Somewhere, Bush is rambling on about the war on terror. Someone may be listening. Ramble on Chicken Little. Sing your terror song Chicken Little.
I have insomnia. I am thinking of the troops. Those troops for whom I constantly say little prayers, I pray they stay safe; they come back to their families. The ones who do not have wives, husbands, children, I pray that someday they do. Speaking of rambling, I ramble on a about the frustration of teaching but I am not in a foxhole, or getting pelted by sand in the desert, or getting bombed, or somewhere eating K-rations. Do they still have K-rations?
After tossing and turning for over an hour, I drifted off to sleep. My sleep was dreamless. At least, I do not remember the dreams now. If I dreamt, I may have dreamt of grocery stores and American hospitals, small Korean cars and utility vehicles.
Before the alarm sounds, I wake. The clock reads 7:01 am. Slowly, I get up and do the routine that I do for my early mornings. I put on the water to boil as I try to wake myself up. The water seems to boil quickly.
This morning is an autumn preview. The rain left a comfortable chill in the air. The heavy, wet heat is no longer present. This is the beginning of the third season in Shanghai for me. I arrived at the beginning of spring, the time of rebirth according to poets, philosophers and nature. Maybe in some ways, I have been reborn here; I do not know.
This morning, I have the Language A groups at 7:55 am. The sixth graders, I will let them pick out books to read, the seventh graders will keep reading Anne Frank. As usual, before class, nothing goes as planned. For some unknown reason, I cannot get the documents that I am giving my seventh grade reading group to print. Xiao Ma comes to my rescue. I watch him try everything. Finally, he has to reinstall the printer.
Trying not to be impatient I look out the window. Out on the sports field the students from the public section of the school are doing some sort of field routine. The principal is pacing back and forth watching them. The music is reminiscent of John Phillip Sousa.
I cannot wait; I must go onto class. Most of the two reading groups are waiting for me when I enter. Neisha is not here today. No one knows why she is absent. The sixth graders, I tell them to pick out a book from the racks if they do not have something with them. The sixth grader who I have to discipline tries to get up to get a book. I tell him he has a book. He has one of the books from the Chronicles Of Narnia. He has been on page1 for the last three days. I tell him this is the book he has picked and this is the book he must read. When the sixth graders get up to get books to read, I tell them to be careful. Yesterday, after they left, I felt guilty because I saw Xiao Ma putting the books back in order because they had flung them about carelessly. Today, I watch them. My little Indian friend is very careless. I tell him he does not need three books at a time and that he must put the ones back on the shelf where they belong. At the moment, he has just flung them down haphazardly. Yes, this may turn out to be a long semester.
Midway through the class, after I have discussed Anne Frank with the seventh graders, I realize I have nothing to do. This weird feeling comes over me. For a moment, I am able to relax but then I hear a commotion over at the sixth grade table. The kid who is a pain in the ass has to be moved to the end of the table. I tell him he has to sit alone because he can not behave. Man, what a pain in the ass.
After class, I go back to my apartment and prepare for the afternoon classes. At 12:15 pm, I go back to the school and go to the lunch room. I sit and have lunch with the Chinese English teachers. Athena, the 6th grade homeroom teacher, is sitting across from me. She has nearly finished eating.
The student who is a problem in my reading class and another student are both standing at attention while she eats. They are not allowed to speak or move. My boss sits at the table next to us. The boys are standing at attention in between the two tables. After 15 minutes, Athena says something in Chinese and they leave the lunchroom. While they were standing at attention, I am sure I had a perplexed look on my face.
She explains to me and the boss that they ran to the lunchroom when they should have come in to the room in a line. They are being punished. I say something which I hope is interpreted in the right way. I tell her I have had problems with both boys because both boys have been unruly in class. I go on to say that it is really hard for some people to control themselves. My boss says there is a time and place for unruliness. I tell her she is right. She says it nicely and I agree. I just do not want to be too hard on these boys even though I would not mind giving them both a couple of swift kicks in the backside.
After lunch I have a few hours before my design classes. During my break, I type up the assignment so that the students know what is expected. I make a mock up of my autobiography cover for them to use as an example.
At 2 pm, I teach the seventh graders design. Before I teach the sixth graders design, I have a 50 minute break.
In the office, Athena throws me a milk mint which reminds me of a hard version of the soft pastel after dinner mints in America. I ask her if I can get them at the store. She says yes and shows me the package. I tell her the mint is very good. I use a few Chinese words to describe it. She laughs. We have been told we will start having our Chinese lessons on Friday; Percy is arranging this.
Laura, the Brit who is here via the British Council, comes into the office. I show her the mock-up I have done for the autobiography cover. I mention I want it to be punk rock and like the Sex Pistols and the Clash. She tells me it is brilliant. Suddenly, I feel better about the whole thing. I know it is a cool idea and probably much too cool for little kids but they may get it one day.
Off I go to redesign the seventh graders, Re-make Re-model. I could talk talk talk talk talk myself to death; but I believe I would only waste my breath. The seventh graders are somewhat rowdy when I walk in. They do not settle down right away. Finally, I have to hit a book against a chatty girl’s desk to get her to stop talking. She looks up as if she is going to cry. When did I become this sort of teacher? However, I now have everyone’s attention. No one dares speak. Actually, they all look a bit frightened. I explain what we are doing. I show them some examples of autobiographies. I show them Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bullocks as an example of the sort of lettering that they could do easily. A few snickers pepper the room when the students see either the words ‘sex’ or ‘bullocks’. I am not sure which.
I tell them they have the next two class periods to work on the project. When class is really cooking, the bell rings. This class really zipped by.
During my fifty minute break, I rethink how I might present the lesson to the sixth graders. They had done these little crap designs yesterday, climaxing in a few girls just simply drawing what they wished to draw. I have decided I am not pandering to them. This could be a fun project but it must be approached with some seriousness.
First of all, when I walk into the classroom, they want to switch rooms. I tell them we are staying put. There are a few bright angels amongst the demons. My little reader who is struggling as a reader is in the class and he is one of the only Chinese kids who understand what I am saying. Sometimes, I am baffled as to why I am here at all.
Immediately, before class even starts I am besieged with questions. The Indian twins are tag-teaming me. I feel as if I cannot breathe. I try to be patient but it is really hard. I tell them if they sit down I will explain what we are doing. They keep saying “but teacher…..”
Finally, I have the class’s attention. They are not thrilled about the project. To spark some enthusiasm, I tell them there will be a prize for the best design. This immediately perks everyone’s interest. Big obnoxious problem child asks me what the prize is. I tell him the prize is a sur-prize. He asks again what it is. I tell him that it would not be a surprise if I told him.
Then, the Indian twins and a few spoiled girls bum-rush me for colored paper. I hand them paper. Some of them want four sheets. There is not that much to begin with. One girl tells me that one of the other girls has four sheets and she says it whining and half out of breath like it is the most important thing in the world and nothing could ever be more important ever. She says she should get four sheets. I ask her why she needs four sheets. She cannot think of a reason. I tell her to sit down. When she can think of why she needs four sheets, she can come and ask me for them.
At this point, the boy in my reading class, who is such a sweet boy, tells me he would like to get some paper for him and some of the other kids that are sitting around him. I tell him that is fine. He is very courteous. He does not bum-rush me. I am not playing favorites I hope. The well-behaved children I tend to treat them with more respect than the selfish, spoiled children.
While the sweet, polite boy and I are talking, out of the corner of my eye –and due to the fact that the volume of the classroom is steadily increasing which in itself is a telltale sign that some students feel the authority figure is not paying attention - the boy who was one of the two boys who had to stand at attention in the lunchroom (not the one who is a problem in the reading class but the other one), that boy has a rubber band in a position where he is about to flick another kid in the face with the rubber band. Seeing this taking place –and a bit shocked that it is taking place more or less under my nose; I walk over, I grab him by the collar and I drag him out into the hall. I tell him he will be staying out in the hall for awhile. Chinese children hate to be sent out into the hall. I then shut the door.
Kevin, the sweet boy, comes back up to the desk when I return with some of the paper that he grabbed.
“Can I get the red? She didn’t like the orange.”
“She didn’t like the orange?” I ask.
I hand him a sheet of red and as I hand it to him I shake my head. “Women,” I say as a retort.
“Yeah” he responds.