid-fire to my right, I smile. Because I may work with a veritable storm of children, but their thunder is mostly boisterous laughter and their lightning is the first sparks of genius with which they will build the next world that we’ll know atop the havoc they leave in their wake. And because I always said I’d never be a teacher.