Tuesday, April 11, 2006

At 6 AM the pounding, clanging, cawwing starts. I am Bill Murray. This is 'Groundhog Day." Today is my observation. I try not to be anxious. At this point, I have had enough observers tell me that I am a fine teacher but I am still a bit nervous. I listen to "Andy's Chest" for inspiration. "Andy's Chest" should always be my inspiration. I take my Grover watch - which Mai gave me - from the nightstand and I put it near the sink in the bathroom so that I do not forget to wear it. My watch is my security blanket in the classroom.

I have my tea and cake on the balcony. A younger construction worker stares at me. I look away to look at the progress of the construction site. I look back and the construction worker is still staring. At first, I am a bit unnerved but then I relax and eat my cake. He has that look on his face as if her were a little boy at the zoo for the first time. I am his chimpanzee, toucan, prairie dog, loon.

I take my shower which goes from being steaming hot to almost warm. I quickly finish and dry off. For my observation, I put on my standard all purpose (Mr Tyson MC) D&G suit, my white with red stripes Ted Baker dress shirt, my blue skinny Valentino tie, black socks with a pink and orange stripe on the side, and my standard Miu Miu slip ons. I look in the mirror, with my new haircut, I feel ready to take on anything - or at least I am ready to be observed.

At 9:25 AM, after listening to Nico "Fairest of the Seasons," another source of inspiration for the day, I walk to the office. At the elevator, I pull up my suit sleeve to look at my watch and I realize I forgot to put it on. My watch is still sitting by the sink in my apartment. Irritated at my oversight, I go up to the 6th floor; I walk into my office; I turn on my computer; I turn around and walk back to my apartment to grab my watch.

By the time I get back to the office and settle in, I have 30 minutes until observation time. Suddenly, I feel ill-prepared. This always happens to me and I know this always happens to me. No matter how well prepared I am, I always feel as if I could be better prepared; as if I could have spent a few more minutes on this or that. I realize it is nerves and I tell myself I am a fine teacher and I finish preparing my lesson.

The lesson consists of 33 vocabulary words - which we have been studying. Today we put them into sentences. Maniac, sanctuary, occasionally, torment, ominous are a few of the words we will discuss.

I enter the classroom ten minutes early to give myself sometime to self medicate through meditation. A trick I have learned, show up first. I am the first one in class. The students come in. I ask Tess what she did last night. She does not understand what I am asking.

The bell rings. We start the lesson. I tell the students I was impressed with how well they did on the vocabulary test but we must learn how to use the vocabulary words in sentences. We start with the word 'torment.' Max had written the sentence.

"The students like to torment their teacher Tyson." I tell them this is an excellent sentence. I write it on the board. I then write 'tormented' on the board in the sentence "The students tormented their teacher Tyson." They laugh at this. I ask each of them if they are with me like I do every day.
"Max are you with me?"
"Yes." Mumbling
"Tess are you with me?"
"Yes." Mumbling
"Miko are you with me?"
The yes is not as mumbled.
"Allen are you with me?"
"I am with you."
Sometimes I go around 3 or 4 times until they go "Yes Yes YES!" Today, since I am being observed, I do not go over the top though I am tempted.

The lesson is not flawless. I feel quite a few pregnant pauses and uncomfortable silences during our discourse. Fortunately, though, nothing disastrous happens. Finally, after I have looked secretly at my security wrist blanket a few times, the bell rings.

I talk to Mrs Mao and Fairy as they are leaving. Mrs. Mao tells me she likes my energy. She could tell I like the students, the students like me. The students are respectful to me. However, I am teaching the smallest class in Shanghai, I should let the students do more of the talking. I know that is my biggest weakness as a teacher. I tend to do all of the work for the students.

I tell Mrs. Mao and Fairy thank you and I run like a fiend to Class 3. I run into the class as the last bell finishes ringing. I set my books on the desk. The students all yell "Tyson." I look up and smile. One of the students points to something on the desk. A student has left me a spring gift. I look down and see a cocoon on a leaf. I smile as the eye exercise music starts. Like an orchestra conductor, I conduct them to be pianissimo.

I walk out of the room to write on the breezeway porch. As I am writing, I can still hear activity. When I look back in, I see Ding Ding talking (perhaps about the gift on my desk) I give him a look. He is embarrassed. He looks down at the floor bashfully and cannot help but smile. I go back outside back to my writing. A Chinese teacher ducks his head out of class 4 sees me writing and nods his head and smiles at me. I nod and smile back. After a few rainy days, today is warm and muggy - a Shanghai Spring.

When I go back in, I start to explain what we are doing today in class. Half the class seems to not be listening. At this point I launch into my rock concert philosophy which is -and I demonstrate to some extent -how at the front of a concert people are going nuts and loving the music, in the back of the concert people are talking to friends and reading comic books. I told them the classroom was the same. I made the devil horn sign and yelled 'Rock n Roll' at one point, more for my own enjoyment than anything. I then ran to the back of the class (like some cutrate Harpo Marx) and told them maybe I would start teaching the class from the back of the class (like some asinine Howie Mandell - oh redundant). They are not used to this sort of performance in the classroom.

I, then, ran back up to the front of the class and started to go into what the days activity would be. Half of the class is still not paying attention.
There was only one thing to do. I do a very loud Safaris 'Wipe Out' drumroll on the desk with my palms. This shocks the students into attention. A few students try to imitate it on their desks but they cannot. Their assignment is to give mini-presentations -two or three minutes - on China. I tell them they are to get into groups of four and six and decide what they want to talk about. On the board, I write sports, fashion, politics, family, food, culture. I tell them their topic can be anything. I give them 20 minutes to come up with a presentation.

While they work out their presentations, I catch up on work (aka write in my Moleskin) at the head of the class. At one point, I look up and I catch Ding Ding in the act of flinging a desk football at the back of the unsuspecting head in front of him. He looks up and sees me see him right before he does it. I smile and shake my head like "I cannot believe I caught you again." He bashfully looks down at the ground again. I really want to laugh but I do not. I then hand the leaf with the cocoon to him and tell him I am giving it to him. I tell him he has won it. He looks at me queerly.

I go back to my work (journal). The next time I look up, I see that the spring gift has made it to a table of girls. One is trying to sneak it into her deskmates hair. Again, I try to not laugh. I act as if I do not see it happening. Back at my work, I imagine they think I am doing important teacher stuff. This time when I look up, the spring gift has made it to the back row. The guys that sit next to -whom I have termed - the FreeStar Heaven Posse, have control of the spring gift and the one who has it in his hand looks up at me as he is plotting. Since he does not know that I put the gift into rotation, he immediately assumes he has been caught doing something he shouldn't. Again, I try not to laugh. I amuse myself easily.

Two minutes before the presentations are to commence, I sound off with perhaps the best loudest drumroll yet which literally sends a few students out of their seats. (This is the near equivalent of when my summer school driver's ed teacher - Floyd Jack - would pull the emergency brake on me without warning when we were out for a spin in the driver's ed car.) I tell them they have two minutes until they have to start their presentations. I then tell them to go back to what they are doing. They look at me puzzled and resume their preparations.

Picking the first group is one of the easiest things ever. Students walk right into the trap. After the drum roll that means the presentations are starting. One of the female students turned around to talk to another student. That is exactly when I look at them.
"You are first" I say half laughing. The student that I caught gives her friend a dirty look.
She talks about the Chinese opera. She says a Chinese word and I ask her to repeat it. She tells me it is an English word. I say "Oh...yeah." She then tells me one of her classmates sings opera.
"One of your classmates sings opera?" I enthusiastically ask.
"Yes." And, she point to her.
The whole class petitions to hear the opera singing student. She tries to be shy but then she gets up and sings some Chinese opera. Everyone cheers when she has finished. I clap louder than anyone. I am amazed.


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