Head, shoulders, knees and TOES!

I love my students.

Bright eyed, curious, with smiles that fill up half their faces, my students are the best thing about my life here. They’re constantly asking me questions, wanting to know about America, wanting to know about me and my life and my habits. They ask some really great questions.

Which is better, The United States or Madagascar? 

They’re both pretty great, I respond. For different reasons.

Do people braid their hair in the United States?


Do people grow rice?


Do people walk fast?

–Oh, yes.

Most days, teaching is also the biggest challenge of my life at site. I live in an area with no English resources, and I teach sixth grade, which is the first year students take English as a school subject. The vast majority of my students, therefore, have never heard and comprehended the English language before. Most days I think my voice sounds like an odd mix of Chinese and cartoon character to them. You know the teacher voice in the Charlie Brown cartoons? “Womp womp, womp womp, womp womp.” That’s me.

outside the sixth grade classrooms

I like to incorporate songs into my lessons. My students are so musically inclined. They know how to harmonize, how to project their voices, and they have amazing rhythm. There’s a rich cultural tradition of music, dancing, and rohmbo, a kind of rhythmic clapping that’s done in big groups. The first time I tried to clap in class to get my students’ attention, it turned into a group rohmbo with cheers and clapping within thirty seconds. I learned my lesson.

I decided to start with something easy: head, shoulders, knees and toes. We all know the song, right?

Head, shoulders, knees and toes (knees and toes!)

Eyes and ears and mouth and nose

Head, shoulders, knees and toes (knees and toes!)

The words sort of stuck. The motions definitely did. I see students touching their heads and shoulders every day now, but they can’t quite get all the words out. That’s ok; we’ve got time.


Some of my sixth grade students