Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Gonna take a chance on her, one bullet in the cylinder…

6:45 am becomes 7am. I cannot afford to oversleep. Today, I am giving a speechless presentation in my arts class. We will talk about found art Duchamp’s urinal, Picasso’s baboon and that sort of thing. Since many of the students do not understand spoken English, I have prepared a power point presentation. Everything is explained in slides.

Last night, I made some coffee, put it in the fridge. This morning, as I am stubbing my toe and blowing my nose, I pour the coffee.

Yesterday, when I was looking for the allusive Diary of Anne Frank, which I thought was at the one bookstore to which I have not made it, I stopped by FCUK. There was a big sale. For the last six months, I have been wearing the same clothes. Here and there I have bought a few souvenir t-shirts but I feel as if I have been wearing the same 4 shirts over and over. Actually, that is because I have been wearing the same four shirts over and over which is a bit embarrassing. This would be fine if all of the shirts were white and I was going for that Einstein thing but I am not going for that theory of relativity and all.

At FCUK, I try on some cords, a sweater and a long sleeve t-shirt that is atypically FCUK. Before I left New York City, I bought a few sale items at FCUK and Club Monaco because the clothing there always fits me nicely and their sales are really good ones. Moving to a world city like Shanghai, I was under the impression I would be moving to a fashion Mecca - Wrong.

In the dressing room, I debate on whether to buy the clothes. The cords that I brought with me I wear all of the time. The ones I am trying on fit the way clothes fit in the West. As I have said, I do love it here but the clothing options are dismal. I miss the cheap New York City fashion shopping.
New York City really has it all…

I try on the T and it is not the best shirt I have ever seen but it is really comfortable and I know I will wear it a lot. The sweater is nice, a charcoal blue color. However, the stripes on inside of the sleeves I do not dig. When it comes to sweaters, I like the plain ones. I take the clothes to the cashier. She speaks a rudimentary form of English. I tell her I will come back later. She has to have another cashier translate. Once she understands, she shows me on her watch how late the store is open.

From there, I go to the bookstore. Later, I come back to FCUK after I have struck out at the bookstore. It looks like I will be Xeroxing copies of the Anne Frank book for myself.

At FCUK, I buy the pants and the long sleeved T but I decide I am not crazy about the sweater. Funny, I have never been much of one to rashly purchase items. With these items, I walked to the bookstore and thought about the purchase and then I came back and made the purchase. For some reason, I have just always like to have some time to think over purchases. Before I moved here, I assumed Shanghai was the funky fashion promised-land so I only brought a few dress shirts which I seem to wear over and over at school and five pairs of dress pants. Now that the weather is rapidly accelerating towards fall, I wish I would have brought a few more items of clothing.


Always, within the nick of time, at the moment, I am so overwhelmed I am just trying to deal. Last night, I took a two hour break from preparations to watch a movie. Through the entire movie, I felt guilty because I was not working on lesson plans. This is insane but I hope soon it will get better. I feel, more than ever, like Lucy at the metaphysical, metaphorical chocolates factory.

At night, I have trouble sleeping. My mind races the minute my head hits the pillow no matter how tired I am beforehand. All of the things that I need to do, all of the things that I have forgotten. All the print jobs swirl in my head like some lost scene from Fantasia or Brazil.

Percy emailed me this morning. We have been discussing the guitar lessons that I am to give to the students. Some of the students do not realize that they need guitars to take guitar lessons. I patiently explain that is why we call them guitar lessons.

Kevin, my little Prince and the Pauper pal, asks me again:
“Teacher, do I have to have a guitar?”
Sadly, I tell him he has to have a guitar to take the lessons.
“Can you just borrow me yours?”
No, I tell him he has to have a guitar to practice.

Thursday, I am to accompany my future army of Johnny Ramones and Johnny Thunderses to the guitar store to look for guitars. Of course, there are all sorts of signature signings involved. The students are not to be taken off campus without permission. Michelle, my liaison, is enrolled in the class which is always a bit intimidating to have a teaching peer as a student.

Kevin really wants to take guitar. I would love to let him but if I let him, I would have to allow ten other students to take lessons without guitars which would be pointless. An idea hits me, an idea with which Kevin may agree. I go into my boss’s office and present the idea. She loves the idea.

In between classes, I find Kevin in the hall.
“Yes, Teacher?”
“Would you like to learn how to play the drums while the others are learning the guitar?”
His eyes light up. He leaps up into the air with a “YEAH!”
“Okay, I will give you drum lessons and you can be the drummer in this band.”

I need somebody good I need a miracle
Should I take a chance on her? one bullet in the cylinder...

In one of these emails, Percy who is not my boss but the assistant to the dean asks me if I could baby sit one of the classes - a class she teaches - at lunchtime during the week. I would do this Monday thru Thursday. As nice as I could, I told her I am overwhelmed at the moment and I cannot possibly do any more than I am currently doing. Not to mention that 5 classes were added to my already fulltime schedule on Monday.

Monday, let me speak shortly about the voluptuous horror that was Monday. China schools have a tendency to switch schedules at the last moment. Usually, my first class on Monday is my introduction to the arts class. I have two of the introduction classes in a row, the seventh graders and then the eighth graders. Naturally, that is the class that I have prepared for because I know I have a 45 minute break to do the last minute preparations for this class. Five minutes before class time, I am told there has been a switch. I have my language class first. The old me would have panicked the new me takes this in stride. Okay, in record time I prepare, the class goes off without a hitch, no big deal, another small miracle.

That is why my brain currently is just jelly. This semester, I have tried to prepare, prepare, prepare. No matter what I do, it seems like I am hit with something like a schedule change of which I have not prepared or an added class that I did not predict I would have. In the USA, this would be one thing but here it is so different and difficult. Everything is totally upside down. Making copies on a copy machine with all of the commands in Chinese is challenging and that is one of the easiest challenges. To do anything that is not school related seems like a luxury. Not that I am complaining, I believe all of this is really good training but it is a bit over the top at the moment. At the moment, I have spent every waking hour it seems preparing, preparing, preparing. This turns into fever dreams of sorts, a Chinese gothic, more Brazil, more Fantasia, (Andrea True Connection) mORe mOrE moRE.

Later, I got another email from Percy telling me I had no choice but to baby-sit this class during my lunch break. I talked to Michelle my liaison. She emailed Percy. This did no good. She still gave me no choice but to do it. Nevertheless, we do have choices. And yes, I do have a choice whether she wants to admit it or not. This is not the choice that I want to think about but I do have a choice. Yes, I most certainly have a choice. I have a return ticket booked back to the USA for December 27th if I want to make that my choice. That is not the choice that I wish to make but if I am pushed yes I have a choice.

Percy, I do like her. I do not want to badmouth her. At the moment, she is trying to fill all these spaces that need filled. But what she does not realize is that I have to look out for myself. My spaces at the moment are filled and overflowing. Yes, I love teaching here. Yes, Yes, I will take on the five extra classes that I took on but that is all I can take on.

My weekends have been nothing but work which I am absolutely not being compensated for at all. Nor have I been compensated for all of the time I put in this summer. Actually, I have seen no M-O-N-E-Y yet so it is a little hard to get excited about sittng with some students when I have yet to be paid for all of the work that I have done thusfar. Nevertheless, as I said, I look at this as training. This is training.

By the end of the day, I was at my wit’s end. I had already had a full day with the kids who can all be a handful but I was at my breaking point when I got the last email that told me I HAVE to babysit this class...or ELSE.

I told Michelle I might talk to my boss. She told me that was probably a good idea. My boss is really great. She is the classroom teacher for the 8th graders so she knows the pressures of teaching. Also, she knows all of the preparation that I have been putting into the lessons. Without a doubt, I have gone above and beyond the call of duty because I do like my co-workers and boss. However, now, I refuse for people to run over me because I know they will. The end result with that which I, by all means, do not want to happen is a bad attitude will overtake me and I will just say “Screw it! Who cares? I want to backpack to Thailand anyway.” Then, the students are the ones that pay because I am not putting time into their lessons.

While all of this was developing today, the Indian twins’ mother came to school. Briefly, I chatted with her. She was curious why I did not assign a textbook for them in their reading class. Yes, this I have wondered myself. Of course, the fact that there are no English text books to be found for native speakers of English in Shanghai was a bit difficult to explain. I did not want her to know how questionable and ramshackle the school - like most of these upstart international schools - is run. Yes, there is really no curriculum. I told her that I did research and assigned many of the things that I saw were being assigned in America. This did not dissuade her. She then hit me where it hurt. More or less, she told me that you cannot just assign a few books and call that a curriculum. This is true. However, I am not sure how I am supposed to develop a sixth grade literature curriculum as I am doing everything else.

She then told me she has a textbook she will give me. I told her I would very much appreciate that. She will send it over to me tomorrow. I thanked her profusely. Yes, I was in the hot-seat for a few seconds but this was good. The twins’ mother only wants what is best for her children. I do not blame her. I hope that I would be the same as a parent. She was very nice about it but she did have a lot of questions that I had to answer quickly, on my feet.

How would you stop world hunger? How do you feel about gun control? What are your theories on the lone gunman? If she had asked me these questions, more than likely, the way I was reeling off answers like I was on Jeopardy I would have had a few interesting answers for her. “Charlton Heston needs a new piece” would be my first suggestion. Suddenly, I am Miss America and she is Wink Martindale. Or is she Bob Barker?

As it is, at the moment, I literally run from class to class. When I teach design, I am running with scissors (in boxes, but I am running with them). Books, papers, glue, sacks of trash, more papers, more books, I am running with all of this. When I was explaining found art to the students, after I gave a longwinded, passionate speech about the arts and Patti and Rauschenberg and Rauschenberg and Pollock and Rauschenberg and Patti.
Joker chirped up. “Oh, so found art is basically just rubbish.”
What would Rauschenberg say?
“Yeah,” I said, “Basically.”
For the life of me, I could not formulate in my mind what Rauschenberg would say.

At the end of the day, another day spent. Somewhat lifeless, I go into my boss’s office. I tell her I need to talk to her. She looks like she is in a bit of a panic. She tells me she will talk to me after school which is in twenty minutes. I tell her this is fine.

Back at my desk, I think about how I will talk to my boss about this lunch time predicament. Yes, I want to stay at this school but if I feel as if I am not appreciated, I know I can go find a place where I am appreciated.

My boss comes into the teacher’s office and tells me she is free. We walk back to her office. First, after I stammer a bit, I tell her how much I like her because I do. She is a really good boss. Then, I tell her that Percy wants me to baby sit these classes during my lunch hour and I am already overwhelmed. At the moment, I cannot do it. I really want to stay at this school for a long time but…

My boss is so nice. She tells me she had no idea that this was happening. She tells me, yes, I am working hard. I have too much work and she will talk to the principal tomorrow. My hope is that she can defend me. I do really like her. Yes, I do want to stay but then all of the sudden, I feel this strange pull toward Thailand, Vietnam, Nova Scotia.


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