Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Metaphysical Ultimatums and Grade-book Student Degradations on a Complex Plane

The scrap of paper - the scrap of paper that I receive in the afternoon sometimes; this scrap of paper which lists the schedule changes – reads my 6th grade English class has been moved to Thursday, my ninth period design class is moved to the first period. This is fine. I am ready for whatever is to come my way. Right? Surprise, sometimes, will come around.

This morning, at 6 am, I woke. I rolled back over and slept for a bit longer. At 6:30 am, I stirred once again. This time, I rose. Time to face the day I thought. Once I was up and dressed, the time was 6:45. What do I do now? Where is my mind? Your head will collapse and there’s nothing in it and you ask yourself…

By the time I finish puttering in the apartment and walk to school and turn on my computer and look at the clock in the corner of my screen, the time is 7:20. Somehow, I am not as early as I thought I would be. The other teachers – the Chinese teachers – and I joke about the milk. The milk was bad on Monday. Now we all ask each other if the milk is okay. And you ask yourself…Where is my mind?

Today, the breakfast is some sort of sponge cake with nuts on the top. It is definitely okay. I drink my iced coffee and eat my sponge cake.

The printer is out of ink. Changing the cartridge seems to not be the option. My boss tells me to take my thumb drive to the 2nd floor office and print my document there. Suddenly, I remember ‘The Document Prints the Room.’ I think of Ed, Tom, Donna, Susan and Sabrina from this summer’s English camp.

Before, if I had to go to a strange office to print my document, I would have been a little intimidated but now I am an old hand (or is that ham?) at maneuvering here in the land of the rising sun. I document-prints-the-room myself down at the computer in this unfamiliar office and stick in the thumb drive. And I stick it deep inside ‘cause I’m loose. With this foreign foreigner’s confidence in the People’s Republic, I print my document. The procedure is flawless. Yes, it is true; the document prints the room.

Xiao Ma walks in to the teachers’ office. He is wearing a green rugby shirt with navy blue and khaki stripes. His pants are color coordinated – khaki. He is the Vanna White of the office. No not really, I’m kidding.

My boss laughs with Athena in another part of the room, the document prints the room. I am on a faraway beach.

Given the chance
I'll die like a baby
On some far away beach
When the season's over.
I'll be remembered
As the tide brushes sand in my eyes
I'll drift away.

The design classes sometimes are nothing but a nightmare. Imagine 20 kids all wanting your attention at once. “Teacher, scissors.” “Teacher, paper.” “Teacher, cut this.” “Teacher, I’m retarded.” “Teacher, I cannot think for myself.”
Now to some extent, I know how the teachers felt when I was in junior high and asked some dumb questions. Whoever said ‘There are no dumb questions,’ was an idiot. There are some real doozies.

Today, the students are continuing on their remake remodel project. I made a crisp tin into a chopstick holder. This assignment was assigned to fire their imaginations. Most of their imaginations are in idle it seems. When I was their age, I would have loved this sort of assignment. They say everything is boring. They do not want to do anything.

They just look at me blankly. They tell me the assignment is too hard. Some of them understand. Sooham made a crisp tin into a miniature British style postal box. Sumran is making a beautiful silk covered pencil holder. Sean who is not one of my more promising students is making peace-sign fingers coming out of a crisp tin from a series of wires and wadded tissue. Yes, there are some diamonds in the rough amongst the spoiled international elite.

The art teacher – I do not know her name – who sits beside me in the teachers’ office comes in to the classroom. I tell her I have told them to clean up but either they do not understand or they are not listening. In chinese, She tells them they need to start cleaning up.

Cleaning up is always a losing proposition, always. Granted, a few students do pitch in and start cleaning. Vivian helps. Another girl sweeps the floor. Paint is smeared all over the table by Sean. At the beginning of the class, I told them to spread newspaper out on the table so this would not happen. Of course, Sean is one of the problem kids. His English is okay; I know he understands me. He just does not listen.

Next period, I teach my small group of seventh grade English speaking readers. This is a very relaxed class. I do not have to worry. Since the printer is on the fritz, I will use the computer monitor to look at the Anne Frank questions that we will be discussing in class. They have copies of them already.

Mary is sitting reading the paper at the table where I would teach the class. This is the better table for a classroom setting. I ask her if she has her math class. She tells me no. I say ‘good’. I then tell her I meant that I am glad because I can have my class in here.

When she has her math class and I have a class at the same time, I take the kids into the conference room which does not have a computer. I do not mind doing this because it is not a big deal usually to go into the other room. If the students are reading, the conference room is okay but it is not good for doing any sort of writing because there are a few coffee tables and no real table for them to sit and write.

Today, if Mary did have her math class at the same time, I would have just had my class sit at the smaller more inconvenient table. With Mary, I try to give her a wide berth. She, as I have said, is difficult but oh well, I know that. She is an only child and she is just accustomed to having things her way. This is not that big of a deal.

The seventh graders arrive. My assumption, Mary would get up and let us have class. She sits in the middle of the table and keeps reading the paper. Another Chinese teacher is sitting at the other end of the table. Why do I assume both of them will get up so that I can have my class? After all, this is a designated classroom for the smaller classes. Yes, I would move to the conference room but I am using one of the computers to look over questions. Finally, when I realize Mary is not moving. I ask the students to move to the other table. I tell them we do not want to disturb anyone. Of course, this does not even faze Mary. “Oh, you were not disturbing me,” she says. Her stories are boring and stuff.

Nevertheless, this is what I love about this job. Yes, she is a mild annoyance, nothing major. I can deal with her. She is not the worse person in the world. Actually, I do like having her around because she does not have much tolerance for bullcrap. It could be worse, much worse. And, after either or both of us leave this job, I will not have to ever see her again. There is something slightly glorious about that. We are all disposable aquaintenances. If I listen to the first Interpol album enough, everything will be okay.

I wish I could eat the salt off of your lost faded lips.
We can cap the old times make playing only logical harm.
We can cap the old lines make playing that nothing else will change.

As I said, Mary is just a mild annoyance, nothing major. Without a doubt, I can deal with her. By now, I know that in any situation we have people we like and people we do not particularly care about. Mary is one of those that I just do not really care about one way or the other. And, as I said, it could be worse, much worse. At least Bird Flu is not about. She is still squawking at Songjiang. Mary is a blessing in comparison.

Although the eighth grade class is a ways down the hall, at my desk, I can hear the drone of Joker’s voice in the eighth grade classroom. He has one of those voices, one of those voices like an actor, a lazy method actor, a male Winona. The document prints the room.
My afternoon class is my design class with the seventh graders. Constantly, there seems to be a race. Which class is the worst behaved? Who is going to push the majority of my buttons? The seventh graders are always in the running. Actually, all of my classes are always in the running as the worst behaved classes ever. At least, there are gun laws here. I would like to shoot about half of the class. I’m joking. I’m joking. (No, I’m not.)

Ten minutes before class, I go into the seventh grade classroom and tell them that the class will be held in the design room. Will says he does not want to go. I tell him he does not have to go; he does not have to do anything. If he wants a grade he better be there is what I imply. He is somewhat adorable but a pain in the ass at the same time.

A few classes use the design room. It is clean when we arrive. The first students to show are Venus, Noam, Laura, Alice, Neisha. Grab what they need for their designs before the rest of the class straggle in, I tell them. Since they are there in a timely manner, they should take advantage of it. These are my sentiments. They grab scissors, newspaper and glue.

For the first five minutes of class, Eric is the only boy in the room. He sits at a table by himself and works. He is probably the youngest in the class and by far the most mature. Sure, he can screw around like any of the guys but he can be serious too. He is a constant.

As I mentioned, someone cleaned the design room. The floor is swept. The trash is cleared away. The shelves have been neatly arranged. Of course, I dread the end of class because the class will be a disaster and most of the students will try to sneak away without cleaning. The ones who do clean, they just bitch and bitch about it. To myself, I vow I will not let it happen this time. Also, I tell myself this may be the end of classes in the design room; and, I tell myself I may start looking for another job.

This is some weird metaphysical ultimatum, my life with the metaphysical ultimatum, living with metaphysical ultimatums. I was a teenage metaphysical ultimatum.

While the girls work on their projects, I entertain myself with wordplay and grade- book student degradation. I think of Mary Byrd. She once dragged me to a math lecture. This has been twenty years ago now, maybe. I remember one thing, one theory that is just a set of words to me - Homo-bifurcations on a complex plane. Maybe someone will explain it to me.

Five to ten minutes late, the boys straggle into the room. They ask me for glue, scissors, paper. Newspaper I have. Everything else has disappeared. At the beginning of the term, we had scissors, glue. Now we do not. I shrug my shoulders and tell them I do not know. I cannot help them. They must share. These are kids who do not share.

Jacky did not bring anything. He does not have a plastic bottle or crisp tin to transform. He does nothing all class. I tell him he must have something. Will wants to make his water bottle into a planter. He wants to go down to the sports field to get dirt. I tell him he can do this after class. He is one of those take a mile after given an inch students. He is not surprised I tell him no.

During class, I take notes. Laura, who is a major pain in the ass, comes up and shows me the piece of crap that she took about five minutes to glue together. She tells me she is finished. I tell her that it sucks. This is probably not in a child psychology manual. I have decided that I have had it with these spoiled children. I tell her to keep working. She asks me what she could do to make it better in that exasperated teenage way. She looks as if she is 14 or 15 years old. She throws things at boys in class when she thinks I am not looking. She is a nightmare. For some strange reason, the Ramones ‘Beat on the Brat’ goes through my head.
I tell her I do not know how she can make it better. That is her decision. Of course, as a retort she says “I don’t know.” “I don’t know.” She tells me she doesn’t know. This time, I scrawl ‘Sucks’ onto a stray piece of paper and hand it to her. In between questions, I make notes in my book. Jacky asks me what I am doing. I tell him I am writing that he is not doing his project.

He asks me to feel his arm muscles. I flick him on the elbow. He tells me that he and Will are the only two who have muscles because the rest of the boys are fat. I look around and agree. I tell him yes, the rest of the boys are fat. Momentarily, I forget about Eric. He is not fat.

With about ten minutes left of class, I tell the students they need to start cleaning up. Absolutely no one listens. Some of them are working on their projects. Some of them are talking. None of them are listening. I repeat. No one is listening. I repeat. I then go around from table to table. If they drag their feet, they will not have to do it. Gabba Gabba We accept you we accept you one of us.

Some of them start cleaning. Jacky tells me he did not do anything so he does not have to clean. He did not do anything so he has to sweep since he just admitted that he didn’t do anything. He tells me he does not know where there is a broom. I tell him he best find one. He thinks I am joking. Finally, I icily tell him he is to sweep. He goes to find a broom. When I have hit my last bit of patience and I start yelling and getting into faces and yelling, that is when the students listen. This is sad.

Laura and the other girls disappear. Some of the boys disappear. I go to the classroom where they are hiding. They do not think I am going to come get them. I have had it. I am yelling and fuming. I yell at them to go clean the design room. Yes, I yell. Everyone starts moving. The girls stand around as the boys clean. They tell me their table is clean. At this point, I have no patience. I look at the small scraps of newspaper on the table and tell them to pick them up. They do. After yelling at the spoiled idiots for ten minutes, the room is clean.

Yelling is the only thing that works, yelling and icy stares. Their classroom behavior is appalling absolutely appalling. The nice guy approach with these spoiled imbeciles goes unnoticed. Their parents spoil them and the teachers are left to clean up the mess. Their parents need to beat them…severely.

Back at my desk, Cheap Trick ‘Way of the World’ - felt like a pawn was I dead or alive - soothes me. In a way, these 40 minute bursts of hysteria are like some sort of spiritually cleansing shock treatment, some anti-new-age-anti-depressant storm and fury killer.


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