Beth and I went to high school together, when we looked like this.

Visions of high school

We were both in Chamber Choir, which looked like this.

Chamber Choir

Which means we went on the big choir trip to Russia, Poland, and Hungary in 1987, which looked like this.

Red Square back in the day

(How Miss Hartzell herded all those troublemaking kids through the heart of the Soviet Union, I’ll never know.)

Fast forward a couple decades, and Beth announced that she and her family were moving to Costa Rica for a year. At the time I vaguely thought, “Hey, we should visit her.” And now, here I am at Playa Pelado, waiting to meet her.

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Beth, husband Bob, and their two sons showed up as promised, and we shared a pizza, memories of Russia, and observations about Costa Rica. As she told me about her teaching gig at a Montessori school, I mentioned that I would love to sit in on her class. She got a devilish gleam in her eye.

Back to school

The next morning, for the second time this week, I found myself teaching in a classroom. This new batch of students was a bit younger and way more energetic than my university audience.

My love of puppets, be they Cambodian, Chinese, or Hensonian, is well-known. With the students just starting a unit on Asia, Beth figured this was the perfect opportunity to (a) have a new face in class, (b) talk about puppetry’s Asian origins, and (c) make puppets!

It was a blast. The kids- there are so many of them- jumped into the project with unbridled enthusiasm.

With a sympathetic, you’ve-put-in-your-time smile, Beth gave me permission to leave at lunchtime. But some students had yet to start their puppets, while others had unattached arms or missing eyes (the puppets, not the students). My judgment possibly impaired by the heat, I stuck around a while longer, encouraging the kids to make different kinds of puppets- how about a dragon? a robot? an animal? Most stuck pretty close to the examples I had shown them or what their friends were making, while a few creative types ventured into new territory.

Hard to beat these guys for sheer creativity.

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In a room filled with more energy than a nuclear power plant, Beth and her fellow teachers maintained an easygoing control over the pint-sized atomic particles bouncing around the reactor- er, classroom. At one point, she calmed the frenzy by breaking into song: Dona nobis pacem, an old Chamber Choir favorite. One by one, the students dropped what they were doing and began singing along. That the words are Latin for “grant us peace” is probably no coincidence.

Grant us peace

When the students began lining up to go to their daily Agriculture lesson, I made a break for it. I was sweaty, dehydrated, exhausted. How teachers (and parents) manage these little goofballs all day every day, I’ll never know.

A funny group of puppetmakers

The funny group photo

A serious group of puppetmakers

The serious group photo (oddly similar to the funny one)

Later, Beth reported that one of the kids said, “We like him. We should find a job for him here.” I’m not going to quit my day job (actually, I don’t have a day job just yet), but it’s good to hear that after a long day of puppetmaking.