Somewhere the panic is hiding, behind some door in my mind. I am not sure exactly when the anxiety will rear its ugly head. I know it will hit me and try to paralyze me but I am determined to not let it. Often, when my head hits the pillow, the wheels in my head start spinning like some mad Ferris wheel, some cerebral spinning top. There is nothing to fear but fear itself. There is no land but the land.
Furtively, desperately, I try to keep the feelings of desperation and isolation at bay. On the outside, I try to have the calm and collected demeanor of someone who knows what he is doing but inside I am a schoolhouse wreck, a homeroom time-bomb, a schizoid design instructor. Trying, I am trying to stay afloat. I keep the wolf from the door but he calls me up…
This morning, I will prepare the questions for the seventh graders who are reading The Diary of Anne Frank. Fortunately, the book reads fairly fast. I can read it at night before I turn out the light and drift off to sleep.
Last night, I dreamt I was living in a no name place, a place in some other time and dimension, a place of witches’ cauldrons and ridiculous fairy dust. A friend of mine stopped in to see me in my dream. He could not stay. His was a working vacation assisting a patron of the arts, an older lady, Cruella Deville with a MasterCard, the Ice Queen with American Express. She was in the area buying distressed cauldrons, gargoyles and gryphon. They hit all of the Middle Earth sorts of flea markets and rummage sales. I told him I could not get used to the music here. It all sounded so…so… Irish. If only I could have a drink. If only I had a little, If only I had some change, if only, if only, if only.
I wake up in the middle of the night. I feel as if there is a presence in the room but I know there is not. This is the safest I have ever felt anywhere. In China, my China, I feel safe. There is no land but the land…I was standing there with my legs spread like a sailor….
My first class is at 1 pm today which gives me the morning to prepare. I write questions about the Anne Frank reading. What I’m to do with the sixth graders, I do not know. This is really a lot of work to prepare. These days, I take a lot of deep breaths.
My reading class with the two grade groups is at 2:00 pm today. Most of my classes are still a mystery to me which will unfold and make more sense as I go I hope. I hope! The reading class, I ask myself how I am to divide the time; I am not that organized. If my hyper-organized sister was organizing this class, she would make a timetable and beside it she would have everything listed she wants to accomplish with each group. She would allot a time to spend with each group and she would stick to it doggedly.
When I walk into the room, I head toward the 7th grade table. Kevin calls to me when I walk into the room. He is the very sweet sixth grader whose ability I cannot decide how to approach because of his stunted reading level (I hate to say stunted because it actually is not stunted. He is from Hong Kong. In a couple of years, his parents will move to America. They are determined to put him in the English Language A class. He should not be in this class. English is not his first language.) He calls “Here Teacher,” as he points to the seat beside him.
This is very sweet. He is such a sweet boy. If only all of my students could be like him, I would be a much more sane teacher. If only, if only, if only…I tell him that I am going to start the seventh graders on their reading and then I will come back. Before I go over to the seventh graders, I give the sixth graders Rumplestiltzkin to read.
I sit with the seventh graders long enough to give them printouts of questions and vocabulary for The Diary of Anne Frank. I tell them to answer the questions and then we will discuss the answers. I then go back over to the sixth graders.
The entire class, I bounce back and forth between the sixth graders and the seventh graders. At one point, a Chinese English teacher comes in and sits down at a computer. She asks me to excuse her for interupting. She did not mean to interrupt. I tell her that is okay. I am bouncing back and forth between the two groups. I am teaching two grades. She then looks around and sees the two tables of students. She asks me if I am teaching two grades at once. I tell her yes. She tells me that must be difficult. I tell her it is very difficult. I then add that the students are very mature.
It would be awful if they were not easy to teach. Also, I am standing at the seventh grade table. It is ridiculous to try to look like some sort of martyr. Yes, I am in a difficult situation but it is not an impossible situation. Of course, I have this class everyday so it is crazy difficult. Nevertheless, I feel as if when I tell her that I have really good students this earns me points with this group of seventh graders because I am showing them respect. Respect is something I believe they deserve because they are good, well-behaved students in this class.
At one point in the class, I sit with them and discuss The Diary of Anne Frank. We discuss the questions and the vocabulary that I gave them to look over. I ask them “Who is Kitty?” Venus and Neisha know. The boys do not know. I sit down by Jacky and turn his book to page 3 and I show him the paragraph in which Anne Frank writes about her loneliness and then she goes onto write about how she would like a friend. But this, of course, is at the start of the book before the persecution. He then tells me who Kitty is. The light bulb lights for all of the boys. They understand now. We all start to understand this little Jewish girl in Holland who lived sixty years ago.
The design classes with the sixth and seventh graders are a blur. The sixth graders started on the covers for their autobiographies today. The problem is the ones who do not know English did not understand me. They did not bring a photo to put on the mock-up cover. Kevin explains this to me. He did bring a picture. So did the Indian twins. The little Indian girl brought a picture plus some cartoons cut up. Her brother brought a picture plus some dinosaurs.
I tell the students who did not bring pictures to cut up lettering out of paper for their names and they will glue these cut up letters to the cover. I have a stack of color paper that I hand out. Most of the children wait for me to hand them paper. The boy that I now do not think is a mongoloid but seems to be auditioning for the role in the Chinese adaptation of Life Goes On, grabs a piece of green paper from me, out of turn, which makes all of the paper fly out of my hand. This kid makes me understand why dogs snap at children.
I realize, I did not give a detailed explanation of the assignment for the cover. Near the end of the class period, I realize a few of the girls are doing nothing more than drawing random pictures on the paper I gave them to cut out to make their lettering. Yes, this is going to be a very difficult year. There is no sea but the sea…
My last class of the day, I lecture the eighth graders. Again, I will lecture on Oklahoma. During my lecture, two of the girls pass notes back and forth. Funny, how I am now on this side of the note passing. The thing is I was probably never the best student – heck I know I was a poor student – but I was never into the passing of notes. Nevertheless, I do remember, as a sophomore in high school, Tina Meadows and another girl in journalism class throwing notes back and forth to each other. At the time, I thought they were so cagey but now I realize Ms Hicks – who was one of the most fabulous teachers whom I did not appreciate – knew they were passing notes and probably did not want to even address this.
I take the passed note and put it in my back pocket and tell the note passers I am taking the note to the principal. This is funny because I would wonder how teachers seemed to always catch those who misbehaved when I was in school. Maybe we actually do have eyes in the back of our heads and no one has thought to tell us.
Yesterday, I did not talk about tornadoes during my lecture on Oklahoma. Today, I show a lot of pictures of tornados and the damage they cause. Most of the students seem to be interested. Joker seems especially interested. He asks questions. Have I seen a tornado? Yes. Have I been in a tornado? Yes. This seems very cool to him. Briefly, no real reason, I talk about muscle cars. I talk about cowboys and Indians, rodeos, lakes, log cabins, buffalo.
My eyes get a little misty when I stop at the slide of the Murphy’s Hot Hamburger. Yes, even though Murphy’s is in the Bartlesville ghetto. I may go ghetto and move there, next to Murphy’s, run the fruit stand down the street, move a trailer onto the Lot-A-Burger parking lot, paint portraits of the local meth-heads. So that I do not eat too unhealthily, I could eat the Murphy’s tossed salads – iceberg lettuce, grated carrots, and tomato wedges – with club crackers and the little baggies of white bread – Wonder – when I felt like the hot hamburgers were making me top heavy.
Joker asks me why there are no Murphy’s in China. I tell him I do not know. If there were Murphy’s in China, my life would be perfect. At the end of class, a note passer walks up to me and says ‘Please.’ She has that desperate look of an apprehended suspect. I take the note out of my pocket and hand it back to her. If it happens again, I tell her, and then I don’t finish. I am a parody, a joke from Mad Magazine, National Lampoon, Cracked.
Now, I face a bit of a dilemma. My seventh graders have copies of The Diary of Anne Frank. I do not because I was under the assumption I could find a copy of it on the web. There does not seem to be a copy of it on the web. The class meets tomorrow at 8 am. I am supposed to be the one who is together. I am not together. I am not the Walrus. I am not even the Eggman. There is no land but the land...