the christmas play debacle


in late november, i was informed that because i am teaching childrens’ classes, i am responsible for teaching my kids something to perform at the annual student christmas party that my language school throws each year. basically, a time for parents to come and see their kid sing or say something nice in english. this was made to sound like it would be really easy and fun. upon first hearing about this with about two weeks notice, i smiled and nodded. it was all i could do. (note: i was the only native speaker lecturer participating)

my “tween” class nipped this in the bud right away. as soon as i mentioned the prospect of performing a song or poem for the play, all eight of them had a quick discussion in czech and decided that not one of them will be participating. fair enough.
with the younger ones, always rambunctious and frequently misbehaving (which is unfortunate as their english really isn’t very good anyways), i really pushed the idea.

“we’re going to sing a song!” i announced one day, two weeks before. we practiced it two or three times, then after they got wind of the idea that they would be actually performing it in front of people, they let out a round of “noooooo!"s. surely, a very comforting thing for a foreign teacher to hear. when the next week rolled around and my last chance to get this group of kids to do something presentable, i decided to go another direction and passed out a short funny christmas play i had written to practice that class period. however, only two out of eight children said they could come. oh good lord, what are we going to do. this wasn’t going to be as easy as i thought.

the next afternoon, at 5 o’clock, the christmas play was to begin. i rolled in the school at a couple minutes to the hour to be greeted (in a panic) by the headmistress. ”cynthia. where are your students?“
i took a quick scan of the room to see only one of my girls, magda, who was present. inside, i cursed the other one who told me she was going to come– thanks for the false hope, kid! magda is the sweetest and shiest of all of the kids. she speaks the least amount of english (really no structures whatsoever), so communicating with her is not often easy. "can we pleeeease practice really quickly?”, i begged the headmistress, and the two of us snuck away to an empty classroom.

“okay, magda. we will sing a song! remember santa claus is coming to town?” (thank goodness we had practiced it a few weeks ago). poor girl looked rightfully confused, dutifully clutching the copy of the play we had rehearsed the day before. i took out my phone and played about twenty seconds of the bing crosby version. “remember this? this song is too rychle but we can sing it slower!” magda pointed to the play and stammered out a few, barely decipherable words. “ohh, no…. we must sing the song now. no one is here to help us.” her eyes widened, like any child’s would when faced to sing a song, in a different language, in front of thirty-or-so people. “no! we can sing it dohromady (pointing at both of us).” she looked visibly less strained. “it will be fun!” i added for really the benefit of both of us.


so, cynthia and magda, just the two of us. performing an american christmas song in front of all the expectant parents and the heads of the language school. all those years of musical theater and karaoke performances have prepared me well, but what about magda?
in the next few minutes, we ran through the song acapella several times. i showed her a few hand motions which she very quickly picked up on– perhaps she sensed the urgency of the situation? after four times i asked, “finished? or jeste jedno?” “jeste jedno”, she quietly replied, and we did it two more times until i felt that it really had to be time to do it.
i tried to imagine myself at nine years old. there is no way i would have ever stood in front of people to sing at this age, even with someone singing with me! could she take it? or would she let me down? i hated that i was depending on her for this, but i was. however i tried to inject all of the smiles and encouraging words i could.

it was our turn and i introduced ourselves. “hello, i’m cynthia! this is magda, and we are singing a christmas song called–” “santa claus is coming to town”, chimed in magda. i smiled. “ready? ohhhhh—- (holding the first note)”, and we launched into the song. we shook our finger at parents, we both did the motions for “checking it twice”. we spun around to shake our finger at eachother and say “so, be good for goodness sake!” (she remembered!)
the parents all chimed in with claps and snaps, it was really a sweet moment. at the finale, we both stuck out our opposite hands, broadway style when singing the last note, “tooo town!” and then hurried the heck off stage. it all went as well anyone could’ve hoped.

i was unbelievably proud of her for doing this. it certainly couldn’t be easy especially when your english isn’t exactly at a high level and you’re not even ten years old! to add to that, your stressed out american english teacher is changing things up on you all over the place. i beamed and gave her several high-fives. a huge sense of relief fell over me as the thing i was stressing out about for the past two weeks was finally over. and i did not fail. and not failing is kind of like success.