Monday, September 04, 2006

Monday, the second day of class, I wake before the alarm sounds. I don’t like Mondays. Yes, I have a full day of several subjects. Trying to make sense of these subjects for the students is my goal. And keeping some semblance of sanity is my other goal.

I stumble to the kitchen and put some water on to boil. I boil water out of a jug that I keep in the fridge. Supposedly, I can boil water from the faucet but I am afraid to try it again. Before when I did it, the water from the faucet wreaked havoc on my stomach. The water boils as I am making my bed. I put it into the French press to let it steep with the ground coffee. Once the coffee has steeped, I pour it into my stainless steel to go cup and head off to school.

Last Friday, we were told there would be milk at the gate and a Chinese breakfast delivered to the teacher’s office. I stop at the gate and ask for the milk. The guard does not know English. He does not know what I am talking about. There are two mini-sentries standing guard, they are public middle schoolers. I ask them if they know what the story is with the milk. One of them says to me “Milk no arrived.” Bummer, I now have no milk for my coffee. I make my way up to the fourth floor to the office.

The first thing I do is connect my thumb drive. My art intro class is at 8 am. I want to look over the pop art/ found art slide presentation I have prepared. I unhook the other thumb drive from the cable running from the computer. I look over the presentation. At the same time, I try to access the internet but I cannot. The internet seems to be down. Michelle comes in and fires up her computer and Google comes up immediately for her. I tell her I think my internet is offline. She goes and gets Xiao Ma.

Xiao Ma seems young, maybe in his early twenties. He reminds me of Max from the Shanghai90210 in many ways. He is quiet but he seems very nice. He is tall and thin. When I look at him, I daydream that he is Max as an adult.

Xiao Ma comes into tell me I have unhooked the wireless remote. He unhooks my thumb drive and re-hooks what I thought was a thumb drive but is actually the wireless remote. I apologize. He fiddles with the wireless but is not able to gain internet access. Finally, he reboots the computer. After the computer reboots, the internet is once again accessible. I thank him. By this time, the class is about to start.

The classroom is hot. Joker asks if he can go get the remote for the air conditioner. I tell him yes. He shoots out of the room and comes back in a flash. My boss is hanging around in the doorway of the room. She comes up to tell me a television crew is on campus and a camera will come into my class and tape for five minutes. This is okay I tell her. She keeps hanging out in the doorway. This makes me a little uneasy. I wonder if she is going to stay and watch me lecture.

Joker tries the remote but the air conditioner is not working. I start my lecture. My boss leaves. I feel more at ease. I ask the students to write down anything they can pertaining to art. I give them five minutes to do this.

While they are doing this, I set up the computer to show the slide show. After five minutes has passed, I ask them what they think of when they are told to describe art. Joker tells me it is something you make. Ben says it is something hard to describe. I tell them both of these answers are good. A few more students chime in with other ideas. A discussion develops. This is good.

We then view some art starting with a cave painting. I do not do a standard history of art just a five minute drive through to make our way to Pollack and Rauschenberg. I try to explain Pollack. I show a slide of Pollack in action with his monstrous canvas laid out on the floor. I tell the students how he insisted that the painter must move all around the canvas while painting. I then show them Rauschenberg’s Bed. As I am doing the cameraman comes in and starts shooting the video. I try to be natural but this is very hard.

After we view some pop art – Warhol, Hamilton, Blake, I discuss the autobiography cover with them. I hold up the materials I will use for my own, an arty, dorky picture of myself, an M&M wrapper, a Queen of Spades, and a receipt from Mr. Donut. When I hold the picture of myself up, Jokers asks if the picture is Eminem, a first since Eminem and I do look so much alike. Here if you buy the Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bullocks you can get it as a double disc with the first Eminem CD as part of the package. China, my China.

At the end of class, different types of music plays, which often reminds me of period piece music from classic movies such as Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Wuthering Heights, those movies that take place in English manors and always involve some tragic, heart-wrenching doomed love affair. The music that plays in between the classes is like the music that plays during the ball or some county festival to which the lord of the manor has invited the serfs. Maybe I am Heathcliff, Edward Rochester, Maxim DeWinter.

After I lecture the eighth graders in art, I lecture the seventh graders. For the most part, they seem uninterested. This is somewhat excruciating.

The bell rings. I have a fifty minute break until the next class. During the break, one of the kitchen ladies brings a pot of sweetened hot ginger water. Celia, a Chinese English teacher, asks if I would like some. When she tells me what it is I tell her I would love some. She tells me it is really good if I have a cold. I tell her I know it makes you sweat out the toxins.

Today’s topic, in the geography and history lecture class, is Oklahoma. I try to talk about aspects of Oklahoma that would interest them. I think that they must like cowboys and Indians, ghost towns, outlaws, rodeos, tornadoes.

Of course, I have to dedicate a good five minutes of the talk to Murphy’s - Murphy’s Steakhouse in Bartlesville. There is only one place in the world that you can get a Hot Hamburger – a Hot Hamburger made right - and that is Murphy’s Steakhouse. Obviously, I have to spend time describing it. Lucky me, (and sad me because I am not eating one at the moment), has a picture to show to them. First I point to the piece of toast which is sticking out on bottom. From there, I talk about the hamburger patty that is hidden by the brown gravy and the huge stack of fries on top. When I tell them you must smother the whole thing in Heinz Catsup and wash it down with a soda, they are staring at me blankly. The bell rings. I go to lunch which is rice and some other items that are not worth even describing. I miss Murphy’s. That would almost be reason enough for me to move back to Bartlesville.

After lunch, I have my reading group, two grades in one class. These are all Language A students. However, two of the sixth grade students are struggling. Both of them are really sweet but they should be in English as a second language. What is really frustrating about the situation is that I am already pulled as far as I can be pulled to teach two groups of students at one time in the same class period.

These two are sweethearts and the two Indians are sweet hearts. However, there is a portly little fellow who I know is going to be a royal pain in the ass. When I was going over the syllabi with both groups – both syllabi are nearly the same with the exception of the reading material; I mentioned that we would be studying drama. This kid who looks like he may be mildly retarded out of nowhere says:

“Drama! How is drama part of a reading class?! Are we going to do drama?” He says it in this really obnoxious way to boot which perhaps he cannot help because he is in fact maybe a bit special. I patiently try to explain that drama can be read as literature.

At this point, after I have read through the syllabi for both groups. I am a bit at odds with what to do. Before class, I scanned the reading room shelves and I spotted five copies of The Diary of Anne Frank. As a last minute lesson, I made a copy of an article on Pretty Boy Floyd (the outlaw not the hair metal band) and I gave it to the sixth graders to read while the seventh graders read Anne Frank.

The trouble kid asks me what it is when I give it to him to read. I tell him he has to read it to find out. He has this little piece of plastic that he keeps flicking. Every time I look over at him he is not reading, he is fiddling with this piece of plastic. I keep telling him to read. He doesn’t. I know he is going to be trouble. Finally, I have to take the little plastic tab (that does not seem to belong to anything) away from him.

Am I assigning homework? What outside books are they to read? The little Indian boy asks me if he can read a science book for one of his book reports. I tell him I think that would be okay. I must see it.

My last class of the day is the sixth grade arts intro class. When I walk into the room, the Indian twins run up to me and ask me if I am the teacher for the art class. I tell them yes. They are both very happy about this. The little girl says that she didn’t know I would be their teacher. This is very touching. The boy that I have some chromosomal questions about is in the class and he seems glad to see me too. Now I feel like a real dick for thinking that he was a retard.

That is until I start introducing the class. I tell the class this will be an arts introduction class. Out of nowhere, he bellows he thought it was to be a drama class. Somehow, I am not sure how, I forgot that he was previously mortified by drama and now he feels cheated that this is not a drama class. I am not sure what planet he is occupying at the moment but it is not the one that the rest of us are on.

When I talk about the illusions art creates in the form of perspective - I compare Hogarth and Cravelli – the little Indian twins run up to the screen and show me the illusory elements. By the time we get to Jackson Pollock, they see faces, boats, airplanes, Zsa Zsa Gabor. I tell them they are seeing things in the painting no art critics in the history of Post Expressionism have seen. Art Forum watch out! These little upstarts are on the move.

Finally, I am done with my classes for the day. I go into my boss’s office to make sure that I do not have any more lessons. She tells me all of the other foreign teachers always screw up at the beginning because it is so frustrating but I have done a really good job. She really is a nice person. As frustrated as I get, I know that she appreciates the sort of work that I have put into this which can sometimes be beyond the call of duty.

That reminds me, The Diary of Anne Frank is the book we will be discussing starting tomorrow. Since, I have never got around to reading it; I should probably delve into it tonight. Although, Holocaust should immediately come to mind, the song Kang Roo crashes into my head like the car wreck guitars from Big Star’s Third…“I saw you staring out in space….”


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